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Clergy Day Homily, July 2019

by Michael Ford last modified 15 Jul, 2019 10:06 AM

The Bishop preached a homily for our annual Clergy Day, 'Transforming Lives, Transforming Communities: Deepening Discipleship in the 21st Century' at Bryanston School on 9 July 2019.

Genesis 41.55-end, 42.5-7,17-end; Matthew 10.1-7.

In 1989 for Lent in the parish of the Isle of Dogs in East London where I was the still new-ish Vicar we read the book of Genesis. I asked the former Bishop of Stepney and retired Archbishop Trevor Huddleston to preach on a day when the reading was part of the Joseph narrative. ++Trevor had been a leading figure of the Anti-Apartheid movement, having been recalled from being a parish priest in Soweto by his Community of the Resurrection in the late 1950’s. He said that Nelson Mandela was a ‘Joseph figure’: falsely accused and imprisoned but who would come to lead the nation. It would not be in Huddleston’s own life time.

In not much more than a year, Mandela was released from prison after 27 years and led South Africa through a peaceful transition to the new rainbow nation. It gave hope to the world in a way that seems almost incredible now.

In 2015 I had lunch with some Black South African friends who had studied at King’s College London. We looked out to Robben Island where Mandela and one of them had been imprisoned. I asked Archbishop Desmond Tutu what he thought of the progress in what was then Jacob Zuma’s South Africa. They were each prominent in criticising Zuma. “If you had told me 40 years ago that this is where we would be I not have believed you. It is incredible”, Tutu said. “But I am also disappointed….We are squandering the opportunities we have been given.”

Or another use of the Joseph story: Pope John XXIII had been Cardinal Joseph Roncalli before his election as Pope in 1958.

When a Jewish delegation came to the Vatican he greeted them, “I am Joseph, your brother”. In that simple use of scripture and personal biography barely 15 years after the end of the Second World War in which there was much suspicion and distrust about the role played by the Vatican, Pope John transformed Christian-Jewish relations. “I am Joseph, your brother”.

Transforming lives, Transforming communities – the power of the Joseph story restoring families and communities locally and globally.

We live in difficult times. After prolonged austerity more people are in work than ever and foodbanks have been normalised. We have Universal Credit in which the poorest people wait five weeks for cash. A hostile environment has been created for migrants and refugees and funding for ESOL classes has been dramatically reduced.

In Brexit Britain we are struggling about how we belong together. The Archdeacon of Dorset said at Synod a few weeks ago that it’s not been like this since the Reformation, others have said since the English Civil War, I have wondered if another more recent parallel is the 1820’s when, post Napoleonic wars, there was poverty and unrest with fears about the Reform Bill and Catholic emancipation, and a feeling that England was ungovernable.

Whatever the historic parallels we are in extremely difficult circumstances. We are polarised, tribal and disparaging of one another. How we are to be English, British, European, Global? The union of the United Kingdom is threatened and today’s spat with the White House about the British Ambassador in Washington is an indication that the special relationship with the US may not be as reliable as in the past.

Into these events the Joseph story tells of forgiveness, reconciliation and hope within and between families and nations.

The Lectionary is sometimes a big gift and today’s readings speak powerfully into a day focussed on ‘Transforming Lives, Transforming Communities: Deepening Discipleship’. In the Gospel Jesus calls the disciples by name and sends them out healing and with a vision of the kingdom of heaven being near. Sometimes what we most want is within touching distance and we can be confident in the hope of the resurrection.

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