Galatians 3.23-39; Luke 8.26-39
One of my favourite moments from the recent jubilee celebrations was the sketch in which Paddington Bear took afternoon tea with HM the Queen. Those of you who familiar with the story will remember that Paddington was from Darkest Peru (BTW a fictional place with high mountains and deep jungle), where he had been brought up by his Aunt Lucy now living in a care home. He was found homeless by the Brown family on Paddington station and taken home with them. Many observed that Paddington was a refugee and was treated with kindness and respect. Why is this particularly significant? Because tomorrow is world refugee day.
I thought some definitions might be helpful. These come from the office of the UNHCR (United nations High Commissioner for Refugees): A refugee is someone who fled his or her home and country owing to “a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion”, according to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention. Many refugees are in exile to escape the effects of natural or human-made disasters.
Asylum Seekers are those who say they are refugees and have fled their homes as refugees do, but their claim to refugee status is not yet definitively evaluated in the country to which they fled.
Those fleeing have certain rights: to be protected and safe. They have the right to right to seek asylum in another country; borders should remain open to all people forced to flee. There should be no pushbacks – returning people to return to a country where they would be at risk before evaluating the dangers they would face back home.
People should not be discriminated against at borders. All applications for refugee status must be given fair consideration, regardless of factors like race, religion, gender and country of origin.
People forced to flee should be treated with respect and dignity. Among other things, this means keeping families together, protecting people from traffickers, and avoiding arbitrary detention.
To give you some idea of the scale of this globally, at the end of 2021 at least 89.3 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or events seriously disturbing public order. Among them are nearly 27.1 million refugees, around half of whom are under the age of 18.
There are no simple solutions to these complex issues. Yes, I’m sure a small proportion of those arriving in this country in small boats are what are described as economic migrants. The Rwanda Scheme has been much in the news this week and has shocked many people. All the bishops in the House of Lords signed a letter to The Times condemning this scheme. Their letter ended with these words: We must end the evil trafficking; many churches are involved in fighting this evil. This needs global co-operation across every level of society. To reduce dangerous journeys to the UK we need safe routes: the church will continue to advocate for them. But deportations — and the potential forced return of asylum seekers to their home countries — are not the way. This immoral policy shames Britain.
So how does today’s gospel reading help us as we reflect on these issues? Jesus has crossed into gentile country and he is immediately confronted by a man who is possessed by demons. He is an outcast living rough in the tombs outside the city and is extremely violent. His name is Legion reflecting that many demons had entered him. Jesus tackles this man head on. He confronts evil. He restores the man to health and enables him to return to his home in the city clothed and in his right mind. (I’m not sure how he would have been received! With some scepticism probably). Remember the Greek word for healing and salvation is the same. Jesus has saved this man. Jesus is victorious over the forces of evil.
Reflecting on this, how can we bring healing in the face of evil and the challenges we face today both locally and globally. In High Wycombe the Wycombe Refugee Partnership has been working since 2015 to offer wrap-around support to resettle refugee families in the High Wycombe area. This includes housing, education, language, befriending, welfare and job-seeking support.
If we turn to our reading from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Galatia, he reminds them that through baptism they have been clothed with Christ. There is now no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female: all are one in Christ. The distinctions between people, between opposites have been reframed. I wonder what pairings we might substitute for Paul’s list? Black/white? Straight/gay? There are others, I’m sure.
We are called to respect all human beings. As Christians we have been clothed with Christ. It’s another way of saying we are to become more like Christ, enveloped in Christ’s love. Jesus treated the man who confronted him with respect; he was healed, sent home and given a task to do. This sounds a far better model. The challenge is how can we be part of this transformation.
Let us pray in the words of our first hymn that we will build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word. Amen.
The Revd Jackie Lock, Associate priest
When it comes to explaining the trinity, you generally get people trying to explain it with analogies. The problem is the analogies are never quite true and slip into dreaded heresy because the mystery of the Trinity is that 1+1+1=1, mathematical nonsense.
