Short and simple. A version of Sunday's sermon... Confirmation tomorrow at Apsley... praying for John, Ustane, Alison, Louis, Harry and Amy...
I was shocked watching Orla Guerrin’s report from the Democratic Republic of Congo the other night. I was shocked to see humanity push and shove itself over itself to get to an aid station to get food. There was no concern for who was trampled on, who was separated from their families, who was injured or crushed only to discover that all the aid station had in stock were high energy biscuits. I was further shocked by the reaction of the staff at the station... some with BBC journalists trying to save as many from being crushed as possible, but others reacting to the unruly crowd by lashing out with large sticks in an attempt to keep control. I was shocked at the contrast between simple human concern and sinful dehumanization.
This contrast is present in plenty of places in the world at the moment - Zimbabwe, Iraq, Afghanistan are just three examples. But the dehumanizing affect of war and its aftermath have been a constant theme throughout human history... which we will recall again especially next Sunday... as we recall warmongering, peacemaking, and peacekeeping as three sides of a story told in Ypres, Normandy, Poland, The Falklands, The Balkans, and Sierra Leone.
Dehumanizing actions or words are not limited to the war zones of places like the Congo. We dehumanize ourselves and each other every time we treat someone as less than they are, every time we treat someone as an object to be controlled or despised, every time we time we treat someone or their beliefs as strange.
Dehumanization is a difficult word to stomach, and in the last few minutes I am well aware that I have made it all sound a bit abstract, a bit ethical, a bit lecture theatre and has nothing to do with us. Today. Now. But every time we tell a half truth about what we did with our day, every time we get angry with our spouse or child, every time we that idolize the latest glamourous celebrity more than our husband or wife we dehumanize ourselves and each other.
We dehumanize all too easily. It seems to come all too easily to all of us from time to time in our lives. If only being life-affirmingly human came as easily to us. It’s easy to identify how to dehumanize but what does it mean to be human, life-affirmingly human?
Genesis 1:26 tells us that human beings are made in the image of God. In other words the capacity for life-affirming humanity lies at the heart of every one of us because we are made to be like God in some way - to be in relationship with him and with each other.
Paul and others talk of the call to be saints in connection with the church that they were part of and ministered to. The saints were the church - they are not exalted figures and there is not a halo in sight - they are believers who still have their failings and sins yet who through God’s call in Christ have recognised the sin in the world and in their lives and are committed through Christ, to doing something about it. They are attempting in everyday life to follow the way of
Christ’s disciples. These people are not self made saints, they don’t selflessly suffer in silence, but Paul is clear - we are ‘called to be saints’ (1 Cor 1:2) and are part of the ‘holy and beloved elect’ (Phil 1:1).
Saintliness is something we are all called to as all of us, people of faith and none, are made in the image of God. We begin our saintly journey by acknowledging God and his love for each of us through our baptism. Saints are those who take that relationship with God, whose image they bear seriously, and who deepen it through study of the scriptures, attending worship, praying faithfully and through other special occasions such as receiving communion for the first time or being confirmed both of which are happening for some in this community in the next few days.
Saintliness though as is so often the case with God, turns topsy turvy, what our expectations might be. Saintliness flies in the face of celebrity culture and hedge funds and bonuses. Being a saint is nothing to do with greatness, learning, power or influence, but everything to do with humility, openness, honesty and love.
In a world where we so easily dehumanize ourselves and each, other God’s call to saintliness needs to be seen and heard afresh in our generation. In a world that needs to rediscover the core of what it means to human, life-affirmigly human, lies in a relationship with God and each other, God’s call to saintliness needs to be seen and heard in our generation.
But please God, not a saintliness of otherworldly aloof glass or plaster faces, but one which takes our basic humanity seriously. The humanity Jesus was born into. The humanity that bears God’s image.
Today and every day God calls all of into relationships of love with each other and with him. As we seek to live and grow and thrive in these relationships, God calls us to saintliness, but a saintliness that blesses us and those around us when we are poor in spirit, or mourning, that blesses us or those around us who are meek or who hunger and thirst for what is right, that blesses us and those around us who are merciful or who make peace, that honours those who persecuted because of their striving after justice and what is right for it is these saints that God longs for - sometimes dehumanized by ourselves and others - but through his love, it is to such as these, it is to such as these Congolese, Iraqi, and Afghani, unemployed, depressed, or lonely, it is to such as these (POINT), that God’s kingdom belongs. Amen.