Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Invitation to the Banquet

Trinity 2
30 June 2019
10.30 Eucharist
Revd Nicholas Mercer

In the middle of last week, we held a vigil at Bolton Priory.  

It was a moving and powerful event

Joined by St Paul’s Manningham, we marked the United Nations Day to remember victims of torture

We spent an hour together in silence and prayer, listening to accounts from torture victims from around the world

Over fifty people attended, including many Iranian Christians, and we joined together to share lunch in the Rectory Garden after the service

It was wonderful act of fellowship and we felt empowered by our collective act of witness

Just the day before, we hosted the Diocesan clergy study day

Bishop Helen Anne posed the question “Who is my neighbour?”

But by contrast with the vigil, I am not sure we made very good progress……………………….

The Old Testament reading this morning tells us about Abram and his journey to the promised land of Canaan.

God says to him “Go from your country and your kindred…………..to the land I will show you”.

It is a truly remarkable story of an old man, who at the age of seventy five, obedient to the word of God, set’s off with his family to a foreign land

His whole life was uprooted and, as we heard from the story, his journey was by no means easy

Travelling to his destination, he became “an alien” in an alien land and

This sense of being uprooted and journeying to a foreign land is something many of us experience in our own lives, particularly mid-life

The Jesuit priest Gerald O’ Collins describes this as a “Second Journey”

 A journey where “We are dragged away from chosen and cherished patterns to face strange crises”

And many of us will know exactly what this means

An illness, a bereavement, divorce, an encounter, a call from God can uproot our lives and take us somewhere we never expected

Since I have arrived in the parish, two parishioners have kindly lent me books

The first book was called “Bags to Blenders”

This was a story of a well-known business family who, in the course of their business life, have become involved in the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust

Charlie Waller was a kind and considerate young man who, at the age of twenty nine, took his own life,

The charity seeks to help those with mental illness

This is one of the scourges of our age and something of which all parents, particularly of teenagers, are acutely aware

The charity they founded seeks to:

  • Encourage those who are depressed to seek help
  • And to alert families, friends and employers to the risk

This encounter with a family friend took the author and his family to another land

Inhabited by those who were grieving and those who were struggling, in silence, with mental illness

The second book was called “Nevertheless”

This time it was about a man called John Kirkby, of whom some of you will have heard

He went bankrupt in his early life and lost everything, including his family

He went on to found an International Christian Ministry helping thousands of people trapped in debt and poverty. 

He movingly said this in his book

“If you have ever been unsympathetic to a single parent or judged them for struggling, try it yourself for a couple of days. If you are a single parent, my heart goes out for you and I pray you will be strengthened as you try so hard alone. God knows your struggles and is there to help”

His journey through bankruptcy and divorce took him too to an alien land,

A land of bedsits, debt, single parents and benefits

The last place he expected to inhabit but he was invited to attend by God

There will be many, many more such examples within the parish

But, in the case of Keith Carmichael, he was working as a businessman in Saudi Arabia in the early 1980’s

Without rhyme or reason, he was interned in 1981 and remained in jail until 1984 without charge or trial.

For three months he was detained in solitary confinement and, during 857 days of arbitrary detention, he was subjected to gross mistreatment.

In an incident of aggravated assault, his spine was severely fractured.

He suffered other grave bodily injuries including psychiatric trauma,

Injuries that have affected him for the rest of his life.

I know him relatively well and he is still suffering today

But as, a result of his experiences, he founded a charity called Redress

The charity was to enable victims of torture to seek legal redress for the injuries they suffered

His journey took him to places most of us never want to visit.

Detention, solitary confinement, torture and impunity for those who carried out these heinous acts.

For my own part, I found myself wandering in the same land, alongside Keith, but having taken a very different route

As a relatively young army officer, I visited a Prisoner of War Camp in Um Q’sar in Iraq in 2003

Quite by chance that prisoners of war were being subjected to what are termed the five techniques

Techniques which were cleverly crafted after the British Colonial Wars when bodily injury was found to be evidentially inconvenient

The techniques are designed to exert maximum pressure on a prisoner during interrogation without leaving a mark on the body, often causing life- long psychiatric damage

Declared inhuman and degrading in 1978, they somehow, found their way back into British Military doctrine in the new millennia

In my naivety, I expected that we would treat our prisoners of war properly but you only have you look at our prisons today to see how we treat those we incarcerate

As Doskeyeski said “you can tell the health of a nation by the way it treats its prisoners”

Like Abram, in a sense, all those I have mentioned this morning have had their lives uprooted

Uprooted and “dragged away from chosen and cherished patterns to face strange crises”

We naively, perhaps, saw our lives continuing on an even keel until our inevitable demise

No one ever does

But none of us ever expected to inhabit the land of

  • debtors and bedsits,
  • suicide and mental health crises,
  • torture and Iraqi prisoners of war.

But the land we went on to inhabit, the land into which we found ourselves peculiarly wandering, helps to answer the question posed by the Bishop earlier in the week

Who is my neighbour?

It is the debtor, the single mother, the grieving family, those with responsibility for our young people, the tortured and the prisoner

But it is more than that

Abram’s wanderings are part of a circuitous route he takes to the promised-land

A land promised by God for him and his descendants “to make them a great nation”

We too are invited to the promised-land where, in a sense, we are invited to join God at great banquet

The invitation that has been extended to all of us

By strange co-incidence, last Wednesday, after the vigil, we broke Iranian bread together (Sangat) with many who had also been tortured.

The picnic was overflowing with generosity

Our neighbours, the last people we expected to wander with, came and joined us  

As our Lord said, “Come now, for everything is ready”

As we say in our communion together, each and every week

“Draw near with faith and receive the body of our Lord Jesus Christ”