Not for Sale!
May 18, 2008
Sermon for Trinity Sunday 2008 (2 Cor. 13, 11-13; Matt 28, 16-20)
After we had finished watching something on video last Monday, we caught the end of a programme on Channel 4. It was called “Dom Joly’s Complainers”, and was a light-hearted look at some of the irritations of modern life. On this occasion they were moaning about airports, and in particular the problem of lost baggage. After a scene at Heathrow, Dom Joly went off to a sleazy part of South London, to an auction house where unclaimed lost baggage is sold off by the airlines. He came out with a selection of luggage which he had bought for a song, and two young Eastern European women he said he had bought for £15 each. He then proceeded to try to sell them off to a passing man for £10 each.
Now, I know this was supposed to be a comedy programme, and the two young women were almost certainly actresses, but I couldn’t laugh at this bit. Earlier in the evening I had been looking at the website of CHASTE – Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking across Europe – who have designated this Sunday as ‘Not for Sale Sunday’ to raise awareness of the extent of trafficking of women and children for the sex industry in Europe. http://www.notforsalesunday.org/nfss/ After reading some of the stories of the experiences of young women and children who have been tricked into leaving home or kidnapped, and then sold on for sexual exploitation, I couldn’t see the sale of two young women as a joke.
Chaste began its work in 2004, working with young women who had been brought into this country by sex traffickers, and were on the point of being deported back to their home countries. It has set up advice centres and safe houses for these women. A big impetus to its work came in 2007, when it linked to the celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade with a call for the end of trafficking of children and young women for sexual exploitation -for that, it says, is one modern form of slavery.
You may think this is not a problem. But Chaste estimates there are over 4000 women brought into the UK to work in the sex trade last year, and they have evidence of over 80 young people brought in over the last 3 years. Some of these are smuggled in; all of them will have had their passports taken away, so they have very little chance of escaping or returning home and they will disappear into an underworld where they are abused and exploited and from where there is very little possibility of escape. If they are brave enough to get away from their abusers, and go to the police, very often they end up being deported back to their home country, where they and their families face further abuse from the traffickers.
CHASTE’s website contains many horrific tales of the abuse women children and some young men suffer after they have been ensnared by the sex traffickers. And the violence and cruelty is not confined just to those brought in. Anyone who tries to help them is also at risk, as are their families.
In our culture, pink is the colour associated with women, and since the majority of those CHASTE is trying to help are women and girls, they have asked people to wear pink on this ‘Not for Sale’ Sunday as a visual token of their commitment to the principle that women’s, men’s and children’s bodies are not for sale.
So, I am going to change my blue Reader’s scarf for a pink one – just for today, as a symbol of solidarity with the campaign.
But why, you may ask, should we be concerned with these people who have been enslaved in this way? After all, the Bible nowhere condemns slavery, and the Old Testament in particular, provides very little guidance for what modern people think is the right way to treat women and children. Jesus treated women and children with courtesy and care, no matter what their age or status, but the only duty the Jews had to slaves was to free their fellow Jews from slavery. But, as the campaign against the trans- Atlantic slave trade showed, the Bible is only one source of guidance for how we should behave in the contemporary world. Through the Spirit, speaking through our studying and our daily experience, we are constantly learning more about what God wants of us, and how we are meant to live as inheritors of God’s Kingdom.
This Sunday is a particularly appropriate one to highlight a campaign against the exploitation of one group of human beings by another. On this Trinity Sunday we celebrate the revelation, given to us through the ministry of Jesus Christ and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that the God we worship is not a single being, but ‘Being in relationship’.
In the past, a lot of energy was expended, and a lot of conflict was generated by trying to define exactly how the persons of the Trinity were related – how exactly Jesus was the Son of God, whether the Holy Spirit came directly from God or came through the Son, whether all three persons of the Trinity were equal in power and had existed since before time began. Those of you who have studied church history will have learnt that the way these disputes were settled, and the way orthodox belief came to be decided was not the most edifying process in Christian history.
Nowadays, I get the impression that the majority of Christians don’t spend so much time or energy trying to work out how exactly the persons of the Trinity are related. We don’t think in the same way as the Greek and Latin Church Fathers. We accept that all our language about the Trinity is metaphorical, trying to put something that is beyond our understanding into concepts that we can begin to grasp. We prefer to think of the Trinity as a mystery to contemplate, rather than a puzzle to be solved.
As we contemplate the Trinity we see three beings or modes of being, which are different but yet share a perfect unity of purpose, are equally divine and co-operate totally.
For some of us, it is helpful to have a picture to look at as we meditate, rather than just words to read. I find the Rublev icon, (which though entitled ‘The Hospitality of Abraham’, is really a picture of the Trinity) a help when I contemplate the Trinity.
It shows three beings who have wings, indicating they are heavenly beings, sitting around a table on which there is a chalice of wine. Each wears a different coloured robe, and those who know the conventions of icon painting tell us that this indicates which is meant to be the Father, which The Son and which The Holy Spirit. Each holds a staff of authority, showing they are equal in status, and there is no difference in age between them indicating they all exist from the same time.
But it is in the gestures of their hands and the gaze of their eyes that the relationship between the persons of the Trinity is most clearly expressed. Each looks or points away from themselves and towards the other persons of the Godhead. No one dominates. The eye of the beholder is taken in a never ending circle from one to another.
So the icon reveals to us what the Bible and the tradition proclaim, that the Trinity contains a relationship of perfect love, co-operation and equality, a relationship of free and different persons, yet united as one.
The book of Genesis tells us that human beings are made in the image of God. So, the Trinity models for us the way human relationships are meant to be. Relationships of inequality, relationships in which one person exploits or mistreats or abuses or violates another, relationships which limit the freedom of another without their consent are not made in the image of God. If the doctrine of the Trinity is to be more than just an abstract idea, it should stir us to try to make all our human relationships mirror that of the Trinity as nearly as possible – and to protest against anything that forces people into relationships that fall short of this ideal.
It is for this reason that Trinity Sunday is a good day to remember and to protest against the exploitation of young men, children and women in the sex trade by asserting that human bodies are Not for Sale. “Women and Children and Men are made in the image of God, and we are called to enable that image to grow, develop, and be reflected in all our lives, for everybody, no matter their age, race, creed, sexuality or gender.”