Sermon 18 September 2022
Today is the third of the five Sundays in our "Season of Creation". Days between the beginning of September and St Francis Day in early October where we challenge ourselves to re-think the way we treat our land, and its peoples. And in a sense, if we take the same view as St Francis and place it within our contemporary context -- then what does it mean ? What are the outcomes for us ?
What are our findings !
We have already been encouraged by the burning bush image of the Moses' story to 'walk gently on creation', - for we need to recognize the earth as holy ground, and take our shoes off so to speak, rather than stomp all over it.
But the earth is not our world without its peoples, and today's focus is on the people of this world that have 'been stomped on' if you like, by social, economic, political, educational and psychological forces - and marginalized - as the Oxford Dictionary illustrates - because they are disempowered, vulnerable, disadvantaged, disenfranchised, disaffected, stigmatised, and silenced by simply being a minority. They have been relegated to peripheral and insignificant.
And therefore powerless.
So this Sunday, Creation 3 has the title "Advocacy for Marginalized Voices".
Obviously, the most powerful form of advocacy is self-advocacy - speaking up for ourselves. We cannot pretend for one moment that this will always be successful, or that we 'will be heard'.
But what of our marginalized groups above ? They have almost always lost the power to speak for themselves, or even be heard. Whom then will speak for them ?
Enter St Francis. He not only spoke for 'the least of these, my brothers' but also had the courage to approach both the Pope and the Sultan - at great risk and cost if we read the history - he journeyed to both with the simple plea to end the Crusades. The ordinary 'canon fodder' found a voice in Francis. He was an advocate in word and action for the powerless and the voiceless, where most soldiers came from the poor end of town, and giving military service, and often their lives, was the only way to keep their family alive.
And here we have a perfect definition of Advocacy. One who speaks for another, by word or action, to defend their cause.
And both Francis and we have no better example or lead than Jesus himself, where the gospels are filled with encounters with people from the other side of the tracks - where the parables and stories are of the disadvantaged, socially ostracized, sick, lame, blind - or just members of the 'other mob' - like the parable about the Samaritan.
Some of his encounters are with people disadvantaged, marginalized on multiple levels - the SyroPhonecian woman, the Samaritan omen at the well. But are not these people who could speak for themselves ? Yes, but firstly Jesus has to stop, and listen. Part of the marginalization we actually promote is with people we haven't got time for, or too busy to listen to properly. Not my problem. Myself, I have listened to too many stories, particularly as a police chaplain and street chaplain, of people grieving at having pushed aside another, only to find next day they were gone - often for life.
And often this sort of marginalization is where we live and work, and find our meaning.
Do others also, in our work, social or family group also find theirs ?
Very few people here will not remember the comment - Oh he or she is th black sheep of the family.
And when we look at what we can do, and look at Jesus' encounters with lepers, the deranged, the man covered in sores, the wealthy, the sef-important, the mourning, the hopeless and helpless - and with his closest friends - he not only stopped and listened, but also, when they had no voice, stood beside.
There is no better illustration of this than Jesus in a narrow Jerusalem back alley beside a women 'caught in the very act of adultery', and saying to the baying crowd around, with stones already in their hands, 'those of you without sin, cast the first stone'.
And here is the very heart of the meaning of the latin word 'advocatus' - from which we get the word Advocate - means literally the 'one who walks beside'.
And I hope that rings bells, as the Holy Spirit is described in John as Advocate and Guide. That dimension of the Trinity that was to continue to work visibly in the world after the Ascension of Jesus. I translate John's words then as 'the Holy Spirit, the one who walks beside'.
For Francis, for Jesus, for us - when we encounter those who cannot speak for themselves, then we can stand beside them. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines advocacy in this most complete way 'as expressing an attitude by word or action'.
And we are asked to lift our eyes and see others - those we don't encounter on a daily or even frequent basis. Perhaps we read about them. Perhaps we can do nothing to actually help at that moment, but we can review our attitudes, and let that change be reflected in our thoughts, words and actions.
For we have a responsibility to walk gently on this earth, this holy ground and the holy that God has implanted in all human life.
For, as the parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us - not just of an unexpected act of compassion - that there is non-one on this planet that is not our neighbour, and that we as followers of Christ are bound to love others as he loved us.
This gave St Francis gentle steps with others, and may the God who walks beside us, give us gentle feet too.