Tuesday, 31 May 2022

A Jubilee Anointing

A sermon for Pentecost Sunday 
5th June 2022

Acts 2.1-21
Luke 4.16-21
Philippians 4.4-7

This morning I’d like to start by introducing you to my Great-Grandfather,
            Messenger Sgt Major William Gwynne Woodman.

Just over 70 years ago, he was part of the guard of honour
            who stood vigil over the late King George VI in Westminster Hall,
And then sixty-nine years ago, he was present at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II,
            and can be seen in this photo in full dress uniform,
            guarding the processional exit of the newly crowned queen
            as she walked down the aisle at Westminster Abbey.

If you’re struggling to make him out, here he is outlined in red:

His obituary reads:
Completed 37 years in the Queen's Body Guard of the Yeoman of the Guard,
            reaching the position of Senior Messenger Sargeant Major,
was invested with the Silver Medal of the Royal Victorian Order
            in the New Years Honour List of 1959.
Has completed more than 65 years in continuous military service.
            Was a member of the Guard of Honour of the Queen Victoria Jubilee,
            was at the Relief of Mafekin,
has attended every Royal wedding, funeral and coronation
            as well as other State occasions since 1921 until the end of 1959.
He died on 8th March 1960.
            Military interment at Elmers End Cemetery with Pall Bearers,
            Piper and Drummers from the Scots Guards Regt.
I tell you this story from my family history,
            because I think it matters that we know our history:
the stories that shape us, both individually and corporately, are important,
            and we understand ourselves better
            if we understand the past from which we have come.
I’m sure there are some of us here today
            who can remember the coronation of Elizabeth?
Well - a question for you:
            Do you know what the oldest item in the Crown Jewels is?
It is the ‘Coronation Spoon’

