Sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Advent (6 December 2015) by the Revd Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor

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Sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Advent (6 December 2015) by the Revd Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor

Where are the Church’s modern prophets calling on the western world to drop clean water, food, schools and internet access – instead of bombs? asks Revd Michael Hampel.

The Second Sunday of Advent is the Sunday of prophecy – the telling forth of truths about God usually in an uncompromising and unbending way. Think of the Old Testament prophets prefacing their prophecy with that categorical statement: ‘Thus says the Lord’ – a statement that brooks no opposition and accommodates no gainsayers.

It’s not very Anglican where mutually worked out compromise is the name of the game and what is intriguingly called good disagreement.

Something along those lines occurred in Parliament on Wednesday when, free vote or not, three of the four main parties in the House of Commons saw their members voting either with or against their respective leaders over the matter of bombing Daesh targets in Syria. Although there was only one outcome of course...

And that’s because mutually worked out compromise doesn’t really work in this instance. You either drop bombs or you don’t.

But, of course, the reason it doesn’t work in this instance is because – as ever – we wait until mutually worked out compromise is too late to take effect.

Even in the 1940s, it was probably too late in the Middle East for suitable compromises to be reached over possession of the land and governance but at least, if better compromises had been reached then, they would have had seventy years to come into better effect – especially if they had evolved around the needs and desires of the people who live in that region.

Because, as I look through my amateur political telescope, imposing what we glibly call ‘western values’ on middle eastern states doesn’t seem to work very much. It seems to be like putting new wine into an old wineskin – and the skin bursts apart. And there is a terrible possibility that that part of the world was a safer place when dictators ruled the roost – however uncomfortable that possibility makes my western spirit feel.

The biblical prophets have an answer – as they uncompromisingly and unbendingly exalt God as a refuge for the poor and a refuge to the needy in their distress and as a shelter from the rainstorm and as a shade from the heat.

Last week, when George Osborne announced the latest stages of his austerity budget, the Daily Mail found an alternative to the tightening of British belts as it called for a slashing (that favourite word of the pundits) – a slashing of the overseas aid budget and, to back up their case, the Daily Mail found 68% of the British public to agree with them.

Cut the overseas aid budget even though it’s only 0.7% of gross national income. Cut the projects to bring clean water to people and provide decent sanitation so that their bodies stand up to the onslaught of disease and indignity. Stop educating people so that their brains become shields against extremism. Stop sharing our riches so that the envy of less happier lands is dissipated and no jealousy festers. That will make the world a safer place.

But have those 68% of the people who answered the Daily Mail’s leading question read their prophets?

But perhaps the people haven’t read their prophets because, as far as they can tell from the Church’s counsels and debates, prophecy is about what you can’t do and not about what you can do. And, if that’s what they think, then we’ve deafened their ears to the prophetic call for all peoples to enjoy justice and mercy. We’ve discouraged them from turning the pages of their Bibles and reading the stories of justice and mercy, of redemption and salvation, of tithing and giving rather than receiving.

Where are the Church’s modern prophets calling on the western world to drop clean water and to drop food and to drop schools and to drop internet access – instead of dropping bombs? Or at least to do these good things soon enough so that there is no need to drop bombs?

Given the state of the world, this all sounds terribly naive and the prophets whom we champion today probably sounded no less naive 2800 years ago but, 2800 years later, there still seems no prospect of all peoples enjoying the feast of justice and mercy which prophets proclaim on their high mountain.

And so they despise those of us who do. And can you blame them?

Let us pray:

Vulnerable God, you challenge the powers that rule this world through the needy, the compassionate, and those who are filled with longing. Make us hunger and thirst to see right prevail, and single-minded in seeking peace; that we may see your face and be satisfied in you, through Jesus Christ Amen.

And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore. Amen.