Delhi Cathedral 18th February 2001

Amos 9:7 and John 4:21
See also Isaiah 19:19-25 (J. Sacks, Dignity of Difference, p.204)


I came to India in 1982 and made contact with the Church of North India. The Rev. Pritam Santram was the General Secretary and The Rev. Ernest Talibuddin was treasurer. The Rev. Patrick Moti lal was an up and coming young minister serving in Bhogal. I was made to feel very welcome by CNI and by all my colleagues here.

I remember chatting with Pritam Santram about Church, Christianity and other faiths. I was thinking through some ideas about Christianity from a world-wide perspective.

Among many wise things Pritam Santram said to me were these words. He said: “The way God relates to Israel is symbolic of how God relates to all nations.” That was a shaft of great illumination for me. The thought has helped me enormously.


To read the full sermon given by Inderjit at Delhi Cathedral please click here.

Set all Free Sermon

I am honoured to give this Methodist Sacramental Fellowship Lecture.  I am grateful to the MSF for the support you have given me over the years.   I value MSF for the respect you give to the testimony of the Holy Scriptures and the centrality of the Holy Eucharist.

I have been invited to give this Lecture as a result of a conversation I have conducted with Norman Wallwork over a number of years on the Wesleyan, particularly Charles’, use of polysyllabic words such as “unfathomable”, “incomprehensibly”, and, my favourites, “undistinguishing” and “inextinguishable”.  Norman discerned the makings of a Lecture.  I discern a Weslyan Polysyllabic Holy Trinity:  God who has an Undistinguishing Regard for all; Christ who is Incomprehensibly Made Man; and the Holy Spirit, the Inextinguishable Blaze.

The two words “for all” are central in Methodist thought, and were deliberately chosen in the title of my Inaugural Presidential Address: A Table For All. 

In the words of Charles Wesley, God’s “Undistinguishing regard was cast on [all] Adam’s fallen race”, and, as he goes on to write, “for all thou hast in Christ prepared sufficient, sovereign, saving grace”[Hymns and Psalms 520].
The words Immense, Unfathomed and Unconfined, in relation to God and God’s Grace, say to me that God, and God’s Grace, knows no bounds.
What I offer in this paper are some reflections on my understanding of God, the Grace and Graciousness of God, and the Good News of God disclosed in Jesus Christ.Most of us here have met around a vision that we want to mark 2007 as an important mile-stone in the struggles against slavery, recognising that – while there were around 10million people in slavery worldwide in 1807, to our shame there will be over 20 million people in slavery worldwide in 2007.

With the support of all the organisations we represent, and others, the ‘Set All Free – Act to end Slavery’ project has been established, and a project Director and Officer are in place.  We have an executive committee, and a wider co-ordinating group to guide and support the project.

Considerable work has already been undertaken, and we have an agenda.

We are here therefore to share together in this service of commitment, to launch the Set All Free project, and to Commission our Director and Officer, in the context of worship and prayer.  Set All Free is a project of the church. It is a collaboration between churches, church related groups, societies and agencies, and others who are happy to work with a Christian ethos to ‘act to end slavery.’  We are a partnership of black and white Christians – utterly dedicated to opposing the disgrace of slavery in all its forms.  We meet on this ground to affirm the Christian tradition of questioning and opposing injustice.

Our motivation is Jesus Christ and his vision of the kingdom of God in which all belong equally.

To read the full sermon text please click here.

A sermon preached on Racial Justic Sunday 2004

“People will come from East and West, North and South, and will eat in the kingdom of God” (Lk 13:29 NRSV)

It’s a wonderful image for our contemporary world. We gather in the weekend during which the third anniversary of 9/11 has been marked. We gather at the end of the week which has seen the tragedy of Beslan School killings. And even as we pray Hurricane Henry is flattening parts of the Caribbean, there are floods in China and Japan experienced a strong earthquake. We are meeting at a time when millions of people, like those in Darfur are dying. These are all forms of terror today rooted in poverty, plurality and pollution.

It’s an important week-end for me for other reasons. It is 40 years precisely this weekend since I arrived in UK with my family from Nairobi Kenya. What brought me here was a catalogue of Colonial racism and terrorism that I can now trace back 400 years to the Slave Trade.

