LETTER FROM THE VICAR
The Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost are all about heaven and earth coming together. Earth reaches up to heaven and heaven reaches back down to earth, all joined up in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, so that God the Father may be known on earth as he is in Heaven. This new reality is what the disciples are called to live out. In Acts chapter 2 that's the kind of mutual support and love, in everyday life, that we see. They try to live as if they were in heaven, in the presence of God, whilst they try to live out their earthly lives; and they tell everybody about Jesus through the words they speak and the way that they live together.
Nothing has changed about Christian life since those days. We are called to do exactly the same. Which is why I get rather confused about political groupings who make a virtue out of being "Christian" when they behave in ways that are clearly not? There are a number, at the moment, as we face the prospect of the European elections and leaving the European Economic Union. What confuses me is the way "Christian" is used as a way of division from other people. As if Christians were keen to say, "I'm so glad that I'm not like you". Or even, "Because [I think] you are not like me I don't want you in this country". Jesus did not come to bring a message about "the hostile environment". The Church of England tries to follow the Christian Bible and this speaks out very specifically in many places, especially in the Gospels, against such divisive ways of thinking. Jesus embraces people from different countries, different ethnicities, different social classes, different genders, different ages. St Paul says, "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."
The only division Jesus makes is between the Righteous, on one hand, and the Pharisees and Saducees on the other. These latter two groups are the religious/political establishment and he condemns them for cheating the poor of their money, keeping the poor downtrodden and manipulating the religious laws so that they make money out of their status and position. To parallel into our own day, the only groups I would recognise as fitting such a description might be financiers who created and then benefited from the financial crash in 2008 and industrial organisations who outlaw unions, permit dangerous and unhealthy working conditions and pay their workers under the minimum wage? Like the religious groupings in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, people who are only motivated by financial gain at the expense of their fellow human beings, and are willing to oppress to achieve it, put themselves outside God's law of love. On Easter 5 we recalled Jesus in John's Gospel saying, "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you".
Seeking ways to divide ourselves from other people because we feel superior, due to our ethnic origins, our religious beliefs, our income, our 'social standing' or other prejudiced ideas is not consistent with the 'Christianity' that the Church of England has received from Jesus. Those who indulge in the politics of division and foment hatred, fear and suspicion can only become right with God and grow towards being a "Christian" if they repent and change their ways. Whilst they follow ways that are about rejecting other people, they live outside of God's loving community and Kingdom. The Bible makes it very clear that heaven is not like that. The Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus will bring in on the Day of Judgement will not be like that. Those who would divide us from others, on the basis of hatred, are false prophets trying to delude and tempt us to take dark roads that do not lead to Christ, but to their own personal gain.
Instead, we are called to reach out and embrace others, even when that feels very difficult. Being a Christian isn't about having an easy life. It's about facing difficulties with other people and resolving them through a dialogue based in love. That is an incredibly hard thing to do and we can only do it in the strength of Jesus' Spirit living in our hearts. If we are living in Jesus, then Jesus lives in us, and that will make it possible for us to overcome the prejudices and fears that others express. Fear and hatred can only be overcome with love. That is the whole point of the Cross and the heart of being a "Christian".