You may remember my sermon from last year, if not do watch it on catch-up as I believe it may still be there in the bowels of our Facebook page somewhere. Here is the summary though for those that missed it, strap in, here we go…
• There is exactly one God
• The Father is God
• The Son is God
• The Holy Spirit is Godedd
• The Father is not the Son
• The Son is not the Holy Spirit
• The Father is not the Holy Spirit
• The Father, Son and Holy Spirit is God
• But, despite three persons there is exactly one God
You know, whenever people say to me that they believe God is just something made up by humans I point out the doctrine of the Trinity. Who in their right mind would come up with such a crazy notion? 1+1+1=1.
This leads to a good question though: where does the concept of the trinity come from? Well, it comes from the same place all our theology does… Scripture. Scripture talks of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
Its not just the New Testament. We get glimpses of the trinity in the Hebrew scriptures (so called Old Testament),
I could keep going and bring out may other examples from scripture, but these will suffice for the purpose of this sermon, and I wouldn’t want to bore you too much. Perhaps you can think of other examples though?
One important thing to note when exploring scripture is that the New Testament and Hebrew Scriptures do not explicitly mention the doctrine of the trinity. Yes, we have clues from these and other passages that I just read but no specific mention of the doctrine. So how did we end up with the doctrine of the trinity? By using reason. Remember 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Not some of it, not just the bits we like, but all scripture.
As we read scripture, we use our reason to draw out information about the nature of God. So, reason tells us that scripture says God is one, not many Gods, one God. Reason also tells us that God is three distinct persons though: Father, Son, and Spirit. These three persons can’t be three Gods though because there is one God. Yet this one God is three persons. So, 1+1+1=1. From this kind of reasoning we begin to develop the tradition that is the doctrine of the Trinity.
Something the very early Christians thought about, taught, subjected to the church for reproof or correction and by 325AD at the council of Nicaea it was formally adopted (with some work still needed on the relationship of the Holy Spirit but that’s another sermon). It is from this council that we get the Nicene Creed that we will soon say out loud. “We believe in one God…”
Richard Hooker an English priest in the Church of England and an influential theologian who died in the year 1600 said that the source of theology, to which obedience is owed, is scripture. Whatever can be concluded from scripture by force of reason and what the church discerns as good and true from reason becomes tradition, whilst any false reasoning can be discarded.
So, my sneaky sermon on Trinity Sunday is not actually about the trinity but how to engage in theology. Studying God. We start, as always, with Scripture, then reason, then when your reason is subjected to the church for challenge it can be accepted into tradition if the church discerns it to be good and true. If you wanted further proof, I direct you to the articles of religion of the church of England. What we believe as Anglicans. Article 6 says “Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor proved thereby, is not to be required of any person. It then should not be believed as an article of the Faith or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” (In what seems to be a repeat of 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
For this reason, First I would say that if you want to know the trinity, what its all about, or in fact anything else about the nature of God. Have a read. Not just on Sundays as the basis of all Theology is scripture. Don’t feel pressured to rush through it. Take your time. I committed when I arrived at All Saints to within my three years, not a few months, not a year, but rather three years, to reread the whole of scripture. Why am I doing this? Because reading the bible on a regular and consistent basis shows us God’s character and provides us Gods revelation of himself to his people. We see Gods holy, unchanging, faithful, gracious, and loving character.
Second, to continue the passage from 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” For this reason, I cannot commend highly enough All Saints Plus led by Derek, a wonderful group that is reading through scripture together weekly. As regular reading of scripture, getting to know God, means our relationship with God grows stronger. We spend time getting to know the people we love and the best way to do that is to read our bibles on a regular basis
Third, regular reading of scripture reorientates our thinking so that we can grow in maturity which is the calling of a Christian. To grow in Christlikeness (see Ephesians 4:14-16; Romans 12:1-2). What is Christlikeness? well we get the knowledge of what that is from, you can guess the answer by now, scripture.
I could keep going with encouragement for why to read scripture and wrestle with some of the passages, particularly the difficult passages as it is in reading these that we grow as disciples, but I think I‘m close to over-egging it. I will say though that in doing so we get to know God and, bringing it back to the Trinity, for this Trinity Sunday, get to know that 1+1+1 does indeed equal 1.
Let us pray,
We give praise and glorify you, most blessed Trinity, for inspiring all scripture as a gift to us which reveals your nature, makes us wise to salvation and therefore reveals to us the way. For all this and many other blessings we have received, we praise you. Amen.
The Revd. Gareth Morley