The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel looks at the persecution of Christians around the world and the upcoming UK election, saying: "If the only way we
can take up our cross right now is to use our faith, our intelligence and our vote to campaign for the Kingdom of God, it is a start."
Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16; Mark 8: 31-end
British people, by and large, don’t feel very strongly about anything. It’s one of the reasons why we are generally so tolerant of other people’s
political and religious views but it’s also probably the reason why so many people don’t bother to vote in elections and why so few people go to
We prefer a quiet life and, if we’re honest, can probably only really pay lip-service to the charge in today’s gospel lesson that we should take up
our cross and follow Christ – a charge which doesn’t mean so much that we should shoulder the burdens of life than that we should actually be
prepared to die for Christ.
In London, I’m more likely to die for my wallet than for Christ.
And I say that at the very moment that significant numbers of Christians in the Middle East are being murdered with extraordinary brutality
specifically because they are Christian. Yet, even then, it’s easy to receive such news with initial shock and revulsion but nevertheless carry on
with life as if nothing has really happened - because it’s far away and happening to people who’ve got nothing to do with us and, in any case, what
can we do about it. It’s as if the news is so overwhelming that we are almost numb to its effect.
But roll back the years and go over to Smithfield, only a few hundred yards from St Paul’s, and we could have witnessed something very similar
happening to our fellow citizens not so much because they were Christian but because they were the wrong type of Christian.
But even that doesn’t move us particularly because it’s history and so not very real - and, again, nothing to do with us - not least because we
don’t believe that we are in any way responsible either for what happened a long time ago or for what is happening a long way away.
And yet the repercussions of history mean that nothing happens which isn’t in some way caused by what happened and the reduction by modern media of
a vast planet into a smart phone nutshell means that nothing happens which doesn’t involve us.
We are Christians who, when we heard Jesus say to his disciples in this morning’s gospel lesson that they should take up their cross and follow
him, said, ‘Praise to you, O Christ.’ And sure enough one or two people here might well take themselves off to the warzone to bring aid and relief
to fellow Christians who are suffering so profoundly and whose lives are at such risk - and that handful of people may well risk their own lives in
doing so - specifically because they are Christian and are drawn to interpret Christ’s command literally.
But I have a feeling that most of us will never do that and that some of us will indeed merely pay lip-service to the command - and I’m sure that I
am just as much liable to that lukewarm response as anyone else here.
But we can’t do nothing - neither because we are lukewarm not because we are overwhelmed by the task.
In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus describes the Son of Man undergoing great suffering and being rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the
scribes and being killed. Much theological interpretation has been given to this title ‘the Son of Man’ but the one which most aptly fits the facts
is that it refers quite simply to any human being – in other words, to any ordinary person like you or me – a son or daughter of human parents: the
sort of person God became in the person of Jesus the Messiah - not the rebel leader who took his followers into battle to win all the kingdoms of
this world, but the defenceless sufferer whose complete obedience to the plans and purposes of God for his creation was a more powerful influence
than force of arms.
The command in today’s gospel lesson is not a call to lukewarm indifference (however beneficial that is to a would-be tolerant society) and it is
not even a call to negative self-abandonment but it is a call to a positive devotion to Christ and the good news that he brings.
And we may be ordinary men and women - mere sons and daughters of mere human parents but most of us, I hope, live in democratic countries whose
leaders, though no less human than us, are powerfully influential on the world stage and most of us, I hope, have benefited from the human right to
a good and free education and, yes, we have our smart phones but even more cogently we have our vote.
In a few weeks time, there will be a general election in the United Kingdom. We’ve probably already accepted that we are unlikely to volunteer
ourselves and possibly our lives as aid workers in the troubled parts of our world. But, if we as Christians can’t even be bothered to go out and
vote in an election, then what appears lukewarm begins actually to feel quite cold and indifferent.
Many of us have grown fat in the past on the rich potential of those parts of the world which are now the most dangerous - for Christians and for
others - and our love affair with modern technology means that none of us can plead ignorance. If the only way we can take up our cross right now
is to use our faith, our intelligence and our vote to campaign for the Kingdom of God, it is a start - and, on Thursday 7 May, that may mean
denying ourselves in the polling booth when it comes to voting.
It’s a start – but it’s not the end, not until everyone can experience God’s Kingdom come, God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven.