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Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Start:Stop - The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light

Bible Reading

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. (Isaiah 9. 2-4)


The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Following Homelessness Sunday this passage from Isaiah, which we have heard throughout Advent and Christmas, provides a paradigm through which we can consider our current experience of homelessness. It enables us to reflect on the journey that those leaving the streets make from darkness to light and to consider what the breaking of the yoke of oppression in a nation in order that all people experience abundance and joy might mean today for those who are homeless.

To be homeless is in a very real sense to walk in darkness. Those who are rough sleeping are exposed and vulnerable in the darkness of the night. It is difficult to avoid slipping into hopelessness and despair. In the dark you are invisible and that cloak of invisibility is what seems to cover people who embarrass society (us) with their need, their lack of a place to be, their unbelonging. The Christmas Appeal at St Martin-in-the-Fields told the story of Richard, whose story shows how quickly and easily people can move from relative stability and security into the dark place that is homelessness. Two and a half years ago Richard was a stay at home dad living in a nice apartment, in a nice complex in a very nice part of town. His relationship with his wife broke down and he started sleeping rough over the road from where he had been living so he could look after his children and take them to school. From that point onwards, he says, “Things started going downhill.”

When people are in this dark place it is very hard to then move back into the light. It has taken Richard over two years to get to the point where he is leaving the support of The Connection at St Martin’s in order to stand on his own two feet. With the help of staff at The Connection, Richard is now living in Building Prospects, af, affordable housing managed by The Connection in Westminster, where he sees his children regularly. He has also worked hard to gain skills to be able support himself in the future. Richard’s next step is to work as a trainee in a hostel for homeless women, putting into practice some of the skills he’s learnt while at The Connection.

Richard’s story shows how agencies like The Connection can make a real difference in helping those trying to leave the darkness of homelessness. Churches make a significant difference: "For example, there are 12,000 people working as volunteers in church-run winter shelters right now. We also have a great history of churches initiating housing associations and other responses to housing need." However, the paradigm provided by our passage from Isaiah suggests that by themselves these organisations and services are not enough to prevent homelessness occurring.

For that to happen, our society and our social and political structures need to be transformed in ways that prevent homelessness happening in the first place. The passage says that before a sense of abundance and joy in which all can share can be seen and felt within the nation, a yoke or rod of oppression has to be broken. That yoke or rod of oppression is the social and political structures which cause homelessness within our society. The extreme growth in the numbers rough sleeping across the UK and in London is not attributable simply to the individuals themselves but also to political policies that have left those individuals unable to remain in the security and stability of their homes.

Shelter recently claimed that two families in London are made homeless every hour. Their prediction, based on government homeless statistics, is that 1,260 families in the capital will lose their home in the next month and 7,370 over the next six months - the equivalent of a household every 34 and 35 minutes respectively. While political policies are not the only factor causing homelessness in the UK, the combined effect of welfare reforms, austerity cuts, immigration controls and a lack of affordable housing has come at a time when there has been a considerable increase in rough sleeping across the country and especially here in London. This combination of government policies acts as a yoke of oppression causing homelessness and making the journey back from darkness to light more difficult to achieve. As Isaiah states, the yoke of oppression must be broken before there is any widespread prospect for rough sleepers and sofa surfers to experience abundance or joy within our nation.

Churches and Christian charities are seeking assurances from the government over what they're describing as the "shame" and "political failure" of rising homelessness levels and are calling on the state to develop a "comprehensive, long-term" plan to wipe out homelessness. Were that to happen, we would see in our own day and time the light of hope, the lifting of burdens and the smashing of oppression of which Isaiah spoke. We would enable the journey, from darkness to light, that those sleeping rough, like Richard, have to travel, to become less burdensome and difficult.


Heavenly Father, we pray for the Government and all people who take decisions which affect the lives of people who are homeless. Guide them to follow your will and make decisions for the common good. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Loving God, encourage all people who work for and with homeless people. Give them the gifts and skills they need. May they be a listening ear and a witness of your presence. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Spirit of God, protect all people who are homeless. Shelter them from all that is harmful, enable them to seek out your face and build their lives anew. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Risen Lord, we pray for those services that support people who are homeless. Social services, health services, the benefits agency and the many voluntary groups and organisations including The Connection at St Martin’s and Church-run winter shelters. May they be professional, efficient and always have the needs of those they serve at the forefront of their work. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The Blessing

May the blessing of light be on you, light without and light within. May the blessed sunshine shine on you and warm your heart till it glows like a great peat fire, so that the stranger may come and warm himself at it, and also a friend. Amen.


Graham Kendrick - Beauty For Brokenness.

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