The Duke of Cambridge said that the England football team had given us something to believe in. If it takes a 2-1 defeat against a country of 5million, that suffered a period of ethnic cleansing back in the 1990s, to give people something to believe in then the church has got some catching up to do. It was not the fact of two teams playing football, with tickets being sold for up to £11,000, to which Prince William referred. It was the joy and the sense of hope that came as a result of England’s cup run. Hope and joy are specialist subjects for the Church.
I have had occasion, during the last week, at the Leslie Newbigin Summer Institute, to reflect on Jesus and other world faiths. I am in a parish with three times the national average of Muslims and other World Faiths and so it was pertinent to the work that I do. I have open handed, generous and joyful contact with people of all faiths and none. One lady comes to our church once a fortnight and to the Buddhist Temple on the weeks in-between.
I benefit from repeated cups of coffee in a nearby Syrian restaurant. They like the fact of the local priest in their restaurant and have always refused to take money off me for the coffee I drink. During Ramadan they hire the church hall for an Iftar. This is the evening meal at which they end their daily Ramadan fast. Ramadan is a yearly challenge to the Christian community in their observation of Lent. Ramadan is a community event that draws people together. Lent is approached individually and people seem to think that giving up chocolate is an achievement.
When the local council changed the parking regulations Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist were joined together in opposition. The radio station The Voice of Islam interviewed me on my work in the community. Different Muslim families then contacted me on Twitter to carry on the conversation.
Believing that in Jesus God is present in the fullness of his being does not preclude the reality of the work of God in the lives and works of men and women outside of the Christian church. We collaborate with the charity Muslim Aid in our work with the homeless. They provide food for distribution and high quality sleeping bags. In the cold winter months the homeless know that they will get a better quality of sleeping bag from the Muslims than they will do from the Christians and they benefit accordingly. Leslie Newbigin said that the sensitive Christian mind, enlightened by Christ, cannot fail to recognise and to rejoice in the abundant spiritual fruits to be seen in the lives of men and women of other faiths.
The very nature of the Christian message is joy. Jesus followed the joy that was set before him (Heb 12:2). The angels start with joy (Lk 2:10); the disciples end with joy (Lk 24:52). Football might not be coming home but God is in charge of the whole cosmos, and not just us, and for that we rejoice.