A reflection for Trinity Sixteen

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Offered for Sunday 27th September 2020


Reflections Script

Trinity 16

September 27th 2020

A recent television programme
using archive footage,
and interviews, retold the dramatic events
surrounding The 'Dale Farm Traveller Eviction' of 2011
the largest eviction of its kind,
then or now,
which received worldwide media coverage.
Although the travellers legally owned the land in Essex,
they didn't have planning permission to develop,
what was green belt land
and the permitted site
grew to twice its original size.

Early attempts by the council
to resolve the issue were thwarted
by the use of 'Human Rights Laws'.
The resulting stalemate
lasted over a decade and cost both money and trust!
The programme then brought us up to 2020!

Although the land concerned
has been reclaimed by nature,
it still bears the scars of the struggle,
claims, counterclaims,
emotions and grievances from all involved.
Both sides during the dispute,
which went to the highest court in the land,
said they had the law on their side
but at the end of the programme
I was left with the impression
no one really won as both sides
became entrenched
and possible compromise
went out of the window.
Often the need to change is blinded
by intransigence
with resolution being the casualty.

Let us Pray

God, grant us the serenity to accept
things we cannot change,
Courage to change the things we can,
and the Wisdom to know the difference.
Patience for the things that take time.
Appreciation for all that we have,
and Tolerance for those
with different struggles.
Freedom to live beyond
the limitations of our past ways,
the ability to feel your love for us
and our love for each other
and the strength to get up
and try again even when
we feel it is hopeless. Amen.


In October 2010,
two very different headlines
claimed our attention in British newspapers.
The front pages carried the news
of the government's threatened spending cuts;
the back sports pages carried news
of a pay dispute with the threatened departure
of Wayne Rooney from Manchester United football team.

The pay dispute was eventually resolved
with Wayne Rooney receiving his pay increase,
and Manchester United kept their man.
But in the heat of the moment,
their then manager,
Sir Alex Ferguson, was quoted as saying,
"We have the right staff,
the right manager...
There is nothing wrong with Manchester United.
Not a thing wrong with it."

The words are those of a man
justifiably proud of his achievements
on behalf of his club,
and not prepared to accept criticism,
open or implied,
from one of its leading players.

The "misunderstanding" soon ended
with smiles and a warm embrace
for the photographers.

We'll probably never know the finer details
of what actually happened,
or how the matter was finally resolved.

Nevertheless, it seems possible to identify
three distinct elements in what went wrong.
First, there was the challenge to authority.
Wayne Rooney was bold enough to challenge
the established order at Manchester United.
Second, the club marshalled its defences
in person of its manager who,
thirdly, manifested guarded acceptance
of the situation and a reluctance to change
the club's stated position.

In Matthew 21 verses 23 to 32
we see the same dynamic at work
in the confrontation between Jesus
and the "chief priests and leaders of the people".
They interrupted his teaching
in the Temple to demand,
"By what authority are you doing these things,
and who gave you this authority?"

Jesus, it seemed, was making a direct challenge
to their authority.
But he headed off a confrontation;
something that Wayne Rooney was unable
or unwilling to do,
by refusing to answer the question directly.
Instead, he posed one of his own:
did the baptism of John come from heaven
or was it of human origin?
After much discussion,
and having weighed up all the ramifications,
the Jewish leaders
could only make the reluctant reply
"We don't know."

Seizing the initiative,
Jesus presents them with the parable
of the man with two sons
who asked them to go and work in his vineyard.
One son said he wouldn't, but did.
The other said he would, but didn't.
"Which of the two did the will of his father?" Jesus asked.

The Jewish leaders had no option but to answer,
"The first."
However, in doing so
they inevitably endorsed the decision
of the young man who had changed his mind.
It was something they were reluctant to do
because they would then be condemning themselves
for their unwillingness to change.

Sadly, little seems to have changed
over the years when we look at
the life of our Church.
The hymn 'The Churches one foundation'
contains the line "By schisms rent asunder,"
Apparent in the late nineteenth century,
when the hymn was written,
and has become very real in the twenty-first century.
The same question posed by the Jewish leaders to Jesus;
"by what authority?"
has led to defensive and entrenched positions
in our own day.

Yet some of the trenches
still preserved from World War I show that,
in places, the opposing army
were literally only a few yards apart,
near enough for soldiers on both sides
to develop a degree of mutual respect
and tolerance.

But what was possible between opposing sides
in wartime seems too often to be beyond
the reach of Christian people in our own day.
The possibility of changing one's mind appears to be excluded.

Not surprisingly,
this applies equally to us as individuals.
A "strong character" is usually someone with fixed opinions,
unlikely to change his or her mind.
The stronger the argument against the person,
the more determined he or she becomes.
By contrast, others, more open and aware,
weigh up the pros and cons of a situation,
and are unlikely to impose themselves upon us.
Jesus' question,
"Which of the two did the will of his father?"
suggests that unswerving certainty
may not always be the best option.

In Philippians 2 verses 1 to 13,
Paul sets out the bedrock of Christianit
and what our faith is built upon,
valid now as then.

Yet our faith is, and must be,
always evolving,
responding to the demands of our changing world.
To change our minds is not to deny Christ
or to display weakness.
On the contrary, it affirms that we are alive,
resilient, alert to the call of God,
trusting and committing the future to him.

To Summarise

In his dispute with Wayne Rooney
in the autumn of 2010,
Sir Alex Ferguson stated his unshakeable belief
in the qualities of Manchester United Football Club.
The dispute centred on Rooney's challenge
to the authority of the club.
It responded by marshalling its defences,
reluctant to change its stance or accept any changes.
The same dynamic is seen in the life of the Church.
Entrenched positions prevent movement or dialogue.
It is also present in our own lives.
Resistance to change is regarded
as a sign of determination and strength.
From our bedrock of faith,
a willingness to change one's mind
is not a sign of weakness
but of openness to the calling of God.

Our Blessing

May God, the eternal Father,
unchanging from the creation of the world,
the ever-present risen and ascended Christ,
the Spirit who guides
and leads us all through
the uncertainties
and changes of life,
be with us and remain with us,
now and always.
And the blessing of God almighty....