The rainbow people of God

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You will find here the reading and reflection from today’s communion service.

Also, here’s a link to the video of Brother Roger I mentioned, and another lovely video of him talking about the vocation of listening.

And here’s a 10 minute video made by the brothers about Taizé (and there are lots of other ones to find!)

In this reading from John’s gospel we hear Jesus praying with the disciples on the night before he died:

“I pray not only for them, but also for those who believe in me because of their message. I pray that they may all be one. Father! May they be in us, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they be one, so that the world will believe that you sent me. I gave them the same glory you gave me, so that they may be one, just as you and I are one: I in them and you in me, so that they may be completely one, in order that the world may know that you sent me and that you love them as you love me.”

Thirteen years ago I had the chance to go for a week to a little village in Burgundy in France called Taizé. Nestling alongside the village on the side of the hill is an amazing place – a big area of tents and low buildings including a huge church, all overflowing with people, mostly teenagers or in their twenties, from many different countries.

Each year – each normal year- thousands of young people come to Taizé each week during the summer from all over Europe and around the world. They join together for prayers in the church three times a day, singing the songs which we might know in many different languages, or in Latin, a language for all. They share together in bible studies and discussions in groups – often with lots of translation – most of my group were German and I don’t speak a word. And the same groups help prepare and serve the very simple meals, which is a wonderful bonding thing to do – we became good friends despite the language barrier.

All of this came about through the vision of a man called Brother Roger. Roger came from Switzerland to Taizé in 1940 with a dream of beginning a community. During the war he helped to shelter Jewish refugees for some time, and then after the war he returned to Taizé with three others to begin his ‘parable of community’.

He felt very strongly that after such a devastating conflict Christians should be showing how reconciliation is possible, so the brothers come from different churches, protestant and catholic. He wanted to create a community of those ‘who would seek to understand each other and to live continually in communion; a community where goodness of heart and simplicity would be at the centre of everything.’ A living out of the words from our reading: ‘May they be one’.

Sadly, the church has often failed in this calling. Our history has many stories of hatred between Christians, leading to persecution and fierce conflict. And I guess most of us are aware of impulses within us to join up with likeminded believers and condemn others we don’t agree with. My friend Christian talks about ‘othering’ – setting ourselves apart from other groups of people and looking down on them in order to strengthen our own sense of being right. Yesterday we talked about our impulse to look for the monsters, so we can condemn them. But when you look, you may discover that actually it’s us who are the monsters.

That’s important at the moment, as our eyes are opened more fully to the evil of racism – one ethnic group being victimised, in terribly open or in hidden and subtle ways. There is always a danger that righteous anger against injustice moves into hatred of anyone who disagrees with us – justifying ourselves by demonising others.

What I’ve been struck by in the response to George Floyd’s death is the way that many have reflected in a very different way. My son Ben talked about being humbled by the recognition of his own white privilege, and others have written about this time as a time to listen. My daughter and Jo from our team went along to a vigil at Pittville Park on Monday. It was carefully socially distanced and very respectful, with thoughtful speakers and a powerful nine minutes of silence as each person went down on one knee. And a wonderful gathering of different people.

Sometimes people asked Brother Roger what the secret was of Taizé and what his message was to the world. Maybe they were looking for a guru. But if you look at the video I’ve put up of him speaking you’ll see that he’s a quietly spoken and very humble man. He says that doesn’t believe in ‘spiritual masters’. ‘All of us are seekers with respect to the realities of God. We have to go from one discovery to another, our whole lives long.’

That is a challenge to my spiritual pride – and to my tendency to write off other people. If we can learn to listen to each other in the church,  recognising the life of God in each other, then the world may come to see us less as a picture of division and more as a parable of community – a promise of the possibility of reconciliation.

Taizé offers a different model to the dualistic division which separates us into right and wrong, good and bad, and even black and white. Here we see not two sides, but a community of the nations and a gathering of the churches – what Desmond Tutu called the ‘Rainbow people of God.’ If we can learn to see the church – and wider humanity – more in this way, as a wonderfully diverse community then maybe we can move beyond our temptation to victimise and condemn, and work towards a world where all are equally honoured and able to flourish.

I’d like to finish by sharing some words sent me today by Sarah Mar, who is our Chaplain from the Bahai faith – and you’ll understand why I have these roses here.

Behold a beautiful garden full of flowers, shrubs, and trees. Each flower has a different charm, a peculiar beauty, its own delicious perfume and beautiful colour. So it is with humanity. It is made up of many races, and its peoples are of different colour……but they all come from the same God. The garden which is pleasing to the eye and which makes the heart glad, is the garden in which are growing side by side flowers of every hue, form and perfume, and the joyous contrast of colour is what makes for charm and beauty. The diversity in the human family should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord. Think of them as different coloured roses growing in the beautiful garden of humanity, and rejoice to be among them.

  • May your peace shine upon us, may your love set us free, Lord we pray…
  • Guide your church in the way of the gospel: may your Holy Spirit keep her faithful and warm-hearted, Lord we pray…
  • For justice and peace in our society, for the overcoming of barriers of fear, resentment and distrust, Lord we pray…
  • May the leaders of the nations seek the way that leads to peace and human flourishing, Lord we pray…
  • Teach us to recognise your presence in every person, and above all in those who suffer, Lord we pray…

Holy Spirit, you live in every human being

and you come to place in us

these essential realities of the Gospel:

kind-heartedness and forgiveness.

To love and to express it with our life,

to love with kind-heartedness and to forgive:

there you enable us to find

one of the wellsprings of peace and joy.

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