Proper 8

26th June 2022

Elijah’s life as a prophet had not been straight forward. He had been opposed by the prophets of Baal, by King Ahab, by Queen Jezebel. He had been tested to the limit by God – passing through wind, fire and earth quake. His life was not a rose tinted advert extolling the perks of being God’s chosen prophet. Elisha however is not deterred and follows Elijah assiduously. And when asked what he wants, asks for a double dose of Elijah’s spirit. I am not sure I could manage even a quarter of his spirit.

What is it that inspires Elisha? Maybe Elijah’s closeness to God: God is always there with through thick and thin. Maybe it is seeing God’s power at work through Elijah: the miracles he works. Maybe it is that against the odds, Elijah’s certainty that God’s will will prevail, even if he, Elijah, should perish. Maybe it is Elijah’s commitment to God, his sense of vocation that allows him to pursue no other career – his “zeal for the Lord”. 

I know I often lack certainty about my calling, about what God wants of me and what God wants for the world. I often lack confidence that God’s creation in its present form will survive our human foolishness. On the other hand what could a figure like Elijah achieve for the environmental movement? His stubbornness in standing up against the fossil fuel giants. His persistence in effecting change in government mindsets. His ability to channel God’s wisdom. Maybe a part of me admires Elisha’s audacity in asking for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. 

How apt then is Paul’s message to the Galatians: a message which is as necessary for us today. To know that we are made free in Christ. Free to live according to God’s will: to live according the spirit of God rather than according to the deceitful, greedy, selfish way that Paul calls ‘of the flesh’. Free instead to love, to love our neighbour so completely that we can, Paul says, look like slaves!  When I doubt what God wishes me to do, or how God wishes I should live in this world,  I must recall Elisha’s double portion, but that Spirit that produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the fruits that nourish the kingdom of God.

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20

1 I will cry aloud to God; *
I will cry aloud, and he will hear me.

2 In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; *
my hands were stretched out by night and did not tire;
I refused to be comforted.

11 I will remember the works of the Lord, *
and call to mind your wonders of old time.

12 I will meditate on all your acts *
and ponder your mighty deeds.

13 Your way, O God, is holy; *
who is so great a god as our God?

14 You are the God who works wonders *
and have declared your power among the peoples.

15 By your strength you have redeemed your people, *
the children of Jacob and Joseph.

16 The waters saw you, O God;
the waters saw you and trembled; *
the very depths were shaken.

17 The clouds poured out water;
the skies thundered; *
your arrows flashed to and fro;

18 The sound of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lit up the world; *
the earth trembled and shook.

19 Your way was in the sea,
and your paths in the great waters, *
yet your footsteps were not seen.

20 You led your people like a flock *
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Galatians 5:1,13-25

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Luke 9:51-62

When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Proper 7: 

19 June 2022

Reflection 

We may not believe in demonic forces nowadays but we are certainly aware that there are many  things that have an unhealthy level of control over our lives. Social media, diets, cars, pollution, throw away convenience, anxiety, fashion, alcohol, gambling, climate change, elitism, poverty, oil, tax evasion, futures markets, housing costs, racism, low wages, depression – the list goes on. For all our progress, life is still tough for many people. 

It was to such people, those who were finding life tough, those on the edge of society, the sick and the vulnerable, that Jesus brought his message of good news, of salvation. Here in today’s gospel we have just such an encounter. Jesus is able to break through the barriers that have prevented Legion from communicating with his fellow countrymen. He has been able to get to heart of Legion’s problem and together they removed the burden, the barrier of his illness. Jesus stays with him until others come who will continue the healing process, reintegrating Legion back into the community. Jesus leaves Legion with a task, a reason to carry on. 

The reading from Isaiah describes the frustrations of a prophet trying to speak to a ‘rebellious people’ – by which I think is meant people who rebel against God’s ways. The passage tells how these people are living their lives, with the traditions and routines of their daily life that keep or distract them from God, things that entrap them, snaring them in unholiness.  (The effects of these entrapments are probably not much different from those things blight our daily lives). Yet the prophet’s persistence – a persistence that comes as a gift or a power from God – reflects God’s ongoing concern and desire that the all humans should be encouraged and enabled to live according to God’s values, and that creation should be healed and humanity restored to its right mind. The last few lines add a measure of hope, that there will be found sufficient goodness in humankind to achieve God’s vision for the world. 

