May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Now only half of you have been able to biologically suffer the worst pain imaginable which I want to speak about today. You’ll all know the answer of course. Correct, its Man-Flu. Symptoms of man-flu include whimpering, groaning, rolling around pathetically, needing sympathy and dare I say dealing with complaints from an unsympathetic wife. Gentleman its awful, isn’t it? I’m only kidding by the way! But jokes aside, when you are in the middle of a nasty bug, flu, covid, man-flu whatever, you know about it don’t you? Many moons ago as a student I managed to contract pneumonia, and it was awful. My student accommodation was about a 5-minute walk from the student doctors, I was so ill it took me 30 minutes. I got there just as they were shutting and the receptionist said, “sorry you will have to come back tomorrow”. I was so ill I sat down and said “well I am just going to sit here because I can’t go anywhere, so you’d better get someone” so a nurse came out, and took me straight to the doctor, who drove me to A&E. I ached everywhere, everything was a struggle, and only after a night being filled with IV antibiotics to the eyeballs did the fever break. It was even worse than man-flu, and looking back I am just glad I was a fit and young 20-year-old able to fight the disease well. When you are really ill you know about it don’t you? You know when you’re in trouble, you know when things are bad and there are symptoms like pain, hurt and the inability to do anything well. At the minute we live in a world that is hurting, don’t we? We live in a world that is in pain. We live in a world that is unable to listen to each other.
There are so many conflicts going on around the world. There are the big wars, like Gaza and Ukraine, where innocence, on all sides often, is murdered by the evil ambitions of evil men. There are cultural conflicts too, ones made worse by social media echo chambers, by internet algorithms, by biased journalism where our own bigotry is amplified and justified by others who share them from across the internet. There are conflicts within our country, as people fight the crushing poverty of a country still recovering from a pandemic. The Christian church is not immune, there are conflicts within our church of England, particularly around sexuality at the minute, where Christians are hating each other, condemning each other, attacking each other, when they should be loving each other and of course all this conflict comes at the painful expense of those who are so affected by the decisions the church makes or doesn’t make. We live in a world more polarised than I can remember, don’t we? These conflicts, all these conflicts have certain characteristic that they all share, which I want to explore today.
What all these conflicts share is what I think of as ‘othering’. You see, in conflict, the first action of each side is often to quickly forget the humanity of those on the opposing side. We may describe our enemies as animals or as oppressors or as something ‘other’ than human. Look at any interview with someone in the midst of conflict, I promise they will do it, give another human a label their group hates. We may describe our enemies as liberals or conservatives. We may describe our enemies as immigrants or as heretics. We may describe our enemies as animals or idiots. What we won’t easily do with our enemies is recognise their humanity. What we will do is make them ‘other’ than human. Yes – people do awful things and justice must be served. Yes, there are fights to win, and battles to be fought, unfortunately in a fallen world. But these conflicts are with people – and we must resist the temptation to ‘other’ people, we must not forget the humanity of other people. Because to stripe someone of their humanity is always the first step to evil. It’s always the first excuse. You’ll know the thought or the excuse. I can now hate this person because they are not really a Christian. I can now hate this person because they aren’t a member of my group. I can now hate this person because their ideas will ruin this country. The problem with ‘othering’ people, with stripping someone of their humanity in our own eyes is it doesn’t make them a monster to attack as perhaps we hope it will, rather it’s the first step we take to make ourselves monsters, because we can only do monstrous things to other people when we forget their humanity. As the people of God, we are called to call out evil, but we are also called to love our enemies. If only the world, the country, the church could take the words of Jesus seriously.
In our gospel reading we hear Jesus give that famous explanation of the greatest commandment. He said ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ Everything we do as people of faith hangs on these two laws. The greatest commandment is to love God, Jesus tells us. Jesus then tells us that the second commandment is like it, to love our neighbour as ourselves. We lose in the English exactly how close these two commandments are. The word ‘like’ in Greek is homoios derived from the word homo that means the same. A better translation might be, and the second commandment is like its twin, to love your neighbour as yourself. Not quite the same but so close they could be twins. Love God, love neighbour. That’s what we have got to do, if our faith hangs on anything else, we have misunderstood all of scripture. Anyone here viewed themselves as anything less than human? No? Because if you haven’t seen yourself less than human, we have no right at all to do that to other people. We are to love everyone and treat them as we would wish to be treated, even or perhaps especially if they are doing evil things.
This doesn’t mean that as Christians we are to be peoples doormats. In our first reading we can see God instructing people of faith to be just in our judgements, to not treat people differently based on status and to not take advantage of people weaker than ourselves. We are called not to hold a grudge or hold on to hatred, but to love our neighbour as ourselves. Our faith doesn’t call us to avoid conflict, but to seek justice and mercy. To preach the gospel. That in conflict is a hard but holy place to stand.
Our world is in huge amounts of pain, there are global conflicts, national conflicts and even, sadly conflicts within the church. It’s a sick world that is busy forgetting the humanity of others. Yet God calls us, His church, to nurse this sick world. To love where no love is deserved. To help where no one else will. To sit and eat with our enemies. To look on everyone even if they have committed the worst crimes, or believed the vilest thing, or broken the greatest oath and to not ‘other’ them but see a fellow human, even if it feels hopeless to do so. To love God and love those made in His image. To show something of the Kingdom of God, and thus share the gospel in action as much as word.
Pray for the defeat of evil across the world. Pray for the defeat of evil in this country. And at the minute especially pray for our church which is yet again fighting itself instead of loving each other. Love everyone you can. When we do, when we can love our perceived enemies, when we can love people well, when we can treat our neighbour as ourselves even when it is hard and stand in that place of conflict, even in our small way we might in Cleveleys, we bring the love of Christ to earth and it is that love and only that love that can ever hope to defeat the evil of a world where people are forgetting the humanity of their neighbour. Amen