To read the full sermon click here.

‘Anything you did’ Sermon

“…anything you did for one of the least important of these, you did for me.”  Mt.25:40

Our Calling as individuals and congregations is to serve God and Christ day by day.  The Gospel reading today teaches us that we serve Christ, and thus God, through service to the “least important.”

“…anything you did
For one of the least important of these,
You did for me.”

That’s our text.

As the older versions put it:

“…inasmuch as you did it to the least important of these you did it for me.”

It is a mantra I commend to you.  It is a mantra for us all.

The text, the whole Parable, gives priority to behaviour over beliefs.  Or as it says in the Letter to James:

“ without works is dead.”  James 2:26

That’s the challenge of our Gospel reading.

If you read the whole of Matthew 25 you will find that this is the challenge in all three Parables here:

• Five women who acted wisely are contrasted with those who foolishly did nothing [often called the Parable of the Wise Virgins];
• The one steward who acted by putting his talents to good use is contrasted with the two who did nothing with them;
• The just ones who served the “least important” are contrasted with those who did nothing.

All three Parables give priority to right behaviour:

“…faith without works is dead.”

Faith without actions is dead.

We are focussing on the Parable of the so called “Final Judgement.” 

A Parable is a picture or a story which conveys a truth.  The details in the picture/ story are often stark and vivid, in order to grab attention and drive home a truth, a message.  The purpose of the details is not to give factual information, rather they are there to make a central point.

This Parable pictures the “Final Judgement.”

To read the full sermon click here.

“You shall also love the stranger” Deut 10:19

The most important lesson I learned in all that I saw and heard during my year of office as President of the Methodist Conference is summed up in the words of a young Bosnian Muslim survivor.   He shared these words at the first Holocaust Memorial event held in Britain on 27th January this year.   He spoke of so-called “ethnic cleansing”.   He described how a diverse community of good neighbours was suddenly brought to the point of enmity and hostility to each other; and how he was tortured by people he knew.   Then he spoke these words, and I shall never forget them:

“When one group starts to treat another group of people as less than human that’s the beginning of genocide.”

The diverse communities of Birmingham, Bradford, Belfast as well as Bosnia need to hear the wisdom and warning in the words of this young man.   Such atrocity could happen in Bosnia – we don’t want it in Britain.

“Ethnic Cleansing”  – as it is termed – is rooted in doctrines of ethnic and religious purity.   It fears diversity and difference.   People say “You are different, you are dirty, you cannot live near me.   You must go and live somewhere else.”   To bring people to a point where they move out, violence is threatened or unleashed.

History is littered with ethnic atrocity and genocide.   There have been times when religion has been used to sanction or justify such atrocity.

The book Religion and Atrocity: Unholy Alliance by Jewish theologian Marc Ellis spells this out very well.   Any person of good will and good faith is ashamed when religion is abused to sanction or justify atrocity.   Where religion is used to sanction or justify atrocity, people of good will and good faith will reject it.   People will not trust or respect the judgement and wisdom of systems, structures, religion or individuals that support separation of people, however that is attempted.

There have been – and are – numerous ideologies or philosophies or theologies that have been used to separate people.
• the caste system
• the theory of many races, and purity of races
• the doctrine of apartheid
• the strategy of ethnic cleansing

Religion is co-opted in these systems to accord purity and cleanness to the established groups and to support or justify their power or empires, if you like.

In all the ideologies of separation I have listed, ancient and modern, prime of place is given to those of lighted skin colours.   We can see it , for example, in Noah who spoke words of curse to his son Canaan who would have been black; in the actions of Abraham who drove out his black wife, Hagar; when Moses is criticised by Aaron and Miriam because he had married a black, Cushite woman.

Such colour discrimination came to be ritualised by language of purity and defilement.   The privileged people were pure, and the rest were unclean.   The pure and the unclean or impure could not interact.   In time, the most sacred of religious qualities, holiness, came to mean being pure – and separate and free of contact with people, animals and things that could defile one.   The holy ones, the pure, were seen to be close to God who is holy and separate.   Everyone else is an outsider, unclean.   The one who is different is the one who is not pure.  