Who are our prophets today? Are they people like David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg, George Monbiot and Jack Munro? Are they groups like Extinction Rebellion? Groups like Amnesty, 38 Degrees, and  The Trussel Trust? Do we take time to listen to their messages, to measure and explore what is being said, to discern where God’s will may lie? Equally are we ready to hear God’s message, are we able set aside some of the barriers that trap us and weigh us down? Like Legion can we break free from our past and find renewal and healing?

Paul, writing to Galatians, remind us that for all of us our baptism represents a new beginning, a fresh start. In baptism we are all one – baptism is the ultimate In levelling up! What ever our past, where ever we have come from and however we have come – raised and bred as part of the establishment, or refugee fleeing a hostile environment, someone who has pulled themselves up by their boot straps or someone who has never managed to hold down a job – we are all equal as ‘children of God’. Like Legion, our restoration is shown in that we have all been clothed with Christ. And, like Legion, we are all commissioned to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to our own communities.

As we look around the world – like the prophet Isaiah – we see the threats and obstacles that block the freedom of life: heat waves that are keeping one third of US citizens confined to their homes; 7.1 million people displaced by fighting in Ukraine; a third of people in Sudan facing starvation; 3.9 million children living in poverty in the UK; half the population of Chile living with water shortages. Are we sufficiently enraged as Christians, sufficiently enraged as were the prophets, sufficiently enraged as humans, to stand up and say this is not how God wants the world to be? How are we to bring Good News to our communities and to the world?

Isaiah 65:1-9

I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask,
to be found by those who did not seek me.

I said, “Here I am, here I am,”
to a nation that did not call on my name.

I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people,

who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;

a people who provoke me
to my face continually,

sacrificing in gardens
and offering incense on bricks;

who sit inside tombs,
and spend the night in secret places;

who eat swine’s flesh,
with broth of abominable things in their vessels;

who say, “Keep to yourself,
do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.”

These are a smoke in my nostrils,
a fire that burns all day long.

See, it is written before me:
I will not keep silent, but I will repay;

I will indeed repay into their laps
their iniquities and their ancestors’ iniquities together,

says the Lord;

because they offered incense on the mountains
and reviled me on the hills,

I will measure into their laps
full payment for their actions.

Thus says the Lord:

As the wine is found in the cluster,
and they say, “Do not destroy it,
for there is a blessing in it,”

so I will do for my servants’ sake,
and not destroy them all.

I will bring forth descendants from Jacob,
and from Judah inheritors of my mountains;

my chosen shall inherit it,
and my servants shall settle there.

Psalm 22:18-27

18 Be not far away, O Lord; *
you are my strength; hasten to help me.

19 Save me from the sword, *
my life from the power of the dog.

20 Save me from the lion’s mouth, *
my wretched body from the horns of wild bulls.

21 I will declare your Name to my brethren; *
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.

22 Praise the Lord, you that fear him; *
stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
all you of Jacob’s line, give glory.

23 For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;
neither does he hide his face from them; *
but when they cry to him he hears them.

24 My praise is of him in the great assembly; *
I will perform my vows in the presence of those who worship him.

25 The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
and those who seek the Lord shall praise him: *
“May your heart live for ever!”

26 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, *
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.

27 For kingship belongs to the Lord; *
he rules over the nations.

Galatians 3:23-29

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Luke 8:26-39

Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me” — for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

Seventh Sunday of Easter

29th May 2022

Reflection.

I spent a couple of hours on Monday and a few more on Tuesday with Christian Climate Action who had organised a 24 hour vigil outside the Methodist Central Hall where the Shell AGM was taking place. Like Paul and his companions, their vigil reflected their conviction that they were acting in the service of Jesus Christ, that they were witnessing to his love for the world and his wish for all to share in the gift of salvation. Whilst there were no earthquakes, there were frequent heavy outbreaks of thunder, lightning and torrential rain – umbrellas only have a limited effectiveness!

