The kingdom of Heaven

A sermon by Margaret Offerman

Margaret Offerman, Reader at the Ascension

Margaret Offerman, Reader at the Ascension

Nearly always when Christians gather to worship they say the lord’s prayer, with its  pledge to hallow the name of God and to will that his kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven.

Jesus had a poetic imagination.  When he wanted to convey the wonder of the kingdom of heaven, he didn’t say:  the kingdom of heaven is a state of perfection which lifts us all out of ourselves and at the same time makes us relish being alive.   He said the kingdom is like a mustard seed or yeast or treasure hidden in a field or a fine pearl.  In fact, the last comparison is with the merchant who’s searching for the fine pearl – Jesus is not too particular about being exact.  His excitement is about the features of the kingdom.  It’s as natural as a growing plant or a measure of yeast – there’s nothing forced about it; you create the right environment for it and it starts to grow.  And at the same time, the kingdom is as spectacularly beautiful as a rich pearl.  Or it’s as exciting as finding hidden treasure – you think you’re digging a furrow to plant a row of potatoes and suddenly your spade hits something that’ll transform your life.

The first comparison is particularly significant I think because it emphasises the communal aspect of the kingdom.  When the seed germinates, it creates a shelter for all the birds of the air.  The yeast, the treasure, the pearl bring personal satisfaction.  The  benefits of the plant are there for all to enjoy.

The reality of our news at the moment makes it hard to imagine how the kingdom can ever come on earth.  One day while we were on holiday I read the paper from cover to cover, something I rarely do.  The grimness of both national and international news was almost relentless.   There were Palestinian children being killed by machine gun fire from Israeli soldiers.  A meeting of senior police officers admitted that they might be overwhelmed by the scale of child abuse.  The new minister for employment and disabilities was hailed by the Daily Mail as the Queen of the Catwalk.  1 in 6 families in some cities struggles to pay basic bills without resorting to payday loans.   Deaths from the Ebola virus are being reported in Sierra Leone.  And this was the day before the Malaysian air liner crashed.  Even a letter celebrating the Synod vote to allow women to be bishops ended with the hope that now that the C/E has moved into the 20thc., it’ll begin to address itself to the problems of the 21st.

Jesus lived at a bleak time in human history.  His country was occupied by an oppressive  imperial force.  The religious leaders were time-serving, hierarchical and power-hungry.  Poor people begged for food.  The slightly more fortunate made do with subsistence wages.  But Jesus preached a message of hope.  The followers of John the Baptist who were bewildered by Jesus sent to ask him: Are you the one who is to come, or do we have to wait for someone else?  Jesus sent the disciples back, saying:  tell John what you hear and observe.  The blind see again, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life and good news is proclaimed to the poor.    Jesus was announcing  that the kingdom of heaven had arrived. The miracles were symbolic of new, universal values which are transforming and transcendent.  The signs of the kingdom are wholeness, inclusiveness, new insights and perceptions, justice, equality,  peace.  And the kingdom parables show his disciples that their role is to be sowers of the seed.

In the early 1900s, William Beveridge, a lawyer, was asked by Winston Churchill to become  a cabinet member and join him at what was then called the Board of Trade.  Beveridge introduced a pilot system of national insurance to combat the  poverty which was the consequence of unemployment.  In 1919 he became Director of the LSE, but in 1940 he again became a temporary civil servant and began work with Arthur Greenwood, an MP, on the document which became  the Report to Parliament on Social Insurance and Allied Services, published in 1942. It proposed that all people of working age should pay a weekly national insurance contribution. In return, benefits would be paid to people who were sick, unemployed, retired or widowed.  Beveridge argued that this system would provide a minimum standard of living “below which no one should be allowed to fall”. It recommended that the government should find ways of fighting the five ‘Giant Evils’ of Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness. Beveridge included as one of three fundamental assumptions the fact that there would be a National Health Service of some sort, a policy already being worked on in the Ministry of Health   In 1948, these proposals became law in what we know as the NHS.

Beveridge was a member of the liberal party and became a liberal MP.  But his vision of a more equal society where everyone was entitled to a basic welfare programme, whatever their means, was recognised and affirmed by Conservative, Liberal and Labour governments.  His arguments were always economic – welfare institutions would increase the competitiveness of British industry in the post-war period, by producing healthier, wealthier and thus more motivated and productive workers who would also serve as a great source of demand for British goods.  As Jesus once famously said: the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.

