A Better Country

August 16, 2019

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Preached by Rev’d Canon Mark Collinson using Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, Luke 12:32-40 at Eucharist on Sunday 11 August

The Boomtown Festival at Mattersley Estate reaches its climax today. Boomtown is the biggest Festival in Hampshire and hasn’t been washed out by the wind and rain. 66,000 people have travelled from across the country and beyond to spend four days camping on the site. I recognise that it may not be your cup of tea, but Boomtown attracts thousands of young creative people that love hip hop, garage, dancehall, latin funk, jungle, house, ska, funk and soul, reggea, DJ, punk and metal, disco and techno. I admit it’s a far cry from choral music.

But indulge me for a moment and wonder with me why such an event is worth paying a £250 ticket. Boomtown creates a temporary city, (bigger than Winchester), a community of creativity and theatre, blending cultures, young and old, with music that moves the heart. Boomtown creates a vision for humanity, it’s bold and challenging, it confronts the complacency of the powerful elites and tells a story of how the powerless can change the world: this year they are planting a tropical forest with 66,000 trees in order to give back to nature what consumers take away.

It began with just a small group of people with a vision and now for a few days Boomtown creates a city, with different districts and characters, so that festival-goers live in an alternative world. Yes, it is escapism, but it might just restore your faith in humanity and give you hope that the world can be a better place.

Are you beginning to feel the resonance of Boomtown with our bible readings for today?

Hebrews chapter 11 gives us story after story of people, who by faith, set out on journey to grasp a future that they weren’t quite sure of. They walked by faith, not sight. Abraham, listening to the call of God to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he sets out, not knowing where he’s going. He and his sons and grandsons dwelt in tents and lived for the same promise; that from one man and woman might come a nation as innumerable as grains of sands on a seashore;      as many as there are stars in the sky.

When Jesus came he talked about the kingdom: this promised land that is wider than from the River Jordan to the Great Sea. The kingdom is the foretaste of a city where humanity lives in harmony, with one another and with nature. Where we sell what we don’t need and give to the poor; where we have bank accounts that store up more than money, and we are in credit with our relationships and integrity and virtue. In the city Jesus promises the pavements are not just paved with gold, but with treasures we can only carry in our hearts. Treasures of peace, love, joy, patience and kindness.

Boomtown is certainly better at communicating their vision to the kind of people that the church is typically not good at communicating with. The crucial difference between Boomtown and Jesus, is that the organisers of Boomtown seek to restore hope in humanity whereas Jesus seeks to restore hope in God.

It is understandable that much of contemporary society has lost hope in God. This is largely because the church has failed to live by the gift of holiness. The failures of the church to protect the weak and vulnerable, the abuse of power and alignment with political power all create distrust in God and a wholesale rejection of the church.

I’m not excusing the church for failing to live up to its calling.

But Christian faith is founded on a story of real people who lived real lives, who travelled on real journies, lived in real tents, and who yet had faith that God would lead them to a better country. Christian faith is founded on Jesus, who through his death on the cross put forgiveness as the eternal foundation of any sustainable human community. For the past two thousand years that story has shaped the Western world and formed the ideas and morals that we all generally aspire to.

A humanist who believes in love and joy, peace and community is living off the legacy of Christianity’s moral capital. Any vision for society must continue to refer to the story of Jesus, who, recognising the failure of humanity to live up to it’s own ideals, offered his own divine life as the means of lifting humanity onto a different level. You can’t have the morals without believing in the story that gave birth to them. You can’t live by a fictional tale that people believed long ago. Boomtown is selling a vision for humanity that needs Jesus to give it substance and durability.

When we turn our attention away from a field in Hampshire, to the stage of global politics, I am looking for political leaders who hold out a vision for community that is more enduring than a four-day tented festival. Whether it’s gun-control law in the US, or the cliff-edge of a no-deal Brexit, the political visions that are put before us in the media don’t appear to be leading towards stable, prosperous and thriving societies. They appear to be leading towards even greater disparity between rich and poor, between the haves and the have-nots.

Surely we are looking for politicians who are not self-serving, but who in their acts of public service, embody the sacrifice and character that is found in Christ.

Jesus said, ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’ (Luke 12:32). As we gather to take bread and wine this morning, we are committing a radical and counter-cultural act that is more profound and far-reaching than any escapist festival or political dynasty. We are reaching back not just to the story of Jesus, but to the story about Jesus that was revealed in part to Abraham. And we are stretching forwards to the eternal city that God has prepared for us. So take, and eat, taste and see that the Lord is good, and do not be ashamed to call Jesus your God.