I don’t usually do this, I think it is better for sermons to be heard and to that end this, and indeed other sermons, are available over on the Church website. Not to mention I usually don’t write my sermons out in full so I wouldn’t be able to do it. However, it was suggested I might post this on my blog for people to read, so here is what I said this morning in relation to what happened in Paris on Friday.
Last week as we gathered in this place, after standing with the local community round the war memorial, we sang these words.
‘God give us peace and, more than this, show us the path where justice is;
and let us never be remiss working for peace that lasts.’
There are times in life that we just don’t know what to do, what to say, how to help.
In recent months that feeling has been a frequent visitor for many.
The raising of Baga in Nigeria and with it the death of thousands – an attack on a Jewish deli in Paris – a Palestinian woman lying in a pool of blood as an Israeli soldier stands over her – 20 murdered at the National Bardo Museum in Tunis – 4,000 lives ended with an earthquake in Nepal – a Syrian boy on a Turkish beach – 38 people shot down on a Tunisian beach – ancient monuments torn down – a sea of humanity moving from one continent to another – a warehouse in China exploding and killing over 100 – a human stampede that snatch life in holy place. Plane crashes, mudslides, fires. Earthquakes, war, be-headings. Pain, suffering, grief.
As if there had not already been too many funerals before lives had been lived, on Friday evening Paris once more witnessed sights its streets and people had thought they would never see again.
Yesterday social media was full of tributes, declarations of solidarity, prayers and scepticism, scepticism about those prayers. Sometimes all we can do is pray, yet sometimes those prayers can see futile. Horrendous things still happen, the innocent die, the world looks on as if it is looking at a repeat of something that in the past not yet more sorrow.
Of course you will have heard about what happened in Paris but what about the following which also happened on Friday. 19 were killed at a funeral in Baghdad, Islamist militants beheaded a Tunisian teenager, Burundi has requested United Nations to send peacekeepers quickly to help deal with rising violence. A bomb exploded during midday prayers at a mosque frequented by Houthi in Yemen killing dozens, Turkish security forces killed 11 Kurdish militants.
It is no wonder people ask what use is prayer, no wonder those without faith look at these atrocities done in the name of God and want nothing to do with religion.
How do we find the path where justice is that we sung of last week, how do we work for peace that lasts when in just one day over 200 people died violently in the name of someone’s religion.
As the Christian year nears its conclusion, with Advent Sunday only a fortnight away, our readings remind us that the world in which we live is not the Kingdom of God, but one which is still striving for it. Yes there are times when we will glimpse its glory even during events like those on Friday. The man who seeing someone lying bleeding in a Paris street helped them into a taxi, whose driver not thinking of the mess in his taxi or any other danger which might be about drove her to the hospital.
Daniel tells us there will be times of anguish, we are to expect them.
Jesus warns us about wars and the rumour of wars. He warns us not to be led astray, he warns us nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.
And then adds: but this is but the beginning of the birthpangs.
Did you hear that? Jesus said it was but the beginning.
We long for peace, we pray for peace, but we are not promised a peaceful world in this life.
We are promised the deep peace of Christ which passes all understanding, a peace which can sustain us even when peace seems far away.
So how can we achieve what we sang last week, God’s peace?
We can pray, not just pay lip service to prayer, but truly pray.
For if we cease to pray, if we leave it to others pray, we are failing Jesus,
For it is God not we ourselves who have the power to change us and the world.
If we think prayer makes no difference, if we do other things rather than praying, if we gasp in horror but do nothing more than mumble ‘Dear God’ or the like, then evil has won.
Prayer not for prayers sake, but the prayers of faith and trust.
Praying that God will bring about Christ’s reign of peace, starting with us.
Around the church this morning are 200 flickering candles during this service one by one their flames will flutter and die.
Life is precious, peace is precious, both are out of our control, but they are not out of God’s.
Those lives which ended at the hand of others on Friday are still in God’s care.
Politicians, Prime Ministers and Presidents can not bring about peace.
Yes they can instigate policies that can promote peace, but they have no control over the people who acted around the world on Friday.
Bombs or bullets can’t bring peace either, regardless whether they belong to terrorists, mercenaries or official armed forces.
Peace, true peace, peace that will last and bring security for everyone, can only come through God.
That peace which passes all understanding can bring peace even during the horrors that continue to inflict the world, and it is only with Christ’s peace that we can continue to search for justice and not cry out for retribution.
For retribution is an anathema to peace.
What can we do, we can pray, we can pray for peace and begin those prayers by praying that we ourselves will be people of peace, living, speaking and acting only in the peace of God.
So let us pray not just for others but also for ourselves:
God give us peace and, more than this, show us the path where justice is; and let us never be remiss working for peace that lasts. Amen.