Pollokshields – These are our neighbours

It was impossible not to be moved by people standing around an immigration enforcement van in Pollokshields yesterday chanting “These are our neighbours, let them go”. Many people today are proud of those in this city who stopped this enforcement action.

Every country needs to have an immigration system and every immigration system needs to be enforced in some way. Every such system needs to be fair and just. However the immigration system in this country has ceased to be fair and has ceased to be just. Any government that actively seeks to be hostile to those seeking asylum has already failed the test of being fair and just. The immigration system in this country has not only become hostile to refugees but the government has recently announced plans to make it even more hostile and to limit the possibility of appealing to the Supreme Court in asylum cases.

Every asylum seeker needs access to justice in order that the system itself can be seen to be fair.

Yesterday, the people of Pollokshields came out onto the streets because they believed that what was being done in their name was not fair. With an aggresively hostile system in place as a policy, it is impossible to be sure that any asylum decision is fair.

The police made a wise call yesterday not to try to clear the street and the two men detailed were set free into the community.

We need a fair asylum system.  Without a fair asylum system, there will increasingly be successful protests by citizens who will prevent the authorities from being able to act.

If the government believes it can appeal to voters by making an already hostile asylum system even more hostile, the people in the streets of Pollokshields showed yesterday that at least in some places, that policy will fail.

Easter Sermon 2021

Lent has been long enough.

This Lent particularly has been long enough.

Just over a year ago we locked down in the middle of Lent. And it feels as though that existence has been going on in one form or another ever since.

Most people have embraced the need for the lockdown lives that we have been living. And this itself is a miracle that we should not ignore.

Collective altruistic action on such a mass scale to protect life and human flourishing is a miracle of no small stature.

But Lent has still been long enough.

We have known discipline in our lives from last year’s Lent to this year’s Lent like never before.

And Lent has been long enough.

One of the ways that I’ve learned to keep holy week is to look for resonances of the Passion stories around me in life today.

Back on the streets of Jerusalem, one of the stories of holy week that always troubles me is that it is the same crowd that cries hosanna in the streets that goes on to cry crucify.

This year it is the same society that clapped for carers in the streets that has been unable to agree decent pay and conditions for those whom they once applauded.

Lent has been long enough.

Back in Jerusalem it is an out of town African – Simon of Cyrene who carries the weight of the cross on Good Friday and then disappears from view.

In our own times, black and ethnic minority people in our land have carried the weight of the corona pandemic in far more disproportionate numbers than they should have done. And that fact seems to be disappearing from view.

It is no help for a government report to claim there is no structural racism in society when black and ethnic minority folk have been dying in greater numbers than everyone else.

Indeed, that kind of claim is what structural racism looks like and sounds like.

Lent has been long enough.

Back in a garden close to Calvary a stone is rolled in front of a tomb by a group far too small to have been the only mourners at Jesus’s funeral.

And dear God, have we known the tomb this year? And how we have known the pain of being banished from the sides of those whom we love, as they have lived, and died and been buried.

Lent has been long enough.

But Lent, in our tradition, doesn’t go on forever.

It comes to an abrupt end with startling news – that Jesus Christ is risen from the grave. Death is not the end. All that we ever assumed is turned on its head.

Jesus is alive. And with us. And nothing will ever be the same again.

The discovery of the resurrection on that first Easter day was hard to comprehend. It is hard to comprehend now.

Yet for two thousand years, Christians have proclaimed that death does not have the last word, that all that rots the human Spirit is defeated, that new life is our heritage and our hope.

New life is the new normal.

The Easter proclamation means – and has always meant, that the old normal wasn’t working. Something new – so very new is here.

And yes, you can feel and know that it is real it in our own times too.

The resurrection is proclaimed in the kindness of strangers – and there has been much of that this year.

The resurrection is proclaimed in those searching for a new and sustainable way of living on this earth.

The resurrection is proclaimed when those fighting for justice taste its sweetness.

The new normal is faith and hope and joy and love.

And it is all, yes all that we need in our lives today.

I see it when the flowers bloom from an earth that was frozen and hard and cold.

I hear it in the song of the robin and the wren.

I feel it as love, wherever love is found.

Jesus is risen from the grave. The old has passed. Lent has been long enough.

New life – the new normal is here.

A year ago, I thought that as a congregation we were in serious trouble. How could we survive being locked down and closed?

As a congregation we thrive on meeting new people every year and sharing with them the open, inclusive, welcoming love of God that we proclaim in this place.

I thought we would be facing serious decline because no-one would be turning up in lockdown.

In fact, people have continued to turn up – online for some, in person for others.

And there are people worshipping both online and in church this Easter who simply were not around last year.

This is what I want to say to anyone who is discovering Jesus for the first time.

Christians don’t always get things right. We bumble along, just like the first disciples, misunderstanding God, betraying the new life that we hope to live into and make a mess of all kinds of things.

But we have met, in Jesus Christ, someone who has changed us and whose message matters so much more than that.

God loved us enough to want to join in with all the mess and dirt of our world. In the person of Jesus, we get to know God with a human face.

He shared all our sufferings and sorrows whilst he was with us on earth.

All the reality of human struggle and human pain.

And he is risen from the grave.

From beyond the tomb, he calls us to live as new people. People for whom life is the new normal, love is the new normal. Joy, goodness and peace are the new normal.

And nothing will ever be the same again.

You want to know whether all this is true?

Well, if Christ were not risen from the grave, we would not be gathered here.

Especially this year.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.