Early on Friday I, and the vast majority of my 530 Facebook ‘friends’, realised just how different our views were to 51.9% of the country. The UK voted to leave the EU. This may be a source of celebration to you but it was certainly not for most of my contacts on social media. Disbelief and shock soon manifested itself in status updates written under the influence of that peculiar type of anger that is only really expressed when something horrible has truly caught us off-guard. Something we thought wouldn’t happen. Shouldn’t happen. Couldn’t happen. At least, not to us.
But should we have been so surprised?
General speaking, (and I do mean ‘generally speaking’, I realise there are exceptions to what I am about to write) I and my Facebook friends are a group of people who are defined by privilege. We are university educated. We live, study or work in London or in other metropolitan, prosperous areas of the UK. (Or at least, we have done at some stage in our lives.) We are employed. We are young. We are well travelled. We are largely contented with our lot. And if, for whatever reason we are not, then we have the resources both internally and through the relative fortuitousness of our circumstances, to do what we think we must do to bring change or improvement to our lives.
Friday morning, gave me, and other prosperous “remain” voters like me, a taste of what it feels like to lose control. To not be “masters of our own destiny”. To feel disaffected. To feel alienated. To watch others get what they want and not get what we want. Of course, we have all felt these things many times before. But have we felt them so collectively or so abruptly as we did on Friday morning? Has any other event in our living memory so powerfully and suddenly brought home to us the divisions of our country? Divisions that we seldom have to acknowledge when we surround ourselves with people who think the same way we do, or share our privilege, until the cold, hard, reality of those divisions slaps us in the face.
And, perhaps for those of us who can identify with what I am writing, it still stings. And yes. Perhaps it should sting.
And if anger is what we are feeling we must acknowledge that anger, own it and express it because unless we do so our anger gets internalised, misdirected and obscured by well-meaning but entirely false sentiment. And as comfortable as that may be in the short-term (and the Church of England is particularly fond of such comfort) suppressing feeling in this circumstance doesn’t actually help anybody. Yes. We cannot become paralysed by anger. We need to move forward. But, in a situation like this, we can only really move forward when we first accept where we are now. Even if, like the disciples, a consequence of the acceptance of our anger, means hearing Christ’s rebuke.
We cannot ignore the facts. This is democracy. Millions of voters have rejected a political establishment that has abandoned them. Areas that have been most affected by government cuts and economic failure have voted against the status quo. We must listen to and respect the people’s vote. We must work to reunify our country.
And if you think none of this “political stuff” has anything to do with the gospel, that it has no place in a pulpit, I have no idea what gospel you are reading. Whenever through our anger we draw a line between ourselves and another Jesus ALWAYS stands on the other side of that line. Whenever we are tempted to act, speak or think out of sense superiority to others, however righteously intended, Jesus says to us:
“Are you sure? Do you think you’re better than them? OK. Let me show you that you are not.”
And this kind of recognition, these sudden jolts of self-awareness sting too.
Check out the disciples in this Sunday’s gospel. They are journeying to Jerusalem and Jesus sends them ahead of him.
“Get things ready for me” Jesus says.
So they enter a Samaritan village and as soon as the people realise the group are headed to Jerusalem they say.
“No thanks. Find somewhere else to stay. We don’t want your kind here.”
Last week I read about a gay Muslim man who wanted to grieve with other members of the LGBT community at a candlelit vigil in Orlando. When he arrived at the event one of the organisers asked him where he was from. He answered.
“Orlando, but I was born in Afghanistan.”
“This isn’t the place for you.” The organiser said in response.
It’s a sad reality of life. Those who have known persecution are often first to dish it out to others.
The Samaritans were hated by the Jews. They were victimised by social and economic sanctions. They were outcasts in Jewish society. And for once, they had the upper hand. This group of Jewish travellers are heading to Jerusalem and need their help, they are looking for their charity and their hospitality.
“Ha!” The Samaritans say. “Forget it.”
Imagine the moments in your life when you’ve made yourself vulnerable. When you’ve asked something of another and they’ve dismissed you in return. It hurts our pride. And for most of us, when our pride is hurt we’re at our most dangerous.
“Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” The disciples ask.
We can imagine their sycophantic voices as they not-so-subtly name check the old-testament prophet Elijah. The disciples, it seems have no problem with voicing their anger.
“Elijah did it. Let us do it too.”
“Please justify our anger lord. Please co-sign our righteous indignation. Please hurt those who hurt us.”
“NO.” Says Christ. “I will not collude with your hate.”
And later, just to ram the point home, who does Christ use as the parable “poster child” for philanthropy? The Good Samaritan. The person whom you least expect to do God’s will is often the one who is much better at doing it than you. The person you dislike. The person you are avoiding. What if I told you that this person is your best chance to encounter God’s Grace? Engaging with this person out of love is you best chance to meet Christ.
“You wanna take a chance? Take it.”
Take the chance. Reach out today to the person with whom you disagree. Talk to them. Love them.
When we are most tempted to pull up the drawbridge and retreat into isolationism Christ dares us to do the opposite. When we are most inclined to look in Christ bids us to look out. When we want to give up or resort to vitriol Christ gives us courage, perseverance and a new language of peace. Because this is our calling as a church. To stand as resolute as ever against intolerance and aggression - in all its forms - and by so doing to make the love of Christ known.
Because “Project Fear” has many faces. Make no mistake. No political party, no political persuasion has a monopoly on this kind of pernicious manipulation. Resist this rubbish. Do not let anyone tempt you to act out of fear but instead act out of the venturous, self-giving love of Christ. It’s hard. And the more we have the harder it is to let go. But this is the life we are called to as Christ's disciples. And nobody ever said it would be easy.