a sermon for Trinity Sunday at St. Peter’s Church, Oadby
26 May 2013
Romans 5:1-5 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
John 16:12-15 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
In our first reading this morning, Paul’s Letter to the Romans speaks of hope, the hope we have in God through the Grace of the Love he holds for us. This Love is open to us all – Christ’s sacrifice was as much for those considered ‘bad’ as for the ‘good’.
Events of this past week have indeed been distressing. First we had the tornado in Oklahoma. Growing up in Colorado as a child we had tornado drills in school, and all of us knew where to go in a tornado – not that we ever really had any so close to the mountains. And for all the devastation wrecked by this tornado, there was relatively little life lost. There is much to be grateful for.
And then there were the disturbing events in Woolwich. For me it was the almost ordinariness, seeming every day feeling of the film of the murder on the streets of a London suburb. A portion of the film shows a woman walking past with her shopping cart – glancing at the dead soldier on the ground as she walks past his killer brandishing a knife with bloody hands. It is as if she is just not registering what was happening in front of her. The events were shocking in ordinariness. There is something in our brain which prevents us from believing such things are happening. The women who sheltered Drummer Rigby’s body, who talked down the men with knives in their hands, didn’t even think about what they were doing. Their priority was for the others around them, for the children coming out of school, for the poor mother’s son lying prone in the street.
I think we sometimes expect these events to be like the movies – full of drama, of horror and of fear. We imagine heroes to be muscle men wrestling killers to the ground, not mums and scout leaders gently talking them down. And perhaps the real horror of these events is because they happened so quietly, on an ordinary street, an ordinary day, suddenly, inexplicably, a terrible violence held the nation in its grip.
And through all of this it is not hard to imagine that God’s hope, God’s Love, was with the young father and soldier, Drummer Lee Rigby, was with the women who protected his body and was with the police officers as they sought to take control of the situation. But can we imagine God’s hope and Love straining to pour through the hearts of these two young men, there for them as well as for each and every one of us?
Several years ago I arranged a visit for the Bishop of Chichester to visit a mosque in Sussex. Several young men from that mosque had been involved in another bomb plot two weeks following the events of 7/7. They were found out, arrested and imprisoned. This community had until then not really engaged with their neighbours, despite the best efforts of the local authority, police and the local church & priest. But the involvement of several of their young sons in such a horrific plan shocked the mosque community to the core. They were struggling to understand how this could have happened, how their children could have so badly twisted their religious beliefs into an act of terror.
They were clearly nervous about our visit – a large delegation of the bishop, several priests, a few Buddhist monks, an orthodox Jewish rabbi, and the strange lay woman that I was then, organising the event. We were given a warm welcome, and there was some polite conversation. But what broke the ice, was when they were told that we understood their pain, that we were there out of compassion for the confusion and pain they were going through. These guilty sons, had fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, cousins and friends, all of whom were facing a sense of betrayal, loss and confusion. And there was a sense of tremendous shame. It was a community in mourning, and a community feeling embarrassed and confused. A message of hope and Grace and Love made all the difference, and gave them strength to start to open up their mosque to others and to reach out to their surrounding community. Blame would have only made them close up even more.
This week has seen so many statements flying back and forth, Muslim leaders condemning the attacks, and government and faith leaders giving messages of support for the Muslim community, including our own Archbishop Justin Welby from here in Leicester, insisting they not be held accountable for the actions of two misguided young men. And I have been moved by an interview with the director of the Quilliam Foundation bravely admitting that there are a few imams who preach hate, and that the Muslim community must take action to stop them.
All of this is very complex, and only time will tell us more about what drove these two young men to take the actions they did. Nothing will ever excuse or justify what they did. But I also can’t help but wonder at the actions of both government and the media at fomenting heightened emotions. There have been 163 attacks against Muslims since this incident. When a few months ago an elderly grandfather was stabbed to death on the streets of Birmingham as he was walking home from evening prayers, this was not labelled as terrorism. There has even been reluctance to label it as a racist incident. There is little appetite for investigating the motives behind this attack. And yet it is just as shocking, even with lack of film evidence. The killer/s have still not been found.
Our reading from the Gospel of John begins ‘I have many things to say to you but you cannot bear them now.’ In the midst of this awful tragedy, is it possible to pray for the two young men who committed this crime? To pray for their families? To consider what must they be going through at this time? Is it possible to consider that Christ’s outpouring of Love was meant for them as much as for you and me? As much as for their victims?
This is when the command to love neighbour becomes a real test. And yet this is exactly what we are called to. If we cannot love that difficult neighbour then it is as if our love for God has come to naught. And yet even so, even when our love is wanting, and it will always be wanting, God’s Grace comes to rescue us, to count us worthy even when we are not.
Jesus here is saying the Holy Spirit will take what is God’s, declare what is his, and declare it to us – and what is it that Jesus possesses but Love? What is it that transforms the human soul, but Love? It was Love that moved the woman scout leader to approach a man with a knife and a cleaver in his bloody hands, and ask him what he wanted. It was Love that moved a mother and her daughter to shield the body of a young soldier.
It will be Love from the wider community, Love from us in the church who should be leading by example, that will lend courage and confidence to our Muslim neighbours to stand up to the bullies within their midst, bullies who would steal their beloved sons and daughters. It is only by working together as one community that we can stand up to the bullies within our nation, the bullies who would murder a grandfather making his way home from prayers, or a young soldier going out for a break, or those who preach hate rather than the Love and Grace of God.
Early Saturday we were sent a message by the Muslim community here in Oadby:
Oadby & Wigston Muslim Association /Oadby Central Mosque condemn the barbaric and callous murder of the soldier in Woolwich.
Islam does not condone this type of behaviour and it saddens the Muslim community that this act was done in the name of Islam and Muslims.
In Oadby we enjoy a very good multicultural relationship with our fellow religious partners and the way to defeat these extremists is by unity.
Not only has a human being’s life been taken but a husband, loving father, son and brother and our prayers and our thoughts are with the family.
And our own prayers are of course with Drummer Rigby’s family. Let our prayers be also with our Muslim community here in Oadby.