Monday, 7 June 2021

Healing in the Marketplace

A sermon for Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church
13 June 2021

Listen to this sermon here: 

Mark 6.30-34, 53-56
Roll up, roll up, roll up,
            two for a penny or three for a pound,
            cheap at half the price,
            get ‘em while they’re hot
            eat ‘em while they’re fresh
            here today, gone tomorrow
            guaranteed to last for the lifetime of the product
The traditional cries of the market trader
            have echoed through the streets of London for centuries
And the great markets of Petticoat Lane, Camden Lock,
            Borough, Covent Garden, and so many more
remain as much a ‘must see’ part of a tourist’s visit to London
            as any of the great museums or art galleries
Some of you will know that when I was in my late teens,
            I spent a year running a market stall
                        on Camden Market
and for a young man from the pleasant leafy town of Sevenoaks,
            this was, I can tell you, something of an eye-opener
It was at Camden Market that I first encountered
            the huge ethnic and social diversity
            that is such a feature of this great city
and it was at Camden Market that I worked alongside
            and became friends with
            people from so many different cultural backgrounds
It was also at Camden Market that I first encountered
                        the shadier side of London life,
            with the ‘under the counter’ trade in drugs
                        a regular feature of some of the stalls around mine
It was at Camden Market that I was,
            for the first time in my life, physically threatened,
                        as a man with a broken off bottle
                        waved it in my face and demanded my takings.
It was at Camden Market that I experienced
            the strong bond between stallholders
            as those from neighbouring stalls came to my rescue
In many ways, it was on Camden market that I first experienced
            the breadth and depths, the highs and lows of life
There were days spent freezing in the snow,
            and others sweating in the heat
there were days when I earned good money
            and others when I sold nothing
It was, as they say, one of life’s ‘formative experiences’!
            but it left me with a sense that in some strange way
            the whole of life could be found represented in the market:
riches and poverty, friendship and violence,
            suffering and rejoicing
All present in the market:
            a microcosm of life
For those of you who are wondering,
            I sold Indonesian clothing
which my aunt imported
            in what was, I now realise with hindsight,
            a forerunner of the fair trade movement.
She had been to Indonesia, and had discovered these wonderful fabrics
            such as Batik and Ikat,
and in a micro-enterprise she employed local tradespeople
            to create western style clothes from Indonesian materials
which she then sold through a few market stalls.
Everyone she dealt with was paid a fair price for their work,
            everyone was known to her personally,
and hand on heart I can say
            that her particular engagement with the marketplace
            sought to bring life and justice to those involved
Of course, the same could not be said for all the other traders,
            and from drugs to knocked-off CDs
            from immigrant workers to pickpockets and thieves
there were those who found the market a place of oppression
            or cut-throat opportunity
As I said, the whole of life,
            experienced through the microcosm of the market
And, to bring us back to the present,
            we seem to be hearing quite a lot
            about ‘the market’ these days as well, don’t we…
If we read the newspapers, or watch the TV,
            it’s never very long until we hear someone talking about ‘the market’
And what they mean by this, of course, is the global marketplace:
            the financial markets of London, Tokyo, and New York
where what is bought and sold is not fairly traded Indonesian clothes
            or fake Rolexes, or stolen goods, or…
But hang on a minute…
Perhaps the global markets around the world
            are not so different from my experience of Camden all those years ago
We find good people and criminals,
            side by side in the market,
with the whole of human life reflected there
            as a part of the financial and economic systems
                        which drive our world
There can be little doubt
            that a sickness of great seriousness
            has affected the health of our global financial institutions:
And whether we are talking about
            the European Debt Crisis, that continues to affect European economics;
or the global debt cycles of boom and bust,
            which allow banks, hedge funds and the super rich
                        to lending money irresponsibly,
            exploiting those in developing countries;
or the extortionate rates paid to farmers by UK supermarkets;
The market places of the world are sick,
            and those affected by this sickness
are laid out for all to see
            as the poor get poorer
            as health programmes fail
            as countries slide deeper into recession
            as jobs get more scarce
            as benefits are reduced,
            as the environment is exploited,
            and international aid payments are threatened.
The sickness of the market takes its very real toll
            on the very real lives, of very real people.
And here, I’m going to say it,
            when the market becomes infected in this way
                        it becomes a satanic entity
