Bishop Richard's Weekly Video Message - Transcript 22/07/21

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.

I was shocked to read in this week’s Hereford Times that the builder who had done quite a bit of work on the house, was given 7 years and 11 months jail time. Its in the public domain, so we know the reason was possession of a stolen firearm and ammunition, and a variety of offences concerning drug supply. We always found him a pleasant and polite individual.  We even wrote to him when he was remanded in custody and he wrote a very nice letter back. Its quite a shock.  But this sort of thing shouldn’t shock someone with a Christian world view.  Pauls assertion in Romans 3:23, that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, is an accurate assessment of the state of the human condition.  The good news of the Gospel cannot be reduced to bland assertions that God loves everyone, true though that is.  It is good news because Paul is right, and the Gospel provides a means by which that sin can be forgiven; we can be restored to relationship with God and the Holy Spirit can do a work in our hearts to make us sin less, until the glorious day when sin is finally and irrevocably dealt with and we can enjoy God forever.

Our culture is in a form of denial about sin.  It trivialises it to salacious stories on page three of the newspaper, served up for public entertainment. In the name of tolerance, it externalises it, seeing it as something serious other people do. But such thinking leads to dangerous blind spots about our own weaknesses.  Morality is defined as something slightly beneath what I can naturally achieve.  That was how the pharisees behaved, and we know Jesus had some harsh words for them. Unless we hold in tension the truth that we are made in the image of God and therefore intrinsically glorious; alongside the truth that we are broken in ways that we simply don’t understand, we will spend our lives in a state of constant disappointment with one another.

One of the many tragedies of sexual abuse is that alongside the wickedness meted out to the victim, there a is a concurrent grooming of the community around them.  I have seen this in my former role trying to care for a congregation devasted by a conviction of a well-loved leader.  I was shouted at in one open meeting by a group of the perpetrator’s supporters, simply unable to accept that the behaviour was true.  This despite video evidence the judge cleared the court so the jury could hear it.  The perpetrator got 10 years. That person did many good things as well and touched a number of lives positively, but did some wicked things as well.  They were neither beyond reproach, nor completely wicked through and through.  My builder could be reliable tradesman, kind to his children and family, whilst at the same time selling class A drugs and threatening violence against those who were hostile to him.  I’m sure if I was to know more of his history and background (I know a bit) I would see difficult formative experiences, that shaped him.  I might even see something of myself in him.  Perhaps if I had had the same environment I might have turned out similarly?

So, to be realistic about sin, as something that is in all of us should make us less judgemental. Each culture has its own blind spots to its failings.  I’m sure in 50 years time our descendants will look back at us, and the damage we have done to the earth, and wonder what in the world we were thinking. In the same way, we look back at the 18th century slave traders, and regard it as vile and unconscionable, even as we steadfastly put our head in the sand and ignore its continuing effects. Perhaps our medieval forbears who were so concerned about their sinfulness excluding them from God and erected chapels like this one for people to pray for the repose of their souls, weren’t completely misguided. We are very poor judges of the relative seriousness of our own failings, tending to always see those of others as being worse.  The gospel says we all need forgiveness and redemption.

When we lose sight of the pervasiveness of sin we quickly slip into a church modelled on Hilda Bouquet from Keeping Up Appearances: a holier than thou huddle.  If we recognise that all of us from the most morally upright to the most criminally irresponsible, are undeserving recipients of the grace of God we can begin to form our church communities, not as bastions of righteousness against the wickedness of culture, but as hospitals for the spiritually broken, of whom we are one.

As we emerge from the long tail of COVID, people need places where they can be accepted more than ever.  The epidemic of mental health problems and loneliness needs communities of healing, places people can call home. Paul also says, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This is the true basis for a broad ranging inclusivity. If Christ, even recognising the reality of our condition gave his life for our forgiveness, we are certainly not in a position to put up barriers to people encountering that same grace and love for themselves.