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St. Mark’s Harrogate


6.30 Service - 14th June 2009
Reading: John 15:18 – 16:4

Seven days ago – last Sunday evening to be precise – the news


came through that the people of Yorkshire and Humber had
elected Andrew Brons as the British National Party’s first Member
of the European Parliament.

Andrew Brons, as many of you will know, resides in this parish and
ever since last Sunday I have been wondering about my
responsibilities as a priest ordained to this Parish of the Church of
England, where I share the cure of souls with the Bishop, Paul, Jo,
Olivia and John Duff for all who live in our parish – not just those
who enter in through our doors and join together for worship – but
all people, of all faiths and none, of all political views and none
who live within the parish boundary.

In the eyes of the British National Party I am thoroughly


unwelcome in this land we share. It doesn’t matter that I was born
here, brought up here, have lived here all my life. None of this
matters. Rather it is the colour of skin that makes me unwelcome.
But it’s not just me. My daughter’s presence is also unwelcome
given her inability to establish a solely white bloodline, the criteria
used by the BNP to distinguish between those they refer to as
“indigenous peoples” who belong here and again to use their term
the “racial foreigners” whom they believe should leave.

So the question I have been wrestling with this past week has
been this:

What do I do not only as an ordained minister but simply as a


Christian when faced with those who hate me for who I am ? How
am I to respond and react ? How do I show God’s love to those
who refuse to acknowledge God’s love for all ?

Our reading today from John’s Gospel today considers very similar
issues. One of the many questions that arise from our reading is:
How do we respond to those who would hate and persecute us for
who we are as followers of Christ ?

The word “hate” is a strong one but it is the one Jesus uses in our
passage today and in drawing a distinction between two different
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groups, it fits with the dualistic themes that run throughout John’s
Gospel. Such as those who dwell in the dark and the light, and that
which comes from above and from below.

The particular dichotomy we are presented with in this section of


John’s Gospel at first seems simple enough: we have the disciples
on one hand, and the world on the other.

So it is we have in our first two verses:


“If the world hates you, it hated me first”
“If you belong to the world it would love you but you do not belong
to the world”
“I have chosen you out of the world”
“This is why the world hates you”

Four examples of dualistic division are presented in the first two


verses as between the disciples on one hand and the world on the
other.

But who is this “world” to which Jesus refers ?

The World

In Johns Gospel the use of the word “the world” is less than
straightforward.

Whilst in these verses it is used as a synonym for all who stand in


opposition to Christ, elsewhere it is used positively as in John 3:16,
where we are told that “God so loved the world that he sent his
only begotten son”. In this context the world is the good creation of
a loving God which Jesus came to save.

Sometimes the world is used as a synonym for the earth or as


shorthand for all peoples. So for example in 12:19 the Pharisees
refer to the number of people who follow Jesus saying “look the
whole world has gone after him”

And then there are times in these farewell discourses when the
term is used negatively as in our passage today.

At one point in John 1:10 we have all three usages together in one
verse where John writes
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“He was in the world (neutral), and the world was made through
him (positive), yet the world did not know him (negative)”.

As we can see the temptation presented to us in this passage and


in the remainder of the farewell discourses is to see the world – i.e.
those who do not share our Christian world view – as a
homogenous place to be opposed.

The danger with taking such a view and using this text to do it,
ignores not only the text as a whole, but also gives birth to a
different danger – that of “othering” of giving the role of “the other”
to a group different from ourselves. It is something that political
parties have done for centuries and something that the Church has
also been complicit in, not least through the use John Gospel to
label one particular group as “others”.

Oi Oudiai

John’s Gospel also has another name for those who oppose
Christians. It is an uncomfortable label with a loaded history. And
that word or phrase in Greek is “oi oudadia” – which is translated
into English as “the Jews”.

“The Jews” - oi oudaiai - are characters who crop up throughout


John’s Gospel - And it is the Jews who we are meant to have in
mind when we read at 16:2 of those who will put you out of the
synagogue and those who think in killing Christians they are
offering a service to God. We only have to think of the actions of
the apostle Paul in his complicity in the murdering of Stephen to
see how such things were in living memory at the time the Gospel
was being written.

The historical context of the Fourth Gospel - written some sixty


years after Christ’s death - is one of growing social and
theological tension and distancing between the followers of Christ
and those who remained loyal to the synagogue.

So when we read in our passage today of the persecution of the


disciples by the world, what we are reading is a dual consideration
of the persecution being faced by Christians by Jews at the time
the Gospel is being written and also the theological claims made
within the Gospel which places Jews outside of salvation as those
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specifically identified throughout the Gospel as the rejecters of


Christ.

More than any other text in the Bible, John’s Gospel has become
the source of justification for enmity between Christians and Jews.
Written when Christians were a minority being persecuted by a
Jewish majority, is has subsequently used in distortion as a text
that justifies a persecution of Jews, as people who hate Jesus,
hate the Father and who have no excuse for their sin.

Consider verses 22-25 of our reading.

