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Riots in England and the Phoenician Woman

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Matthew 15:21-28
All-Age Service (14.8.2011)

I had been looking forward to speaking on this Gospel passage today. It would though, be difficult to stand up and speak today as if this week had been just the same as any other. We will all have found the news in this country to be hard to take. For Alan and myself our home in Enfield. Our family is in Enfield. It was unbelievable to see the scenes on TV. It was even harder because we used to go to church with the policeman who involved in the Broadwater Farm riots in Tottenham in the 80’s. By involved I mean he was inline next to PC Blakelock when he was hacked to death in that riot, so close in line that the machete also went into his head and he has never been able to work again.

Our fears last Sunday evening were great, our sadness as the week developed was incredulous at the sickening news. What may have started out as a legitimate protest against the police and authorities very soon developed into out and out criminal behaviour.

All week we have heard accusations and blaming against all sorts of people and things. The bad financial situation our country which has led to a growth in unemployment. Or to the cuts in policing. Or its the fault of this government or the last government. It’s the result of bad parenting. It’s the fault of education.

But the looting and violence we’ve seen on such a grand scale has really had little to do with poor and oppressed people living on the edges of our society. What actually we have witnessed is people stealing and acquiring the luxuries of life without having to pay for them. Without having to earn the money for them. We live in a society where money and the possessions it buys are seen as the answer to everything. One of the reasons why we live in this blame culture. Has your relative been killed in an accident. Then sue someone. I fail totally to understand how anyone can see how money can replace a person. But for most people today money appears to solve all sorts of problems and is the source of much happiness.

A poor Haitian boy, called Harold Charles came to Turks & Caicos Islands with nothing, worked as an airplane cleaner. Harold Charles not only bought and owned the airline, which provided many jobs for the people of Haiti but sold it to the islands and became a major player in today’s global economy and a philanthropist.

A man who has sought to put right some of the world’s ills, real poverty and oppression – and seek the betterment of others. Did you notice how he said that the only thing he loved more than his work was God and his family. That’s key isn’t it and is the direct opposite of what we’ve witnessed this week. He saw a problem and solved it for the benefit of others – is it a coincidence that he also has God in his life?

Looking at our Gospel reading (which I had planned to preach on in a very different fashion before the events of this week happened) I wanted to look at the seemingly odd way Jesus speaks to her – but will save that for another time. Here we have someone who could really have been on the edges of society too. A foreign, i.e. non-Jewish woman comes to Jesus with a problem. She has a sick daughter who needed healing. All the money in the world couldn’t solve that problem but she recognizes that Jesus can. Jesus can make her daughter well. She has to argue her case. She has to put up with the disciples wanting to send her away as a nuisance. But she stands her ground and pleads with Jesus to help her.

And this is where I feel most shocked and sadden by the events of this week. Pretty soon into the events I felt the sadness and despair of our being a country that has moved so far away from God. A society where self-gratification is all important. And I realized that we all have to hold our hands up and admit our part in that. All of us. Even me. Why?

Because our nation needs healing and wholeness. Our country needs to know God. It is loving Him that we embark upon the journey of loving self less. And more besides for loving God goes hand in hand with loving others too. How often do we earnestly ask God to help with the healing of our nation as that women asked Jesus to heal her daughter? Arguing our case with the faith that she exhibited. At morning prayers on Friday there were just 3 of us here. Alan, myself and one other. The one piece of TV news from Enfield that had given me comfort and hope was of a group of Christians praying in the market square (outside my sending church as it happens). My son-in-law had added to this by telling me that they had held special prayers at their church (also in Enfield) one morning last week.

It may not be that you or I hold money and possessions as being the most important thing in our lives. But equally it may also be that we don’t hold the conversion of this country back to a Christian one may not be top of our agenda either. And it should be. I have printed a copy of the Church of England’s prayer for the situation. Look at it. Think about it. Pray about it. But please, I ask you to add to it. Pray that our country, our people, may come to know the saving love and power of Christ and know that to be worth more than all of the money and goods, looted or otherwise, in all the world. Amen

Church of England prayer for peace in our communities

Gracious God,
We pray for peace in our communities this day.
We commit to you all who work for peace and an end to tensions,
And those who work to uphold law and justice.
We pray for an end to fear,
For comfort and support to those who suffer.
For calm in our streets and cities,
That people may go about their lives in safety and peace.
In your mercy, hear our prayers,
now and always. Amen

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