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Monday, 20 October 2014

Sermon at Uppingham School


Preaching at Uppingham Boarding School: (Reading: Luke 4 verses 16 - 21)

It’s a privilege to be here, and perhaps one of the most daunting tasks I’ve ever had – I come from a very unprivileged background – leaving school with no qualifications besides a C in Art, I went back to education later on in life when I wanted to be a social worker and activist for Christ.

I am, I think, possibly the first member of the clergy to address you who is well known for being arrested! My ministry developed during growing opposition to war in Iraq, spending on Trident Nuclear weapons, and I strongly support the Occupy movement which has sprung up globally from Wall Street, St Paul's Cathedral and more recently in Hong Kong. I had thought that opposing an elite who are growing richer and more privileged through the avoidance of taxation and the accumulation of wealth would hardly make me suitable Uppingham material!

So if it all goes wrong today I would like you to put the blame fairly and squarely on your Chaplain's shoulders; James, do you remember nothing of our time in Durham? I was the first Cranmer student to be arrested since that incident in the 60’s when a student was caught supplying pot to fellow ordinands! A story which throws some light on the quality of clergy that came from Cranmer during that period. They were very good.

James possibly fondly remembers at Cranmer College being part of the Jubilee 2000 movement which argued that the global south shouldn’t have to pay back the huge debts to the rich Western Nations who lent vast sums of money to them for things like weapons and expensive Western technology (such as nuclear power stations built on fault lines.)

The campaigning life that I have lived, that led me to spend nights in police cells, be the city centre priest for Bradford, to work with drug users and murderers – and now has led me to be the Chaplain to Sunderland University – a University with one of the highest percentages of students who never normally access higher education. – I have been led to all these wonderful and challenging places because I have tried to wrestle with the scriptures such as the one which we have just had read out.

When you hear yourself called a Christian, a follower of Christ, remember what it means. Christ means – Messiah – literally 'the anointed one'. And when Jesus uses the term ‘the anointed’ in this passage, this is what it means to him: ‘He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, regain site to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of Jubilee.’

Whenever you use that term ‘Christ’ remember what it meant to Jesus: ‘Anointed to bring good news to the poor’

I’m known as a liberation theologian, and that is often seen as someone who works with the poor and suffering, working in the favela’s of Brazil or the foodbanks of England. But actually Jesus worked equally with the rich and poor alike. In the story of the rich young man, it says he loved the rich young person, as he helped him to see that his riches and privileges actually were a huge burden. He wanted him to see that there is so much more to life than wealth and power – that love is the real key to happiness and the kingdom of God. Similarly when the rich and powerful leader Nicodemus comes to see him, he jokes with him and reminds him that he must be born again – by which he is saying that Nicodemus must not assume that his status is derived from the family he has been born into – but by allowing a rebirth, based on God working through him afresh.

When I am usually talking to kids of your age group in the North East, I am normally addressing the hardships they will face: Unemployment- the North East has one of the highest levels of youth unemployment in the country: Homelessness - most young people in our region will never be able to earn enough to buy their own property. We normally talk about the high cost of living, the cost of accessing Higher education. Most of you will never have to be so concerned with any of those issues because of the life you have been born into.

For most of you, the questions life will throw at you are very different. Just remember this – if the faith stories of Christ, Muhammad, Buddha have any impact on your life – the questions will probably be this: How have you used the gifts and privilege’s that you have been lucky enough to have been born into, how have you used them to build a better society, one where there is good news for the poor, the broken, good news for those who are oppressed? How have you built up a kingdom of fairness, peace and love?

When you really encounter poverty and oppression, Christ asks you to have compassion, and to work out your responsibility to bring about change.

You are the change makers of the future. How we tackle climate change; how we reduce the gap between rich and poor; how we either accumulate power and wealth or choose to share it out - will partly be down to people like you.

But rich and poor, we all have some common struggles with life: How do I fit in? Does anyone really love me? What is it all for? Why did you hurt me by doing that? How on earth did they allow Judy Murray on Strictly? The big questions in life.

The stories in this book (the Bible) will help you make sense of some of those questions. Use it wisely and all things will be well. Blessings on your journey, chose your companions wisely.

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