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Time for a humble church?

A sermon preached at St John's Methodist Church, Wolverhampton on 4 July 2021

The reading used in the service this sermon was preached in was: Philippians 2.1-11


Speak, O Lord, as we come to you, to receive the food of your holy word. Amen.[1]


"...be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind" (Philippians 2.2b)


Just over a week ago, the Methodist Conference began. The new President of Conference – The Revd Sonia Hicks – the first black woman to be the President and Vice President, Barbara Easton, reminded us of the powerful image of God’s table. A banqueting table where all are welcome and at which all can take their place.


The image of the table began a significant week in the life of the Methodist Church, and perhaps more widely too. This week the church voted to allow, in principle, same-sex marriage in Methodist Churches. This means that the Methodist Church now understands marriage to be both between one man and one woman and between two people. The Conference also voted to ban conversion therapy and to use more gender neutral and non-binary language for gender identity. I know that there will be mixed emotions about these results. Disillusionment, anger, pride, joy, love or fear.


Because of what was happening at Conference I perhaps spent too much of the week following social media and one comment I read stopped me completely in my tracks. It said “it is ironic that it is a privileged church that needs to vote to enable it to become more inclusive.”


What does that mean? I think the writer was commenting that the vote to afford recognition and equality to queer people of all genders in the church required people with privilege to say yes. Privilege controls who is in and who is out.


Privilege is something the church needs to talk more about and recognise within itself even more. And by the church, I mean all of us.


I have begun to recognise my own privilege. As a white man who identifies with my birth gender, who is heterosexual, ordained, middle class with a steady income and a pension accruing for retirement, I have never had to fight for recognition of who I am or to get my voice heard. I have not had to have such a hard struggle to convince others that I am a beloved child of God. I have never had to fight for a place at God’s table. Our culture, which too often recognises me as “normal”, does not require me to beg for my place – it is offered freely and without reserve.


For others, and maybe for you, that is not the case.


When I hold my privilege against our reading of that great New Testament hymn which we heard read to us a few moments ago, I realise that the way I hold my privilege and the way I allow the church to hold privilege must change.


Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus who did not exploit equality with God


though he could have. Instead, Jesus took on the form of a slave emptying himself of all but love. Jesus instituted the way of the cross, humbling themselves by taking the most humiliating form of death the Roman Empire could inflict. But Jesus did so willingly, he was not humiliated, Jesus humbled himself.


He humbled himself for the sake of others. For the sake of us so that we could experience life through his cross and resurrection. Not just any life, but a whole life, in which we know love and acceptance for who God has created us and called us to be, all of us. Even the harlots, publicans and thieves as generations of Methodists have sung.


Paul exhorts the saints in Philippi and by extension all of us, to imitate Christ and the way of the cross. In humility regard others as better than ourselves. To imitate Christ by not looking at our own interests but look to the interests of others.


And so to humility I return as I face the privilege I am given and I realise that I need to let go of my privilege because it gets in the way of others finding their place at God’s table. To exploit my own privilege is to exploit others and too often prevents them from knowing their worth in Christ.


I’m not sure what this looks like yet, but a good starting place is to make greater room to listen to and for others, to take their experience of life and Christ seriously and let it challenge doctrine and dogma so we can all learn to imitate Christ a little more closely. It means making space for less of me and more of others and through them Christ.


It means being humble before the cross, the way of love. For me, for you. For all.


May God who is Mother and Father of us all, grant me and all of us, the safety to wrestle and to ask questions. May Jesus always lead us through the cross to notice the privilege we need to give up and notice in others and may the Spirit lead us ever more into the likeness of Christ.


Amen.

[1] Adapted from Speak, O Lord, as we come to you a hymn by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend

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