Over the years I have had the privilege of travelling and seeing different parts of the world. I have lived in a number of different towns and cities and can boast of friends across the globe. Some of the places I have lived have been described to me as being less than desirable or the places that no one chooses to visit. Yet each of those such places I have been made to feel the most welcome, most at home and when I move away they are the places I miss the most because of the people I get to know and love. One such area I have sadly seen on national news a number of times due to some of the incidents that have taken place there and yet in all my time living and working in the particular neighbourhood the worst trouble I ever witnessed was me being sprayed head to foot with a fire extinguisher. I am not naïve, I moved to that area knowing the risks, I’d heard the stories, but I also knew that no matter the potential for trouble there is also the potential for good.
There is an old adage that says if you go out looking for a fight you will find one.
I am not one for looking for a fight and so I have rarely been in a situation that has given rise to one. I have been around a few and stood in the gap to keep people apart or pulled people off one another. I guess living in so-called troubled areas because I didn’t go out looking for a fight or looking for trouble I didn’t find it and it didn’t find me.
As a pastor I don’t often find myself in a church listening to other preachers due to being in church and preaching myself. I was recently able to attend a service and I was taken aback by the sermon. I just didn’t recognise the world that was being described by the preacher and therefore my response to the world is very different. I heard about a world and a society that is oppressing and silencing the church, that is pushing the church to the margins and trying to overthrow churches so that it is no longer a voice in our society. I heard the preacher speak of Muslims and Jews as being given a higher standing and different opportunities whilst Christian’s are challenged, mocked and side lined. I heard the preacher speak of the Holy Spirit wanting to fill Christian’s and to make them bold in going into the world, preaching the Gospel, resisting the temptations and standing strong in the face of a hostile environment.
I heard what was said, it bordered for a moment on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and I wondered what the preacher was trying to achieve. Of course, the way the preacher described the world and the way he was encouraging the congregation to respond was just like those who go out looking for a fight. If you go out spoiling for a fight you will find one. If Christian’s go out looking for a fight with society or those of another faith or perhaps no faith at all, they will of course find a fight. But why would we want a fight?
I live in the same society that was being described and I am getting to know Jews (including Rabbi’s), Muslims (including Imam’s) and atheists. I have friends who have all kinds of different faiths and none. I see the world around me and I am in awe of creation, it is beautiful, creative and diverse. I don’t want to fight my neighbours I want to learn about them, to sit with them, share a meal, have a drink and develop friendships. I have a faith; I love the Bible, the Church and Jesus and I will happily share my love for them with others.
Jesus preached that we should love God and love our neighbours. This week I heard a preacher subtly preach condemnation, encouraging the congregation to boldly stand up for rights, to be ready to fight. It was a sermon that misused scripture and encouraged hatred for anything that is other. It was a sermon that subtly made space for racism, sexism and homophobia. It was not always explicit but there was an underlying tone and I was grieved.
I find myself defending my neighbours from hateful speech coming from a church when the only fight the Church should be fighting is the fight for justice.
The church is broken because it’s forgotten to love her neighbours and is choosing to fight them instead.