22If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty
of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. 23He who
hates me hates my Father as well. 24If I had not done among
them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now
they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me
and my Father. 25But this is to fulfil what is written in their Law:
'They hated me without reason.'

Such a consideration provides us with the ultimate irony of the


passage we have before us: a text that deals with the inevitable
persecution of those who believe, becomes a text that used to
persecute those who do not believe by those who do.

The ramifications of this distorted usage of the text carry on even


today.

The following is a report from The Times of an incident that


happened on Wednesday of this week:

“An 88-year-old white supremacist and Holocaust denier opened


fire in Washington’s Holocaust Museum yesterday, killing a
security guard before being shot in the head.

James W von Brunn, entered the Holocaust Museum just before


1pm wearing a Confederate hat, and opened fire “indiscriminately”
with a long rifle.

Von Brunn has a Wikipedia user profile in which he champions the


virtues of Western culture and the practice of eugenics. In another
article he claims that Holocaust history is destroying Western
civilization. He is clearly a Holocaust denier who also bemoans
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that “Jews control all important sources of information”, and claims


that there is a Jewish conspiracy to destroy the white gene pool.”

So what are we to do with out reading and the text before us. If it is
a mistake, which I believe it is, to use it as a basis for withdrawing
from the world, and also a clear distortion to use it as a basis to
attack those who reject our understanding of truth, what then is the
message of our text ?

I believe the answer and our response to persecution is found in


verses 26 and 27 and comes in the form of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit

In her sermon earlier today at the 8 O’clock on the theme of


Listening to God, Jo spoke in about how we read the Bible and
how we use it in listening to God.

She warned of the dangers of approaching the Bible with our own
agenda and rather asking what any passage tells us about the
nature of God and how it is that which should inform our action.

The answer to persecution is found in the action of God himself


through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will lead and guide us in our
response As Jesus goes on to say in the next section of Chapter
16, it is the Spirit who will guide us in all truth and guide us in our
response.

It is through this ongoing revelation of God which comes through


the Holy Spirit that we are able to understand that our response to
those who do not share our truth – and may even persecute us for
it - is not to vilify or destroy those who do not share our faith but
rather to live it out ever more authentically.

The ushering in of the Kingdom of God upon earth requires an


active opposition of injustice. It requires – in the words of Dr.
Martin Luther King – the strength to love our enemies not simply
the ability to hate them back.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu tells of a time during the years of


Apartheid in South Africa when a number of those black activists
targeted by the Government gathered in Cape Town at the
Cathedral. The authorities got wind of this and sent in soldiers to
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the service to arrest those there who were seen as enemies of the
state. Climbing to the pulpit Desmond Tutu made a direct appeal to
the soldiers gathered there:

“Lay down your weapons and your orders,” he said. “You see you
are on a fight you cannot win. The victory of Christ has already
been achieved. So come with us, come over to the winning side.”

Tutu spoke as one who had been identified as being on the wrong
side by the authorities but who saw his role as one of active
opposition to the forces of evil.

Not for him an abdication of the political in the belief that such
things were unspiritual. Nor for him a belief in the dichotomy
between the spiritual on one hand and the worldly on the other. As
a member of the persecuted, but more importantly as a man of
God, Tutu saw his role to be in active opposition to those who
stand in the way of the Kingdom.

The theologian Miroslav Volf, speaking from a context of a


Croatian who grew up in the former Yugoslavia, has written two
books on the difficulty of putting into practise Christ’s injunction to
usher in the Kingdom through meeting persecution with
forgiveness:

Delivering a lecture at Yale Volf said:

“It was the winter of 1993. For months now the notorious Serbian
fighters called četnik had been sowing desolation in my native
country, herding people into concentration camps, raping women,
burning down churches, and destroying cities. In a book I had just
written I had just argued that we ought to embrace our enemies as
God has embraced us in Christ.”

After the lecture, Jürgen Moltmann, who had supervised Volf’s


dissertation, asked, “But can you embrace a četnik?”

Volf was taken aback. Where could he find the strength to


embrace someone who, to a Croat was the ultimate evil “other”?
He has subsequently written that he wanted to answer, “No, I
cannot—but as a follower of Christ I think I should be able to.”

Which brings me back to where I began.


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Conclusion

The BNP is a virulently anti semitic party. It was born in the same
soil of fascism that gave birth to national socialism. It has no love
for non-whites of any description.

But the Christian response, guided by the Spirit, is to actively


oppose the injustice of the BNP but to do so through love rather
than to foster division through hate.

So my response to Andrew Brons will be to tell him of the love of


Jesus Christ that awaits in him in the embrace of Jesus Christ
upon the Cross. It is a love from which no one can be excluded.
Not him, not me, not my daughter, not the Muslim neighbour, nor
the newly arrived asylum seeker.

I must be prepared to be rejected with that message, but I know


that if I do, there is one who has gone before me and who sends
his Spirit to sustain me as I try again to offer the love of God anew.

Amen.