There’s an exhibition at Tate Britain at the moment called: Kenneth Clarke – Looking for Civilisation.  The Kenneth Clarke in question isn’t the recently removed  Europhile cabinet member,  but a man who at one time was director of the National Gallery and who presented a series of tv programmes in the late 60s called Civilisation.  He was extremely cultured and  immensely wealthy and had a large collection of beautiful works of art, many of which are in the exhibition.  The video introducing the exhibition consists of extracts from the programmes.  At the very end, he sums up his reasons for making the series:  I believe that order is better than chaos, creation better than destruction.  I prefer gentleness to violence, forgiveness to vendetta.  On the whole I think that knowledge is preferable to ignorance and I am sure that human sympathy is more valuable than ideology.  …………I also hold one or two beliefs that are difficult to put shortly.  For example, I believe in courtesy, the ritual by which we avoid hurting other people’s feelings by satisfying our egos.  And I think we should remember that we are part of a great whole, which for convenience we call nature.  All living things are our brothers and sisters.  Above all I believe in the God-given genius of certain individuals and I value a society that makes their existence possible.

I don’t know if either Beveridge or Kenneth Clark was a religious man.  One of them had a vision of a world  where a safety net protected vulnerable people in our society from the cradle to the grave.  The other offered a mass audience a glimpse of great beauty in a variety of forms and helped them to understand the relationship between beauty and civilisation.  I’m sure Jesus would have added them to his list of seed sowers, bread makers, men and women who show us the possiblities of life lived to the full.

People who have lived fulfilled, useful lives have had an experience of heaven.  They have been able to see above the inevitable drudgery which is a part of most work experience to the value of what they have done for themselves and for others.  We all relish and cherish the moments in our lives when we are with those we love, when we enjoy a superb natural landscape, when we look with satisfaction on a task well done, when we read something that shifts the kaleidoscope.  These transfiguring moments expand our lives.

But the kingdom Jesus talks about is not just a matter of a personal experience, of seeking out circumstances which will make us happy.   It’s felt and known and shared in community, day after day.  We must live in the kingdom in communion with one another in a passionate commitment to each other and to the wider world.  Many people in our world will never know the satisfaction of a lifetime of productive work, social interactions among friends and colleagues, of culture or of the support of a family.  The kingdom must be for them as well, whether they live in Blackheath or in  Gaza. What we must offer here is a model of service and generous sacrifice to our immediate, privileged group and to the disadvantaged and dispossessed in our society and beyond.  When our hearts yearn in sympathy with the wretched of the earth and we are moved to do something to help them, we are living in the kingdom.  Because the core kingdom value is love.  Paul reminds us that nothing in life or death can ever separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus.  When we know that love and share that love we’re helping to build the kingdom..

Acts of the Apostles – a sermon by Margaret Offerman

ImageWe have a welcome exposure to the Acts of the Apostles in the weeks after Easter and then they disappear from the lectionary for another year, like an aged uncle invited for Christmas dinner and then given a lift back home.  But it deserves  to be more frequently read at main services.  It  contains the history of the early church, the Apostolic Age, and carries  telling messages for the church today.

Although Acts and Luke’s gospel are anonymous, ancient church tradition attributed them to the man who appears in the letter to Philemon as Paul’s ‘fellow worker’ and is called ‘the beloved physician’ in the letter to the Colossians.  I have problems with both these relationships – the Paul that Luke describes is a completely different character from the Paul who reveals himself in his letters  and it seems unlikely Luke could have known Paul at close quarters and then created such an inconsistent view of him.  And given the number of miraculous cures in both the gospel and the Acts, Luke appears to be the most diffident doctor in the history of medicine.  The only men and women who are ever cured achieve their recovery by divine intervention.  Even the most self-effacing doctor takes occasional credit for making someone better.

