I am writing this sermon whist not knowing, whether my dear friend Terry, who has been my and Nigel’s friend for the last 30 years, will still be alive on Sunday.
Terry was admitted to the Royal Sussex County Hospital last week, and we were told yesterday, that he would not survive the day. I therefore dedicate this sermon to him and to all who are gravely ill and near death, and preparing for eternity.
Yet another terrible act of hate last week, has left us all troubled and disturbed. As a priest I can identify with Father Jacques RIP, and I am left shuddering, that this murder happened during the Eucharist, this supposed liturgical act of liberation, joy, thanksgiving, and equality, which has been desecrated in this way.
France with Germany and Syria and elsewhere, has certainly suffered in recent months. Severe rampages with knives, mass shootings, bombings chemical weapons deliberately attacking innocent people and using a lorry for mass carnage of men, women and children.
Of course we show our solidarity with all those living in fear, having experienced these terrible atrocities in their respective countries, but we cannot stop ourselves wondering where next and whether it will be our turn soon in our town or city.
I have come to realise and recognise that events like this leave me with three distinct feelings.
First I experience fear. At some deep level, I find myself identifying with those who have been attacked, and wonder how I would feel if someone close to me was murdered either a child or adult.
Fear is corrosive, it reduces our capacity to think and reason, and shifts our responses from our head to our guts.
Second there is a nagging despair inside me, and a general sense of upset. I ask, how can it have come to this, how have things gone so wrong in our world, that this sort of extreme behaviour has now become a regular occurrence. It seems that this spiral of violence is out of control. I ask again, why do we live in a world like this, and when is it going to stop?
Finally in me I sense that I have a barely controlled sense of rage, which leaves me frightened and trembling. How can we let this go on and what should my / our responses be. As a priest of 38 years, I have learnt that when I have extreme and strong feelings like this, I need to pray and reflect before I act. Acting hastily may simply make matters worse, and add to the spiral of hate and violence which seems out of control.
Of course and rightly, we ask ourselves questions about why this is happening? This is a very difficult question, and there are multiple answers. On one level it is about personal identity, and the damage that can be down to that human personality by manipulation of others, so that sort of behaviour becomes permisable and ‘normal’ for the perpetrator of the specific acts of violence. It is tied up with questions about politics, political history, and the complex relationships between nations, which have become distorted in their thinking. It is also a religious question about the possible loss of meaning and alienation of individuals, and how a faith can be misused and misappropriated to acts of ‘legitimised’ violence.
A Muslim speaker at our Multifaith service at All Saints Church recently said” This is not the way of Islam and the Koran to murder the innocent men , women and children and I condemn it”. I agree with him. What is becoming clear is that these actions inspired / or used as excuse by ISIS, are deliberately intended to stir up hate and mistrust both in the towns and cities of our world. To raise up levels of anxiety, fear and suspicion amongst us. To set ourselves up against our Muslim neighbours is wrong.
We need to get better at challenging the evilness of ISIS on the internet, where our young people have been ‘manipulated’, especially where they have no work, dropped out of education, and have been forgotten about and over looked in our deprived inner city areas, and we need to find creative ways of supporting and encouraging them to a more productive and hopeful future.
But you know what I am not going to be doing is to be sucked into this spiral of hate. I stand in solidarity with Fr Jacques . We will begin by talking to each other: Muslim / Jew / Christian / Hindu / and others of the great world religions, and ask collectively, how we can build a better world both locally and globally. The antidote to violent acts is to build and nurture mutual relationships of self understanding, trust, respect and acceptance of the other’s way of life.
Christianity leads us towards freedom and equality like the Eucharist Fr Jacques was celebrating, when he was murdered, but that was not the intention of his assassins who wanted that fundamental truth to be distorted, but their message has already failed. The Eucharist is also a celebration of everyone’s equal worth, all are welcome no matter who they are.
Fr Jacques gave 60 years of his life and service of offering himself to God and his neighbour, and that life must not ever have been in vain.His life and death only derives meaning if we look at our crucified lord, and with him we are liberated to experience freedom from fear and hate for each one of us. It is a sacrifice for us all to take seriously, and our fears, distress and anger, need to be shaped instead into a positive response which rejects the spiral of violence and embraces instead mutual respect and acceptance of all.
This in the end will make the change and bring about what we want to see, we might call it the love and acceptance of our neighbour and ourselves.
All Saints Church, Hove