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Trinity 15, 13th September 2015

When I was quite little, I loved everything to do with Paddington Bear.  I loved to hear the stories, I had my own Paddington game, and I loved walking past what I called the “Paddington Shop”.  I’m sure that they sold lots of other things, but all I could see were the many sized Paddington Bears!

Paddington has made a come-back recently with a new film released late last year.  Michael Bond, the creator of Paddington Bear, was inspired to create his character as a result of his experiences of refugees and displaced people, namely wartime evacuees and post-war refugees.  So it is no wonder that Paddington has come to the fore again in recent weeks, as a reminder and a symbol of how people in this country have received and welcomed migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in the past.  I will return to Paddington again in a few minutes, but let’s have a little diversion into today’s Gospel reading…

“Who do you say I am?” asks Jesus.  “You are the Messiah” says Peter, with great conviction, before getting himself into trouble again!  Then as Jesus speaks to his disciples and the crowd, he provides an answer to his own question.  If you want to find out who I am, if you want to be able to say who I am, then follow me.  Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.  But what does it really mean to deny yourself, to take up your cross?

Denying ourselves is not so much forgetting who we are as forgetting self-interest, and this can play out in lots of different ways.  We can lead quite autonomous, individual and self-sufficient lives.  And, if we’re not careful, this can lead us to cutting ourselves off from a sense of community, a sense of belonging; potential relationships and intimacy even.  When this happens, perhaps we need to deny – to give up – this tendency to go it alone.  Denying ourselves means daring to imagine that we need others, that we are mutually dependent on others to live a full life.   

Deny yourselves, take up your cross and follow me…

The cross is the sign of God’s great commitment to us.  Taking up our cross means taking up our relationship with God and with others, and taking these relationships seriously.  This means living out what we believe, and having the courage to do so even when God’s values clash with those of the world around us.  It means having in mind “the concerns of God, not merely human concerns”.

Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say I am?”, but I wonder if we know who God says we are?  One consequence of thinking seriously about our relationship with God is to consider who God says we are, and to live lives defined by that sense of identity more than any other.  God says that we are inherently valuable.  We are created in God’s image, we are known by God and we are loved by God.  This is how God regards us, this is how God feels about all people.     

The growing crisis for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers is dominating the news at the moment and it is undeniably a complex issue.  We are confronted with great human need alongside questions about how this has happened and how we can ensure that it doesn’t happen again.  And the scale of what is happening can leave us feeling powerless and paralysed.  It is not a bad time to get back in touch with how God views humanity and the great value that God places on human life.  It’s not a bad time to have in mind “the concerns of God, not merely human concerns”. 

Bishop Stephen talks about finding something that we can do, something that will make a difference and that will change us too.  In fact, not doing something will actually diminish us, let alone those who are in great need.  Perhaps this is what is behind campaigner Bob Geldof’s response to the situation, “I can’t stand what is happening to us.”  We’re in this together.  We’re denying ourselves and embracing our common humanity, our sense of belonging to each other.

Bishop Stephen has outlined what the Diocese is doing and how we can get involved.  There are other projects up and running too, some of them very local to us.  “89 miles…” is the name of a project started by a few people in Stebbing, which seeks to support refugees in Calais by providing them with much needed clothes and resources.  [89 miles refers to the distance between Stebbing and Calais.]  There are some fliers at the back of church, listing things that are particularly needed.  You can leave them in the marked boxes behind the blue noticeboards by the south door and they will be collected regularly over the coming weeks.

And now, back to Paddington Bear.  Paddington, who represents the stranger in our midst, the person in need of shelter.  So much so, that some folk in Sheffield set up “Project Paddington” just under two weeks ago as a way to raise funds for refugees.  The idea is to enable children to help other children, by sending them a teddy bear, a picture of themselves and a message or letter.  Children are also encouraged to get sponsorship for doing this as a way of raising funds for refugee aid, which are distributed via the Christian charity Tearfund.  The project has grown now and schools, groups and churches all over the country are getting involved. 

I’d like to draw to a close by telling you the story of one family getting involved in Project Paddington.  These are the words of Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, a vicar from Durham. 

This tea time, I told my children about the project and suggested that some of their vast horde of bears might be usefully shipped off in this way. My ten year old son nodded thoughtfully. My six year old daughter burst into tears.  Tears of real desolation and pain. She wasn't sniffing delicately, she was howling great, loud, snot-laden gulping tears.

'I - don't - want - to give - my teddies - AWAY!' she howled.

My husband and I patted her calmingly and soothingly said we understood, she hadn't got to, nobody was going to make her give one of them away, it was up to her.  That just made the crying worse.

'But I - don't want - them - not - to - have - a teddy - EITHER!' she bawled. 'I don't want - NOT - to give - one away. But I don't want them to go!' Cue a fresh explosion of tears.

And it seemed to me that in her childish honesty she had perfectly encapsulated the mixed feelings most people have about the migrant crisis. We don't want them to be suffering - it is almost unbearable. But we don't want to give up our valued stuff, our valued standard of living, either.

So let’s be kind to our inner child in these debates. Let's name and recognise the fact that it is hard to prise that toddler fist open. We know we want to be generous, but it is difficult. We have grown up being trained to hold onto what is ours, to be careful with it, to know the value of money, to know that things don't grow on trees, to know that we should share, yes, but that they should give us our stuff back at the end of playtime.*


Heavenly Father,

you are the source of all goodness, generosity and love.
As your Son opened his arms wide upon the cross,

so we thank you for opening the hearts of many
to those who are fleeing for their lives.
Help us now to open our arms in welcome,
and reach out our hands in support,

that the desperate may find new hope,
and lives torn apart may be restored.

* You can read Miranda's blog at: