One of the most popular television sagas of recent times – was Line of Duty.
It provoked weekly speculation throughout the land as, week by week, the intriguing plot unfolded in twists and turns.
The country developed a whole new set of sayings, expletives and abbreviations…. a whole glossary of new terms.
You may remember the infamous OCG. ……Organised Crime Group.
The idea of organised crime is not new to us and we have all, surely read novels or watched films that feature the Mafia.
Human beings worked out, long ago, the power and effectiveness of working together – of “collaboration.”
Fortunately, most collaborative initiatives are well-intentioned and bear little comparison to the brutal OCG but organised groups often form a self-protecting brotherhood or kindred.
They develop their own codes of conduct and there is honour even among thieves.
Line of Duty revealed a powerful sense of loyalty to one another among members of the OCG but an utter ruthlessness about perceived outsiders, traitors or “rats.”
My wife will tell you, I can be a glass half empty person and I have begun to dwell on the negative but so much that is positive is born of collaboration:
Time and again, people have worked together for the Common Good as people have understood it.
Guilds, hospitals, schools, trades unions, universities, the NHS, the hospice movement and food-banks are all fair examples & the list must be endless…
And yet so many of those institutions have fallen foul of the pervasive errors and crimes that have proved endemic to society.
Most of them have been found wanting in respect of racism, sexism, and various types of abuse.
“The World” has been found wanting – and the Church has sometimes been found to be too much of that world…..too much a party to those prejudices or indulgences upon which an established order was built.
The Church has been found wanting around matters that have always been Gospel issues.
In Christ there is neither male nor female, neither Greek nor Jew.
This evening, the College commemorates it’s foundation on the feast of Simon & Jude, two members of a twelve-strong apostolic band.
The twelve – entrusted with the Great Commission – were to make disciples of all people, baptising them in the name of the Father and of The Son and of the Holy Spirit.
They were to initiate what was to be a collaboration empowered by the very source of creation, the Spirit of God who first moved over the face of the waters to bring order out of chaos.
Of course, the twelve were imperfect and scripture bears witness to their disagreements, their attempts to gain special privileges over one another, their slowness to comprehend and sometimes their lack of faith.
The enterprise of the Church was never likely to be one of utter perfection, and always in need of the Spirit’s renewal and reform.
Matthias renewed the number after Judas.
The rules surrounding food are reformed – through Peter’s dream and in response to the growing number of gentile Christians.
Dissatisfaction with and within the church has – at various times and in various places – has led to reformation.
Not everything in the history of reformation has been praiseworthy or purely motivated, but change has often been necessary.
Today, the Church of England continues along an organised programme of Renewal and Reform – less a steady process of conversion of heart – than a managerial exercise in structural reorganisation – and like previous reformations, it will not end in perfection.
Jesus, whose hands flung stars into space, has come into conflict with people of his making .
One way or another, they have assumed power and authority.
They have used their personal gifts to order the world – or at least their part of it – to their own ends rather than for the good of all, and they react negatively, aggressively, to Jesus’ call for renewal and reform.
Like the OCG, they will go to considerable lengths to preserve their position and the status quo.
The World, which has discovered the power of collaboration and frequently put it to good purpose, has sometimes allowed that good to be degraded by the infiltration of selfish desire or by failing to make changes when time and fresh understanding have required.
No one “set out” to warm the planet.
I doubt many people set out to keep the poor poor or to deprive them of life’s necessities ….or of medical assistance……
They just fail to change when they find it serves their comfort (and greed) to let the injustice continue.
The structures which provide cohesion in some parts of society – and indeed of the world – cause misery in others.
There’s an imbalance and an injustice whereby one part of humanity exploits another…..or continues to do so after recognising the truth.
That passion for justice, which once fired people to put an end to slavery, to apartheid and more recently to the sexual abuse of children is as much a part of the Gospel for today as it always has been.
The categories of the victims of oppression, exclusion, abuse and degradation may have changed, but the structures of society need breaking and resetting today as they always have; they need renewal, reform and healing.
A church that rushes to reconciliation before addressing the claims of justice, may find itself simply papering cracks and sweeping evil under the sanctuary carpet.
The ministry to which members of the College are called today will continue to be sacramental and pastoral, but it will also have that quality of challenge – prophetic challenge to people within and beyond the church, to be renewed and to be reformed in response to the claims of justice.
It will require priests to challenge people to change – and it will require collaboration with people who do not profess Christian belief but who understand the need for justice.
Responding to those claims of justice in Britain and far beyond may see us treated as Jesus was before – and that is his teaching for us this evening.
But responding to the challenges of justice will leave the church more renewed and more reformed than any managerial exercise – and if that is so, as Hastings might say, we’ll be sucking diesel!