This is a short sermon I preached two days after the attacks in Paris which left over 120 people dead and many more injured. There was a baptism during the service, which is alluded to briefly.
The reading for the day was Hebrews 10:11-14 & 19-25.
“Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise. Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good.”
Love. The writer of Hebrews asks us to show love. It sounds so simple, so pure, so obvious that we sometimes take this for granted; as if it goes without saying because it is the natural thing to be doing. We think love is such a simple thing that we attach the word to so many objects or experiences; I love Christmas, I love my new shoes, I love your hair, I love that video of a cat doing the moonwalk that I saw on Facebook last night.
Love, an action so simple that we say it almost without thinking.
And then something happens. Then we encounter something which shakes us up, something which changes the way we think and feel so dramatically that we find it hard to express ourselves or to process what is happening.
We had that on Friday night as news came through of the awful terrorist attacks in Paris. So many dead, injured or bereaved that I, like millions of others, just sat there, dumbfounded by what all unfolded in front of me.
And you realise that what you are seeing is what happens when there is an absence of love. You are seeing what happens when hate takes over people’s lives and causes them to act in ways that seem inhuman. It makes you feel sick, angry and shocked to your very core at such atrocious acts.
And, suddenly, we find ourselves trying to figure out how to react. Do we, as so many have done over the last couple of days, react against Islam, or against all religion as a source of extreme conflict? Do we look for revenge, for more bloodshed to overcome our righteous anger?
No. There is another way.
Martin Luther King once said,
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Love. We are called to respond and react to this with love.
We are called, in Prisoners’ Week (as it currently is), to respond to those locked up for any and all crimes with love. We are called to respond to those who carry out all illegal acts, no matter how horrendous, with love.
And, yes, we are even called to respond to pure hatred, with pure love. Love for the victims, love for those who are coping with loss, love for our Muslim brothers and sisters who are being blamed, by religious association, for this horror, and love for all of those refugees who are now seen by some as potential terrorists because of the acts of a few. We’re even called to show love for those who plan and carry out these acts, young men and women who found themselves consumed by the darkness of a twisted ideology, making the tragic mistake.
It’s not easy, but we are not called to do the easy thing, we are called to do the right thing. When Jesus offered himself as “one sacrifice for sins, an offering that is effective for ever” it was not easy. Even as he hung on the cross, mocked by the crowds, his clothes divided in front of him by Roman soldiers, he said “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing”. He responded with forgiveness in love as he offered himself as a sacrifice.
And he did it for us all, so that we could all be forgiven for all of our sins. Not some people or some sins, but all people and all sins. We are “washed with clean water” as we have seen so beautifully symbolised in the sacrament of baptism this morning.
And we are to bring the offer of that forgiveness, that cleansing, that ultimate act of love, to all of God’s children.
People can be cruel and filled with hate. The world can be an evil place. But both are also filled with the love and beauty of our creator. Let’s hold on to that.
I just want to end with a prayer I saw yesterday, written by Martin Saunders on the Christianity Today website.
We pray today for the people of Paris, that your presence would be tangible among them, and that your healing power would be at work.
We pray for those who are fighting for life, and for all those who’ve lost someone they love, that you, all-powerful God would even now begin the process of strengthening and restoring them.
We pray for ourselves, that you’d show us how to respond, how to support, how to show kindness and love, and how to continue to hope in the midst of such devastating news.
And most of all Lord, in a world where anger, war and hatred are often so prevalent, we pray that your peace would reign, and that your Kingdom would come. In Jesus’ name,