Whoever the author was, he had a sense of structure that is a unifying feature of the two books.   Luke begins the gospel with a global perspective, dating the birth of Jesus to the reign of the Roman emperor.  Jesus’s ministry moves from Galilee through Samaria and Judea to Jerusalem where he’s crucified.  Acts moves in the opposite direction,  from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria then travelling through Asia Minor, coming to an end in Rome.  The author could tell a good story, balancing the emphasis between two very unlike characters, Peter and Paul, each in his own way full of the strong  leadership qualities that complement each other and establish the Jesus movement, appealing to  Gentile and Jew.  Acts is mainly the story of their success in achieving this.  Paul preached that the Jesus message was rooted in the Jewish heritage.  Peter, particularly after his vision of the huge blanket full of meat, was a missionary to the Gentiles.  He heard the voice of Jesus telling his followers to bear witness to him………….even in the farthest corners of the earth.  

Besides ths strong narrative  featuring the two towering, heroic figures of Peter and Paul, there are other, stylistic devices that show the writer to be a conscious chronicler of events rather than  an  eye witness jotting things down.  For example, at intervals  he makes summaries, or progress reports to indicate that before the action  moves to a new place  he’ll spell out what was achieved in the place Peter or Paul is leaving.  Chapter 6 – in Jerusalem:  The word of God spread more and more widely.  The number of believers in Jerusalem was increasing rapidly and very many of the priests adhered to the faith.  Or chapter 9: The church in Judea, Galilee and Samaria was left in peace to build up its strength and live in fear of the Lord .  Encouraged by the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.   It ends in Rome:  Chapter 28.  Paul stayed for 2 full years at his own expense with a welcome for all who came to him.  He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught the facts about the lord Jesus Christ openly and without hindrance.  These summaries are always upbeat.  The news is good. 

The picture of the early church we get from Acts is of groups of men  and  women committed to each other and to their mission.  [In each other’s houses,] they met constantly to hear the apostles teach, to share the common life, to break bread and to pray.  They formed communes:  they began to sell their property and their possessions and distribute to everyone according to his need.  They worshipped together regularly in the temple:  they praised God and enjoyed the favour of all the people.  Day by day the lord added new converts to their number.   They were outward-looking.  When they heard of a famine in Judea, they immediately collected money and sent it for distribution to the famine victims, people they didn’t know.

Several individuals are briefly mentionned and make an impression.  Some were influential members of their societies; others led sheltered but  spirit filled lives. Many were women.  There was Dorcas, a needlewoman who made clothes for the disciples.  Mary the mother of Mark kept open house where believers met for prayer.  Lydia was a trader in purple fabric, clearly a wealthy woman.  She was converted to the Jesus way by Paul with her household and she insisted that his whole group should stay in her home.  Sergius Paulus, the governor of Cyprus, a highly educated man,  sent for Paul and Barnabas and when he had heard them proclaim the gospel he was converted.  Aquila and Priscilla lived in Corinth and worked as tent makers.   They invited Paul to stay with them and share their workshop so that he could earn some money at his craft.

Not all the minor characters in the story were models of the kingdom values.  Ananias and his wife Sapphira sold land to contribute to the common fund but decided to hang on to some of the proceeds of the sale, obviously believing that charity begins at home.  Simon, known as Simon Magus because he was a magician, observed that those who had received the holy spirit through the laying on of hands were able to prophesy and speak in tongues.  He tried to buy the right to the gift of the spirit because he was captivated by the signs and miracles that were taking place.  

One or two of them were  liabilities.  Rhoda for example answered the door to Peter the night he escaped from prison  but was so excited by the sight of him that she left him on the doorstep and went upstairs to tell the disciples all about it.  Peter, who, remember, was in flight for his life, carried on knocking until he was admitted to the house where he told the gathering to keep the noise down, left the house and went elsewhere.  A little bit of Rhoda clearly went a long way.

One of the things I remember from my study of theology is that it’s important to think of the early church as an organism, not an organisation.  It was alive and growing.  Doctrine was being formalised.  If you read any of the speeches that punctuate the book, like the one we’ve just heard,  you’ll realise that these were sermons inserted into the narrative rather than spontaneous deliveries by men under pressure and in a state of excitement.  They’re too well constructed to be spur of the moment.  They contain logical arguments relating Christianity to Judaism or reassuring Roman converts that their new faith would not compromise their allegiance to their empire or directing believers to attend to their spiritual well being.  There was a hierarchy but it worked  by consensus.  There were serious disagreements, for example the terrible  rift between Paul and Barnabas on the subject of the reliability and loyalty of Mark.  

