Sermon preached on the Sunday before Lent (7 February 2016) by Revd Canon Tricia Hillas, Pastor

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Sermon preached on the Sunday before Lent (7 February 2016) by Revd Canon Tricia Hillas, Pastor

God knows us all by name, notes Canon Tricia - including people in a 'swarm' 

This week Shakespeare’s Hamlet was performed on a makeshift stage to around 300 refugees and migrants in Calais. Approximately 6,000 refugees from 22 countries live in the camp known as the jungle The audience, sitting outside in bitterly cold weather, was made up of those who some, including those at the highest rank of our political life, have described as “a bunch of migrants “and “a swarm of people”.

The Refugee Council said that the use of the term ‘Swarm’ was “extremely disappointing ... irresponsible, dehumanising language to describe desperate men, women and children”.

History whispers warnings of what can happen when, in our minds, people cease to be people but become to us a ‘swarm’.

So who were some of the individuals in the audience for Hamlet in Calais?

A journalist interviewed some of them:

‘One young men was a nurse forced to be a soldier in Eritrea, giving his name as Hector, he said

“I’ve read the play in a book but never seen it…it is good to see theatre, to see the English tradition…it is good to enjoy something…life here is very bad. We are human beings – would you live here?”

Benjamin, a builder from Iran was watching Hamlet with interest, as he had seen it performed in his home country, in Farsi. “The language is very beautiful” he said “this is very good”.

Is that you were expecting… people with a love of language and a curiosity about another culture. People who have read and who have seen Hamlet performed. Are these the threat? The faceless, nameless swarm? Is this what we, what our politicians, were expecting to see…or are we not really that interested in actually seeing the people upon whom we pronounce our judgements?

Known by Name

How different the word of God to Moses; ‘I know you…I know you by name’

Our reading from Exodus finds Moses mid prayer to God. And Moses is desperate.

Here’s an important thing of which to remind ourselves – who was Moses? None other than the leader of a community on the move, one made up of women, men and children who had fled oppression and slavery, people in search of a home.

At the point our reading begins Moses has just said to God:

‘You told me to bring these people up  - I’ve done that; but now we need to know that your presence will go with us; how else will we survive?’

And God replies, to this leader of a displaced, refugee community…”I know you by name”.

I see you.

There is a need in every human being to be seen…to be known.

If you are a woman, have you sat in a meeting or a lecture and heard your idea or comment ignored, but as soon as a man said a similar thing it’s taken up?

If you are someone with a disability do you know what it is like to have someone address your supporter first rather than you?

If you are someone with who identifies as LGBTI the strong likelihood is that you too know what it’s like to be excluded from some of the significant conversations.

And often when overlooked people speak up, it is they who are seen as the problem, as a friend said to me this week ‘I’m just dismissed as an aggressive black woman.’

But God says…’I see you…I know you…by name.’

And what is more, I will tell you, MY name.

I know you…and want you to know me.

To be honest the thought of being known to God, by name, thrills, encourages and terrifies me. But to know God by name, especially by the name of Jesus, speaks of intimacy and love.

Love which God has chosen to lavish upon us, children of God. And if that is true of us, how can it be anything other than true of Hector, Benjamin and the other 5,998 or so people trapped in the Calais jungle. Known by name.

This Lent, which begins in just a few days, might we seek to develop the practices of looking and truly seeing; of hearing and actually listening, of talking and genuinely speaking. Of pausing to recognise that God sees us too. That we and all God’s children might be seen, and truly known.

Let us pray:

O God who makes yourself known to humanity

You see us; we are not invisible to you; not over looked by you.

You see your children with love and compassion,

You see us as you have created us, gifted, fearfully and wonderfully made.

You know us, our longings, fears, loves and desires.

We are, because you give us life, because you sustain us with your love,

Because you know us, because you see us.

May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore, Amen.