I can still remember where I was sitting when I first heard the idea, over 10 years ago, that judgement is not necessarily linked to punishment. It was one of those light bulb moments which made God look different, the world look different and my understanding of myself look different. It burst a bubble of fear that punishment was somehow inevitable, that the only thing that could happen after judgement was sentencing.
And so 10 years later I can say without too much fear that I think we are being are judged. We are being shown they way things are. A spotlight is being shone on us. Not to punish us but to ask us to respond. Not to make us wallow in guilt but to enable us to face the truth.
And in the tradition of all things Christian and preachy I think this is a threefold judgement, delivered by 17 million people on Friday 24th June 2016.
It was a judgement on us as a nation. It revealed to us the flaws and fractures that are criss-crossing British society. It showed a gulf in the dreams of young people and the vision of their grandparents. It showed a divide between people of different backgrounds – between graduates and non-graduates, between haves and have-nots, between those who feel like they have some power and those who feel they have been ignored continually, berated by the chattering classes and conned by Etonian politicians and bankers. It expressed an anger of unattended hurt, unheard anxiety and unallayed fears. It also reminded us that some people in the UK want to care beyond Europe and voted to leave in order to build closer links with Asia, Africa and the Americas but their voice is barely heard. It may challenge those of us who voted remain to enlarge our vision, broaden our identity and increase our generosity.
It was a judgement on us as a Church. The Church of England is an established church, the church of the nation whose clergy have responsibility for the wellbeing of the souls of every person who dwells in this land. Our leaders came out as supporting remain but we did not capture the imagination of the people of our country. Maybe we did not dare to suggest to our congregations that their faith should impact on their politics. Did we allow people to think how their beliefs might shape their votes? Did we give room for people on both sides of the debate to talk to each other about their convictions? Can we do it now? We have amazing resources and connections in this country. How are we going to use them well? How will we speak to idealistic younger people? How will we hear the voices of people who feel they have no power? How will we connect with people from across the economic spectrum? How will we encourage leaders that are not from middle-class backgrounds? We have been judged – we can’t ignore these questions.
It was a judgement on me as a human being. I have about 400 friends on Facebook and I would like to think they are a pretty diverse bunch. But before the referendum I did not read one comment from a friend arguing the leave position. I am still to have a face-to-face conversation in which someone has said they are pleased with Friday’s result. One of my friends simply posted today: “I live in a bubble” – and so do I. I like bubbles – I like them in hot-tubs and I like them in prosecco but I realise I cannot live in one. If I stay in my bubble I will never understand half of my neighbours. Then it becomes too easy to categorise and dismiss them, to accuse them of ignorance and xenophobia and to denigrate their decision. I need to make some new friends. I need to hear some different opinions and some new voices. I need to burst my complacent bubble and really learn who is my neighbour.
As people who claim to follow Jesus, we may need to be friends with people who cannot yet be friends with one another, messengers of peace to people who do not yet speak to one another and agents of God’s love to people who have been hurt by one another. God is our judge but God is also our stregnth, our hope and our redeemer. God can burst our bubbles and Jesus shows us how – loving and listening, building a diverse bunch of followers into a close-knit group of friends, challenging without rejecting and constantly refusing to take the easy route of hatred, violence, contempt and disdain.