But this great book is a record of an inspired group of men and women full of  fire for the gospel of Jesus  Christ.  They gave themselves for the gospel, their time, their money, their talents, their energy, their health, their family life, sometimes their liberty and their lives.

Can these bones live? a sermon by Margaret Offerman

ImageCan these bones live?  asked Ezekiel

Yes they can, said Jesus.

The fourth gospel is the most carefully crafted and most literary of all the gospels.  The narrative is quite different from the other three.  The nativity story for example, lacks reference to a manger or shepherds or Mary and Joseph.  Instead the birth of Jesus is set in a cosmic context.  Taking his cue from the writings of Plato, the fourth gospel writer presents Jesus as a pre-existent unity with God who becomes incarnate at a particular moment in human time and shows the world the glory of God in human form.  God the risk-taker.

John’s gospel is stylish.  It’s full of symbolism.  A vast crowd is filled with real bread and later in a long digression from the  narrative, Jesus explains his role as the bread of life.  And at the end he identifies his betrayer by giving him a piece of bread, a sign that he is putting his life into Judas’s hand.  At the beginning of his ministry he performs a miracle with water;  then at Jacob’s well he asks a Samaritan woman for a drink of water and presents himself as living water: whoever drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again.  Whereas the other three gospels, though they’re certainly not biographies of Jesus, are close to the style of  traditional narrative,    John’s gospel is elliptical and full of abstractions and revealed meanings.

The long story of the resurrection of Lazarus which we’ve just heard is one of the most detailed and complex episodes in any of the gospels.  There are several resurrection stories in the NT,  like the raising of Jairus’s daughter  and the widow’s son at Nairn.  We have to ask ourselves what they mean.

There’s another Lazarus story in the NT, in Luke chapter 16.  It’s  the parable of the rich man, Dives,  and Lazarus,  the  leper.  In it, the rich man ignores the plight of the leprous beggar who sits at his gate hoping to be given scraps which fall from the rich man’s table.   But when they both die and Lazarus is carried off to heaven, the rich man, in the torment of hell asks that Lazarus can be sent to him with water to slake his thirst.  He’s told that this is impossible.  Just as there had been in life, so in death between him and Lazarus there’s a great gulf fixed;  there had been a gulf of the inequality of their status, income, lifestyle.  Now there’s a gulf in the treatment they’re experiencing after death.  The rich man begs that at least Lazarus could be resurrected so that he could return to earth and warn the rich man’s brothers of the fate that awaits them if they continue to ignore the poor who sit at their gates.  But Abraham, the mouth piece of God,  tells them sternly that they have all ignored the words of the prophets and will not be convinced, even if someone should return from the dead.  There can be no resurrection for the hard-hearted.

This parable must have been part of the oral tradition which Luke drew on when he was writing his gospel and which John would have known.  It’s surely no coincidence that John uses the same name for the character in his resurrection story.  Both Lazaruses experience a new life, free from the constraints of their former lives; now they are living a life in God.

The resurrection  of Lazarus in John’s gospel in  many ways is a pre-echo of the story of Easter morning.   The parallels are there: Lazarus was buried in a tomb;  the tomb was sealed with a stone;  a woman called Mary stood outside the tomb weeping;  the body was bound with strips of cloth with a separate cloth wrapped round the head.  

What’s the significance of this story?  

The writer is clear.  The point of this story is to show the hand of God working miracles through Jesus even when the situation seemed totally hopeless. 

There are still many people in the church and outside it who seek in God the kind of supernatural power that will break into natural law and overturn it.  

I’m not one of those people.  But I’m deeply moved by this story, the story of desolation being overcome.  

The story contains elemental aspects of the grieving process.  There’s an intense sense of loss, masked to a certain extent by ritual – the preparation of the body, the ceremonies of burial.  There’s anger –  Martha confronts Jesus.  If you had been here my brother would not have died.  The crowd of friends and family say, He opened the eyes of a blind man; surely he could have prevented this man’s death.   There’s a feeling of impotence – Jesus wept.  His first reaction is profound sorrow so that the onlookers cease to think of Lazarus in their amazement at the depth of Jesus’s love for him.  There’s a need for people to come together and support each other in their mourning.  The story conforms to our experience of bereavement, of abandonment.  

