Let’s be world citizens, people who are full of hope and zeal for the future

Peter Seal, 13 October 2019

Jeremiah 29: 1, 4–7; Luke 17: 11–19

It’s been a long journey to get here. I don’t mean geographically, but the journey of Building for Life, which we’ve all been part of for some years now.

I’m struck by just how blessed we are. As a church community we have managed to achieve all that is needed for a major refurbishment of the inside of St Paul’s, our much-loved church – a place where so many memories have been made, which will always be cherished. We’re fortunate, indeed, that over the coming months St Paul’s will be equipped as a place ready to embrace the future – a place primarily for worship, and also for community activities. We’re looking ahead; we’re on the front foot.

All that we have worked so hard to make possible will be a tangible sign of our commitment to the future. We are people of hope. We believe in God; in his Son Jesus Christ; and in the ever-present power of the Holy Spirit, wildly at work here, right now.

We heard today words from the prophet Jeremiah. Many of the Jewish people had had to leave home. They were living in exile in Babylon. Jeremiah is in Jerusalem and he writes to those in exile – it’s a letter of encouragement. His main point is: make the best of where you are. Build houses, he says, and live in them; take wives and have families. He concludes – and this feels important for us – ‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you … and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare’.

Here in Western we’re, as it were, in exile. Away from our spiritual home. We probably feel rather unsettled, not sure if it’s really going to work out here, a bit anxious about the coming months. The message we can take from Jeremiah is: try not to worry. Of course it feels different, of course there are things you will be missing. But embrace where you are: enjoy Western for all it offers; pray for this school and its vitally important role within the community; rejoice that it’s a Church school; give thanks that we have such good links, and have been made so welcome.

Today is what’s called Homeless Sunday, when the wider Church reminds itself of the many folk in our country who slept outdoors last night, and of those who have no shelter today. If we feel a bit dislocated, what must it be like to long for somewhere to call home, where you feel safe, and not cold or wet, where you can meet with your friends and family?

We thank God for the Nightshelter offering an evening meal and a warm bed; for the Trinity Centre offering daytime drop-in facilities; for the Emmaus Centre providing homeless folk the possibility of training and a new start.

We may not have St Paul’s for a while, but we’ve chosen that, and we have a new temporary home here. Our feelings of being uprooted and a little unsettled are as nothing, compared with being homeless or, worse still, a refugee. What must it be like to not have a home, and on top of that to have to leave your home country? No one chooses to do that, unless they are absolutely desperate.

Perhaps our months here, Sunday by Sunday, will renew our feelings of deep gratitude to God for all we have. In world terms we are amongst the richest of the rich. We are fortunate beyond most people’s wildest dreams.

Heavy on my heart is our need, as a local church community, to continue our support for Christian Aid. We need a new parish co-ordinator. Christian Aid works alongside the neediest folk in our world. Their strapline is, ‘We believe in life before death’. Please, please, if you have a heart for the poor and some co-ordinating skills, and a bit of time, do be in touch with me.

Twelve men from our church community are in Dorset at Hilfield Franciscan Friary, on the annual men’s weekend. It’s an inspiring place in many ways. In recent years it has worked really hard, and successfully, to live sustainably. This is very much in the tradition of Francis of Assisi and, in our own day, in the spirit of Pope Francis. A hugely important international conference on the future of the Amazon rainforest has been convened by Pope Francis, and is taking place in Rome right now.

There’s a Brother at Hilfield called Hugh. He’s becomes something of a national figure because of his commitment to green issues and sustainable living. On Monday morning he was part of the prayer vigil on Lambeth Bridge, which was part of the Extinction Rebellion climate protest. The aim of the protest is to demand a faster pace to government action on climate change.

If you are my age or older, I invite you to cast your minds back to the very early 1980s. I was at theological college. I remember proudly making delicious real coffee in a filter coffee machine that I had in my room. There was a small group of students who belonged to WDM, the World Development Movement. Unlike me, they drank coffee which came from sources that paid the workers a fair wage. (To be honest, this coffee was fairly disgusting.) WDM was small in those days, and very ‘fringe’. Over the nearly four decades since then, it has become what we call Fairtrade. Small beginnings became mainstream, and made a massive change to the lives of countless previously exploited people.

Small beginnings became mainstream, and made a massive change to the lives of countless previously exploited people.

Extinction Rebellion is growing fast, with members of all ages. Understandably it raises many questions, and there will be many differing viewpoints among us. But climate change is a reality. The causes go on being debated. The urgency for action to change the way we live is in no doubt. As individuals and as a church community we surely must be engaged with all this.

On Thursday evening I met one of the organisers of Extinction Rebellion. She was an inspiration – highly intelligent, and fun too. During last week she organised a ceilidh on Westminster Bridge. They danced Strip the Willow across the length of that great bridge; and in the middle of it all, a wedding was being conducted.

So, dear friends in Christ, here we are in a school hall, safe and in good shape, committed in faith to God and to one another. We are a remarkable community, and together we will stick together, and we will go on caring for one another. Much more than this, we are world citizens, people who are full of hope and zeal for the future.