The text of the sermon preached at Saint Faith's on Sunday, July 10th, 2005, in the wake of the terrorist bomb atrocities in London on July 7th.
There are times when I find reading the bible very difficult. Often the stories in it seem so far removed from my own experience. So much of the darkness, the struggle, the bloody battles of the Old Testament for example. It often feels like it speaks of a much more primitive time.
But not today.
Because in a few terrible minutes around 9 o’clock on Thursday morning Britain was plunged - for real - into the sort of violent apocalypse of which the bible so often speaks.
Unspeakable horror. Savage, calculated violence. People killed, maimed, and bereaved.
The Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sachs, summed it up most aptly: ‘These terrible events have brought home to us the full evil that terror represents. It is not the weapon of the weak against the strong but the rage of the angry against the defenceless and innocent.’
How do we respond? What does our Christian faith ask of us in an hour like this.
St Paul in the passage from chapter 8 of the Letter to the Romans this morning talks of the whole creation groaning in labour, struggling in its slavery to decadence. He speaks to our situation. We know what that feels like. These last few days we have known very closely something of the dark side of the human story - the terrible propensity in human hearts for cruelty and destruction. Never that far from the hearts of every one of us.
The way out of this situation, out of this bondage as Paul calls it, is when we are able to cry out to God: Abba. Literally Daddy, Father. This is the heart of Christian faith. A relationship with a God who is most like a parent, and you and me children. And it is in this loving relationship alone which can be saved from evil.
But the most important part of that insight is that God is not my Father, or your Father, but that God is our Father. If God is really God, God can never be seen as Father of just one part of the family of humankind but the father of all. So our God is the Father of all those who were killed and maimed and bereaved on Thursday morning in London. But he is also Father of those who carefully built and planted the lethal bombs in the heart of our capital which wreaked such horror. That makes them our brothers or sisters. What a burden! What a family!
This is where faith gets difficult. And it gets even harder.
Elsewhere in the New Testament we hear those terrifyingly challenging words of Jesus – love your enemies! Love your enemies? After the events of Thursday morning that’s hard stuff. Just how do we love those who have behaved so obscenely? And what does that mean?
Well, it doesn’t mean that we have to like them. It doesn’t mean that we stop being angry at what they’ve done or lose our sense of outrage at this evil that has been perpetrated. It doesn’t mean that we don’t do all that is humanly possible to hunt them down and bring them to justice.
But it does mean that – somehow – we have to try to continue to see them as human beings when the easiest thing to do is to demonise them. The easiest thing is to write them off. Put them in a box marked ‘terrorist’. But that would make us like them.
The gospel story of the sower going out to sow from Matthew this morning talked about the soil in which souls are grown. What soil were these bombers nurtured in? And what was it that enabled them to grow up into people who could do such unspeakable things to people they did not know and had never met? Because as well as the unbearable tragedy of those who have been killed and those who have been robbed of their loved ones, there is also a terrible tragedy in the fact that these people could move so far from any sort of fellow feeling towards others that they could do such terrible things.
Was it a cruel upbringing? Was it the pernicious, dehumanising effects of poverty? Was it coming under the spell of charismatic fanatic leaders? Was it the effect of religion when it gets twisted and perverted? These are not excuses for bleeding-heart liberals; they are part of asking the question Why?
Only such a response will stop us from reacting out of blind hatred and perpetuating the cycle of violence. Already some people in the UK have been targeting mosques and abusing Moslems in a knee-jerk reaction to what has happened. The Muslim Council of Britain had received 30,000 abusive and threatening emails by yesterday morning. That must not be our response, nor that of our government.
Jesus said: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you!
To pray for those who have dealt us such violence and distress as children of the same heavenly parent? That will be hard prayer. But it must be done. And in the end it is prayer which provides the only way in which we can possibly begin to come to terms with what has happened this last week.
At the end of chapter 8 of the letter to the Romans Paul poses a question: who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
And his answer: No, in all these things we are more than conquerors – for I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Only the prayer of faith in the ultimate power of goodness and love can allow us to live openly and freely in the face of evil.
Fr Mark Waters
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