When Jesus called  Lazarus from the tomb, he ordered  the onlookers, Unbind him.  Let him go free.  At Bethany, Lazarus was raised to new life and became part of the Passover celebration which began with the anointing of Jesus in Lazarus’s house, followed by the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the washing of the disciples’ feet and the last supper .  

I see the story as an extended  metaphor,  like the story of Ezekiel and the dry bones.  The monumental piles of bones which represented the history of the house of Israel were enfleshed by the hand of God and brought back to life.  God said: I will put my spirit within you and you will live.  Even the Israelites in despair, in exile, with no apparent possibility of returning to freedom in their own homeland can be offered the promise of new life and hope.  

I hesitate to tempt Providence but I feel that in the C/E we might be tottering slowly to the threshold of a resurrection.  It’s just possible that this year, the long march to the consecration of a woman bishop might be coming to an end.  And last week the law allowing same sex couples to marry came into effect and the media were full of scenes of great rejoicing as men and women were able to affirm their loving relationships.   Anglican bishops had reacted to the passing of the new law by saying that there could be no blessing of these relationships in church, and certainly not a marriage ceremony.  But a few Anglican priests said that they were going to defy their bishops, some by conducting same sex weddings and some by actually marrying their same sex partner.  Adam Smallbone, BBC 2’s Rev, agonised over a request by two friends that he would marry them He settled for a mealy mouthed compromise in the form of a few wishy washy prayers.  Then he pulled himself together and married them.  The archdeacon, who had affected to be angry with Adam ended the episode by putting his telescope to his deaf ear.  It was funny, though I felt like crying.  Can’t we see a new life when it’s staring us in the face?

David Jenkins, the former bishop of Durham who caused huge controversy 20 years ago with his remark that the resurrection must be more than a conjuring trick with bones, also said that he wanted to shout at  people: don’t tell me that you believe in the resurrection Show me that you do.   

Remember the words of Hosea: Yahweh has torn us but he will heal us;  He has struck us down but he will bind up our wounds.  He will bring us back to life.  On the third day he will raise us and we will live in his presence.

We have to be free to receive God’s spirit within us so that we can live in his presence, NOW.

Fulfilling the Law – a sermon by Margaret Offerman

ImageThe Law of Moses, the Jewish Law is contained in the first 5 books of the Hebrew bible and it’s both detailed and comprehensive.  Some of the detail is quite extraordinary and suggests that the Israelites saw their God as above all a God of control.  This is Leviticus chapter 11 verse 20:  You may eat among all the [b]winged insects which walk on all fours: those which have above their feet jointed legs with which to jump on the earth. 22 These of them you may eat: the locust , and the devastating locust,  the cricket, and the grasshopper. 23 But all other [c]winged insects which are four-footed are detestable to you.  The passage which was part of this morning’s lectionary is much more of a broad sweep, a comprehensive way of living.  Keep God’s commandments, stay faithful to the monotheistic tradition  you have inherited and you will enjoy the material rewards that God has in store for those who obey him.  

The Law breaks down roughly into 3 parts, the ceremonial, the civil  and the moral law, though sometimes there are overlaps when a particular section is relevant to more than 1 area.  When you build a new house you are to give your roof a parapet, then your house will not incur blood vengeance through anyone falling from it.  This law emphasises our moral duty of care for each other’s safety.  It also contains a practical warning about the legal repercussions  of committing a criminal act.  A priest may not eat an animal that has died a natural death or been savaged by wild beasts for he would contract uncleanness from it.  This may be a simple matter of hygiene and the avoidance of disease but it’s also part of the purification that must underpin the life of a priest involved in the sacred  rituals.  

The Law was made for a people living  in the Bronze Age, on the edge of history,  groups of nomadic descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who were beginning to settle in a land and make it their own, having displaced  its former owners, the Canaanites.  They were surrounded by peoples who worshipped many gods, notably Baal and in order to keep them faithful to their one true God, Yahweh, they needed the Law to cover every eventuality.  It’s a Law of threats and promise – the law-abiding will enjoy material prosperity;  the lawless will feel the weight of God’s anger.   It seems a vast volume but of course compared to the law of any Western country, it’s a pamphlet.