            which acquires a life of its own
                        and rampages its way in the world
            demanding that all must worship it
                        and leaving a trail of devastation in its wake
It becomes the strong man we spoke about last week,
            who fills his house with good things
            at the expense of those who have less.
And the thing is, this is nothing new.
We might be experiencing it in this way for the first time in human history,
            but the tendency of financial markets
                        to enter into alliances with those who hold military strength
            to extract wealth from the world
                        for the benefit of the few
            is not a new thing.
Something very similar was happening in the first century
            with the Roman empire
which bestrode the world as a financial and military colossus
            dominating the markets and extracting its tribute at every turn.
If you went to a market place in Israel in the first century
            you would find a sickness in the market every bit as real and devastating
                        as that which we are experiencing today
The Roman empire imposed punitive taxes
            which made the poor poorer and the rich richer
and whether you were in a city, a village or a farmyard,
            there was no escaping the infection
            that the empire had placed in the financial and trading markets
                        of those countries which Rome had occupied
The Pharisees knew all about the sickness of the market place
            and these religious leaders of the Jews went to great lengths
            to ensure that they didn’t become infected themselves
In chapter 7, just a few verses on
            from this morning’s reading from Mark’s gospel,
we’re told that
Mark 7:3-4   the Pharisees, … do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it;
For the Pharisees, and for those Jews who followed their teaching,
            there was no separation between physical and spiritual uncleanness
They didn’t simply wash the goods from the market to get the germs off,
            in the way that we might wash an apple before eating it.
For them, the ritual washing of goods purchased in the market
            was about the ritual cleansing of tainted goods
                        that had been bought with tainted money
            in a market place where all the wrong kinds of people were at large
They wanted as little contact as possible with gentiles,
            and with those whose spiritual lives
                        might not measure up to their own exacting standards
And where they needed produce from the market
            that might have been grown by farmers
                        more interested in the next harvest
                        than in regular synagogue attendance,
or which might have been traded by merchants
            who dealt with Romans and Greeks as well as Jews,
            or who made the required offerings of worship to the emperor
                        so that they could trade in the markets of the empire,
the Pharisees needed some way of distancing themselves
            from this ritual uncleanliness;
and so the washing of the food was part of this ritual of cleansing,
            making real their belief that they were more holy before God
            than those they contacted in the uncleanness of the market
And so we come to Jesus, in our gospel reading for this morning.
            Let’s hear Mark chapter 6, verse 56 again:
And wherever he went-- into villages, towns or countryside-- they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.
Do you notice what’s different here about Jesus,
            compared to the Pharisees?
Jesus goes into the marketplaces,
            and rather than becoming himself infected
                                    with the sickness of the market,
                        by touching the wrong person, or handling the wrong thing,
            rather than becoming himself unclean,
                        he brings healing and wholeness to those whom he meets there.
And it is healing offered without condition,
            across every social sphere of society.
He goes to the market places of the cities,
            of the villages, and of the rural areas,
and in each market he enters,
            he encounters those who are sick, those who are unclean,
                        those who are lacking wholeness,
                        and dislocated from their society,
and he restores them,
            healing them and making them whole.
Again, here we find the same blurring of the boundary,
            between physical and spiritual sickness,
                        and physical and spiritual healing.
For the ancient Jews,
            body and soul could not so easily be separated,
            as we who are the heirs of Platonic dualism seem to manage.
The healing Jesus brought to the markets of Israel
            involved the whole person: body, mind and spirit,
as those who had been infected by the market
            were restored to physical health,
                        to spiritual wellbeing,
            and also to their right place within society.
And, I would venture to suggest,
            the same is, or at least should be, true today.
Too often certain strands of Christianity
            have become fixated on the notion of healing in the name of Jesus
                        as a miraculous restoration of health,
            and seek this whenever a human body starts to show the inevitable signs
                        of it’s eventual degeneration and mortality.
But the difficulty with this,
            is that it sets in place a whole host of false expectations,
because the reality is that not everyone who is sick gets better,
