Confession time, hands up if you have been watching Love Island?
I was in a waiting room the other day and started to flick through one of those gossip magazines, the sort that tells you what the latest celebrities are up to, who their partners are, what they are wearing, and critiquing their curves or their hairstyles or the fact that they dared go to the supermarket in tracksuit bottoms.
There were about 8 pages dedicated to the phenomena that is Love Island, information about the contestants, speculation as to what will happen next, and even childhood photos to show how the geeky teenager had grown into a 6 foot 4 Hunk.
I realised at that moment, that I am so out of touch. Paul’s argument in our reading from two Corinthians is complex and far reaching. He’s putting forward a whole new theory of reality and knowledge. Christians, he argues, carry their own reality system around with them, and they have to learn how to make judgements based on that reality and not be fooled by the virtual reality that other people still live in. There will sometimes be some very uncomfortable dissidents between the two realities, which can confuse and alarm Christians, and Paul is trying to give the Corinthian church some pointers, to help them judge wisely.
One of the things that makes negotiating this new Christian world particularly difficult, is that our bodies are stuck in the old reality. They will insist on seeing the world with old eyes and on wanting the kind of comfort and security that they were always used to seeking. Paul says don’t worry. What we increasingly have to learn is that these old bodies are not our home. Although we are not urged to try to shed them too quickly, we still have to learn not to trust their judgement about the world. Verse 7 reminds us that we walk by faith not by sight. Our main aim is no longer to please ourselves and keep ourselves safe, now we are working to please God.
This is going to affect the way we judge other people too. Living by God’s judgement and no longer that of the world, the gossip magazine, or the Daily Mail judging. We judge by the values of the kingdom of God. And what is the kingdom of God? With what can we compare the kingdom of God so that we can recognise it at work?
Have you ever seen a mustard seed? It is a tiny, tiny seed, which if you try to pick it up is in danger of flicking out of your hand. And yet out of all proportion to its size, this tiny seed produces great mustard bushes.
As well as our reading today, elsewhere in the Gospels Jesus compares faith to that of a mustard seed – and that if we have faith of this size – we have the capacity to move mountains. But sometimes the work of building the kingdom of God can seem insurmountable. When we look at the poverty of the world, the injustice, and the actions of the powerful, we can fall into the trap of lamenting ‘well, what can I do?’. Yet, we are all called as Christians to build the kingdom of God on earth is in heaven as the prayer goes.
But maybe we can do something. It is often said that you should not mix politics and religion. This saying however is just about providing a space for our own comfort, because in reality, our politics are where our faith is put into action.
This week in America, politics and religion have been mixed in a dangerous way. Over the last few weeks, photos have started to emerged of the camps or maybe a better descriptive word, the prisons where migrant children are being held having been removed from their parents on entry to the country. If you have not heard about it, the Trump administration, has started a new policy of removing children from migrant families that illegally enter the country. The justification of this, is that the adults have committed a criminal offence in entering the country illegally, and whilst that offence is dealt with the children are forcibly removed from their parents, even though their parents are not held in prison.
The children are taken to reception centres that look like large sports halls, that is being split up into cages, and on the floor a thin rubber mats with hundreds of children lying under foiled blankets, the sort you see handed out at the end of the marathon.
Imagine being eight years old in this situation, in a strange country, not knowing what has happened to your parents, and now placed inside a cage with very little provision.
The offence committed by the adults, is what is called a level B misdemeanour, criminal trespass. A level B misdemeanours in the American legal system includes the possession of a small amount of cannabis, driving whilst under the influence of drink, or cruelty to animals. It is the equivalent of the minor offences dealt with by magistrates Court in our own country when a maximum sentence is six months in jail but in reality, the majority receive a fine. Yet we would not comprehend taking the children of parents who had committed these crimes. In reality the actions of the Trump administration is punishment and cruelty, and has nothing to do with upholding the law.
As the images of these reception centres filled with children have hit the American press, there has been pushed back and questions have been asked. Twice this week the response of the administration has been to quote scripture. Or more correctly put, to misquote scripture. The Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions, made a statement saying that the Bible supports the removal of migrant children from their families. Quoting Romans 13 and the apostle Paul that we should obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes. In another word, because the government has instructed this policy, a policy is blessed by God, and therefore should be followed.
The White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reiterated this point from the White House press room. Saying it is very biblical to enforce the law, that it is repeated a number of times throughout the Bible. Yes you will find children being taken away from their parents in the Bible. Pharos, Herod and Pontius Pilot did so. It’s not a great list to be amongst, is it?
The policy is not required by law and it is their own executive order that children should be ripped away from their parents when they cross the border. St Augustine said “an unjust law is no law at all.“
The fact is that Scripture speaks of love and welcome. It speaks of making sure that children are honoured and cared for. If you want to know what actual biblical justice is; it is to care for those who are left out, to welcome the stranger, and care for the marginalised. That is what building the kingdom should look like.
Our reading from Mark says that the effects of planting a mustard seed is that a shrub grows whose branches reach out and provide shelter to the birds.
It would seem from this distance that we can easily throw our hands in the air and say ‘well, what can I do?’. But maybe if we have faith to plant our mustard seed we can grow branches that provide shelter for the stranger.
I was talking to our MP who is in outrage with the actions of the American government on this issue.
So what can we do?
We can write to our government and MP asking that they put political pressure on the American government to change this policy which has been compared to the policies of the Nazi government before the start of World War II. Additionally, we can choose where and how we spend our money. By consciously choosing not to spend with American companies. This was a tactic that proved significantly effective in bringing down apartheid in South Africa. Maybe the next Mothers Union outing should be to join the anti trump demonstrations that will be happening around the country when he visits the UK next month. And finally, we can choose to educate ourselves and others about what is going on in our world, so that our heart starts to beat and yearn, and grown, as God’s heart does. So that we become people who desire to build God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven.
Rev Stella Bailey