            and it’s the oldest surviving part of the Crown Jewels,
            dating from the 12th century.
Whist its original use was probably for mixing water and wine,
            it’s been used to anoint monarchs with oil at their coronation
            since the time of James I in the early 17th century,
with the Archbishop of Canterbury dipping two fingers
            into oil in the troughs in the spoon,
and then using this to mark the forehead of the new monarch.
And it’s this idea of anointing that I want us to focus on for a moment,
            as we explore the origin and symbolism of this practice.
In the Hebrew Bible,
            anointing with oil was an act of commissioning, or ordination,
            of setting someone aside for a particular role.
So priests were anointed (Exod. 29.7, 29) for their ministry,
            as were the sacred items they would use (Exod 30.26);
prophets were anointed (1 Kgs 19.16; 1 Chr 16.22),
            and also, significantly, Kings,
as we find in the story of the prophet Samuel
            choosing the young David from among Jesse’s sons.
1 Sam. 16:12-13
Now [David] was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, "Rise and anoint him; for this is the one." 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward.
Here in this passage we see something significant occurring,
            which is that the anointing is not only the moment of commissioning for kingship,
            it is also the moment that the spirit of God came upon David.
The act of sanctification, of setting aside of a person for a particular role,
            allowed God’s spirit to take shape in that person’s life in a new way.
Within the Jewish tradition,
            the King and the High Priest were sometimes spoken of as ‘the anointed one’,
            in Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ, Mashiaẖ, or ‘Messiah’.
As Israel’s fortunes had faded, with successive invasions
            from the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, and the Romans,
the power and prestige of their kings and priests had diminished,
            and there arose within Israel a hope that one day,
                        a new messiah, a new ‘anointed one’,
                        would come and restore the nation’s fortune.
It’s a myth not dissimilar to the Arthurian myth of England,
            where nationalistic hopes and religious ideology combine
                        to create a ‘memory’ of a long-lost golden courtly age,
            and a corresponding hope that, in our nation’s hour of greatest need,
                        the great King of old will return to re-establish his kingdom.
For the ancient Jews, their hopes for a restoration of their nation
            were pinned on messiah who would combine both kingship and priesthood.
They were longing for a ‘son of David’
            who would embody all their religious and political aspirations,
overthrowing the oppressors, restoring the borders of the kingdom,
            and renewing the religious life of the nation.
This is the context that frames the stories of Jesus,
            and we can see how these all come together
            in the moment of his commissioning.
At his baptism in the river Jordan, the gospel writers record
            the Spirit of God descending on Jesus in the form of a dove (Lk. 3.21-22);
and at the beginning of his public ministry, in the synagogue in Nazareth,
            Jesus evoked the prophecy of Isaiah
            to interpret this descent of the Spirit as his own moment of anointing.
Some 500 years earlier, the prophet of Isaiah had proclaimed a message of hope
            to those returning from the Babylonian exile,
            and spoken of himself as a prophet of good news, saying that
Isa. 61:1-2
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favour.
And it is this passage which Jesus applies to himself
            at the beginning of his ministry,
            as we heard in our reading earlier from Luke’s gospel.
Do you remember I said that it’s important to understand our history,
            if we are to understand what’s happening in our present?
Well, if we are to understand what’s going on
            in claim that Jesus is the messiah,
then we need to understand the origins of this idea of an anointed one.
But there’s something else going on here as well,
            and it’s the idea of Jubilee.
You see, the Isaiah quote about being anointed by ‘the spirit of the Lord’,
            is not one which lends itself to either political aspiration nor religious restoration.
This isn’t a mandate for a ‘son of David’
            to assume military authority and overthrow the oppressor,
it isn’t a mandate for a new high priest to emerge
            who will reintegrate the faith into the highest levels of the state.
Rather, it’s an anointing for service,
            for bringing good news to the oppressed,
            healing to the broken-hearted,
            liberty to the captives,
            and release to the prisoners.
It’s an anointing to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
            And here we find ourselves face to face with the concept of Jubilee.
This weekend’s Jubilee celebrations
            are to mark the 70th anniversary of the Queen’s accession,
