Here’s what I had to say today in the pulpit following this week’s political turmoil after the recent referendum.
“Lord do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
And Jesus says no.
Do you want us to call down from heaven on them?
And Jesus says no. He rebukes them and turns and went elsewhere.
And that is the gospel for today. That really is the essence of the sermon for today.
There seems to be rather a lot of us-ing and them-ing about at the moment.
And they asked him whether to call down fire from heaven and he turns and goes another way.
Like a lot of things in modern life, Jesus never had to face the consequences of a referendum or any kind of political vote. He knew absolutely nothing about democracy and we much always beware of lifting words from the bible and plonking them down in our own day as though they will sort out all our ills.
But it seems that Jesus did live in a world where he knew about rage.
We tend to think of the Samaritans as being a jolly good thing because we’ve got that parable of the good Samaritan and the wonderful listening charity of the same name.
But the whole point of the Good Samaritan story is that everyone in Jesus’s immediate company believed the Samaritans to be downright bad. And we have a taste of that in this morning’s gospel.
Jesus was heading to Jerusalem – his holy mountain. And that put him at odds with the Samaritan villagers of the place that he wanted to pass through who would have been looking towards Mt Gerazim rather than Jerusalem as the location where God’s salvation history would all be played out.
Do you want us to call down fire from heaven on them?
And Jesus turned away.
I’m very conscious of reading this story in Glasgow in the weeks leading up to 12 July when the marching season is going full pelt.
I recently was in the company of a prominent Roman Catholic member of the clergy when an Orange Walk was going on locally.
I said to him that I was sorry to hear the noise of the those drumbeats still on our city streets.
His reply was one of the saddest things I’ve heard, “oh,” he said, “it is just something we get used to”.
And I made a mental note never to get used to it. Never to hear the beat of angry drums without remembering the look on that person’s face. Never to hear the beat of angry drums without remembering his sad words. And never to hear the beat of angry drums without asking myself what one step I can take to make peace, build peace and call people into loving respect for one another.
I’m also conscious of reading this story in a part of the world which is still reeling from two referendums which have each in very different ways divided friends and split families and been fought with a passion that has sometimes spilled over into something much darker.
Our political situation has put us right in the middle of various overlapping identity wars. And it is a confusing situation too. One brand of identity division doesn’t necessarily map onto another.
I tend not to preach my politics directly from the pulpit though you don’t have to go far to find out what I think. I was, after all, a candidate for political office on two occasions as well as standing to be the Rector of one of Glasgow’s illustrious academic institutions a couple of years ago.
I tend not to preach my politics from the pulpit not least because of my phenomenal lack of success in actually winning the elections I find myself standing in out of personal conviction, or maybe out of personal wanton stupidity and hubris.
Indeed, sometimes when I’m asked to list my hobbies I’m tempted to put “losing elections” down as my principle pastime.
But I think I would preach from the pulpit that each of us must stand up for what we believe in.
And I think I would preach from the pulpit that each of us needs to be formed by the scripture that we read week by week and allow the Godly values that we find there to seep so deep into us that we are changed so that we can change the world.
And I think I must preach from the pulpit this day the fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. For this is our birthright, this is our dna, this is who we really are.
While the identity wars rage around us, we are already beloved of God and the fruit of the spirit is our manifesto – the agenda that we pursue, the identity we preach.
This evening three members of this congregation will be confirmed by Bishop Gregor. As they identify with our faith in prayer and in being anointed by the bishop, we pray that the Spirit will come upon them. And that fruit of the Spirit that we heard of in this morning’s second reading is the life we shout from the rooftops belongs to them and to whosoever seeks it and is the identity they tonight claim for themselves.
This place is a place where the congregation that worships here is very politically active and whatever party any of us align ourselves with, whatever movement, whatever side of whatever referendum we find ourselves on, I hope that the manifesto of the spirit drives us and compels us to act and listen in God’s name wherever we find ourselves.
A great deal of people don’t feel listened to at the moment.
A great deal of people with little power feel unheard by a great deal of people with power and influence.
And that’s my learning point in the middle of this particular turbulence.
The prosperity and wellbeing of the many is the pathway to peace.
The various fruit of the spirit may act as our stepping stones to get to a place of greater calm than we currently possess.
This is a time of some turmoil. It feels as though everything is being thrown up in the air and none of us know quite where things will land.
Let the fruit of the spirit be written on our hearts as we each take our part in finding answers.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
There will never be a referendum on the love of God.
That decision was made long ago, once and for all and is eternal.
God’s love is for everyone. In-ers, Out-ers. Voters. Non-voters. For the wise. For the foolish. For the foolish who don’t know they are wise. And for the wise who don’t realise they are foolish.
And one day love will triumph and there will be no us and them at all.
Just those who are beloved of God.
Always and forever.