“To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilisations. To boldly go where no one has gone before!” I’m sure you know these are the opening lines from the iconic TV series Star Trek. At the beginning of every episode, Captain James Kirk of the Starship Enterprise says “Space: The final frontier”
Most of us will never get to test that frontier but there is another frontier we all face with a 100% certainty. Death is usually the last thing we want to talk about and yet it comes to us all, sometimes prematurely. And too many people are ill-prepared. When a loved one in mid-life is diagnosed with inoperable cancer, your world is turned upside down. Your faith is tested. Your priorities and hopes for the future are changed, instantly, radically, irrevocably. And so by the way does your circle of friends. Invariably it gets smaller, but I’m thankful for those who have stuck with us over the past five years, who have encouraged us to persevere.
This week we celebrated International Women’s Day. The same day the UK government announced they would be funding more football sessions in schools for girls to improve gender equality in sport. I remember when our daughter wanted to play football at school she found it difficult to get picked for the team. The assumption then was that boys played football, while girls played netball.
But as you know sexism on the playing field is tame compared to the gender discrimination women face in career opportunities, in promotion prospects, in pay differentials, in the stereotype roles expected of men and women, even within such a liberated and enlightened society as ours.
One female executive put it like this, “To get anywhere in the corporate world a woman has to do the same work a man would do in the same job, but she must do it twice as well.” Then she added, “Fortunately, that is not difficult.” Another said, “We deserve more pay than men. After all, anything Fred Astaire could do, Ginger Rogers could do backwards and on high heels.”
I am sure like me you have been shocked at the eruption of violence in Palestine this week. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz invariably goes for the jugular with its headlines where Western media normally fear to tread. On Tuesday, for example, Haaretz ran the headline, “Israeli Settlers’ Hawara Pogrom was a Preview of Sabra and Chatila 2” In case you were born after 1982, in September that year, after invading Southern Lebanon, the Israeli military allowed the Lebanese Phalangist Militia to enter the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila and massacre over 3,500 Palestinian men, women and children. Haaretz drew the comparison, “This week in the West Bank, no one stopped the extremist settlers from running amok in Hawara.”
What is it that makes you angry? At a trivial level, I get angry when I see someone drop litter or see a dog owner allow their pet to soil the path. More seriously I get angry when I see graffiti sprayed on a wall, or a tree sapling vandalised. I get angry when I hear climate change deniers, or when companies discharge waste into rivers. I get more angry when I see someone being bullied or harassed, especially if it’s a child, a woman, someone with a disability or person of colour. I get even more angry still over child abuse, sexual harassment or physical violence. I feel very angry with holocaust denial, Antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of racism. Above that, those who justify apartheid, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and genocide. That’s me. What about you? What about Jesus? What did Jesus get angry with in the gospels? Surprisingly it was none of the above. What was it? Religious hypocrisy. Worth reflecting on that isn’t it?
In our gospel reading today Jesus’ instructs us on dealing with anger and with conflict resolution. Here are three headings: Unjustified anger is always destructive (Matthew 5:21-22) Unsettled disputes are invariably costly (Matthew 5:25-26) Pursue reconciliation to resolve conflict (Matthew 5:23-24)
My first parish as a young enthusiastic priest was St John’s, Stoke, in Guildford, Surrey. It is situated next door to Guildford College. In my time there as Rector, we held occasional events for students and faculty. Previously I had spent four years working as a student pastor so when the chaplaincy of the college fell vacant I asked my Bishop whether the two posts could be combined. We heard nothing for months. Eventually when I pressed the Archdeacon, I was told that it was considered inappropriate for an evangelical to be appointed as the chaplain to an academic institution. Then when I proposed undertaking a part-time post graduate degree I was asked by the Director of Training, rather cynically, was I going to buy it from America? That was all the motivation I needed to pursue a Masters from Oxford and then eventually a PhD.
I can therefore relate to how the Apostle Paul must have felt when he was mocked by the Christians in Corinth for his lack of eloquence or oratory skills. Let me read to you from John Stott’s book “Calling Christian Leaders” (IVP)
“I was sitting in a barber chair when I became aware that a powerful personality had entered the room. A man had come quietly in upon the same errand as myself to have his hair cut and sat in the chair next to me. Every word the man uttered, though it was not in the least didactic, showed a personal interest in the man who was serving him. And before I got through with what was being done to me I was aware I had attended an evangelistic service, because Mr, D. L. Moody was in that chair. I purposely lingered in the room after he had left and noted the singular affect that his visit had brought upon the barber shop. They talked in undertones. They did not know his name, but they knew something had elevated their thoughts, and I felt that I left that place as I should have left a place of worship.” Who said that? Woodrow Wilson, the former President of the United States.