            even if they pray a lot, and have a lot of faith,
and eventually all of us will shuffle off this mortal coil,
            in one way or another.
Then there are other strands of Christianity
            that have become fixated on the healing of the soul,
where what matters most is whether your heart is right with God,
            and the present evil age is something to be endured
            whilst waiting to depart to be with the Lord.
And the difficulty with this
            is that it creates an environment where all that matters
                        is the saving of the person’s eternal soul,
            while the meeting of their physical needs either becomes neglected,
                        or, only marginally better, met as long as the person
                        takes some steps towards spiritual conversion.
But then there are other strands of Christianity,
            that have become fixated on meeting
                        the physical needs of the vulnerable and disadvantaged,
            and have poured all their efforts into programmes
                        designed to alleviate poverty, address homelessness
                                    and caring for the alien in the land.
And the problem with this
            is that it can be too easy to meet the presenting problem,
without also shining the light of the gospel of Christ
            into the troubled hearts and souls of those being cared for,
and so, whilst the immediate need is met,
            the person’s long-term spiritual woundedness remains unhealed.
And then there are other strands of Christianity
            that take the same approach as that adopted by the Pharisees,
and they have minimal contact with those
            who are spiritually unclean or physically sick,
            lest they themselves might become infected with unholiness
                        in the process.
None of these approaches, it seems to me,
            captures the healing that Jesus brought to the markets
            of Israel in the first century.
And none of these approaches
            captures the healing that Jesus seeks to bring
            to the markets of our own troubled world.
The Pharisee option,
            tempting though it may be on occasions
                        to remain cloistered in some holy Christian clique,
            is not ultimately an option for us
                        because the needs of our sick and damaged world
                        are too pressing for us to ignore.
As we, the people of Jesus who claim to be his disciples,
            seek to live out the approach of Jesus in our own lives,
we need to be willing to enter the market in his name,
            to bring his healing and wholeness to those we meet there.
And the healing of Jesus that we proclaim
            will not be simply a healing of the soul,
                        which ignores the plight of the body;
            and neither will it be a tending of the body
                        which ignores the plight of the soul,
            and neither will it be a promise that death can be cheated,
                        while health and wealth are maintained through prayer.
Rather, it will be a healing that embraces sickness and death,
            and in so doing robs them of their power
                        to render human souls unclean.
It will be a healing that restores the soul,
            as it brings wholeness to the physical situations we encounter.
It will be a healing that subverts the sickness of the market,
            and sets in place life-giving alternatives,
which value the individual at each stage of the economic cycle.
Here’s a thing:
            Imagine I need a new item of clothing, say a T-shirt.
I could, if I wanted, take a gun and point it at a man who makes T-shirts,
            and order him to make me one at a pittance.
But I’m a civilised person, and I don’t want to do that;
            I wouldn’t even like the idea of someone doing it on my behalf.
But I’m also a consumer, and I’ll buy my T-shirt from the market,
            choosing the one that is the best value for money.
In this instance, the market becomes the man with the gun,
            acting on my behalf.
This is the sickness of the market,
            it domesticates violence,
            and makes us all complicit in the process.
Healing in this situation starts to look like some kind of system,
            similar to the micro-business run by my aunt thirty years ago,
And so we come to the importance of the fair trade movement,
            and the various systems that it has spawned.
But here’s another thing:
            There is a trade in human beings taking place around the world,
                        predicated on the sex-industry,
            as people are trafficked to service the market,
                        in sexual exploitation.
Now, I’m not about to get all prudish,
            about the fact that Fifty Shades of Gray and its sequels and imitators
            have consistently topped the best seller charts for the last decades;
But I cannot help but notice that sex sells,
            and one of the things that sex sells is human beings.
And I wonder what it would mean to enter that market,
            and bring healing in the name of Christ?
We’ll close with an example of what this looks like in real life.
Many of you will remember Ella’s Home,
            the London-based organisation working with women
            who have survived trafficking and sexual exploitation.
We’ve had their founder Emily Chalke visit us before
            to speak about their work,
            and the difference they are making to women
            who have been traded in the global marketplace.
Short video ‘Running to the light’ which tells the story about Lucia

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