Saturday, 3 August 2013


Holy Trinity Church Clapham Common - Agust 3rd 2013

This address was given in a service celebrating the emanipation of  million slaves in the Carribean in 1838. It was one of a series of 4 addresses, the others were on the themes of freedom, vision and aspiration and the multicultural church and Britain.

The text was Revelation 7:9-12

If nothing ever changed - there would be no butterflies.
The caterpillar goes through a process of transformation which is wonderful, awesome and complete.
As the caterpillar weaves its cocoon and disappears from view it experiences huge loss, it literally loses itself.
And as the chrysalis hangs from a tree branch or is hidden in a wall it is extremely vulnerable and fragile.
This process of transformation is a process involving loss and vulnerability.
But the end of this risky process is a creature of great and fragile beauty.

Change is fundamental to life - anything that does not change does not live.
And that includes us, human life inevitably includes change. Sometimes we welcome the changes and sometimes we fight against them. Some changes we should embrace and encourage, others we should resist.
And what is true in our personal lives is true also for our life together because that too inevitably involves change and some changes should be encouraged whilst others should be resisted.
We should embrace and encourage those changes that enrich human lives, those changes that are the building blocks for the Kingdom on earth. We should stand up and strive to change policies and attitudes which diminish and stigmatise people and so impoverish our communities.
But we need to resist change which is destructive, which undermines compassion and justice and pushes people into poverty and despair.
In all these changing scenes of life, we must try to discern when we should work for change and when we should resist.
 Sometimes that is easy and sometimes it is difficult. But we can be helped in our discernment if we have a vision, a vision of the Kingdom of God on earth, a vision of our lives together as human beings created in the image of God.
The reading we have just heard from the book of revelation presents just such a vision:
·       A vision of a great and diverse multitude, of every nation, tribe, people and language.
·       A vision of a great and diverse multitude worshipping God.
·       A vision of a great and diverse multitude worshipping God and recognising that salvation comes from God through Jesus Christ.
·       A vision of praise, celebration, wholeness and salvation for all - of every nation, tribe, people and language.

The change that we celebrate today and the need for continuing change that we recognise today are changes on the journey to fulfilment of this vision.
Today, as we remember and celebrate the 175th anniversary of the emancipation of nearly a million African people in the Caribbean.
·       This was a change of huge significance which was celebrated by dancing in the streets.
·       This was a change that came as a result of people recognising and working for the vision, often at great cost.
·       This was a change that contributed to the transformation of lives and society, not only in the Caribbean but in Britain and across the world.
·       This was a deeply significant moment of change but it was not the end of change, the Kingdom has not yet been established.
Another significant moment, that has become iconic in our own community was the arrival of 493 passengers from Jamaica aboard the Empire Windrush in June 1948. The photograph of those passengers disembarking has come to symbolise change that has enriched and challenged of all of us.
In the half century that has followed lives and society have been transformed:
·       a transformation that has involved pain and joy, loss and gain, challenge and celebration
·        a transformation that is still ongoing as we continue to learn from one another and to stand together against the discrimination and prejudice that undermines the vision of the great and diverse multitude of the Kingdom.
We stand in the footsteps of those who have recognised the need for change and who have moved towards the vision.
·       In this place we are reminded of William Wilberforce and the other members of the Clapham Sect who worked for decades for the abolition of the slave trade and emancipation.
·       Along with the Methodist people I stand in the footsteps of John Wesley who was committed to the abolition of slavery and who urged people to work for freedom. In 1774 he wrote the following words in his pamphlet, Thoughts Upon Slavery , please forgive his exclusive language, he was a man of his time:
"Give liberty to whom liberty is due, that is, to every child of man, to every partaker of human nature. Let none serve you but by his own act and deed, by his own voluntary action. Away with all whips, all chains, all compulsion. Be gentle toward all men; and see that you invariably do with every one as you would he should do unto you."

Methodists today, continue to work for freedom, inclusion, compassion and justice.
·       We stand in these, and other footsteps
·       We stand as followers of Jesus Christ
We must continue to commit ourselves to working for change, inspired by the vision of the great and diverse multitude of the Kingdom.
We must continue to challenge:
·       those who still judge us by the colour of our skin, by the language we speak, by our accents, by our clothing;
·       those who see diversity as threatening and not as enriching;
·       those who continue to enslave, to stigmatise and dehumanise others
And as followers of Christ, standing in those great footsteps
·       we accept the challenge, the loss, and the vulnerability of change
·       and we look forward to the transformation, to the beauty of the butterfly - to the fulfilment of the vision.
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honour
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.