but did you know that the concept of Jubilee, which means ‘celebration’,
            are found in the pages of the Hebrew Bible?
Tim Jones, friend and former member of Bloomsbury,
            has written a new article on Jubilee
            which has been published this week on the website christianity.org.uk
                        for which I’m a Trustee and the incoming Chair.
I’ll let Tim take up the story for a moment;
            he writes:
A Jubilee year in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition
            was a time when fields were left fallow, debts cancelled, slaves set free,
            and land returned to its owners (Deuteronomy 15, Leviticus 25).
Jubilees were supposed to happen following seven sets of seven years,
            in the 49th or 50th year.
This periodic resetting of land and wealth
            was to ensure that inequalities did not persist over time.
All the reasons to celebrate a Jubilee were linked.
            If a peasant’s crops failed they had to borrow from the rich to get by,
                        then exploit the land to attempt to pay the debt.
            If the debts could not be paid, the lender could take possession of their land,
                        and then take the borrower and their family into slavery.
            Times of crisis, such as drought, caused huge injustice, and increased inequality.
Jubilee righted these wrongs – freeing slaves, cancelling debts,
            returning the land and giving it time to recover from overexploitation.[1]
Well, thank you to Tim for that explanation!
This is the background to Jesus’ use of Isaiah’s prophecy,
            as he declared himself anointed by God’s spirit
            to proclaim the year of Jubilee, the year of the Lord’s favour.
This was not a vision for the fulfilment of nationalistic hopes,
            nor was it a vision of the resurgence of religious power.
Rather it is a vision of a world remade
            where the poor and vulnerable are prioritised,
            where the excluded are included,
where wealth and land ownership are for the benefit of the many,
            not just the few,
and where natural resources are respected rather than exploited.
It’s significant that Jesus never used of himself
            the phrases ‘son of David’ or ‘son of God’;
rather, it was others who kept trying to use them about him.
Jesus consistently resisted these titles,
            with their militaristic and messianic overtones;
preferring instead the phrase ‘son of man’, or ‘son of humans’
            to describe his self-understanding of his mission.
He was a man, quite literally, ‘of the people’,
            not an elite leader, not a military man or revolutionary activist.
Jesus was not, it seems, the messiah anointed to fulfil the dreams of Jewish nationalists,
            to rebuild the kingdom of Israel;
rather he was the messiah anointed to proclaim the year of Jubilee,
            to establish the kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven.
And those who would follow Jesus
            would do well to reflect on his reframing of what it means
            to be anointed as the messiah.
Too easily we are seduced by memories of better days long-gone,
            for which we yearn to return.
We hear it in phrases like ‘this used to be a Christian country’,
            and on this weekend, particularly, we hear it in the way some Christians
            are making much of the faith of our monarch.
Now - please don’t get me wrong here.
            I’m a huge admirer of Elizabeth Windsor,
                        and everything I have read indicates that she has a sincere and devout faith.
            She is our sister in Christ, and has lived a long and faithful life,
                        for which I give thanks to God.
But I rejoice in her faith as I rejoice in the faith of anyone
            who has offered a life of long service to Christ.
Do you remember in the Chronicles of Narnia, by the great writer C. S. Lewis,
            that men and women are described as ‘sons of Adam’ and ‘daughters of Eve’,
titles which deliberately evoke Jesus’ description
            of himself as the ‘son of man’.
In Christ, we are called to resist narratives of exceptionalism,
            we are called to resist dreams of nationalism and militarism,
            we are called to resist all messianic hopes of restoration.
Rather, we are called to attend to the poor and vulnerable,
            to make real the vision of Jubilee,
            and for this we, too, are anointed.
Early in Luke’s gospel,
            John the Baptist is doing his baptising thing,
and Luke tells us that:
Lk. 3:15-16
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
And so we find ourselves at Pentecost,
            the birthday of the church.
The story of Pentecost from the early chapters of Acts
            shows us that the anointing of baptism is the gift of the Spirit,
            and that this is for us, as it was for Jesus.
We are anointed with the same Spirit as Jesus,
            and for the same mission.
At Pentecost, the nature of the kingdom of God was revealed,
            as the barriers which divided people from one another,
                        barriers of privilege, language, and identity,
