Sunday, 17 June 2012

Who's in and who's out?


We went up to London last weekend to watch the Royal Pageant on the Thames. I went in later than the rest of my family, but when I got near to where I knew they were, I was confronted by by barriers and people in hiviz vests telling me I couldn’t go where I wanted to go. I tried to explain but to no avail. I was shut out, stuck one side of a barrier.  I did eventually manage to meet up with them all but it got me thinking.

Things being cordoned off by a crash barrier or rope boundary and the welcoming space it defines in a queue addresses one of the most important challenges that we face in contemporary society. How are we to live with each other when we constantly define and redefine who is in or who who is out across a wide range of social, political, cultural and economic conditions - your skin colour, religion, income however real or perceived.  With those rope barriers one person places the rope to define a broad and generous space, another draws it in to become much narrower and exclusive. Boundaries are flexible; the wooden post can be pushed out or pulled in at will.

The ongoing global economic crisis demonstrates how brutally the boundaries of austerity are drawn by those with the power to define them. Within the global banking sector certain key players remain secure and protected together behind the rope of government policy everywhere, put in place through policies which ultimately benefit the wealthy 1%. Meanwhile the rest of us, the 99%, are excluded on the other side of the boundary, are suffering a recession due to decisions and risks we did not take. This 'Royal Box' view of privilege and preference sustains so many injustices and inequalities but ultimately makes us ask basic and fundamental questions about 'who's in, who's out?'

And on this key question our politicians consistently fail us. They crave our votes but dance to the tune of big money. Power seduces. Status corrupts. Wealth separates and entices. The Leveson Enquiry hows just how different life is behind the gilded rope of power and what people will do for the chance to step across it to join the exclusive VIP club, or keep 'undesirables' out and 'in their place'.

Whilst the Diamond Jubilee celebrations have been wonderful in my opinion, we can’t help but notice the contrast between the monarchy and the costs of the celebrations and the story this week about the unemployed who were bussed to London to man those barriers in hivis vests for little cash, sleeping under London Bridge.  And we are left wondering why the boundary rope never seems to be where it ought to be?


In such a divisive and unfair world as this where shall we turn for wisdom, solace and hope? Who will set the boundary rope in favour of the powerless, the marginalised and excluded ones who always and inevitably bear the cost of injustice in every age? Who will bring them in to a sheltered and hospitable place? And who dares to define a conceptual space which includes everyone within a visionary paradigm of parity of esteem and then sets out to make it a reality amongst us?

The Bible's answer to these questions is God.

We hear today Jesus challenging his own family and the teaching and traditions of his day as he explores the inevitable consequences of redrawing the 'whose in, whose out' boundaries.  As He does, Jesus is not disowning his family but moving the rope barrier which defines the basis upon which we should understand our commitment to love and be loved. In his hands no one is left standing outside the rope.

And so Jesus shows us again what a life living in and out His love looks like. For Jesus, it is the love of God alone that defines what it means to be human. Again and again He teaches and tells that God loves - the socially respectable and the prostitute, the tax collector and the poor man.  He reminds us today that no one is left out and no one is excluded from the Kingdom of God.

Are we Jesus’ mother or brothers?  It sounds so simple - we just need to do the will of God and we are welcomed.  But to do God’s will means to love God with all that we are, to love our neighbours as ourselves, to forgive our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, to give to those who ask of us and so on. It’s demanding and radical.

Those who welcome God's radical love find themselves changed and transformed by it. Jesus demonstrates again and again how such love is profoundly subversive and upsets of the status quo of human relationships - here today as we share this Eucharist we are remembering that the love of God welcomes and embraces all of us who seek to live His love, and He calls us family.

So potent is the vision in practice that God's presence will inevitably lead to a shake up within each one of us that dares to follow Jesus because one way or another we are all guilty of placing the boundary rope in the wrong place and of drawing it in too tightly.

The impoverished carpenter from Nazareth has other ideas and invites poor and rich alike to sit with him and us, to leave the questions of 'who's in, who's out' behind, and together remake the human family in ways that are just, loving and fair. Amen.

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