Sermon for Trinity One
14th of June 2020
Many years ago in my last posting in the army I was serving in Germany and attended a lively church on a nearby American base, where I did a 5 week introductory course to Christianity. Each week we learnt a new bible verse and one of them was Romans 5 verse 8: But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
While we were still unaware of the sins that we were committing against God and each other, the wrongs we were doing, the thoughts and hopes and dreams that were against God’s will, the actions that we were taking that were causing harm to others, patterns of behaviour, and failures that tilted us and society against minority groups, that favoured others. While all of this was happening,
God proved his love for us in that Christ died for us.
There was no precondition on Christ death, no statement of “I’ll only do this if you repent and turn to me.” It is a gift from God, and God has taken the initiative, and done what is necessary to restore our broken relationship with Him. It is a gift that is offered to us, and we have the free choice as to whether we receive that gift, embrace it and live it. Or whether we just ignore it, pretend it does not apply to us or even oppose it.
If we do the second, then we continue to live in our sin and sin takes many different forms and permeates our society, indeed this world, in many different ways. I want to talk this morning about one aspect of sin, institutionalised sin.
I have a thought-provoking book which says that the principles on which an organisation is set up, stay with that organisation. They are the DNA of the organisation, and have a spiritual effect that is rarely understood. So if the founding driving force is profit, then profit remains the driver, the overriding focus even when it leads to the detriment of other people. If care and compassion are within the founding principles, then they remain. Along the way further principles are introduced.
We have seen the devastating effect of the Government’s “Hostile Environment” legislation introduced in 2012. This flawed and discriminatory immigration system led to what we now call the Windrush scandal. Certain principles were laid down that led officials into making individual decisions that were wrong and harmful, totally against God’s command to love your neighbour as yourself. This is what i would call an institutionalised sin, a sin that became acceptable because higher authorities had stated it, had instituted it, had even supported it through laws.
This is one obvious example of an institutionalised sin. There are others that are more insidious and discrete, that have become an accepted way of life and racism is one of them.
Its roots go back to the slave trade, colonialism, the scientific studies that wanted to show that black people are less intelligent than white people, are inferior. From this the concept of white supremacy was born.
In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as is in heaven. I do not know about you but I do not expect to see racism in heaven. It does not fit into my understanding of heaven, my understanding that God loves all people equally. So in praying the Lord’s Prayer we are standing against everything that is contrary to God’s will and purpose. We are standing against every single, individual, corporate, institutionalised sin. This includes anything that causes harm to another human being, diminishes or degrades another human being, that reduces who they are and mars the image of God within them. Racism does this and I am sad to say that it is within our culture and has been so at a personal and institutional level for a long time.
So our task as followers of Jesus Christ, as people who pray “Your kingdom come” is to break that pattern of institutionalised sin, to bring down anything based on principles that are against the command to love your neighbour as yourself.
We lived in Bristol for 2 years in the late 1990s and one day I stood at the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston and I prayed for God’s forgiveness for the slave trade, for the part that Edward Colston and others in the city of Bristol had in that trade, for the motivation of profit that drove this trade in people. I asked for forgiveness for the vast wealth that people in Bristol accumulated through that trade. I asked God to forgive and to change the culture of that city away from profit, from a search for wealth irrespective of means, to bring a shift to a new city, in which all would be respected, all would be equal, all would be given the same opportunities, in which people would not be trodden down by others. In 1998 I prayed that prayer, and I hope and expect many others have also prayed similar prayers for that city and other cities in this and other countries.
When I watched the pulling down of Edward Colston’s Statue last Sunday, I felt something spiritual was happening. There was a shift in the spiritual realm, an advancement of the Kingdom of God, a dislodging of the long held institutionalised sin of racism in that city. Sin that had its foundations in the slave trade. I believe these foundation stones have shifted and this will lead to further shifting and eventually a toppling of all the inbuilt racism based upon the slave trade, that is within that city, and I praise God for that.
Now I am not saying that I advocate violence and damage to property. I would much rather have preferred that we could have had an open public debate on the slave trade and an admission of its wrongs, and changes to attitudes brought about by confession and a desire to change. But sadly, sin is evil and people either do not want to recognise its presence and effect or are blind to it. So sometimes the Kingdom of God has to advance forcibly and God uses a variety of people and means to do this. There is no doubt that change is needed.
Racism, slaves, inequality, are not part of God’s Kingdom. We, the whole of humanity, are called to love each other as Christ loves us.
It is not easy. In any advancement of the Kingdom of God there is a push back from Satan and maybe the violence and thuggery we have seen this last week is part of that. We have to look behind what we see. Sin is real. Sin locks us in patterns of behaviour which are contrary to God’s purposes and will for us.
When we look at long established patterns of violence between communities, or subjugation of one group by another, it is worth looking at the founding principles to see if we can pray into those to bring about changes. To give some examples: Hinduism and the caste system, the state of North Korea, the animosity between Shia and Sunni Muslims, the fear in American society and resistance to changes in the gun laws. All of these have ongoing patterns of behaviour that are contrary to the command to love your neighbour as your self.
Closer to home, we need to ask for God’s discernment for traces of racism and sexism within us. My upbringing instilled both in me and it is very easy to fall back into those familiar patronising disparaging patterns of thought.
To bring us back to our key verse today. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
Jesus died for us to release us from the effects of sin. Let us pray for wisdom to understand, recognise, confront and remove the institutionalised sin in ourselves and our societies. God loves us all completely and fully. Let us pray that all those bent on violence and subjugation will know this love and be transformed by it. Let us respond to God’s love by aligning ourselves to His will, by really meaning it when we pray “Your Kingdom come, your will be done.” Let us yearn for that in ourselves and in our nation and across this world. Let us call heaven down to earth, the whole earth. Amen