There were many passers by, some oblivious to the plight of the earth and the acute necessity of the protest, others vaguely or deeply interested, whilst others were clearly affronted by anything that threaded the status quo – all responses with which Paul as an evangelist would have been familiar. Not that Paul, nor Climate Christian Action, supported anarchy. The security guards and the police ‘supervising’ the demonstration responded in kind to the politeness of those taking part.

What really stands out in the passage from Acts and amongst those taking part at the vigil was the commitment to serving God. Note the words of the slave girl, “These are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation”. For Paul that salvation meant equality of all – free and slave, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor – and the vision of a world in which love and care for one other was universal. These are the very same aims of those protesting against the leadership and direction of Shell and other oil companies. For the continuing and expanding production of fossil fuels is the cause of global heating and climate change which is already killing and harming people across the world – from excess heat in the Indian sub-continent, from flooding in South Africa, Australia and Brazil, from droughts in the Sehal, Kenya, Argentina and California, to name but a few – and is decimating bio-diversity, melting icecaps and glaciers whilst at the same time creating huge profits for investors and shareholders. As Christians we are tasked with calling out inequality and injustice when we see it. We are tasked with responding to the needs of others, even or rather especially, those trapped in places where life is hard and support is limited. As last week we heard how Paul responded to the cry for help from the people of Macedonia, so today we we are called to respond to the cry for help that comes from Bangladesh and the Maldives, from Venezuela and the Lebanon and so many more countries. Jesus said that just as he and his Father were one, so they and we should be as one so that the world may see glory of God, see the salvation that is possible, know the power of love to heal and restore all things anew. 

Acts 16:16-34

With Paul and Silas, we came to Philippi in Macedonia, a Roman colony, and, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptised without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

Psalm 97

1 The Lord is King;
let the earth rejoice; *
let the multitude of the isles be glad.

2 Clouds and darkness are round about him, *
righteousness and justice are the foundations of his throne.

3 A fire goes before him *
and burns up his enemies on every side.

4 His lightnings light up the world; *
the earth sees it and is afraid.

5 The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord, *
at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.

6 The heavens declare his righteousness, *
and all the peoples see his glory.

7 Confounded be all who worship carved images
and delight in false gods! *
Bow down before him, all you gods.

8 Zion hears and is glad, and the cities of Judah rejoice, *
because of your judgments, O Lord.

9 For you are the Lord,
most high over all the earth; *
you are exalted far above all gods.

10 The Lord loves those who hate evil; *
he preserves the lives of his saints
and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.

11 Light has sprung up for the righteous, *
and joyful gladness for those who are truehearted.

12 Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous, *
and give thanks to his holy Name.

Revelation 22:12-14,16-17,20-21

At the end of the visions I, John, heard these words:

“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.

“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

John 17:20-26

Jesus prayed for his disciples, and then he said. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Fourth Sunday of Easter

8th May 2022

Acts 9:36-43

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Psalm 23

1 The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.

3 He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.

4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.

6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Revelation 7:9-17

I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,

“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing,

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom

and thanksgiving and honour

and power and might

be to our God forever and ever!
Amen.”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

For this reason they are before the throne of God,
and worship him day and night within his temple,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.

They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;

for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,

and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

John 10:22-30

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

Reflection

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus begins his ministry saying, “ The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news.” And what is the good news? That the Kingdom of God is near; indeed those who believe are citizens of that kingdom. When Jesus in turn sends his disciples out to preach the good news, he instruct them to heal the sick, cure disease, to exercise authority over demons, and, in Matthew’s gospel, to raise the dead. The message is clear that the reality of God’s kingdom is not just about words but deeds too. So it is in the Book of Acts that we see the good news being preached not just with rhetoric but with actions too. In today’s example, Peter raises Dorcas from death. But the story also shows us in other ways what the reality kingdom of God looks like. Dorcas, clearly a citizen of God’s kingdom, is renowned for her good deeds. Her fellow citizens, the local Christian community, are equally committed to making the kingdom of God a reality in the concern that they show. Time and again the Book of Acts relates stories of the first Christian communities where their love for each other shines out as beacon for others to see. Do our church communities shine as brightly?

