Pentecost 19. Sermon preached by the Vice Provost, Marion Chatterley. 16th October 2022

Jeremiah 31: 27-34; Luke 18: 1-8

‘The days are surely coming…’

We live in turbulent and unprecedented times. Whatever your views on matters political, economic, environmental, or ecclesial – there is no denying that these are strange times. Change is in the air whichever way we turn. Much of what we considered to be stable and unchanging is suddenly the exact opposite of that. The institutions that for many years have provided a firm foundation for our lives are not as they once were. Many of us are pretty unsettled. It doesn’t matter where we focus our attention, things appear to be going from bad to worse. And for very many people within our communities and further around the world, that is their actual lived experience.

Those people who thought things were bad when they started to budget their weekly shopping more carefully; those same people who then made plans to limit their fuel use and who are now facing large increases in their mortgage or rent payments – for those people things are beyond bad. They are dire and the coming months will be a serious challenge.

Those people living in places where entire communities have disappeared under floodwaters or raging fire. Those communities where the land no longer sustains its people. Those communities where climate change has destroyed sources of income. For those people, the situation is, at best, bleak.

But it’s not just individuals who are impacted. The months ahead will present a challenge for the charities that try to make a difference for the most vulnerable people in our communities – they can expect increased demand without an increase in resources.  And what about the many other agencies that do important work both here and in other parts of the world, charities that depend on the generosity of individuals, many of whom may no longer be in a position to give money or time.

And those observations don’t take account of the potential impact of the national and global situations on businesses, large and small, and the knock-on effect for all those whose livelihoods depend on their success.

Our reading from the prophet Jeremiah speaks into the situation that we are addressing. We’re told that things are broken down and destroyed and they are rebuilt and renewed. Jeremiah is reminding his readers that the promise of faith is something far beyond the immediate situation, however overwhelming that might be. The promise of faith is that God’s ways are the ways of new beginnings, the ways of respect and care and mutual flourishing.

Within our communities, we learned some significant lessons from the Covid pandemic. We learned something about what it is to create and live within healthy communities. Many people who were personally less at risk engaged with the public health measures in order to play their part in supporting people who were more at risk. Whether mask wearing was important for you, it might have been important for the person next to you. We met neighbours we’d never encountered when we were all on the daily work and commute treadmill; we discovered beautiful places right on our doorsteps that we had never visited.

During the months of lockdown, we began to see people’s values and priorities changing. We all found ourselves focussing on what mattered most – and discovered that much of what we had thought was essential for our lives was superfluous. Most people came to a recognition that interaction with people we love and care about is central to our mental and spiritual health. People found themselves looking for meaning, for some that resulted in a spiritual reawakening.

Many of us found ways to embrace new technology – grandparents learned to FaceTime. Churches learned about live streaming. Theatres found ways to put their work on-line. Musicians found new ways to work together virtually. Churches found that their congregations were gathered from all over the world. People took the opportunity to engage with activities that they may otherwise never have encountered or been brave enough to try.

And many of us came to realise that much of what we had taken for granted – the richness of the arts; the pleasure in just observing other people’s interactions; the connections we feel when we have face to face conversations in a situation where we can see the person’s face and body language – all of those things contribute to our own expression of our humanity. There was, I think, a reimagining of what we consider to have value.

For some people, the experience of that time allowed an opportunity to re-set. To make decisions about what shape the new life that was emerging from the challenges we’d all faced might look like. For some that meant making life changing decisions about where to live or what kind of work to do. For others it was about whether to continue working or to have a complete change of direction. I guess what people found was a freedom – they gave themselves permission to dream and what emerged from those dreams was often a complete surprise.

But we shouldn’t be surprised. Because God uses whatever circumstances we’re in and creates new opportunities. This week I read an article about some of the smaller towns in Ukraine, places where almost no building remains standing and there is no basic infrastructure left. This article was telling how young people from neighbouring places were offering their time and skills to help rebuild for the few older people who had chosen not to leave their homes. The article illustrated a lovely connection between the generations – people who had never met before the war were now supporting one another. The young people rebuilt walls and the older people cooked on makeshift stoves. This was about physical rebuilding but also about the rebuilding of community, the rebuilding of the foundations that create healthy societies. Whatever has happened to the bricks and mortar in that place, the resilience of the people and their trust in the future has survived.

Looking back at our own communities, we are journeying into difficult times and uncharted waters. Make no mistake, I’m not suggesting that is OK – I am suggesting that, right now, you and I can’t change it.

Tragedy is staring us in the face. There will undoubtedly be unnecessary deaths; there will be increased incidence of trauma; there will be misery for many, many families. And that is wrong. And we are tasked as people of faith with calling out the injustice and the lack of care for the most vulnerable, the lack of respect for sisters and brothers in crisis.

At the same time, we are tasked as people of faith with looking out for the new shoots of hope. We are called to recognise and nurture and protect those new shoots – however delicate and precarious they may be. Because they are the signs that we’ve not been abandoned. They are the signs that there can be renewal and rebirth. There can be a different future. We can learn from today and make tomorrow different.

We have no option but to live within the circumstances that prevail today, but our God calls us to hold onto a vision for a more positive tomorrow, to hold onto the promise that it’s God’s love that transforms.

The days are surely coming…. Days that we won’t choose; days that will bring destruction and despair. But those days will not, cannot, be the end of the story, they will be followed by other days. In those new days lies our hope and the lived expression of our faith.