Sunday 26th May 2019
I remember a friend at school that liked to impress people by spelling the word antidisestablishmentarianism, I’m not sure that any of us knew what it meant but it sounded good. The word actually means being opposed to the disestablishment of the Church of England. That is being opposed to the separation of the Church of England from the English state. Because, like it or not, the Church of England is the established church of our nation. Anglican bishops sit in the House of Lords as Lords Spiritual and the Archbishop of Canterbury anoints and crowns the monarch at their coronation. Royal weddings, national mourning and other important events are presided over by clergy in the Church of England in churches, cathedrals and royal peculiars throughout the land.
Being an established church has its positives and negatives, on the one hand we’re present on the national stage and have a legally protected spiritual oversight of every last inch of England. On the other hand, we are often taken for granted by the general public and changes can happen very slowly as they move through General Synod are approved by parliament and eventually gain royal assent. The other major downside in being an established church is that over the centuries there has in the nation’s psyche, particularly during the days of empire, developed a sense that the Church of England does things the ‘right’ way and that God is an Englishman, well, almost.
If I were to say بِاسْمِ الآبِ وَالاِبْنِ وَالرُّوحِ الْقُدُسِ,ألإلهِ الْوَاحِد bismi-l-’ābi/ wa-l-ibni/ wa-r-rūḥi/ l-qudusi/ al-Ilāhi l-Wāḥid you might think that I was quoting the Quran yet the phrase is Arabic for ‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God.’ You see, Allah is simply the Arabic word for God which is used by Arabic speaking Jews, Muslims and Christians. In Malta, a predominantly Catholic country, the word Alla is frequently heard as Maltese derives in part from the Arabic language. You can look at different cultures across the world that express their love and worship of Jesus very differently to us in England. Historically the majority of English Anglicans have shamefully seen anything that deviates from the Church of England’s liturgy and practice as somehow wrong or second rate and at times deviations have been punished by imprisonment or death.
How we ever let ourselves have these scandalous attitudes through the centuries is beyond me. In our readings from Acts, The Psalms and the Book of Revelation we hear of God belonging to all nations or rather all nations belonging to God. In scripture we see the progression of God’s people growing out of Abraham and Sarah’s children, becoming the nation of Israel and extending to all peoples through the work of Jesus on the Cross and the spreading of the gospel through the evangelism of the gentiles by the apostles. There is no room for a crude national pride at the expense of others in our faith, and no room for division amongst Christians, for as Paul says in the letter to the Galations ‘ There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ One might even go as far as saying there is no Hampden Park or The Hydneye!
In that reading from Acts this morning we heard how Lydia was converted to Christ, she wasn’t the first female Christian but as far as we know she was the first European. When she gave herself to Jesus there were no churches in Europe at all, let alone in England. The English language wouldn’t come into existence for another four hundred years or so and then it would be in a form that only early English scholars would understand today. Lydia, a free woman of means, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, a Greek Macedonian, was the first on our continent to be baptised and was a key part of the evangelisation by the apostles of the wider ancient world. This all happened around 1500 years before the established Church of England began.
I wanted to preach on the importance of Christian unity this morning because it has felt over the last few years that our nation has become increasingly inward looking, that public attitudes towards people from other nations living in our country are hardening and that differences in race, creed or culture are becoming less tolerated. It is incumbent on us as Christians to embrace our brothers and sisters in Christ rejoicing in our different ways of worship- whether that is exploring different traditions in the Church of England or other English denominations or by visiting churches and participating in the worship of Christians from different cultural backgrounds. A good start would be attending worship at the Jacobite-Syrian church that meets on the first Saturday of the month at St Mary. In this way we can counter the hijacking of our faith from those on the far-right who use English Christianity as a cudgel to beat down the beliefs and practices of anyone who is different to them.
It’s also vital for us to pray for our brothers and sisters around the world and to find out more about them. The Bishop of Truro, the Right Reverend Philip Mounstephen, in a report commissioned by Jeremy Hunt into the persecution of Christians around the world, recently estimated that one in three people suffer from religious persecution globally and that the majority were Christians. An interim report claims that parts of the Middle East have seen the Christian faith almost eradicated and that in parts of the world persecution of Christians is almost reaching the UN’s definition of genocide. These finding were released shortly after the horrendous attacks on churches in Sri Lanka, which left 250 dead and more than 500 wounded on Easter day.
It is easy for us to feel distant and separated from our persecuted brothers and sisters and yet as members of the one body of Christ into which we are all baptised we should be weeping for them and moved to hold them in prayer and do whatever we can practically to support them. We are all children of the same Heavenly Father, brothers and sisters in Christ through one baptism, regardless of our race or nationality, God loves each one of us.
بِاسْمِ الآبِ وَالاِبْنِ وَالرُّوحِ الْقُدُسِ,ألإلهِ الْوَاحِد
bismi-l-’ābi/ wa-l-ibni/ wa-r-rūḥi/ l-qudusi/ al-Ilāhi l-Wāḥid