Dedication Sunday Sermon – Responding to Antisemitism

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

Religion changes over time.

How to run a congregation changes over time.

The things that you need to do change over time.

As I flicked through the readings for this morning, I found myself thinking first about Jacob dreaming of a ladder and the angels of God ascending and descending up and down it.

And I found myself wondering why Jacob didn’t seem to dream about whether the angels of God had successfully completed their Working At Height and Using a Ladder Safely training.

That may not have been what Jacob dreamed about, but it is the kind of thing that can appear in the dreams of someone leading a congregation these days, of that, I can assure you.

And then I read of him taking up the stone that he had been resting his head against and setting it up for a pillar and pouring oil on it.

And I found myself thinking, well Jacob, sunshine, you are not going to get away with that without writing to the Dean of the Diocese and filling in a Canon 35 application and finding out whether or not the congregation mind exactly where you’ve put the pillar.

Canon 35 being the stuff not of Jacob’s dream but of property conveners’ nightmares.

And then Jesus in the gospel is asked to tell them plainly whether or not he is the Messiah and he says, “I have told you but you do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep”.

And I find myself wondering whether the Lord of Heaven and Earth was very cleverly prophesying the GDPR regulations which ensure that we don’t send emails to anyone who doesn’t want them.

It seems to me very likely that he was.

Things change.

Religion changes.

We’ve changed.

As a congregation, we’ve changed a very great deal.

Another thing occurs to me as we read the story of Jacob’s ladder and that it a foundational story not simply for Christians celebrating their own identity in a Feast of Dedication.

This is a Jewish story. The idea that you can set up somewhere to worship wherever you wander being foundational to being Jewish.

This week I went to a conversation about anti-Semitism organised by the local branch of the Council for Christians and Jews.

I listened to Jewish people from this city speaking of being frightened to live here. I heard talk of people thinking of leaving Glasgow and leaving this country because hatred of their community and identity, is growing again.

I have a number of complex responses to this.

Firstly, to affirm that the hatred (or even the suspicion) of Jewish people is always and forever wrong. There are no political or religious excuses. In a time where objective truth is under threat, let us be known as a people who know right from wrong and can say whenever we encounter prejudice that it is wrong, no matter on whose lips it is uttered.

Secondly, to try not to make assumptions that anti-Semitism) is what other people do whilst we are free of it..

It is always easy to blame others for the ills of society. The person accused of sending bombs to people on the American political left this week was exposed on many occasions to rallies where cruel words carved out a space where violence might seem legitimate. And it is right to call that out.

And the vile attack on a Jewish synagogue yesterday was the worst and most violent expression of the oldest prejudice. And I condemn it as it will be condemned in pulpits around the world today.

But the truth is, there are people in this city who are frightened of being Jewish. Frightened not just of thugs putting bricks through their windows or someone turning up with a gun on the Sabbath but are frightened of the way Christians (that’s us) think and speak and preach. Frightened of our discourse about Israel. Frightened about the way we use Scripture, which, let’s face it is not wholly ours. For words shape the space wherein actions can occur.

And that situation must call us to reflect about who we are and where all of that begins.

And thirdly, my response to religiou people feeling frightened in this city (and this will take us back to our Dedication Festival) is to remember that to some extent we’ve been there.

It happens to be the case that we’ve needed police protection and been guarded whilst we worship on several occasions recently. Going back into our past history there were times when even the civil authorities were not on our side and we had much to fear not just from mob violence but from civil society itself.

That is part of our story. People used to be frightened to be Episcopalians in Glasgow. (And for good reasons). We were turfed out of the Medieval Cathedral by men with pikes. We worshipped here and there in this city in varying states of fear.

A wandering Aramean was our father. We share solidarity with all who are afraid to worship freely.

We share in celebration with all who celebrate. And we weep with all those who weep.

Today we happen to be celebrating those who kept the faith through hard times and ended up coming to this place to put down foundations and build.

Today we celebrate those who caught a vision they believed in and contributed to making it happen.

Today we celebrate not just that we are still here but that we are flourishing and alive and having fun being the people of God who worship in this way at this time.

As we do so let us pray and work for the same safety and confidence for all God’s children.

Things have changed for us.

Our usual mode these days is not fear but joy. That’s what we do here.

We’ve kept the faith, hung unto hope and we share the joy of being who we are supposed to be.

Religion changes. This congregation has changed. All kinds of things change for the people of God as their story unfolds.

But the love of God changes never. And isn’t part of our story – it is our story.

As we keep dedication Sunday today, I ask you to give thanks for those who have made what we have here today possible. Those who have taught the faith, kept the faith and yes, funded the provided for the sharing of faith with us.

As we celebrate our story, we proclaim the simple truth as we’ve done before and will continue to do – whoever you are, God loves you. God loves you more than all the reasons you can come up with why God’s might not love you.

Loves you yesterday, today and forever.


A blessing for Vicky Beeching

I see from my twitter feed that there is a big church story in the press just breaking as I write this. Vicky Beeching has talked about being a gay woman for the first time. It is a big story because she has a strong public profile which she has worked hard to build up and because a lot of her music is sung in big evangelical churches in the USA and elsewhere.

Earlier this year she revealed that she was supportive of LGBT people and causes and received both support from some and condemnation from others. Vicky’s situation seemed particularly poignant since her income partly depends on her songs continuing to be circulated and sung by some of the very people who might be inclined to condemn her.

At the time, she was quoted as saying:

It’s important to me to retain evangelicalism as part my Christian identity. I don’t think the two [evangelicalism and supporting same-sex relationships] are incompatible. I don’t want to lose what evangelical means; there are so many good aspects of it. The Bible is as important as ever; my LGBT theology comes from a high view of scripture, not throwing the Bible out the window. People have accused me of watering down what the Bible says, but for me it’s about using the brain God has given us to put the verses [about homosexuality] into their proper historical context.

I simply don’t know whether the attempt to retain evangelicalism as an identity whilst being lesbian or gay is possible – it wasn’t for me. However I’d want to wish her the very best in trying to work it out.

My own experience of coming out quite publicly (ie in the pulpit) at a similar age is that everyone I heard from was supportive. If there were any who were upset or critical they managed to keep it to themselves.

All this is highly pertinent to the post I wrote about what it means to be an Evangelical. There are people who attend Evangelical churches who wouldn’t recognise my description – for them the camaraderie and the music are far more definitive of who they are than anything about theology, the cross or the bible.

I don’t know what will happen to Vicky Beeching’s reputation amongst Evangelicals now.  However, just as Alan Bennett famously said that Cranmer didn’t die for English Prose, neither is Evangelicalism defined by the sexuality of who writes its choruses. At least, one hopes not.

I want to wish Vicky Beeching a blessing as she negotiates a new world. What she has done in being honest is a big thing. She must not be defined by whether others accept her or not. So, a big blessing for Vicky Beeching today, I say. She will have given lots of people a lot of hope and helped many to stay in touch with God simply by doing what she has done so publicly.

Eternal God of truth and love,
bless those who come out this day with joy and delight,
bless those who fear honesty with greater maturity,
bless those who look for love this day and every day.