Many of you will know that I have a keen interest in the Holocaust.

As a consequence I have tried to understand how humanity could sink so low and how the Christian Church, in the hour of its greatest challenge, failed.

All this is for another day.

But it is background to the question some have put to me over the years, a question we must all ask if we are to be honest about the human condition.

That question is, how could this have happened in one of the most highly cultured nations on earth? The nation that brought us Schiller and Goethe, Beethoven and Bach.

Well…it began with disappointment.

It began with a belief that the nation wasn’t as great as it had once thought.

Then came an economic downturn.

And hostility toward those few who seemed to be doing well, despite the poverty of the many, grew.

It didn’t take long for the old prejudices to resurface.

And anger at a political elite that seemed out of touch deepened.

Then, as if out of nowhere, along came a man who captured the mood of the times, a man who understood how to channel the frustration and anger.

He was an orator. By learning or by instinct, he spoke in short sentences, with words of few syllables, with refrains that whipped a crowd into a frenzy.

Few took his desire for power seriously.

To the intelligentsia he was a joke.

And when he was elected, not by the majority of the people I hasten to add, many commentators said he wouldn’t last, that he couldn’t do all he’d claimed he would do, that the political establishment under von Hindenburg would keep him in check.

The rest is history.

But not so far back in the past that we should have forgotten its lessons.

We should not need to be reminded of mistakes so recently made by others.

Or perhaps we never really listened.

Some say history repeats itself; it doesn’t actually, not exactly anyway.

But the present often has a habit of rhyming with the past.

Today this is again true, there are echoes in the events of recent months that remind us of the 1930’s.

Yes we live in different times, it’s a different century, this is a new age, and some are claiming that the post war period has finally ended, they are right if we think of that period having begun with demolition of the Berlin Wall in 1989; but whichever way we look at it, there are many things reminding the historians amongst us of the past.

We live in interesting times, a phrase incidentally that may be an ancient Chinese curse ‘may he live in interesting times.’

Well we do and we are both cursed and blessed to do so.

Cursed because we know there are dangers on our doorstep, there is hostility towards the established order, suspicion of the newly arrived, fear of the stranger and far right views are being expressed within our own communities.

Add to all this the knowledge that we are meeting in a circuit that witnesses Typhoons scrambling to intercept Russian bombers heading towards us.

We are indeed cursed to live in these interesting times, yes.

But we are blessed too.

Blessed because we have a clear role to play; in fact the role has probably never been clearer in my lifetime.

We can no longer doubt the urgency of the task, our calling to bring the Good News to those we encounter, to challenge the injustice and the inequalities, to listen to the disenchanted, to stand against those who would manipulate the situation and bring chaos to our world. There is now an urgency to our task.

Over the last weekend we honoured previous generations that rose to the challenge of their times. This is our time.

As Christian ministers we know that we both enjoy great privilege and bear heavy responsibilities.

The hungry are looking for food to sustain them through this journey.

The lost are looking for direction.

The worried for consolation.

They will not be satisfied by those who talk the talk but fail to walk the walk.

We live an age when the meaning of words has been devalued by populist politicians, promising a greater Britain post Brexit, with an NHS utopia of £350M extra funding each week only to retract the next day, the very next day. In public discourse words have lost their value; as a matter of course promises are broken.

Our words, as Mr Wesley’s preachers, have to carry weight. They have to be trusted. There is no place for false promise or empty meaning. We have to say what we mean and mean what we say.

If Christ is the image of the invisible God, our role is to make Christ visible in our time, our preaching is to make Christ heard above the clamour.

When Christ is made visible and heard, we again and again win the victory he has won for us all.

But if our words have become devalued by a lack of integrity or consistency we lose, Christ loses and our world loses.

It was the March Hare that instructed Alice to say what she meant and Alice in her innocence could not believe anyone would ever say anything they didn’t mean.

“Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on. “I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least–at least I mean what I say–that’s the same thing, you know.”

Would that everyone were able to place hand on heart with such conviction about the words they utter.

The writer of the letter to the Colossians tells his readers that true wisdom is found in Christ, which is in sharp contrast to deceptive and unprofitable teaching he says.

‘I am saying this,’ he writes, ‘so that no one will deceive you with plausible arguments’ (2.5).

‘See to it,’ he goes on, ‘that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit.’ (2.8)

And the writer then urges members of the community to conduct themselves wisely toward outsiders with gracious speech. (4.5f).

But who are the outsiders? We may well ask.

The migrant worker? – yes of course.

The refugee? – yes.

The person of a faith different to our own – yes?

But what of the person with a political view that is almost abhorrent to us? Here is the crux for today we live in a society that seems more akin to Babylon than the New Jerusalem.

Is the outsider to whom we must be gracious the one whose answer to society’s ills is abhorrent to us? –– well yes, I am afraid he is.

That is not to suggest we embrace their answers to the world’s problems but it is that we should engage with those who hold them.

In a county that has some of the highest votes for Brexit in the UK we of course cannot avoid engaging with difference; if we were to turn away from those who hold views contrary to the Gospel then we would be failing to minister to all the people.

I’ll be honest, my overarching natural instinct is to fight such views with all the energy I can muster, but this is too serious a situation for us to get our response wrong.

So I pause, I pause and realise that I can only fight this shift toward fascism effectively through engagement and dialogue, otherwise division will only deepen.

Walter Wink in The Powers That Be reminds us that Colossians clearly states that the work of Christ seeks not only to reconcile the people to God but to ‘reconcile the Powers themselves to God.’

We cannot and must not disengage from those who are challenging the progress we’ve made with regards gender issues, social justice, racism awareness and enlightened thought.

If we were to disengage that progress could be lost.

Instead we have to speak truth to the Powers by saying what we mean and meaning what we say.

Or as Jesus would have it ‘Let your yes be yes and your no be no’. When I look back over the course of my ministry I treasure memories of those who have meant a great deal to me.

And what was it that set them apart from the many hundreds I have ministered to?

What was it about them that I valued most of all?

Well…they had honesty and integrity, consistency and fairness.

They spoke truth as they perceived it, even when I didn’t like it.

But I believe it was their authenticity that set them apart.

Now authenticity is not something you can manufacture. Authenticity is indisputably real.

This trait especially is what I have valued most about those who have meant a very great deal to me.

They said what they meant and they meant what they said.

Now brothers and sisters it is our turn to impact upon the communities in which we are set, upon the ones we are called to serve.

This we shall do by speaking truth to power so that the Christ may be visible and heard in our day.

We may live in interesting times you and I, and here we may well be on the front line of change, but we must not be caught asleep at such an hour.

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