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The week in focus for week beginning Sunday 25 September 2022

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Up-to-the-minute jumping-off points for sermons, linking the reading to the latest news and global issues

People of loving service

The parable of Lazarus calls us to live justly in the service of others (Luke 16.19-31).

Context  

As the world joined many in the UK to watch Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, the Archbishop of Canterbury reminded us of her long life of loving service, based on her faith in God. While many find community in united mourning and tribute, others wrestle with the discomforting challenges of colonialism and privilege.

Our new King faces many challenges as he finds his own way to serve his country, including calls to reform the monarchy. In the global arena, Russia mobilises citizens to fight in Ukraine; climate change concerns include drought in Africa and Europe as well as the devastating floods in Pakistan; human rights violations are reported as women burn their headscarves in protests in Iran. At home, further support is needed to deal with the energy cost crisis; tension leads to violence on the streets of Leicester; further protests are planned over the death of Chris Kaba; and health and social care services are in crisis.

James Plunkett (Joseph Rowntree Foundation) asks, what does social justice mean in this context? Others ponder on the relationship between the monarch and faith, when over 50% of society have no religious affiliation.

 

Ideas for sermons or interactive talks

What a challenging reading to consider this week! when both the privileges of wealth and the principles of justice and good leadership filled our thoughts and TV screens. Many people were united in their grief for the loss of our Queen, and respect for her life of loving service, amid growing concerns for the state of our nation and our political leaders. As the teenage daughter of my friend declared, ‘it’s like the only adult has left the room’. Researchers gathering stories from people in ‘The Queue’ found many reasons, not just shared grief but also individual losses, a sense of national identity, and just wanting to be part of an historic moment. Others raised concerns about the silencing of those who wanted to protest against the institution of the monarchy; of those who mourn the harmful and oppressive role Britain has had as a colonial power; of those who call us to recognise the injustice experienced by the black community, after the death of Chris Kaba. How do we live with these different perspectives and challenges, seemingly in tension with each other?

Justin Welby summed up the challenge to us expressed in this Lazareth reading, embodied in the Queen’s funeral, well: ‘…those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privileges are long forgotten’. This is not a comfortable gospel and our discomfort this week may be difficult to live with. Foodbanks, the NHS and social care are still overwhelmed and many families and businesses face a disastrous winter with the energy costs crisis. Climate change, war and poverty threaten our global survival. How do we respond to the injustices of power, privilege and wealth? Can we can draw inspiration from the example of ‘loving service’ that Justin Welby described?

 

Questions for discussion

  • What injustice in our world concerns you most at the moment?
  • How can you approach these challenges from a position of loving service?
  • How does your faith support you to live according to your principles?

Jane Chevous is an activist, writer, sailor, and leader of Survivors Voices. She researches and writes about abuse, theology, mental health and the sea.

 

Check-in

Connecting faith with everyday, real-life issues for young people

With a parable about what happens after death there is nowhere to start this week other than the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II last Monday. 28 million people watched the funeral on television on Monday, with schools and business closed for the day. For many young people, this will have been the first funeral they have witnessed, with parents having protected them from attending family funerals when they were younger. For others, watching the Queen’s children and grandchildren walking behind the royal coffin will have brought back memories of someone that they have lost and made that grief fresh again.

In that context, it is important to tread lightly around the topic of hell and eternal torment. Instead, there is a conversation to be had about choices made in life. As the rich man of the parable spent his life wearing fine clothes and feasting, what was different about Queen Elizabeth’s life? She wore expensive clothes and ate at banquets with world leaders so what gave people such confidence at her funeral in speaking about her life being ‘well-lived’? Part of that was her stated intention to serve others - even while she had servants herself - to give her time and energy to doing what would help relations with other countries or one of the many charities of which she was patron. The Queen spoke often of service: Both in terms of her faith in Jesus and her desire to serve him as well as the calling she felt God had given her to use her position and power for the good of others.

A question often asked is: What would you do if you were ‘king for a day'? - what would you do with the resources and power that you imagine comes with that position? Is it easier or harder to work for the good of others when you personally have everything you need?

From the parable, is there a different judgement being applied to the rich man than to Lazarus? Lazarus doesn’t appear to have worked to benefit anybody else but is instead blessed for enduring so much suffering. Does this change how we judge those who are struggling and how much we expect from them? Who do you know who is in a similar position to Lazarus where their suffering stops them from being able to join in with society?

On a lighter note, this week a petition has been drawn up to get Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby sacked from their jobs on daytime television programme, ‘This Morning’ for jumping the queue to see the Queen as she was lying in state. At the time of writing, 25,000 people have signed it so far which makes me wonder at the way in which people want to see bad behaviour punished (it looks like the pair were there as broadcasters and not in the queue at all) and see offences on a sliding scale from minor to awful. It feels very British to be this exercised about whether people have queued properly. Have those executives for the water industry who have authorised the dumping of sewage into our rivers received a similar level of anger? Do we have different expectations of celebrities to ‘normal’ people?

The very visible reminder of death this week sharpens our thinking about how we are living out the values that we hold. People will judge us all the time, but it is Jesus who ultimately judges each person. What Christian values are the hardest to live out consistently? Are there any Christian values that society generally or your friends react against when you put them into practice? How can you keep going in the face of that opposition?

Steve Taylor is joint-vicar of St James Alperton CofE church near Wembley. He shares the job with his wife, Ali, and shares his house with their two children, two cats and numerous fish.

 

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