Stricter and stricter boundaries were drawn between the inner, holy, circle and those outside it.   The “insiders” has space to be.   The “outsiders” were outside it.   They had no place.   They were no people.   These are the ones who Biblically are referred to as “strangers”.   Strangers are the ones to whom the insiders owe nothing, the ones from whom the insiders should keep separate.   The strangers are nameless masses who are an irritation, and embarrassment and unwelcome.   To be a stranger is to be denied access to life.

The Biblical term for them is Habiru.   Most Biblical scholars now regards Habiru as an alternative rendering of Hebrew.   The term Hebrew has roots in the word abar which means “to cross over”.   Hebrew therefore id the one who crosses over boundaries in the quest for life.   As one author notes (W. Brueggemann, Interpretation and Obedience, Fortress 1991, p293), Hebrew are “the people who finally became the ‘people of God’ in the OT [and] are among some of those [who had been] declared ‘strangers’, ‘outsiders’, ‘threat’” – by the status quo, i.e. the Egyptian Empire.

In the story of Joseph in Egypt, we read (Gen 43:32):

“They served him by himself,
and them by themselves,
because the Egyptians
might not eat bread with the Hebrews,
for that is an abomination to the Egyptians.”

The word “abomination” shows how the idea of separateness had been ritualised for members of the status quo.   To eat with the stranger would be defiling.   This ritualising developed into laws and regulations regarding food, sexuality and the priesthood.

In God’s design, the Hebrew, the strangers, the no-people, became God’s people.

God hears the cries of the Hebrews in Egypt.  
God hears them and accords them status.
The stranger, the outsider, is seen to be included in God’s community.

This community now lives by a divine ethic.   God is seen to side with the stranger.   God’s people are required to emulate God.

Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregation of the Commonwealth has written (Faith in the Future, DLT 1995, p.78):

“The Hebrew Bible contains the great command, ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Lev 19:18), and this has often been taken as the basis of biblical morality.   But it is not:  it is only part of it.   The Jewish sages noted that on only one occasion does the Hebrew Bible command us to love our neighbour, but in 37 places it commands us to love the stranger.   Our neighbour is one we love because he is like ourselves.   The stranger is one we are taught to love precisely because he is not like ourselves.”

That is a remarkable piece of illumination.   “Love your neighbour as yourself” is the instruction that is readily quoted.   Hardly ever do we hear God’s oft repeated command to “love the stranger”.

In Deuteronomy 12:17-19, we read:

“17 The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe,
18 who executes justice for the orphan and the widow,
 and who loves the strangers,
 providing them with food and clothing.
19 You shall also love the stranger,
 for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Why should you love the stranger?
Because God loves the stranger…and remember, you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

The Hebrew – the stranger in Egypt, to whom God showed love, is now required to love the stranger.

God’s holiness is not seen in God’s remoteness or separateness from the stranger, but by God’s utter concern for the stranger, by God’s adoption and embrace of the stranger.   God requires nothing less from those who would be holy.   God is outraged when “the stranger residing among you  suffers extortion” (Ez 22:7).   This is the god who is seen in Jesus of Nazareth.   God is the incarnate one, the one who is with us.

Jesus cuts through boundaries and separation between who is considered to be holy and profane.   You remember the insiders who would not eat with the outsiders, the stranger, because that would be an “abomination”.   Jesus’ most subversive and radical activity, for which he is most criticised, is to eat with the social outcasts of his day.   It is said that “he eats with sinners and tax collectors”.   The tax collectors were not flavour of the day because they collaborated with the “outsiders”.

Jesus expressed his solidarity with the poor and marginalized people of his day by eating with them.   He welcomes the poor, “the unclean”, “the sinners”, the harlots and publicans and ate with them.   In this he showed God’s way, God’s truth and God’s life.   He demonstrates a holiness of connectedness not separateness, of intimacy not aloofness.

• breaks down barriers
• crosses our boundaries
• includes those who would have been excluded
• eats with anyone who would eat with him.
Everything Jesus did and said demonstrated these things.

Guardians of boundaries and holiness of separation don’t like such behaviour.   In the end, Jesus’ actions crucified him

Jesus has left an example for his community.   Practise hospitality.   Eat with each other.   Eat with the most vulnerable ones.   Eat with “the stranger”.   Your lifestyle should be one of hospitality and solidarity, not hostility and segregation.

