Last weekend I travelled north to Durham for the Miners Gala ( or better known in those parts as the Big Meeting) – here is my sermon for the day and some pictures taken by Trevor Smith – for which many thanks!

The Davy Lamp Kelloe and the Banner being processed down the Village

The Hundredth and First Miners’ Festival Service

Saturday 10 July 2010  Durham Cathedral

 Luke 10.25-37 And who is my neighbour?

Who do you think you are? Who do you think you are? Those of you familiar with this Television programme will remember that celebrities are asked to take a trip down memory lane by way of exploring their identity. They research their family trees in search of their roots. They travel back to birth places making all kinds of connections.

For me, this is the homecoming – back to my roots. I am filled with pride and gratitude for this opportunity to celebrate and pray for the people and communities that make this the best of all English counties. 

I was born into a mining family and all of my early life was spent in the shadow of East Hetton pit on the edge of the village of Kelloe. It was there that I went to school and from there to Spennymoor for my secondary education before university. I returned to the north-east in 1985 when I was ordained in this cathedral some 25 years ago. I served my curacy in Consett just after the steelworks closed. All across the North East we were struggling to cope with post-industrial life of closed factories and closed pits. Coal is in my blood. It has shaped my life – it has infused in me a strong set of values and a certain robust attitude to people and living. Being brought up in such a community has shown me how life is built on hard work, struggle, hope, goodwill and encouragement as well as the beer, the humour, the leeks, the pigeons and so much more.

Of course since those days I have travelled far, moved on, changed by other experiences but my pride in my roots and the way it has shaped my identity will never ever diminish. I’m glad to tell people where I come from and what my father did before the devastation of the industry in those bleak years of the 1980s. So I speak to you as well as a Miner’s son as well as a Canon of Windsor also, conscious of the heritage of Coal. I have very vivid memories of Durham Big Meeting. Especially the early start in the morning in our village with the lifting of the banner and its journey through the village. The music, the standing together in good times and bad, the remembering lost friends and the price of coal.

In the inside of this service sheet there is reproduced the picture of my village banner. You will see a picture of the Good Samaritan, painted onto the banner, the story that we have just heard from Luke’s Gospel, and the challenge, the command is written below the picture of compassion and support (go and do thou likewise). So this afternoon I want to ask how we build lives upon that directive and what happens to us when we respond to those in need, those vulnerable people whom society walks past on the other side.

 The Kelloe Banner

Some of you might think that any sermon on the Good Samaritan is an exercise in explaining the obvious.  Everyone knows what this most familiar of all Gospel stories is getting at – provides us with a model for what is meant by practical Christianity – the Good Samaritan in the kind of person who responds readily and generously to his neighbor in need.

But for a moment, let us look a little more closely at the story. We need to remember that the priest and the Levite were probably prevented from going to the help of the wounded man – from behaving in a spontaneous human way – by the religious rules of purity and defilement. And it’s true enough that Jesus thought such rules absurd he got angry when rules were allowed to take precedence over the needs of the suffering human being.  Religion, any religion, or creed for that matter, can keep people apart, dampen compassion, and inhibit our human instincts to help another human being.

The third traveler who follows the priest and the Levite is not simply a good plain practical man whose generous response exposed the absurdity – even the hypocrisy – of the ecclesiastical establishment. The third traveler, this is the big surprise of the story – is, of all people a Samaritan. The Jew who fell among thieves and got mugged was by long and bitter historical tradition a sworn enemy. The goodness of the Good Samaritan was not then simply the natural goodness of the ordinary man who can be relied on to do the decent thing; it was the extraordinary goodness of the man who was ready to regard his worst traditional enemy as his neighbor.

The point of the parable is as sharp as that.  Goodness is more than helping the person you know or like; for Jesus, goodness demands that you love your enemy. Even to put it that way is to blunt the point. For the enmity between Samaritans and Jews was not personal and therefore within the scope of an individual to control; it was an ethnic enmity. Deep seated, emotional and irrational, the product of centuries of nationalism. It was not then the callousness, even less clericalism which Jesus in his story of the Good Samaritan intended to expose and condemn, shallow and cosy, self satisfied decency. The point is this – let us beware of restricting the meaning of the words neighbor. How far is our generosity to go beyond easy or conventional bounds?

So there’s the story and what of us? Without a doubt, we face uncertain and difficult times socially and economically. What is to be our response? One of the things I remember down on the racecourse was hearing the passion and the anger of those who wanted to build a better world. A better society, built on justice and fairness. The plea for a decent wage and protection.  Our voices, our hopes still need to be heard in building a society where all are cared for and especially the vulnerable and marginalized. And in this new economic climate, we need to keep on insisting that government has an absolute responsibility to protect and safeguard those parts of the country that struggle for sustainability.

But good nieghbourliness doesn’t begin or end with government. The challenge to build a better society starts in the communities within which you live and have responsibility. The days are gone when backdoors can be left unlocked and neighbours were neighbours because, in part, they knew everybody else’s business! As times change, are we, are you, building communities where all belong? Where the stranger is welcomed? Where we keep an eye out for the bored teenager or the pensioner, isolated and in need of some company? Who is your neighbor and how do we nurture neighborliness in our villages and communities? What barriers do we need to overcome?

One of the things that I love about the north-east is that we are men and women who have hearts as well as minds.We’re not afraid to cry. We see and feel and know as much with our hearts as our heads. This means that we should always open our hearts to the possibilities of building better selves where we bother about one another and show that we bother in ordinary, everyday acts of care, concern and love.  This means all of us have to change, take risks, feel our way into a different way of thinking. Developing communities begins with building a better self. Building a better world begins with local relationships – your street, your school, your village.  Love in the ordinary. Walking the walk. Bothering even when it might not suit us. Jesus says to you and me ‘ Go and Do thou likewise ‘ . Amen.

 

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