Clergy Letter

Sermon for Sunday 28th May: First Sunday after Ascension Day: In Response to the Manchester Terrorist Attack: John 17:1-11

May I speak in the name of the Living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

            Where there is love, there is God also, is the title of a short story by Leo Tolstoy and comes from the Latin Ubi Caritas, a hymn used on Maundy Thursday in the Catholic Church. It's meaning is self-explanatory and was evidenced by the police, who gave themselves for others in Manchester earlier this week after the explosion in the Manchester arena, the paramedics on the scene, the taxi drivers who took children to safety, the people who selflessly shielded the children there, the homeless man who tended a little girl whose legs were torn off, those brave hearts who comforted the dying... where there is love there is God also.

            No-one can prevent evil happening because it does... we are systemically weak because our way, our British way, is to embrace freedom; liberty is to walk the streets without ID's, to expect police response to be unarmed, to be in crowds without fear, all because we choose to live this way without violence and this is our weakness. Yet out of this weakness, is our strength. It's a quote from Paul's letter to the Hebrews and in this context, our strength is freedom, and what upholds freedom is the law, society's ethics, the morality of a nation made up of a diversity of race, creed and sexual persuasion, that is fundamentally unified in its condemnation against terrorism.

            In today's gospel reading John 17:1-11, Jesus prayed for the protection of his disciples against the backdrop of his prophesy in the previous chapter that they would be scattered, 'each one to his home' when he was arrested. They did. They scattered…  Just like the children scattered, as soon as they heard the 'boom' of the explosion. Jesus predicted in John 11, that the dispersed children of God would gather into one.... after the explosion in the foyer of the Manchester Arena for these children were shepherded into one by folk who happened to be there, and who responded without any thought for their own safety. Where there is love, there is God also.

            That the victims were in the main, children, early in their loveliness…  somehow this makes it even more evil an act of terrorism, if that is possible. Innocents slaughtered not by some Roman edict or by a medieval tyrant, but now in the 21st century... Jesus said in Luke's gospel; 'Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'

            And for their families? What words are there to comfort their grief? In John's gospel 14:1 Jesus said 'Do not let your hearts be troubled.' He knew what claws at the heartstrings of humankind most... the deep sense of loss that the death of a loved one provokes. Their bodies may be broken by explosives but not their souls. Just as God lived in them, so they now live with him in eternal life... where there is love, there is God also.

            At the last supper, the King of Love spoke about the importance of unity and that is what the world witnessed on Tuesday, a city unified by love, against the cruelty of evil. I quote from John's gospel chapter three, 'For all who do evil hate the light, and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed, but those who do what is true, come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.' Terrorism works in the dark, in radicalized ideology, and in the name of Islam... but they are not a part of the true faith of Islam, they are a part of a tiny number of Islamists who have become radicalized and pathological, so that the slaughter of children is a necessary means to their own end, not Islam's. Jesus said in Matthew's gospel at his arrest, 'Put your sword back into its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.' There is no better example of this than the fate of the suicide bomber.

            Terrorists use texts from the Quran, chosen by them as edicts that underpin their radicalization, just as the Dutch Reform Church used Old Testament texts to defend apartheid. Scriptures down the ages have been misused, twisted and misinterpreted to defend acts of evil, saying God was on their side.  Bob Dylan's response to this in his 60's protest song 'with god on our side' was: so now I am leaving I'm weary as hell. The confusion I'm feelin' ain't no tongue to tell. The words fill my head and fall on the floor, that if god’s on our side, he'd stop the next war.

            John Lennon once said that there's a bit of Jesus and a bit of Hitler in each of us. In all our internal dialogues there is a tug of war, but very few of us consider premeditated mass killing, not all by ourselves. Premeditated mass killing is a product of collaborative propaganda;  Boko Haram and the abduction of 200 Christian girls in Nigeria, the slaughter of 1 million Tutsis in Rwanda by the Hutu majority in 3 months in 1994, the slaughter of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany... all happened as a result of collaborative propaganda. History is supposed to teach us to learn from the lessons of the past. But....History does not define us ...if history defined us, the blood of 6 million Jews would be on the hands of every German on this planet. The blood of the victims of terrorism on behalf of the so-called state of Isis, is not on the hands of the Muslim community of this country.

            And so what is the answer to terrorism? We have to face collective evil with collective good. United. Dare to talk about loving one another as Jesus taught us. Dare to stand up against evil by declaring your faith. Dare to be a Christian because where there is love, there is God also.

            This is the moment for Christians to unify for God's sake... let us be a part of that movement and show the world that we shall overcome....we shall overcome some day, oh deep in my heart, I do believe we shall overcome some you remember that Pete Seeger's song? The next verse starts We shall walk hand in hand and the next we shall live in peace but then the next which is the Mancunian anthem in response to that terrorist attack on Monday is 'we are not afraid'....lets end my sermon singing it together...we are not afraid, we are not afraid we are not afraid today.. oh, deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome some day.....  let’s show the love… for where there is love, there is God also.


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