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A Sermon Post-Brexit

This week your life will have taken normal patterns - you will have gone to work, watched TV, paid bills, chatted to friends, at with your family, complained about the weather, enjoyed a beer in the sunshine, prayed, rode your bike, gone shopping, read the paper, spent time on social media, gone to the doctors, read the Bible - ordinary life, in an ordinary week.

And yet, on Thursday 23 June, Great Britain was allowed to vote on something extraordinary - historic, momentous - whether or not to remain in or to leave the EU. The politics had become ugly and many felt it was hard to hear impartial, reasoned debate and arguments - but nevertheless, this mattered to the British people - the turnout was 72% - and as you all well know by now  48% of those who voted, voted to remain and 52% voted to leave.

Many people will have woken up on Friday morning to news that devastated them. Many will have felt jubilant and elated. Some won't know what to make of it. Some won't care. But wherever you stand, Thursday's decision will have a huge impact on our country.

You don't have to be a mathematician to know there wasn't a lot in it. It was practically a 50/50 vote. If it was an exam, one lot narrowly failed and the other lot scraped a pass.

But what the figures reveal and what the stories around the country reveal - especially as for once a London centric media moved around the country and listened to voices from all over the UK - is that the UK is a deeply divided country. A country where some feel utterly disenfranchised, ignored and left behind by the current system - people who feel that their own government isn't listening to them or their needs. But it's also a country where others feel we're becoming a country fuelled by a xenophobic nationalism that has nothing to do with the way they understand what it means to be British. And where yet another group - those who live here from outside the UK - now feel unwelcome and unsafe.

We can argue the politics all day.  As a parish priest, I'm not in a position to give authoritative commentary on how it will affect the NHS, the economy, who should be our new prime minister - these are outside my remit.

But I do think this morning it's important as a priest and the Vicar of this church, to call the Christian community to take seriously its task in the world - whatever their politics, whether they voted leave or remain, there are certain key things all Christians should be committed to:

Loving your neighbour as yourself.

The extract from the letter to the Galatians that we heard read this morning said, "For the whole of the law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself."

The very next verse - "If, however, you bit and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another."

This was written to a Christian church - filled with in-fighting - in Galicia 2000 years ago - and yet the wisdom speaks sharply to us today.

The UK could be standing on the threshold of a type of intellectual civil war - where all our energy is burned up in devouring those who disagree with us.

I think that Christians - as individuals and as part of their churches and as part of civic society - need to take extremely seriously that command to love your neighbour as yourself.

That command - the very first command of the 10 commandments is a command against

Racism - in brutal and subtle forms - there is NO room for racist comment from any Christian's mouth - NONE. Yet we are all guilty of it - I doubt if there's a person in this room who hasn't spoken ill of another race. My own racism won't be against black people or Eastern Europeans... it will be against a certain kind of American... but it's still grounded in prejudice.

It's a command against dehumanizing people - the minute we put a sneer on any label - refugees, immigrants, economic migrants, the working class, chavs, toffs, Tories... whatever the label - the minute we use it to dehumanize we're breaking that commandment, because we are failing to see how that person too is made in the image of God - labelling moves to dehumanization and dehumanization moves to hatred and hatred moves to violence and death. And do you want to know if you're out of line - ask yourself - if my brother or sister or my brother or sister-in-law was one of these labels would I like it if they called them this?

Sometimes these labels are just means of describing people  - I'm Welsh and an economic migrant and middle class. This is just a way of describing me. But if the way that it's said or phrased sounds more like "Oh the bloody Welsh, or the bloody economic migrants or the bloody middle class... ", that's not a description - that's a judgement and it's a judgement often fuelled by fear, ignorance and hate.

And we are all - to some extent or other - guilty of doing this - guilty of judging and demonising those who are different to us - whether that's people who voted leave, or voted remain or who didn't actually vote at all.

The command to love our neighbour is a command against abusive language: So we absolutely have to watch our language - but it doesn't mean we can't argue or we can't challenge. But it does mean that we need to guard against hatred and against devouring one another.

Loving our neighbour is a command to challenge racism, challenge xenophobia. We need to challenge mis-information - but we need to do that with respect and with a desire to build bridges and understanding.

It's much, much easier in the short-term to shout someone down or punch them - but we will not build a healthy and just society that way.

It's a challenge to take our responsibilities to the outside world very seriously - we cannot shut the world out and pretend its problems are not our problems. We have huge global issues with the refugee crisis, the war in Syria, Islamic extremism - we cannot pretend that this doesn't exist or that we don't have a responsibility to play our part in helping these crisis. The Church has always needed (although it hasn't always done so!) to take seriously its prophetic responsibilities to speak up for the poor, to speak out against injustice - today it needs to do that intelligently and coherently - but it needs to find a way to listen to and speak out for both the disenfranchised working class of the British Isles, as much as for the recently arrived immigrant, seeking work and a refuge.

None of this is easy.   

But I urge you to stay engaged in the issues. I urge you to speak carefully of your neighbour - and to understand that concept of "neighbour" to be broad - just like Jesus did.  I urge you to resist racism (in its subtle and brutal forms) - both  in yourself and in those around you. I urge you to resist the demonization of the other - don't just immediately write off people who are different from you - think first - they are made in the image of God - how can I hear them better?

The first great sin of humanity is putting ourselves first - rather than God. It's the great egotistic sin of I AM IMPORTANT, rather than GOD is IMPORTANT. And the second great sin of humanity is dividing everyone into them and us - it's the root of all hatred, all war, all persecution - them and us. It has nothing to do with "loving your neighbour" or the fruit of the Spirit that Paul speaks about - joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Go to your life - your work, your communities, your family, your networks, your political allegiances, your cafes, your pubs - GO - but go in peace - to be bridge builders, to speak up for justice and peace. We will need all the peacemakers we can get our hands on. We will need all the bridge builders we can get our hands on. May God give us the grace to get dirty and sweaty as we work together for the common good. God give us wisdom, grace and fortitude. Amen.

(Sheridan James - 15 November 2015)