THERE WAS a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. St Luke 16.19
THERE’S AN EXTRACT from a sermon by Dean Jeffrey John of St Alban’s in the Back to Church Sunday Special that arrived with this week’s UK Church Times. In it the Dean tells of visiting the Cathedral, a week before he was to be installed as Dean, “in civvies to see what it was like.”
At that time, though, there was still quite a fuss about my coming here at all. And, on that first Sunday, there were people who had come up from some churches in London, who were trying to collect signatures for a petition to stop the installation.
So, on my first Sunday here, I had this wonderful experience of being asked to sign a petition against myself.
There was laughter in Bramhall Parish Church when I shared this story this morning. Thankfully, however, and a cause for joy in me, many spoke to me afterwards of their being appalled to hear of such a thing happening in a church, to anyone, anywhere, for any reason.
For much of my adult life I’ve witnessed sections of the Church meting out torture (and torturing herself in the process) to those deemed, by them, unworthy of a full place. It has been a most unseemly spectacle – and surely extremely painful for some kind souls in leadership positions, to whom we all too willingly abrogate our own responsibility for the well-being of others, leaving ourselves free to pelt them with negative judgments whenever the fickle mood takes us. We can hardly be surprised that it has also been a period of decline and loss of faith in the Church – even at the same time there’s been a rise in interest in the things of God.
We won’t be pushed around any more
Two World Wars left millions worldwide wondering whether they’d been sold a pup. Millions more absolutely knew that they had been. People all over the world are rising up to this very day and – peacefully – showing bullies that they won’t be pushed around anymore. Thank God for the “feet of them that bring good news” – “for the poor.”
I’m minded to pray for a world, and for religious communities of every tradition within that world, that have learned something of lasting value from the tragic divisions of the past. I’m minded to wonder what might be the nature of the “hell” to which “a certain rich man” allowed himself to be carried off? Isn’t hell a lasting sense of burning shame here in this world before it’s anything else? Shame, in the light of the loving presence of God, because we not only failed to help “a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at [the] gate full of sores” but we compounded the injury, steadfastly pretending that we hadn’t even noticed he was there.
Many will have heard, some will have read, and more will hear of Dean Jeffrey’s story in days and months and years to come. I shall continue to pray that the Church in every corner of the world lives to recognise the absolute shamefulness of “people who had come up from some churches in London, who were trying to collect signatures for a petition to stop the installation.” Let s/he who has the time and funds to draw up petitions pray instead “Father forgive them (those hell bent on crucifixion and exclusion “outside the city wall”) for they know not what they do.”
Jeffrey John concludes, writing, of course, about adherents of Christian faith
We are Catholic, in the sense we mean in the creed: “I believe in one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.” Catholic implies universal, for everybody — young, old, black, white, male, female, rich, poor, gay, straight, married, single, and whatever other categories you can think of.
We are all here on an equal basis,which is that none of us qualifies to be here. We are all here because we are all sinners looking for forgiveness; we are all wounded in one way or another, and looking for healing; and we are all children of God, looking to be strengthened by his love, so that we can go out and live a decent life as his people in the world.
It’s a message that doesn’t apply only to the Church though. We live – and ought to rejoice in – a “catholic” world.