The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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10.30am Holy Communion      13th February 2022
A sermon preached on Racial Justice Sunday
Jan Rushton

A sermon preached on Racial Justice Sunday 
13 Feb 2022
Jan Rushton
Readings:  Jeremiah 17.5-10; Luke 6.17-26
Today is Racial Justice Sunday. This year’s theme: Racial Justice is everyone’s business. Indeed it is! It is also a rather scary subject to engage with. We feel ourselves compromised. And rightly we feel so. For even though most of us here may not have personally contributed to racial injustice, this is far from sufficient to exonerate us from complicity. 
We are the beneficiaries of gross historic exploitation, benefits which continue to perpetrate inequality today. Speaking of these things can feel risky.  At least it does to me. With the best of intentions, we can say the wrong thing. Because we don’t know enough to properly understand - as we saw two weeks ago, remembering Holocaust Memorial Day. I will try. As I also know, I will miss some important things. 
Let us start a conversation.
So how do we enable, promote, establish, racial justice? 
Address the poverty which breeds prejudice and inequality?
In our contemporary world there is far more travel, far more migration, both of individuals and of groups than in earlier generations. People of differing races and cultures set up home in new lands. And different nations have chosen to address the challenges this entails in different ways. The United States, that great melting pot of peoples from across the wide world!   Each individual, each family arriving, full of hope to start afresh, full of hope to build a new, more prosperous and fulfilled life.  Everyone begins with a clean slate.
Unless of course, you, or your ancestors, had been forcibly taken across the oceans as a slave. Or, you are among those who were already inhabitants of your land. The various tribes of native peoples - who had in many instances, helped these strange beings arriving on their shore from across the ocean, helped them to survive, but then those they had helped, decimated the indigenous community with guns - and disease.
Rutger Bregman in his book Humankind - yes, I’ve plugged him before -  offers strong evidence, that Enlightenment thinkers gained their understanding of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, precisely from these indigenous communities of North America, and not from European thought and experience. Down the decades in north America the overriding principle in receiving new immigrants has been ‘Integration’. Integration in the sense that everyone is starting a new life in a new world. Which of itself, has not delivered those Enlightenment aspirations. Neither for indigenous peoples, nor for those arrived as slaves. 
Here in the UK, the pattern of immigration has been rather different. Through the twentieth century labour shortages led the British to look for workers from the colonies, in particular, the Asian subcontinent, and those former slave colonies in the Caribbean. Here, this was not a clean slate for everyone, each one starting from the same base line as immigration in the US was presumed to be. Here, indigenous British people very much expected to remain the dominant population. 
As with much earlier waves of immigration from Europe, often refugees escaping religious persecution, integration was not the primary modus vivendi. Rather, we have embraced ‘Multiculturalism’. The clustering together of particular ethnic groupings, each group creating a life in the UK to reflect the cultural patterns of their former home country. Maintaining their own historic family and social structures, especially at the most intimate level.  
And where integration was sought and valued, tragically, shamefully, West Indian immigrants, expectant of coming home to the ‘mother country’ - a ‘mother country’ with a shared religion, and supposedly, shared values, our respective cultures, variations on the same theme - these immigrants found themselves rejected. Including rejection by the Church. We wanted their labour - but not to live together as equals. Not all the other talent they also brought with them.
Plenty reason for white Britain to feel ashamed. We need to start with a much deeper understanding of our history. Professor David Olusoga, historian and TV presenter, incisive and gracious, is a good place to begin.
Of course, all these matters are deeply complex. We vitally need integration alongside multiculturalism. This will only happen when we celebrate our diversity. Seek mutual friendship across cultures. Most importantly, respect and honour one another. Recognise we have much to receive from one another.
This begins with education. Education from the earliest age. When we grow up together it changes things. Our perspectives are different.  We relate to each other for who we are. And yes, for me, this calls into question the place of faith schools. But that is another whole topic. Then we need to work for equality of opportunity in the workplace. Integration in our church communities.
Our news is littered with instances of racial injustice. We know we have a deep problem.  Especially in law enforcement. Are we willing to speak out, to challenge it, when we encounter lack of respect for others, any who are seemingly different. How will we so live, interact with our neighbours, all those around us day by day, hour by hour; how will we so live that our neighbourhoods, our communities are happy, welcoming, warm and safe places to be for everyone - whoever we are?
To our gospel. The poetic cadences of the Beatitudes, this morning in Luke’s version - with Luke’s greater emphasis on the here and now. Not those who are poor ‘in spirit’, Blessed are the – literally - poor, those who are hungry, those who weep, those who are hated. For you shall be filled, you shall laugh, you shall have your reward. Gentile Luke then continues as in Hebrew prophecy, with its pattern of alternate promise and curse. Luke adds to Matthew’s lyrical words from Jesus, a parallel set of curses:
Woe to you who are rich, who are full now, who laugh now, 
of whom all speak well, for you have received your consolation, 
you will be hungry, you shall mourn.  
Curses which fall hard on our ears from the mouth of Jesus. Challenging, devastating declarations. Bombshells to his disciples who, like every Jew, like many today, understood prosperity to be the sign of God’s favour.
But they offer us an astute understanding of the human psyche. Even though it may not appear to be so, there are consequences of perpetrating injustice. All ways around. 
We know that the very rich and powerful are often desperate people on the inside. Empty and deeply unhappy. 
Those Europeans with their massive fire power indigenous peoples could never match, observed the joy and peace, the mutual sharing, the generosity of the native communities they encountered, and then in the main ignored the challenges of this rather different culture. To radically change their outlook would be far too demanding.
We can do better. Much better. Justice, racial justice and equality - across the world, within our communities, are modes of life that benefit us all. We have so much to learn together - from each other.  
Jeremiah declares the heart is devious above all things. Yet Christ has come. We are not alone. Let us seek his grace that the power of the Holy Spirit might be moving in our lives, in our church, in our communities, transforming our nation. Let us be passionate for the well-being and dignity of our neighbour, all our neighbours.
Amen.

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