            were broken down by the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
But this is more than an idealistic vision of human unity
            to be fulfilled in the hereafter.
The early chapters of Acts are full of stories
            of people working in concrete terms
                        to bring into being in their lives and community
            the radical equalising brought about by the gift of the Spirit.
Their attempt to re-frame their financial dealings
            is reminiscent of the radical financial model of the concept of Jubilee,
with wealth being redistributed to ensure that none are left in need.
The question for us, I think,
            is what does Jubilee look like in our time, in our community, in our country?
The government decision to impose a windfall tax on the profits of utility companies
            is surely a step in the right direction,
but I find myself wondering what a real ‘Jubilee’ would look like in our time,
            where the economic structures of our society are weighted to benefit the poor,
                        to ensure that no-one goes hungry,
            to create a country where food banks are unnecessary,
                        and where the refugee is made welcome.
It is simply inhuman and ungodly to have a society
            where so many people are forced into spirals of debt to survive,
            and where people are choosing between heat and food.
Just last week the boss of the energy company E.On
            predicted that 40 per cent of its customers
            will be in fuel poverty by this Autumn.[2]
To quote Tim Jones again:
Jubilee is about righting the injustices created by an unjust system.
            God’s demand for social justice throughout the bible
                        means it should not stop there,
            but the system itself should be changed so injustice is not created in the first place.”
So let’s celebrate Jubilee,
            but let’s do so by working to bring good news to the poor,
                        release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
            and to let the oppressed go free.
And the thing is, this isn’t rocket science,
            this isn’t some pipe dream for which we pray and then leave it to God.
Not at all - and Bloomsbury highly involved in partnerships
            working to bring about the values of Jubilee
            in our world, our city, and our communities.
If you want to take seriously the anointing of Pentecost
            to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour
then there are a myriad of options for you be part of through our church.
Let me tell you about a few of them:
You might choose to become involved in welcoming the stranger,
            by joining our West End Welcome group,
            which has already helped in housing two refugee families.
You might choose to become involved in bringing release to captives,      
            by joining our team doing training with the Welcome Directory,
            so that we can be a community who welcomes people being discharged from prison.
You might choose to become involved in working against fuel poverty,
            but joining our Just Transition team,
which is campaigning for 100,000 London homes to be upgraded
                        in their insulation and heating,
            and for the creation of 60,000 green jobs paying the London Living Wage,
so that as we tackle climate change and work toward a carbon neutral London,
            we do so in ways that prioritise those most in need and most at risk.
You might choose to become involved in our campaigning for the Real Living Wage,
            which this year is focussing on those who work in the health and social care sector,
            so that people who care for others are not forced to live in poverty.
You might choose be become involved in our anti-racism group,
            addressing the evil legacy of the transatlantic slave trade,
            challenging the barriers of race and ethnicity that continue to divide our society.
You might choose to become part of our London Citizens team,
            learning the skills of community organising,
so that through partnership with others
            we can bring the world as it is, one step closer to the world as it should be.
But here’s the thing: all of these take time, they take effort,
            they involve turning up to meetings, going on training,
            maybe taking time out of work.
It’s not rocket science, but there aren’t any shortcuts.
I am passionate about the possibilities before us as a church,
            and I’m passionate about how much we are already doing.
If you’re interested in becoming involved in any of these areas,
            drop me a line, book a conversation with me,
I’d be delighted to explore how God is leading you to be part of our calling
            to bring good news to a hurting world.
And so this Jubilee Pentecost I want us to celebrate:
            let’s celebrate the community we are called to be,
                        we are a Spirit-anointed people,
            called to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
                        called to live into being the year of Jubilee.