Psalm 23 is often loved because of the idyllic image that it presents of green pastures and still waters. Such ease and comfort is surely what the kingdom of God is made of? But when we look around the world today, do we see much in the way of green pastures and still waters? Rather we see battle grounds, land that is either flood-ridden or drought-bitten, people and communities struggling to survive against a tide wave of poverty and oppression. For activists struggling to bring about change – to bring in the values of the kingdom of God – it can feel as if the kingdom of God is not at hand but is rather a fast disappearing fantasy. Psalm 23 offers something of more comfort – God’s companionship when things are tough, when the way ahead is dark. Waking becomes an act of faith but with the assurance goodness and mercy to come.  As with the community to which Dorcas belonged demonstrated, when things are tough, we do need to rally round and support one another. If nothing else we can pray for those activists who are standing up for the kingdom values – for the safe passage of asylum seekers, for the provision of food for those inadequate means, for the proper funding of the NHS, for the ending of fossil fuel investment.

The passage from the Book of Revelation tells the same story as Psalm 23 but in more florid terms. Those who have walked through the valley of death are those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb: they do indeed come to find rest where they no longer hunger and thirst, where they are comforted and refreshed. 

Those who believe, those who are citizens of God’s kingdom, those who recognise the voice of the shepherd, have the gift of eternal life. They will know the comfort of Jesus’s presence even in the depths of winter.

Green Tau extra: Climate Justice and Activism

Transcript of a talk a church group about my experience of being arrested during an XR climate crisis uprising.

Micah 6: 1-8 (abbreviated)

Hear what the Lord says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the Lord has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel. “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! …”

Has he not told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you? Do justice,  love kindness, and  walk humbly with your God.

But what is justice?

That is a question I would like you to hold in mind, and I will ask it again at the end.

I have always had a Christian faith and a concern for justice. As a teenager I restricted my diet to 1000 calories a day in solidarity with women in India. When I was at university in the early 80s I was aware that human production of green house gases plus our excessive use of raw materials was damaging the world’s environment. That knowledge together with my Christian faith has shaped the way I lived. As a family  – Paul and I have three children, now all grown up – we have constantly been adjusting our lifestyles to try and mitigate the damage we were causing to the earth. 

As the internet age developed, so I have signed more petitions, written to and spoken with our local MP, joined marches and protests. Yet nothing seems to change. The world is continuing to grow warmer, extreme weather events occur more frequently, ecosystems are being destroyed, the poor are being disadvantaged – and yet the human output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases continues to rise. I felt that nothing was going to stop this crisis.

In the spring of 2019 I went to Cornwall with my daughter to walk the Celtic Pilgrim Way. We returned on Good Friday when the XR Easter uprising had begun and we stopped off at Marble Arch. Pitched tents, crèche, a stage, workshops, a welcome desk, sunshine, smiling people, even the drivers of vehicles whose routes had been diverted were cheerful. The same in Waterloo Bridge which had been transformed into a garden bridge with trees and pot plants, a skate board ramp, sofas and easy chairs, and story-telling circles. It was all a vision of what the future could be!

When I heard that the October uprising was to include a Faith Bridge I wanted to be a part. The Faith Bridge was conceived as a coming together of different faiths – Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Quakers, pagans, Christians – to express our joint concern for the well-being of the earth. We were to occupy Lambeth Bridge for the duration where we would set up a tepee for worship (which would be led by the different faiths throughout the day) a stage for talks and music and drama, places to meet and share with others our hopes and fears, and as the centre piece a large wooden ark. 

To secure the bridge we would need a small group of people willing to be arrested whilst a larger group of people set up these bases. Drawing inspiration from both my Christian faith and from the example of the Suffragettes, I volunteered to be an arrestable. For this XR provides training and on going support. 

