Sermon preached on the Ninth Sunday after Trinity (2 August 2015) by The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor

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Sermon preached on the Ninth Sunday after Trinity (2 August 2015) by The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor

The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel looks at the migrants in Calais and says "I believe very strongly in the shared responsibility of all human beings for everything which happens in this world".

One senses that the migrants in Calais attempting to make a passage to this country are, in certain ways, rather like the crowd in this morning’s gospel reading in search of another free meal.

These are the folk who, the previous day, had experienced food in abundance after listening to Jesus preaching by the Sea of Galilee. They go in search of Jesus and Jesus sees through them and encourages them to seek the bread of heaven which gives life to the world and then reveals that to have faith in Jesus is to be fed by this bread of heaven as surely as if one were to eat manna in the wilderness.

The migrants in Calais are clearly after the material benefits of life in the United Kingdom and who can blame them when we appear to have so much food that we throw most of it away into the bin every day? We throw away enough food to feed entire nations.

And, whatever our own political views on the extent to which the United Kingdom can relieve the needs of these wretched people, I think even Jesus would have difficulty persuading them that faith in God would bring relief to their suffering more readily than a share in the riches which this country has to afford.

It would be an unwelcome sermon at the gates of the Port of Calais right now.

Having said that, there are further similarities between the Calais migrants and the crowd in this morning’s gospel reading: it is highly likely that most of them will be prepared to work for their keep once here. The crowd ask Jesus what they must do to perform the works of God. And we know, from experience that, here in the UK, most of our health workers, labourers and cleaners are migrant workers who do the jobs that British people don’t want to do not even for ready money. And then there are the very high profile migrants in the fields of arts and science, industry and commerce, and sport.

But, again, any suggestion that we should let the Calais migrants in if, instead of working, they were to agree to believe in the one whom God has sent would not please even the UK Independence Party – despite its pseudo-Christian political philosophy.

So, on the one hand this morning, we have our gospel reading in our order of service and, on the other, we have the news reports of the plight of the Calais migrants in our newspapers. The one champions spiritual bread over loaves of bread and faith in Jesus over good works and the other can only really be resolved by someone somewhere giving these poor people something to eat and a job with which to earn their living.

It’s the stuff of good Reformation theology of course – that we’re saved by faith and not by works – but it also provides us Christians with something of a dilemma.

Drawing a comparison between the crowd which follows Jesus to Capernaum and the migrants outside Calais weakens the force of this morning’s powerful gospel reading and we have somehow to rescue it if we’re not to go away from this Eucharist this morning with a profound sense of guilt and anxiety about the dilemma of children abandoned by the side of the roads that lead to the Port of Calais or in the Kent countryside if they get here.

So, at this point, the preacher is supposed to pull the white rabbit out of the hat and say something which will make us all feel better.

Funnily enough, I had planned originally to preach a sermon about how we take too negative a view of life these days after reading an article in yesterday’s Times by Mathew Paris on that very subject.

But, when I read this morning’s gospel lesson yesterday afternoon and was struck by this potential comparison between the gospel crowd and the Calais migrants, I felt compelled to take a different course. So, my apologies but you’re not going to get the white rabbit!

And the reason why you’re not going to get it is because of the very acute sense which I possess about cause and effect. I believe very strongly in the shared responsibility of all human beings for everything which happens in this world – historically because most of today’s political problems are caused by past interventions by different nations and politically because politicians will only ever give us the world we want because they want our votes.

So, with some trepidation because you might assault me at the door after the service, I’m going to say that I believe that the migrant crisis at the Port of Calais is the shared responsibility of all of us and then, in the light of this morning’s gospel reading, I’m going to say that Christians bear an even greater responsibility because we’re under a pretty hefty obligation to relieve the suffering of this world now in the name of Jesus Christ because we are followers of Jesus Christ.

Although that still leaves a vast amount of work – yes work – to be done, it does at least begin slowly to relieve the dilemma I described earlier because it allows us to re-read the last line of this morning’s gospel lesson in a new light: those of us who come to Jesus will make sure that no one else will ever be hungry or ever be thirsty.

That might send you away this morning feeling rather overwhelmed but I hope not guilty or anxious. But there’s work to be done.