[1] https://christianity.org.uk/article/opinion-a-jubilee-for-debt-justice
[2] https://www.itv.com/news/2022-05-22/eon-boss-warns-40-of-customers-could-fall-into-fuel-poverty

Friday, 20 May 2022

The Cost of Enslavement

A sermon for Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church
22nd May 2022

Philippians 1.1-18a

In April 1963, just 18 months after he preached in this building,
            the Baptist Minister Martin Luther King
            was arrested and imprisoned in Birmingham, Alabama,
for coordinating a nonviolent campaign to protest against racial segregation.
Whilst in prison, initially writing in the margins on scraps of newspaper,
            King wrote what has become one of the most profound and persuasive defences
            of the methods used by the civil rights movement against racial segregation.
Other religious leaders of the time were urging that the case against racism
            should be made through the courts and the legal process,
but King’s understanding of the gospel of Christ
            was that it compelled him to advocate urgent and nonviolent action
                        to bring about justice for the oppressed black population,
            even if that action broke the law.
In this letter from a Birmingham jail,
            he outlines his reasons as to why it is sometimes appropriate
                        to break the law in a nonviolent way
            in order to raise an issue of profound injustice.
It’s often lost in the way Martin Luther King’s story is told
            that the motivation for his views was his Christian faith.
His citation for the Nobel Peace Prize makes no mention of his Christian faith,
            and yet he was clear that what compelled him
            was his understanding of the Gospel of Christ.
He said,
            “The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust.
                        I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws.
                        One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws.
            Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
He goes on:
            ‘I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’”
And in response to the allegation against him that he was nothing but an extremist,
            he rises to the accusation, claiming,
            “The question is not whether we will be extremists,
                        but what kind of extremists we will be.
            Will we be extremists for hate or for love?”
I wonder if you, like me, can begin to hear echoes here,
            of Paul’s letter from a Roman jail,
            which we heard read earlier,
as he wrote to his friends in Philippi,
            urging, encouraging, and exhorting them to works of love,
            to become single-minded and bold in their proclamation
                        of the message of Christ’s love for all without exception or barrier?
But I’m also reminded of another letter written from a prison,
            this time it’s not a prison in Rome, or a jail in Birmingham Alabama,
            it’s a cell in a concentration camp in Bavaria,
and the author is the German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Perhaps understandably,
            his thoughts have turned to issues of justice and unjust suffering,
and in his prison letter he says,
            “We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do,
            and more in the light of what they suffer.”
And he goes on,
            “We have to learn that personal suffering is a more effective key,
                        a more rewarding principle for exploring the world in thought and action
            than personal good fortune.”
Before concluding that:
            “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others...
                        not dominating, but helping and serving.
            It must tell [people] of every calling what it means to live for Christ,
                        to exist for others.”
And so we have three prison letters,
            from three Christian pastor-theologians,
            writing in three very different contexts,
one from the first century, and two from the twentieth century;
            and we find that they offer us parallel insights:
The call of Christ on the church in any age is to pay attention
            to the voices of the suffering, the marginalised, and the disempowered,
            to those excluded because of ethnicity, poverty, identity, or ideology,
because in the these voices we hear the voice of our crucified saviour
            speaking to us through those we could so easily ignore.
If you want to hear the voice of the crucified saviour speaking to you,
            listen to the voices of those who suffer.
So as we spend a little time this morning
            with the opening words of Paul’s letter to the Philippians,
I wonder if we can read his words through this lens of Bonhoeffer and King,
            thereby hearing Paul’s words from prison echoing down into our context,
challenging us to single-mindedly pursue in our world
            the Christ-call to works of love, justice, and righteousness?
What will this mean for us, to hear this message in our context,
            in a world where still so many are excluded or marginalised,
            cut off from society, from the body of Christ, from one another?
This letter, Paul’s letter to the Philippians, written by Paul and Timothy from prison,
            is possibly the last letter we have from Paul before his death;
and certainly it was written some years after the events
            of the founding the church in Philippi,
which we heard about a couple of weeks ago
            in our reading from the book of Acts,
when we met Lydia the dealer in purple cloth,
            the un-named slave girl with the demon of prophecy that was cast out of her,
            and the Philippian jailor whose suicide was averted
                        and whose whole family were converted.
These, and those who had joined them in Philippi,
            formed the core of the church to whom Paul writes,
            from a prison cell probably in Rome.
The letter begins in the normal way for an first century letter,
            by naming the authors.
These days, our convention is to sign off at the end of a letter,
            but in those days you would put your name at the top,
            so that readers would know straight away who was writing to them.
It’s noteworthy that Paul uses his Greek name here,
            rather than his Hebrew name ‘Saul’,
and in this he’s following the pattern we see in the book of Acts,
            where he moves from his Jewish name to his Greek name,
            as his life turns from being a Jewish religious leader
                        towards his mission to the Greek-speaking gentile world.
Issues of race and identity are, it seems, always in the background to human relations,
            and this was as true in the first century
