Welcome + Worship + Witness

Revd Jonathan Cain: Speaking truth to our neighbours

Trinity 11
12 August 2018
10.30 Sung Eucharist
Revd Jonathan Cain
Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2, John 6:35 & 41-51

From today’s epistle: “So then, putting away all falsehood let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another.”

Many of you will know that Rebecca, the boys and I have recently returned from a trip to Tanzania; a link visit between the Diocese of Leeds and the Dioceses of Mara, Rorya, and Tarime. There are many stories to tell, including one where I had hastily to find an English translation of the Gospel reading so that I could preach extemporary to an expectant congregation in Magoma!  Some of our stories and reflections will find their way into the parish magazine next month.

On our last night together with our hosts Lay Canon Arthur Mauya, the link officer for the Diocese of Mara, asked members of our group for comments and reflections. One consistent theme was how we were humbled by the love and hospitality that we had received.  It is true that after two weeks rice and beans for lunch and dinner did get repetitive for our western palates, but we were aware that our hosts shared the best that they had with us.  We were spared from the usual staple ugali, a food with the consistency of modelling clay, made from maize and cassava flour, and our hosts went to great lengths to ensure that we were supplied with cold beer – Tanzanian Christians do not drink alcohol.  Another theme that emerged was how we were inspired by the witness of the Christian Church in social action: providing communities with nursery education; providing communities with water supplies, and health education; providing high quality primary and secondary schools; providing safe haven for widows, orphans, and girls fleeing the horror FGM.

In all of this we were speaking truth to our hosts and neighbours, but after a while Lay Canon Mauya stopped us and asked a different question. “So what have you found to be challenging,” he said.  And so we spoke of how Tanzanian hospitality challenged our own sometimes meagre efforts.  We spoke of how the inequality that exists between our country and Tanzania challenged us.  How lack of variety in diet, and the very basic washing and sanitation arrangements challenged us.  These were not the sort of challenges that our host wanted to hear about.

When pushed further we spoke about how the role and position of women in Tanzanian society challenged us. It is true that the Christian Church in Tanzania promotes monogamy, where in many parts of Tanzanian culture men have many wives.  It is true that the Christian Church in Tanzania is at the forefront of efforts to educate girls and fight FGM.  And yet it is also true that the bulk of domestic duties in both Christian and non-Christian families in Tanzania falls to women and girls, and this limits the opportunity for girls to go to school.

When pushed further we also spoke about the challenge of moving on from a colonial mindset of donor-recipient to create a more equal relationship. I reluctantly shared my own disappointment of seeing components for water pumps and filters, things that I’d approved expenditure on from a committee in Yorkshire, not stored or operated properly, broken and disregarded.

Some of us wanted to speak about how the treatment of certain minority groups in Tanzania challenged us – for example, gay men risk a 30-year jail term, and the church’s position seems to be ‘that there are no gay people in Tanzania’ – but we didn’t. Speaking the truth to our neighbours is not always easy, particularly when the subjects are challenging and potentially divisive.

There is clear scriptural evidence that the apostle Paul’s attempts to challenge disunity among the fledgling Christian communities of the first century, particularly the disunity that existed between Jewish and Gentile Jesus-followers, caused him to suffer verbal and physical abuse – he was stoned and left for dead on at least one occasion. Imprisonment in Ephesus from where Tom Wright, Paul’s latest biographer, speculates that this letter was written, was not the only time that he was to be incarcerated. This disunity caused the Apostle serious mental anguish – he was after all a Jew, with a calling to bring the good news to Gentiles – and to write this letter, which likely took the form of a circular to the churches.  Not so much a letter to the Ephesians as a letter from Ephesus to the Church; a letter with enduring significance.

At the beginning of chapter four of the letter Paul writes, “I therefore, a prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” In our passage this morning, he goes on urging his readers not to let the sun go down on anger, and make room for divisive thinking; not to speak evil talk, only that which builds up; to put away bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, and slander; to put on kindness, tender-heartedness, and forgiveness.  To be nothing less than imitators of God.  To do nothing less than nourish our neighbours, our sisters and brothers with love and the quality of our relationships, just as Christ nourishes us as fragrant offering, the bread of life.

The link between Christians in this diocese and the diocese of Mara has been going for thirty years. Those of us who are involved in the link on both sides of the equator are blessed by our friendship and fellowship in Christ – we are members of one another.  In some respects it is easier to maintain such unity at distance.  A more urgent challenge is to maintain unity in our local context with people we see and interact with day to day and week to week; to surface and work through differences in service of each other, our community, and the world.  But this is our Christian vocation, and so we pray for the grace to lead lives worthy of the calling to which we have been called.