Even by Monday evening, there was already an internet campaign for the re-broadcasting of the Oxo television adverts, the day Lynda Bellingham died. National treasure has been over-used to the point of becoming meaningless, but Lynda Bellingham was certainly a popular and much loved actress and television presenter. I think those Oxo adverts showed an ordinary family, so like so many of our own, that we could empathise with what they encountered, positive and negative. So ordinary they seemed real. Around the same time, she played James Herriot’s wife in All Creatures Great and Small. In that role many took her into their hearts because she played a family which struggled, yes, but represented the best ideals of a British family, which so many aspired to. In more recent years, the honesty with which she and other presenters tackled issues which affect so many people’s lives in Loose Women confirmed her place in people’s hearts, not just as someone who wanted what we wanted in family life, but someone who knew what the real world was really like, good and bad, and could empathise with whatever life throws at us. The truth, revealed in many of the obituaries, was that while playing the idyllic family in the Oxo adverts, Lynda Bellingham was subject to the most awful domestic abuse, but afraid to seek help for fear of losing her contract with Oxo. I know she’s very from being the only woman trapped in such horrific situations.
One of the marks of what kind of a society we are, is how we treat the most vulnerable people amongst us. The bible talks about this as how we care for the widows and orphans, because they were the most vulnerable people in their time. We heard this in our readings from both the Old and the New Testaments. It’s an idea deeply embedded through the Bible, the call to care for the most vulnerable among us. We can be inspired by Lynda Bellingham’s life, and how she lived with cancer and faced up to her forthcoming death, but the challenge comes with how we respond to years of hidden abuse. What can we do to stop women and children suffering in this way? Today we baptise Jasmine. That is a sign of God’s love for her, stronger than anything we can understand or feel, the love of God is with Jasmine and for Jasmine. Today is a sign and a seal of that. Today is also a sign of hope that love can triumph in the world, that’s God’s love is planted more deeply than all that is wrong.
You might have read in the press that Surrey County Council plan to close all the nursing homes they run, one of which is Cobgates, here in Farnham. We all know local authorities don’t have the money to do all that they want to do. However, there is very little provision for people who cannot afford private nursing care as it is. You might also have seen in the newspapers that Dialysis is moving from Farnham Hospital to an industrial estate because the rental charge is too high. It strikes me there’s something very wrong indeed with the system when the National Health Service is paying rent to use its own hospitals, let alone a rent that’s too high. Our Bible readings talk about how important it is to care the most vulnerable in society, that being how we can see what kind of community we are. On the day of Jasmine’s baptism, part of that brings with it the challenge to build and maintain a society of which we can be proud, of which Jasmine and her contemporaries can see that we’ve done our best for everyone.
The sentencing of Oscar Pistorius has also been much in the news this week. According to some newspapers, he’s a bankrupt and broken man, already punished as much as he can be; while others say that he’s receiving special treatment for being disabled and famous; still others suggest all murderers deserve severe punishment, even revenge, and must be made an example of. This certainly raised a number of questions for me. How do we treat disabled people? How do we respond to violence? Does allowing everyone to carry guns improve safety, or create more crime? Is prison about protecting the public, punishment, or rehabilitation, or all three? How do we respond to crimes of violence against women, when they are so much more frequent than crimes of violence against men by women? I don’t know what the answers are, but what I want to suggest the Bible offers us thought as to how we approach the questions, and the frame of mind we’re challenged to consider. That is, thinking about how do we care for the most vulnerable in society? What kind of society do we want to build, for Jasmine and her contemporaries in the years to come?
There isn’t a day that passes without more grim news from Iraq and Syria in the battle against the so-called Islamic State, and the awful things that are going on in those countries. We support the Iraqi government in their fight against Islamic State. We don’t like Islamic State, but Islamic State is supported by Saudi Arabia whom we do like. We don’t like President Assad in Syria. We support the fight against him, but not Islamic State, which is also fighting against him. We don’t like Iran, but the Iranian government supports the Iraqi government against Islamic State. So, some of our friends support our enemies and some of our enemies are our friends, and some of our enemies are fighting our other enemies, whom we don’t want to lose, but we don’t want our enemies who are fighting our enemies to win. If the people we want to defeat are defeated, they might be replaced by people we like even less. And, all this was started by us invading a country to drive out terrorists who weren’t actually there until we went in to drive them out. The end result of all that mess is the question, how do we build a world where the vulnerable are protected? Obviously it’s hideously complicated, made all the more so by us and our own actions in the past. I don’t know that there are answers, but again what is most important is how we approach the question, and how we seek to find answers. What can we do to build a world in which the most vulnerable are cared for?
We’ve now seen testing begin at airports and Eurostar stations for the dreaded Ebola virus. Obviously no-one wants to catch such a vicious disease. We need to do what we can to stop it. In more cynical moments I sometimes wonder, though, how much our actions are motivated by fear of catching the disease, rather than by desire to help those affected. However, I was proved wrong in my more cynical thoughts because last weekend the Rotary Club collected over £1400 in Farnham, to help treat victims of Ebola. Isn’t this something actually happening to try to build a society in which the most vulnerable are cared for? Something that shows we can make the world a place Jasmine can be proud of in many years to come?
Today is a day of celebration and joy, a day when Jasmine is welcomed as a part of God’s family, when we acknowledge that God’s love is freely and abundantly offered to everyone, for them to respond to. We do that against a sombre backdrop of a challenging world, where diseases ravage, where bad things happen, where war and fighting go on. But what we do today is respond not with more of the same, but to acknowledge God’s love. In Jesus God came among us to show us how much he loves us. Let us acknowledge that, let us follow the example we’re taught in the Bible, and do what we can, where we’re able, whenever the opportunity arises, to build a world where the widows and orphans, where the most vulnerable, the poorest, are respected and cared for, a world which jasmine can be proud of. A world which God can be proud of.