Sermon 12th March

Readings Romans 5, 1-11, John 4, 5-42

What does faith in action look like?

On the face of it, one might say ( as I often preach) that it is simply showing love to others, yet also allowing them to see that the love you show has a deeper source, it comes from God, through Christ and the Holy Spirit.

A simple, yet profound answer for a Christian, perhaps.

Of course, how that actually works, how it affects our behaviour and the things we do is somewhat more complex, made immeasurably more difficult when we also recognise our own human failures and inability to fulfil the demands of “faith in action”.

As we continue to study Romans, Paul, in this week’s reading is taking the much wider aspects of sin and original sin we read about in previous weeks, -the difference between imperfect Adam and the perfect Christ- and taking things to a personal level, a personal faith, a personal acceptance of grace and forgiveness, and a personal hope in the promise of final salvation and eternal life. Which has all come about because of Jesus, who has reopened that personal route to the perfect love for and of God through his death and resurrection.

Which is exactly what Jesus revealed to the Samaritan woman at the well.

I’ve preached many times on this passage, an important passage in John and the longest one-to one conversation by Jesus anywhere in the gospels. A conversation with a Samaritan, and a woman. And there lies huge significance. Women were subservient to men in New Testament times and Samaritans and Jews simply didn’t mix- there was a hatred going back years. For context, during the exile, Samaritans had been settlers who had taken on the Israelite faith and built a temple in Samaria rivalling that in Jerusalem. But 128 years before Christ was born, the Jewish high priest attacked Samaria and raised their temple to the ground to establish the superiority of the Jerusalem Temple. So relations were far from good. Maybe a bit like Palestine and Israel today.

The passage reveals a whole pile of things, with context about meeting brides at wells that goes back to Abraham, Moses and Jacob, and there is multiple imagery about water. Many people make much of the woman being “sinful” and divorced many times, but this would have been the fault of her husbands, women couldn’t divorce then, so emphasis on that is wrong- yet there is more picture historical language in that too, as Jesus seeks to bring together the Samaritans divorced from the Jewish faith-all are united through him, remarried, perhaps, through a meeting at the well.

But let’s go back to my first question. What does faith in action look like?

Paul gave us some personal insights, but Jesus at the well challenges us with some familiar, and some uncomfortable realities of faith.

He went out to a common meeting place for people, not the synagogue, maybe today the difference between the church and the pub. He engaged with a foreigner, an outcast in his society, hated by others, he spoke with a woman, he offered her living water, he sought to bring reconciliation, he exposed his very character and the truth of him being the Messiah, he had deep insight into the woman’s life and compassion for her, and he turned her life upside down by revealing the truth of God’s love. And she then went and gathered her husbands and all her village to hear this man, to know that faith too.

Faith in action, Jesus, and the woman. And just look at what God achieved through that.

So, what about us?

This week, Gary Lineker has been in the news. Far too much, you might say, but it has raised an issue. Not about his right to say what he did or his impartiality as a BBC presenter, but the issue itself. The Illegal Migration Bill, ironically aptly named, because, as many lawyers have said, it almost certainly is illegal in international law.

If you’ve somehow not been following, this is a proposal by the Home Secretary for a law which effectively removes any rights of refugees arriving by boat or other illegal means and threatens them with immediate removal to another country (although currently very few places are likely to allow that). They can apparently still come by safe and legal routes, but the government has also actually removed any safe and legal routes, making an impossible situation for those fleeing famine, war, oppression, and injustice. There will be no exceptions, even those being trafficked or the vulnerable, and even most children. They will have no sigificant right to legal representation and people could be deported after 7 or within 28 days and will be detained, imprisoned, in the meantime. In that time there will be no rights to appeal. Somehow the government thinks this will deter refugees from coming, in reality, desperate refugees are still likely to come, but will go underground, increasing their vulnerability and risk of being trafficked. The threat of the Rwanda Bill didn’t stop refugees coming, and it’s legality was also challenged, and neither will this. And actually, shouldn’t we be welcoming and helping these vulnerable people? There but for the grace of God, and accident of our birth, go you and me.

And, as there will be difficulty finding countries who will legally accept them being deported from the UK, it is likely that they will be in limbo in detention for some time. The Home Secretary will then fail in her prescribed legal duty to deal with them according to this new law as well- that will be interesting to see how that will be resolved.

It is, however, inhumane in the extreme and the accompanying language of “invasion” to this country by “likely billions” of refugees used by Suella Braverman in the media has been wickedly inflammatory and grossly untrue.

Now, I can hear already some of you thinking “he shouldn’t be preaching politics”. And you are wrong, because I’m not. It’s not party political. It’s just plain wrong.

And if you think that it’s politics, and we shouldn’t deal with it, then think again about Jesus at the well. Talking with a Samaritan, With a woman. With a Divorcee.

At that time, in his society, his very action could not have been more political- not to mention all the rest of his preaching and actions which brought about his death by the authorities.

Faith in action means being prepared to speak up and act for justice and peace and love. I personally don’t care about politics itself- that’s for the politicians, whether corrupt and inhumane, or acting in the best interests of society. If your faith doesn’t make you speak up and act when the world is getting it wrong, then what did Christ come for? Not for the righteous, Paul says, but for the sinners. You, me, the whole world. Sinners because we don’t love enough, sinners because we don’t care enough, sinners because we don’t speak out enough, sinners because we don’t act enough.

But God loves us and sent his Son to show us how we should love and care and speak and act,  forgive our failures through bis death, and though his resurrection give us hope. And he sent his Holy Spirit, that we don’t have to do it all in our own strength, but in his.

And he’s calling you. To faith in action. In his name.

And it’s not just me saying this in the churches.

I’ll finish with two statements, the first from the Methodist, Baptist and URC  JPIT Statement on the illegal migration bill, signed by almost 600 church leaders

“We are appalled by the proposals in the government’s ‘Illegal Migration Bill’ to detain, punish and reject thousands of people seeking safety.

They are completely incompatible with our Christian conviction that all human beings are made in the image of God, and are therefore inherently worthy of treatment which honours their dignity. Instead of dignity, these plans will foster discrimination and distrust, and cause immeasurable harm to people already made vulnerable by conflict and persecution. If ever there was a contemporary example of ignoring our neighbour and walking by on the other side, this is it.

And the Bishop of Durham ( Cof E bishop representing refugees)

"We must not abdicate our legal and moral responsibility to some of the world's most vulnerable by simply treating asylum seekers as a group not to be welcomed or integrated, but detained and returned. We must do and be better."

Faith in action. Not politics.

Christ is calling you. To faith in action. In His name. Not just on this issue, but across all of life. It’s up to you if you decide to answer his call, or not.

(The sermon was followed by the hymn "Beauty for brokenness"