The gospel passage  reminds us that although Jesus was brought up to obey the Law, he saw the need to interpret it for his generation.  Jesus moved from a prohibition  law to a much more positive  sense that it must be  supportive of men and women who are trying to act in a just, loving, sensitive way.  He  realised the importance of  obeying  the spirit of the law, sometimes instead of, sometimes as well as the letter.  In fact, in the passsage which follows our gospel reading, he goes much further than the demands of the Law – 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. And he antagonised the Law-abiding Jews by occasionally rejecting it altogether, as when he ridiculed their anxiety about plucking ears of corn on a walk on the Sabbath.  He was not afraid to  overturn the Law.  In Deuteronomy the Law is clear: 18 If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, 19 then [they]shall ……bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. 20 They shall say, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” 21 Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel will hear, and be afraid.  In Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son,  the rebellious young man who had committed every kind of social sin, eventually returned to his father’s house in destitution and  despair.  His father saw him coming from a great distance and abandoned what he was doing, abandoned his dignity and the constraints of old age and ran out to meet his son and bring him home to a celebration.  

I wish the church could find a united prophetic voice to interpret for our age what the Law says about the materialism that is affecting and infecting our society, afflicting  rich and poor, and which sociologists define as a value system that is preoccupied with possessions and the social image they project.   In chapter 3 of the epistle to the Corinthians St Paul  expresses his  regret at  the fact that he has been unable to speak to them as people of the spirit.  Paul would be the last man to deny the importance of the Law.  Over and over again he tells the churches he writes to that inevitably they live in the material world.  (Indeed when Jesus celebrated the meal we know as the last supper, he was enshrining the principle that we will meet him in bread and wine, in  shared food.)  But, Paul says, in the last instance the values that we must live by are moral, spiritual, metaphysical, beyond the physical.  

The 10th commandment reads: you shall not covet your neighbour’s house, his wife, his manservant or maidservant, his ox, his ass, nor anything that is your neighbour’s.  Materialism is the direct opposite of the 10th commandment.  Materialism says you can’t be happy, you can’t have peace of mind,  unless your status, your dignity, your  sense of your own identity are represented in the material possessions you are surrounded with.  However,  researchers, drawing on data available since the 1980s, have shown that as people become more materialistic, their well being as it is reflected in good relationships, sense of purpose, autonomy, diminishes.  They ranked the importance of different goals – job, money, social standing on one side against self-acceptance, fellow feeling and belonging on the other and found that the happier people were those who were less materialistic.  

We are mourning the deaths of 2 women who were models of Christian living in this church..  Stella Grosse and Jean Bennett lived by moral principles of giving – of their time, their energy, their money, their talents and their wisdom, wisdom which was filtered through long lives of varied experience, not always blissfully happy but always used to inform their faith and support  their way of life.  They had comfortable homes but were not defined by their possessions.  They mixed easily with a wide range of people and were not seduced by wealth or privilege.  

I’m not advocating an abandonment of all the material pleasures of life.  But I’m saying that the Jesus message is clear.  If our treasures are the ones we  lay up for ourselves  on earth, we  must be ready to accept their transitoriness.   And we need to remember the onus on us to live more simply so that others may simply live.  

When a few of us questionned members of our parish a few months ago about what they wanted from us as a church, many responded by expressing their yearning for a greater sense of community.  Materialism creates social atomisation.  For most of my lifetime we in the West  have been pursuing an economic model based on perpetual growth.  And it has had its effect in greater prosperity for a significant mass of the people.  But it has also fostered an aggressive individualism which sets us apart from each other.  Boris Johnson was characteristically straightforward about this in a lecture he gave before Christmas.  He said that he didn’t believe that economic equality is possible , (and few of us would disagree with that on the present evidence).  He went on: Indeed, some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy, …….that is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity.  

I listened to the radio news and I scanned the newspaper but couldn’t find  a speech putting  the church’s case for another world view.  

I suspect that few of us in this church would be happy with the idea that the main fact of our identity is that we are consumers.  Somehow we have to find a way of communicating to those outside  that worldly ambition and  material aspiration are not  a formula for happiness or ultimate fulfilment.