            as it is in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
After a standard opening, our two authors, Paul and Timothy,
            then describe themselves in a way that is quite unusual,
they say that they are ‘slaves’ of Christ Jesus.
And here we have to pause,
            because I don’t think we can hear the word ‘slave’
                        in a sermon that has already mentioned Martin Luther King,
            without also hearing an echo of the evils
                        of the race-based enslavement of so many people
            that lay behind the racial segregation and injustice
                        against which King protested,
                        for which he was arrested,
                        and as a consequence of which he was assassinated.
Whist it is true that many of those
            who led the movement for the abolition of slavery were Christians,
there is also a despicable story to be told of white Christian complicity
            in the enslavement of black Africans.
And it is also true that the Western Christian church today
            continues to be complicit in, and benefit from,
                        those racist structures in society that perpetuate the disempowerment
                        of black and brown people in society.
If you want to know more about this,
            can I encourage you to read the display boards in the foyer,
and to come along on Wednesday evening for the premier screening
            of the new documentary After the Flood,
which explores in more detail this story of white Christianity and slavery,
            and the ongoing legacy of racism and structural oppression in our society and world.
Further details on this can be found in the weekly news email,
            including the link to buy your ticket.
So given this lens of racial oppression and enslavement,
            offered to us by Martin Luther King’s letter from a Birmingham jail,
what are we then to make of Paul’s description of himself and Timothy
            as ‘slaves of Christ’?
Well, firstly, I don’t think that our pew Bible’s attempt to soften this
            by reframing it as ‘servants of Christ’ helps us very much,
because the word in Greek is clearly ‘slave’,
            and also because servants were also, historically speaking, recipients of oppression,
            and in many ways experienced life as economic enslavement,
                        even if not politically mandated enslavement.
We cannot sidestep this question,
            into a trite homily about ‘servant leadership’
            as exemplified by Paul, a ‘slave of Christ’.
Rather, we have to go through it instead,
            this uncomfortable language of slavery.
But I think it was uncomfortable in the first century too:
            Paul is using this language to raise some really deep questions
            about human identity and how we see ourselves before God.
The key thing for Paul here, in his use of this language of enslavement,
            appears to be the issue of ownership.
Who owns you?
In the ancient world, where slavery was widespread,
            Roman society was broadly divided into two classes of people:
either you were enslaved,
            or you owned or benefitted from those who were enslaved.
And Paul, as a Roman citizen from birth,
            would have been on the beneficiary side of this equation;
we have no indication that he personally owned slaves,
            although it may be that his family had done so,
but he would certainly have benefitted and profited from the enslavement of others
            throughout his life.
In those days, slavery was not so much demarcated on one’s skin colour,
            but there was still a very clear line down the middle or Roman society,
            and you fell on one side of that line or the other.
In our world, we too face a division within society:
            on the one hand there are some who, by virtue of their birth,
                        have inherited the oppression caused by the structures and systems of racism
                        in ways which limit their lives, opportunities, and circumstances;
            whilst on the other hand there are others who, by virtue of their birth
                        have inherited the privileges given by the structures and systems of racism,
                        in ways which enhance their lives, opportunities, and circumstances.
In our world it’s largely focussed around how your skin colour and heritage
            map against the European empires of the last four hundred years,
            and particularly against the economics attached to the transatlantic slave trade.
The context from the first to the twenty first century may be different,
            but it also has striking similarities,
particularly around disparities of opportunity and liberty
            based on an imperial legacy of violent conquest
            and individual circumstance of birth.
So what does it mean for Paul, a man born with privilege, a Roman citizen,
            to name himself as a ‘slave of Christ’?
Why does he do this?
            Well, as I said, it’s primarily a statement about ownership.
In the ancient Roman world, everyone in the empire was owned by the Emperor;
            for some people that was an opportunity and privilege,
            for others it was a cause of oppression and disadvantage.
But by describing himself as a ‘slave of Christ’,
            Paul was consciously aligning himself with another authority.
It was an act of rhetorical rebellion,
            every bit as compelling, I would suggest,
            as that articulated so brilliantly by Martin Luther King
            in his letter from a Birmingham jail.
The point is clear: if Paul is owned by Christ,
            then he is not owned by the Emperor.
And this means that he is no longer bound to live according to the rules of the empire,
            he is free from the compulsion to comply.
And as we know from elsewhere in his life and ministry,
            this leads him into illegal acts of nonviolent resistance.
He often finds himself imprisoned,
            we heard only a couple of weeks ago about his torture, beating,
            and imprisonment in Philippi.
He can, and does, speak and act in ways that I am sure,
            both Bonhoeffer and King would recognise
            as subversive resistance to the systems of power in his world.
By naming himself as a slave of Christ,
            Paul is putting out there that he has a different master now,
            one who compels him to live by different rules.
And I wonder what it might mean for us, in our world,
            to take seriously what it would mean for us
            to declare ourselves ‘slaves of Christ’.
I have news for you: you are owned.
All of us are owned:
            by the powers of our society
            by our possessions and money
