Minister's Letter - December 2019

Dear friends,

I have heard recently that some of my sermons are considered to be “too political”. I’m grateful to the person who came and spoke to me about this. From my conversation with them, I understand that the concern is that the political debate we are hearing every day is so depressing and all-pervading, that some would prefer not to hear more of the same in church.

As we enter Advent, and draw close to Christmas, the passages we’ll hear all have a political (with a little “p”) edge. John the Baptist and Jesus were born into a community that was seeking freedom from the Romans who colonised their land. As people came to John to be baptised, as well as the repentance he called for being personal, it also had social and political implications for the way they interacted with the world around them. The presence of shepherds and magi at Jesus’ birth was a statement about how he’d come to change the lives of the excluded outsider, as well as the wise and foreigners. If we exclude politics from our reading of the scriptures, and our reflecting on them for our time, we’re going to be ignoring a lot of what they have to say to us. I understand that this may be uncomfortable and will try my hardest not to offend, so when I do I would be grateful if you could tell me what it is about a particular sermon that does. They are all on the website so you can download and re-read them, or if you don’t use the internet, I’ll happily print one for you.

Richard Rohr, an American Franciscan priest writes a daily blog, and in a recent one he said this: “Politics is one of the most difficult and complex issues on which to engage in polite conversation. For many people, politics and religion are so personal that neither topic is deemed appropriate to discuss publicly. While separation of church and state is an important protection for all religions, it doesn’t mean we as people of faith shouldn’t engage in our civic duties and the political process. The idea of ‘staying out of politics’ doesn’t come from God” (Meditations@cac.org). This is echoed by the theologian Karl Barth. He expected preachers to prepare for sermons with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in another. As we approach another election, I do not have anything to say about how we should each vote, but the values that undergird our voting, and the way we engage with those who vote differently, are significant issues for Christians. And while some would prefer not to hear about these things in church, others have asked for serious reflection on what it means to offer an appropriate witness to the values of God’s kingdom in an increasingly destructive political atmosphere.

As we draw closer to Christmas, and the election passes, our attention will be turned towards those whose Christmases will not be as comfortable as ours. We’ll bring toys to share with children who have none. We’ll bring food for the Basics Bank for those who cannot afford to eat what we will. And we’ll give to charities supporting people who are homeless. But unless we also seek to change the way the world works, which we can only do through our vote and the political process, their lives will only be temporarily changed. Yet it is God’s desire that all His people, from the shepherds to kings, will live full and fulfilling lives. So, as we wait for Jesus’ birth in the darkness of our world, this is what I will be praying for and preaching about.

Wishing you all a thoughtful advent as we wait for Christ’s coming and then a very happy Christmas and new year! Sue