The first day of the uprising dawned – literally -as we gathered by Lambeth Bridge. Initially we blocked the slip roads leading onto the bridge. Another group of protesters were doing the same at the other end. Once the traffic had been brought to a standstill we moved onto the bridge itself. The police  had pre-empted us. They were massed in lines across the bridge such that each group of protestors was confined to small area at opposite ends of the bridge. At the same time another group of police saw the ark being delivered in its flat pack state and confiscated each part as it was unloaded. 

I am in the blue coat sat in front of the green banner

Undaunted we sat on the tarmac surrounded by banners and prayer flags, facing the police line. We were a mixed group – all ages, backgrounds and faiths – and together we sang and prayed and shared our stories. Faith leaders and CEOs of charities and NGOs came and told us their stories as to why the climate crisis was such a critical issue. And still we sat and sang and prayed.   It was a uniquely special experience of being in the presence of God. 

Around mid afternoon, the police gave us the option of joining our fellow protestors at the other end of the bridge – provided we walked round the long way, via Westminster Bridge. We gathered up our banners and flags, our musical instruments and the remaining box section of the ark and set off along the road past St Thomas’s hospital, singing as we walked. We must have looked like the Israelites setting off for the promised land. Having negotiated our way through the blockades on Westminster Bridge and we’re almost in sight of the north end of Lambeth Bridge, we were stopped by another group of police who wanted us to divert with the ark to Horseferry Road. Negotiations took place. Whilst we waited we sat and we sang. Then a whisper spread round and looking behind us, a double line of police officers were advancing towards us.  On arrestables drew back, the rest of us sat firm holding onto the ark. Arrests began. A police officer tried to persuade me to let go, and when I did not, I was physically lifted up and back, ending up on my back in the road – time send to stand still. Them everyone was crowding round. The police officer  cautioned and handcuffed me. The XR legal observer wanted my details. People were shouting abuse at the police; others were cheering and applauding those who were being arrested. My mind went into a blur and my body into shock. My arresting officer was considerate and concerned and helped me across to the pavement where I joined others who had been arrested. We sat there for a couple of hours with our arresting officers whilst police stations were contacted to find spare cells. Four of were loaded into the cage compartments in the back of a police van and taken to Walworth. And still the wait continued, as we waited to be processed by the custody officer. Finally I was put into a police cell, given a vegan meal and a blanket. 

At 2 in the morning I was released pending further investigation having been charged with obstructing the highway and causing a public nuisance. As I left the police station I was greeted by an XR volunteer who offered me chocolate and looked up the night bus time table so that I could get home and to bed!

My day in court was delayed by Covid. After numerous postponements, the case was heard in March of this year at the City of London Magistrates Court. I was represented in court by a barrister – the cost of both the barrister and the lawyer were met by XR funds. I could have pleaded guilty  – I had indeed been obstructing the highway – but as a matter of principal I wanted to present the counter arguments: that I had been exercising my right of peaceful protest; I had done something that would ordinarily be criminal but in the circumstances it was necessary to draw attention to a greater danger vis the climate crisis. The example usually given is that one would not be prosecuted for breaking a window in order to sound the alarm for a fire. I also wanted to explain that my actions were motivated by my Christian faith and my belief that I – we – have a duty to care for and protect the earth.

The court staff were helpful and courteous. The XR observers were encouraging and supportive. Only the three magistrates seemed to be set against my defence. I was found guilty, fined and given a conditional discharge of 9 months.

Whose rights should have prevailed? 

My right to protest or the road users right to use that particular public highway? Had I merely sat on the pavement would anyone have taken notice?

Do road users have an unlimited right to use use the roads? What if the volume of vehicles on the road causes an obstruction either to other vehicles, or to cyclists? What if the volume of vehicles prevents emergency vehicles getting through? What if the volume of traffic creates levels of pollution that endanger people’s lives, or increases the risk of dementia? What if the volume of traffic increases CO2 emissions such that global temperatures keep rising? What then of the rights of people both here and in other parts of the world to live lives not affected by rising sea levels and extreme weather events? 

To return to my original question, what is justice?