Lord have mercy

On Sunday we looked at Paul preaching in Athens. We noticed that he acknowledged what was good in culture, that is what it was that conformed with scripture. But he also pointed out where it went wrong. Athens was known as a place of learning, and idolatry.  To cover all their bases, to make sure that in the event they were wrong, the had an idol to an unknown God. Paul says, this God who you say is unknown, I’m going to tell you about. This God, doesn’t need idols, nothing we can make is worthy of a God who is the source of creation, the source of all life. You can be as religious as you like, but there is only one God – and in order to be saved we need to repent, to turn from our own self centred lives  fall on our knees and worship him alone.
It sounds easy, but it isn’t. We all have idols – something that fills a space that should be filled only by God. What is it that we look to for meaning, purpose, guidance, security, What do we have that we would hate to lose? Can you think of anything? If so, what does it say about our relationship with God?
We need to be careful that we don’t compromise. And again that is easy to do, because we often don’t see our blind spots. But what are we adding to the teaching of Jesus, or taking away from the teaching of Jesus, to help us to fit in?
We are called to be separate and holy. We are to be passionate, radical followers of Jesus. Why? Because then we show we trust him, then we show others the way to Him.
We talked too about the savage, hateful, evil events of Friday 15 March, and how to respond. I’ve come across an article shared on social media by Brian Harris who used to pastor at Mount Roskill. I’ve set it out below:

Friday March 15, 2019 was indeed, as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described it, “one of New Zealand’s darkest days”, for on that day a gunman, (his name best left unspoken), killed 50 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, and injured many others.

It was an attack that represents so many things… for the families of victims, a long term journey with grief, sadness and probably rage – for many of them it will never ease; for New Zealand, the loss of innocence, for it has now not been spared the violence present in many parts of the world; for the world, a deeply disturbing outpouring of hate, made all the more visible by this being the first terrorist attack designed for social media. Hundreds of thousands of people (many thousands of them children and teenagers) have – courtesy of Facebook and YouTube – seen the events as they played out… many saw the slaughter in real time. The long term impact of this is hard to predict, but it will not be good.

My family and I lived in New Zealand for nine years – nine glorious years when we were based in the Auckland suburb of Mt Roskill, which at the time was apparently the most multi-cultural suburb in the country. It was certainly a wonderful place to live. We are still New Zealand citizens – and hold that citizenship with pride and deep affection. New Zealand is such a generous, large hearted land. The act of hatred enacted on Friday is dramatically at odds with the true nature of its people. We all know that… which is why the world is especially horrified.

Is there anything to take away from this day – other than the deepest sadness and pure disgust? I’m not sure… I think those are appropriate emotions and I would not like to detract from them. But on balance, I think it is right to dig a little deeper. How has it got to this?

Without detracting from the culpability of those directly involved in this attack, I would suggest that we all dig deeply into our own hearts to review our attitude to those we might classify as “other”. Far too often that classification is based on religion, race, nationality, gender or other equally spurious identifiers – as if all holders of these categories can neatly be assumed to be exactly the same. They are not!

When we “other” people (that is, think of them as primarily belonging to a category that we are not part of – for example, refugee, Muslim, gay, black, unemployed, atheist), we empower our attitude towards them to spread. We might excuse ourselves that we would never personally do them harm, but those same attitudes in a less peaceable person can produce a devastating harvest. Put differently, “othering” is always dangerous. Be very cautious when you talk about groups of people… be a dozen times more cautious if you do not personally know or have any friends in that group. A political mantra used to protect minorities is “nothing about us, without us”. While that means different things in different contexts, at the very least it should guard us against pontificating about “others” we have never got to know personally.

We should dig deeply into the biblical truth that all people have been made in the image of God. At the very least, this should alert us to the truth that all people matter, and should be treated with dignity and respect. This should flow into our patterns of speech and behaviour. No it is not being “politically correct” to speak respectfully about others… it is simply being a semi-decent human being. To this you might of course reply, “So I should speak respectfully about the assassin? Surely not?” About his actions and attitudes – of course not. They are truly depraved. About the gunman himself… I guess respect is the wrong word… but do speak of him with sadness, for the tragedy of someone so completely throwing away their humanity is indeed great.

The second thing I would ask us to query is why so many of us find it necessary to embark upon a “who has suffered the most?” game. Of course this is not the first act of senseless violence the world has experienced, and nor will it be the last. Yes, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, social activists and a multitude of others have suffered and continue to suffer unjustly. Yes, in the same week as this atrocity happened, there were many others as well. Sadly, there is too much injustice in the world for every violation to be highlighted, and much has to be left in the hands of God. But please don’t start to question how worthy the victims were. This was in our backyard… and via social media, this was broadcast to the world. Let’s face the full horror of it, lest we fail to heed the underlying call from this attack.

Is there an underlying call? Yes. It is for people everywhere to love a little more large heartedly, to spot neighbours when others would prefer us to remain strangers, and to be genuinely curious about, open to, and engaged with those who are currently “other” to us.

This Sunday I preached at three services. At each of them the congregation was led in a time of reflection and prayer for those killed in the Christchurch massacre. I know that there are those who would have us believe that Christians and Muslims hate each other and couldn’t possibly get on. Yesterday I saw that this is profoundly untrue. In the face of such deep sadness, love triumphs over evil, love triumphs over fear.

At one of the services, the congregation participated in this liturgical lament, which I reproduce with the permission of its author, Ellis Taylor. He is happy for you to use it more widely, should you so wish…

A Christchurch liturgy:

For a city in mourning, now under the world’s spotlight, feeling uncertain and afraid

Lord have mercy

For a nation reeling at a callous, despicable act

Lord have mercy

For those killed through no fault of their own

Lord have mercy

For those whose families and futures have been ripped apart by blood

Lord have mercy

For those who are in the care of hospitals, having their wounds bound

Lord have mercy

For those who are now deeply traumatised

Lord have mercy

For those who are scared because yet another violent act has been carried out on people of faith

Lord have mercy

For those who would preach revenge, the need for brigades and who would seek to repay what has been done

Lord have mercy

For politicians who would use your word to blame victims and pander to extremist views

Lord have mercy

For those children watching on, and who see this as an attack against their religion

Lord have mercy

For those who would use this act to sound the alarm, a call to arms in the name of protecting their faith

Lord have mercy

For those innocents now more likely to be led astray by false teaching

Lord have mercy

For us, when we have failed to follow your command to love our neighbour

Lord have mercy

Amen