The ethics of so many are about
They may extend to “love of neighbour”.

The Biblical and gospel demand is for a different, counter-cultural ethic:
 “God loves the stranger…
   You shall also love the stranger.”

The strength of this requirement is seen in the fact that it is stated 37 times in the Hebrew Bible.   Jesus demonstrates the ethics of hospitality and eating with outcasts, and says that in welcoming the stranger, one welcomes Christ:

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me…truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me.”

To be made human in the image of God is to be:
 Creative  “revolting against everything that is opposed to humanity”
   (James Cone, Theology of Liberation  Orbis, sixth edition 1995, p 93.)
Hospitable  revolting against everything that is opposed to the welcome of “strangers”

Being in the image of God is about recognition of the fact that there is one race, the human race.

It is also the vision and theology that is at the root of every act of resistance by black people when they are refused the status of being human when they are refused welcome and hospitality.

To express confidence and belief in the image of God is to say
yes to our colour
yes to our hospitality

And it is to say “no” to those who think they are God but end up laying an assault on God’s  image.
“Black theology emphasises the right of blacks to be black and by so doing to participate in the image of God” (Cone p 93)

To participate in the image of God is to rebel against structures of oppression and segregation; it is to participate in the liberation struggle against the forces of inhumanity.

“Neither on this Mountain, nor in Jerusalem” John 4:21

Sometimes I avoid Chapel Walk. I don’t have time to talk to John who sells the Big Issue. But I like to sit on the bench outside the front doors of the Vic, Victoria Hall. Sometimes I take a mug of coffee with me,-and sometimes an extra one for John. Recently John asked me about the Four Church buildings on the Road about there: The Unitarian Chapel, St. Maries Cathedral, URC, and The Vic. We talked about their different traditions and styles of worship “Do they all worship the same God?” asked John. “I don’t think we all worship the same God,” I replied, “but there is only One God- we all worship the One God.” He then said- “You could all worship in one building. Why do you all need such a large separate place?” I said Jesus had a vision- he longed for a time when people would worship God “in spirit and truth.”

In a conversation with the Samaritan woman, Jesus used the phrase ‘neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem.’ Do you have a spot where you like to sit? Your watering hole? Your Jacob’s well…the well at which you rest? Wells are familiar places in the Bible. They are often the places where women and men can meet- perhaps because they are public places and are safe spots. Isaac met his bride to be, Rebecca, by a well. And Jacob met his bride, Rachel, at a well. A well provided water in a desert area. Wells are therefore symbols of the gift of life from God to people. Sometimes the life God gives is described in the language of marriage. Israel is seen as God’s bride. The Church is seen as the bride of Christ. The Samaritan woman-from a despised group- met Jesus at a well. Does this encounter suggest that God gives (has given) new life through the most unlikely encounters, and through surprising relationships, through despised people…? Can you think of a time when you were refreshed by a foreigner? -or a marginalised person?   Just picture Jesus sitting at the well, in the midday heat, shattered by his journey. He is tired and thirsty. He is prepared to ask for a drink. “Give me a drink.” The conversation begins on the theme of water. It moves on to the theme of worship. And the whole chapter ends with Jesus returning to Cana- where he transformed water into wine, and on this occasion restores someone to life.

The progression is similar to chapter 2. • There is a conversation involving water, and transformation of water into wine. • It moves on to the theme of worship involving the cleansing of the Temple. • It concludes with the reference to Jesus resurrection.   So in Ch 2 and Ch 4, the structure is: Water Worship Life, new life.

In both chapters – There is ordinary water, and the water of life – There is a reference to Temples, and Jesus’ critique of Temples – His distinction between temporal places of worship, and true centre of worship which is within us – The body is the Temple – The worship God desires is worship in spirit and truth, worship which is neither defined by nor confined by buildings.

The real Temple is not found in Buildings, but in the Body.   The essence of temple worship is as temporary or time related just as a drink of water does not quench thirst for long. True worship, worship in spirit and truth, is equated with drinking the water Jesus offers which “will become…a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”   “Sir”-says the woman- “give me this water.”  The conversation begins with Jesus saying “give me a drink.” It moves on to a point where the woman says to Jesus “Sir, give me this water so that I may never be thirsty.”