Student Sermon

Evening Prayer – Tuesday 3rd March 2020.

And to those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

I am always conscious that when sharing God’s word, through preaching and attempting to illuminate scripture with the hope of moving listeners from one place to another place, an element of good news is required, especially at this stage of our Lent term.

I attempted to avoid this line from our reading from John as much as possible but it would not go away. It just remained until I conceded that I would have to reach an understanding of this for us today. However, whilst dealing with condemnation and what seems to be a very narrow and exclusive salvation, it does come with good news albeit amidst stark realities.

And to those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

I think what seemed to draw me in to this line was its challenging and inviting character; its incompleteness and unresolved nature; but mostly how these words of Jesus strike so vividly and so sadly true into our present time and into the lives of the most vulnerable in our society today.

I’ve heard John’s gospel described as bonkers; madness; and that it makes no sense at all. I’ve never fully agreed with that assessment rather preferring to dig and delve and attempt to illuminate the virtues within. What I like about John’s gospel is its uniqueness and poetic character. I like to argue for the gospel of John for its indeterminate and often ambiguous nature and I believe we see this in the line mentioned. However, I’ve never fully understood why within the wider gospel there seems to be two positions that are portrayed with respect to salvation and its scope. On the one hand the gospel message of salvation comes across as exclusive and limited as in the passage we have heard and elsewhere, whilst on the other hand it can at times seem universal as in the prologue.

Also, within these contrary views of salvation there seems to be a dual path in receiving this God-given eternity; one is the very upholding and spirit-filled, realized eschatology or eternity from the present. This idea of having eternal life now and living with God in the present is an interpretation that for many, including myself, empowers the journey with Christ and helps shape discipleship. The other more traditional view is of the future hope of resurrection and eternal life after death.

On the façade, these words of Jesus from our reading seem to refer to those who are already dead but I believe there are wider implications. It seems the direct challenge of these words is towards the speaking of a limited salvation and damnation for those who have done evil in their life and thus do not make it through. I’d like to think that these words hold a multiplicity of truths with a resolution through a wider understanding.

And those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

For a civil society it is surely incumbent for its leaders to have a clear process of justice placed upon a detailed base of equality, unlike the often messy and complicated justice which often appears in the OT as we have heard this evening from Jeremiah. It is of immense importance that in our civil society victims of crime are able to sense that a justice has been achieved. It is also important that justice is proportional and for offenders, where appropriate, to be given a second chance. We are all too aware that punishment and justice have come under the spotlight in recent months. In light of the terrible events at London Bridge, our government seems now to be moving towards more wholesale and draconian measures of condemnation and threatening to ignore evidence-based rehabilitation for offenders.

I’d like to share with you some facts that you may already be aware of, but nonetheless worthy of reiterating.

Ethnic minorities in the UK are disproportionately more likely to live in deprived areas?[1]
Ethnic minorities are disproportionately more likely to be arrested.[2]
Ethnic minorities are over-represented in the UK prison population.[3]

These facts, that are supported by government figures, may not surprise us, but when said out loud, should still shock us and shock us into action. It then becomes clear that one’s future condemnation seems predestined if of an ethnic minority.

And those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

So, whilst it is right that justice is served upon those that do wrong, hurt others and commit crime, this line from the passage from John’s gospel speaks of and highlights a great injustice for our society today. Our systems in society today are not just ever-more condemning those that do wrong but also predetermining certain groups of people to a life of condemnation. When educational and health injustices are included, the accumulated result is not just an in-house imperialism but more directly fascism and racism that is clearly institutionalised, encompassing all aspects of our society including that of which we are a direct part, the church.

And those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

So maybe these words do not reflect an enforcement from God, but actually an edict from society onto its people, well onto some its people. Maybe Jesus is highlighting in this passage where condemnation truly comes from?

The good news for us today is entwined in the challenge set before us. Whilst we are part of the problem, we are also empowered to highlight and help resolve the problem. God called us by name and made us his own; in the Christ Pantocrator Icon we are reminded, again from John’s gospel, the words of Jesus, ‘you did not choose me, but I chose you’; for us ordinands here today, we have been set apart in our calling to do the work of Christ as priests; priests are to be servants and shepherds; to walk with God’s people; to resist evil, support the weak, defend the poor, and intercede for all in need. To unfold the scriptures and to preach the word in season and out of season.

As ordinands, irrespective of where we are on our pathway, first year, middle years or final year, we are all probably imagining our ordained ministry ahead and beginning to form within ourselves what that ministry may look like. Our place here and our journey and our future ministry isn’t to keep the status quo; but it is to agitate and disrupt; you won’t find that in the ordinal. Our ministry now and into eternity is to work for God’s justice for all people.

So the idea of realised eschatology is something to behold. I find it difficult to think of a more empowering virtue than that of sensing that Christ is with us and in us through the spirit and that our lives now have been changed for eternity. The profoundness of this indwelling can not only be transformational for us; but also transformational for those who we go out to serve who deeply need our Christ-like service.

In the name of the Father, and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Tom Smith, Diocese of London




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