            by systems that have dictated that because of our skin colour
                        we are advantaged or disadvantaged.
We do not have, in and of ourselves,
            the ability to step outside of the ownership
            that the structures of society puts upon us.
Except and unless, I wonder, if we declare ourselves ‘slaves of Christ’.
What might it mean for us, if we have inherited privilege and advantage,
            to resist and reject the systems that define so much of our lives?
It can’t have been easy for Paul, a man born on the right side of the division in society,
            to reject his advantages.
The temptation would surely have been there for him, as for us,
            to stay on the inside, to fight the good fight from within.
And in fact this is what he does sometimes,
            as in Philippi where he claimed Roman citizenship to get out of prison.
There is a time for using your privilege for good,
            but there is also a time, as Paul discovered to his cost,
            for setting it aside and identifying with another master.
What might it mean for us to act and speak
            in ways that are subversive to the unquestioned assumptions of society,
                        where some are born free, and others are born enslaved,
                        where some are born privileged, and others inherit oppression?
I think that in our time, this begins to focus around the question of reparations:
            decisive action taken to address the imbalances wrought by former generations,
            but which continue to blight lives in the present.
The recent visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to Jamaica,
            in celebration of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee,
was disrupted by protests,
            as people took the opportunity to press their case
                        for not only an apology from the British,
            but also for reparations for subjecting the island to colonial rule and slavery.
This is a live issue, and it is an issue of justice and freedom.
An open letter to the Royal Family and the British government,
            signed by one hundred Jamaican leading academics, politicians, and cultural figures,
and made public on the occasion of the royal visit,
            said the following:
            “We are of the view an apology for British crimes against humanity,
            including but not limited to
                        the exploitation of the indigenous people of Jamaica,
                        the transatlantic trafficking of Africans,
                        the enslavement of Africans,
                        indentureship and colonialization
            is necessary to begin a process of healing, forgiveness,
                        reconciliation and compensation,”[1]
I am heartened at the amount of money that has already been committed,
            to the rebuilding of Ukraine when the opportunity comes,
and I am absolutely supportive of the attempt to bring Putin’s regime to justice,
            and to hold them to account for evils they are wreaking in that country.
But if we are taking that seriously,
            why are we not also taking seriously the wrongs that our society
            wrought against another people group on the basis of skin colour,
            generations before we were born, but which have never been addressed?
A few years ago I went to hear Professor Verene Shepherd,
            give the Baptist Union Sam Sharpe Lecture
                        at the Jamaican High Commission here in London.
She has spoken strongly in favour of a Christian case for reparations.
The annual lecture series is named after Sam Sharpe,
            who was both an enslaved Jamaican and a Baptist Deacon,
            and played an important role in the ‘Great Jamaican Slave Revolt’ of 1831-2.
He was one of the leaders of a group of enslaved people
            who took part in a ‘sit-down strike’ against slavery
and for sitting down and refusing to work, he and more than 500 others
            were executed by a British backed colonial force.[2]
In her lecture Prof Shepherd explored the substantive contribution
            that black women made in the campaign for freedom and rights
            in the colonial Caribbean,
demonstrating from her research
            that anti-slavery activism is not the preserve of males.
And there is important work to be done,
            in recovering the black male and female contribution
            to the fight against slavery.
We have a picture at Bloomsbury of an anti-slavery rally, in London, in the 1840s.
            It is a sea of white men, good people all of them I’m sure.
And one of them is the founder minister of this church, William Brock.
And there is much to celebrate in the story white Christian activism
            against the evils of the slave trade, don’t get me wrong.
But when that whitewashes the contributions
            of those who stood up as enslaved men and women,
            fighting the cause as those who had suffered from it,
then we rather miss the point,
            and we’re back at Bonhoeffer,
            reminding us that we have to listen to the voices of those who suffer,
            if we are to hear the voice of Christ, our suffering saviour.
Prof Shepherd also called for reparations
            for all those impacted by the horrors of colonialism,
something which Wale Hudson Roberts,
            friend to this church and Racial Justice Enabler for the Baptist Union,
grounds in the writing of Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
            who spoke of what he called ‘cheap grace’.
Wale Hudson Roberts says that,
            “Reparations is the antithesis of cheap grace.
            Reparations call for an enduring commitment to the ‘other’,
                        one that emerges from the inner recesses of our hearts.
            Reparations are a genuine outcome of repentance,
                        seeking to make collective recompense for collective violation
                        perpetrated over years and sometimes even decades of systematic violence.”[3]
And so I wonder if those of us who would want to join with Paul and Timothy,
            in identifying ourselves as ‘slaves of Christ’,
can hear the wisdom of our three imprisoned letter-writers this morning,
            calling down the years for us to ground our lives and actions
                        in the overriding call of Christ
            to live in love, and with love towards all,
                        to do so with knowledge and full insight,
            as we determine what is best,
                        and pursue the harvest of righteousness
            that comes through Jesus Christ.

[1] https://time.com/6160376/prince-william-kate-royal-tour-controversy-caribbean/
[2] https://www.baptist.org.uk/Groups/310750/Sam_Sharpe_Project.aspx
[3] https://www.baptist.org.uk/Articles/564908/Sam_Sharpe_Lecture.aspx