Sermon preached at Mattins on the Sixth Sunday of Easter (26 May 2019) by the Very Revd David Ison, Dean

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12:30pm Eucharist
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5:00pm Evening Prayer
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Sermon preached at Mattins on the Sixth Sunday of Easter (26 May 2019) by the Very Revd David Ison, Dean

The Dean asks us to 'open our hearts and lives to other people and all in the world that is different from us'.

Who are your blah-blah-blah-ians?

The word ‘barbarian’ was much used by the ancient Greeks. It’s probable that they heard the speech of people whose culture was less developed than theirs, and didn’t understand it, and so mocked it as being like the braying of sheep: bar-bar-os they called it – hence the word ‘barbarian’. It’s a negative term, referring to a non-person: someone who is non-Greek, who doesn’t speak proper, someone not like us, someone inferior to us, whose views and life we can feel superior to – a bar-bar-ian. 

Today we don’t tend to use ‘bar’ as a way of dismissing others as inferior, because we don’t have a lot of sheep around where most of us live. We don’t use the word ‘barbarian’ much at all. But we do use the term ‘blah, blah, blah’ to refer to needless repetition, and words which we don’t think we and others need to hear. And if we follow the Greeks, we might refer to those people who we see as different from us, with nothing worth saying to us, as blah-blah-blah-ians.

The word ‘barbarians’ comes in at the end of the second lesson which we heard read a few minutes ago, St Paul is reminding the members of the Christian church in the city of Colossae that their lives are being transformed by following Jesus Christ. And one of the ways they must think differently is to see themselves as one body, one group, and not be divided in the way the world around them is. 

So Paul refers to some of the divisions in the culture of the time: are you a Greek or a Jew? Are you a man who has been circumcised as a Jew, or are you uncircumcised? Are you a barbarian – a foreigner? Are you a Scythian, one of the tribal peoples from around the Black Sea who were the targets of Greek slave-traders? Are you a slave indeed, or are you free? In Jesus Christ, says Paul, none of this matters! because Christ brings all of us together in him. Even barbarians can be included.

Our first lesson came from the book of Genesis chapter 1, the account of creation: in which God creates humankind in God’s image and likeness, male and female, and gives them dominion over the earth to subdue it. From the perspective of the Hebrews who wrote those words, this seemed both obvious and natural: humanity was male and female and that’s how new humans were born; and the world was a dangerous place, so men had to subdue the wildness of nature in order for human beings to survive at all. 

But you can see divisions here, right at the beginning of the Bible: between male and female, and between humanity and the animals and plants. But as we’re discovering now, it’s impossible to survive in the long run if we divide humanity from one another and from the natural world. 

We’re increasingly hearing about indications that we’re nearing the collapse of the ecology of the world that has sustained us; and that’s because of the unchecked dominion of humans who’ve exploited the world to the death, rather than accept the limitations of living in harmony with it.

Tonight we’ll find out the results of the European Parliamentary election. And the one thing that’s certain is that we’ll be shown to be a very divided country. The tone of our political discussions has been divided and divisive: people have been dismissive of those they don’t agree with, even threatening to rape or kill MPs and others, or throwing milkshakes at political figures. One person’s political opinions are treated as just blah-blah-blah by others who don’t want to hear.

And the same is true about climate change and the environment. Those who don’t want to hear dismiss the uncomfortable evidence as just a load of blah-blah-blah, and close their ears; especially those who don’t want to stop getting rich themselves, even at the expense not only of other poorer human beings, but at the cost of damaging beyond repair the very planet on which the future survival of all of us depends.

There’s a complex and interwoven web of mutual dependence between humanity and nature. And there’s also a complex and interwoven set of relationships between men and women and the abuse of power, and of the complicated realities around human sexuality. Dismissing the experiences, insights and truths of others as nothing by regarding them as blah-blah-blah-ians dishonours both others and the God who created us all.

In the book of Genesis, God creates everything: all in the world comes from God; and male and female together are in the image and likeness of God – women aren’t inferior, and animals and plants aren’t just there to be exploited; all creation expresses the essence and richness of God in a web of inter-relationship; all come together in God. As in Paul’s words to the Colossians: all things and in all things is Christ.

Who are your blah-blah-blah-ians? Those from whom you feel estranged and divided, those you don’t want to hear because you don’t like what they have to say?

Do we look down on others and stick with our own? Or can we open our hearts and lives to other people and all in the world that is different from us, but are part of the whole, and bound together with us in and by God?