‘Start Worrying: Details to Follow’

December 10, 2017

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Preached by Canon Mark Collinson, using 1 Kings 22.1-28 and Romans 15.4-13 at Mattins on Sunday 10th December 2017 the Second Sunday of Advent

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Gospel for Jews and Gentiles Alike

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

‘Therefore I will confess[a] you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name’;

10 and again he says,

‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people’;

11 and again,

‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him’;

12 and again Isaiah says,

‘The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.’

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

One of Rabbi Jonathan Sack’s favourite Jewish proverbs is this: ‘Start worrying… details to follow.’ It perhaps captures the state of our nation.

On the one hand we have the ‘worriers’: snowflake Remainers, who worry about the impact of a hard Brexit on our economy. The devaluation of the pound is already feeding through into inflation, in a society where increasing numbers of people are simply being ‘left behind’. For Remainers, free trade deals are a vain hope, a pie in the sky delusion, given the time it takes to negotiate them. Remainers worry because the government hasn’t even done a proper impact assessment of Brexit: Start Worrying.

On the other hand we have the ‘details to follow’ team: Brexiteers are bullish and confident about Great Britain taking back control of our laws, our borders and our money and establishing free trade deals both with our European partners and countries around the world but we won’t know the details of these deals until the final hour.

So there you have it: Start worrying or Details to follow. I wonder which you are. I suspect that those of us gathered here are as divided as the nation.

So what can Christians in this country during Advent say to a nation that is utterly divided? Advent is a period when we reflect on what it means to wait for the coming of Jesus Christ: both waiting for Christ to come at Christmas, but also for his second coming.  ‘Start worrying: details to follow’ could just as well be a good motto for Advent. Jesus is coming back, to return to judge the world – start worrying…. but we don’t know when – details to follow.

As a nation we are waiting for 29th March 2019, when we leave the EU and will finally know what Brexit means. So what does today’s epistle mean for us whilst we wait in pre-Brexit Britain?

In his letter to the Roman church Paul seeks to bring unity to a church that is divided. The divisions are between Jews and Gentiles. As a result of persecution the church in Rome was divided by these religious and cultural fault lines. We know that Jews were expelled from Rome by emperor Claudius in 49AD.  If Jews were persecuted, Jewish Christians were persecuted with them. So the Jewish Christians left the Roman church.

When, a number of years later, the Jews were allowed to return to Rome, the Gentile Christians had taken over all the important positions in the church. The Dean was a Gentile, the chapter were all Gentiles, Custos and all the vergers were Gentiles, everyone at the Jelly lunch was a Gentile – even the person who served on the coffee rota was a Gentile. Imagine the Jewish Christians turning up for services wanting to get involved. They had to try to muscle in on the act if they were going to start playing a role again in the Roman church.

You can imagine the Jewish Christians had their own way of doing things. No doubt they wanted to sing some of their favourite songs set to Jewish music, but they insisted on eating only ate kosher food and they observed certain holidays as religious festivals whilst the Gentiles just carried on working. They really weren’t fitting in to how the Gentiles had been happily running the show whilst they were off the scene.

But Gentile Christians were in a position of power, and they didn’t have much patience for Jewish fussiness, and they considered the Jews to be weak. Which is kind of ironic, because God revealed himself first to the Jews, but now they were in the weaker position in the church.

So the big question for the Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome was, what does it mean for us to live together with such deeply held differences?

So Paul says to both Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome: Romans 15:v6

‘May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

The gospel, the good news is all humanity has been reconciled to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Believing and trusting that Jesus is Lord, provides a new way of overcoming difference. Forgiveness and reconciliation is the means by which the power of the cross of Christ is worked out in society. Paul is telling the Jewish and Gentile Christians that even the most fundamental things that divide them can be reconciled through belonging to the body of Christ. Together, people with profound and fundamental differences can speak with one voice.

So what does this mean for us during this period of waiting for Brexit? How can we speak with one voice instead of divided voices?

Our differing beliefs about Brexit are no doubt deeply held and sincere. However they are not as fundamental as the divisions between Jew and Gentile in the first century. If the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus can bring unity to Jewish and Gentile Christians, how much more can it bring unity between Remainers and Brexiteers.

What our nation needs more than anything is not winners and losers of the Brexit argument.

We need unity so that the worriers can sleep easy and details to follow can be understood.  I wonder what might happen if churches around the country were the places where unity was discovered and expressed and shared. If it’s not happening anywhere else, why shouldn’t that unity be first expressed here, in Winchester?

We need people of courage, people of faith, people who are wiling to engage across the Brexit divide to demonstrate that Jesus Christ brings unity in the twenty-first century as much as in the first century. Amen.