Sermon on Sunday 15th October by Rev Chris Davey
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
It has been a difficult week to write a sermon with the escalating violence in the Holy Landand the images of immense suffering, hostage taking, forced mass migration and the growing death toll reported across the media. The enormity of the unfolding tragedy raises deep questions of faith for many, myself included, as we struggle to avoid cliched or simplistic answers about how to speak of a God of love in a world of violence.
Yet for Faith to mean anything, to have any value in the world, we have to try and grapple with such deep questions and seek to say something or God remains silent, and faith becomes a seasonal option reserved only for the good times in life. So however challenging it may seem we must speak of God in the darkness or we so easily forget that there is any light.
There is violence in our Gospel reading today as Jesus uses a parable to remind the people of Israel of their history and the shadow of theirsin. Jesus alludes to the martyrdom of the prophets who refused to be silenced though the truth they proclaimed was inconvenient and uncomfortable to the rich and powerful of their day. The prophets' words spoke into theirown time the truths of eternity and in seeking to be the conscience of a distracted and self serving people they paid the ultimate price as the world sought to silence their message before it could gain enough traction to raise the song of religious renewal.
You don’t have dip far into the reading of the Old Testament before violence raises it head, the murder of a jealous brother, the destruction of the flood and that’s before we even leave the first few chapters of the first book of the Bible (it gets much worse as you read on!). Violence is a very real part of our history. It has been estimated that in the whole of recoded human history there is only 8% of that time when there has been no war. That is disturbing and although we may not like it, want to acknowledge it or perhaps even think about it we cannot sanitise it from our history or indeed from our scripture, even though to do so might make us more comfortable. Our God is the God of all history, he doesn’t suddenly become absent in the midst of conflict or only wake up when the peace treaty is finally signed. God is not a fair weather deity, the God of love is also the Lord of time.
So to say nothing in dark times is a dereliction of duty and lazy and incomplete theology. Times of Such challenge are in fact the exact times we need to be able to speak about God if our faith is to be authentic and relevant. But where on earth do we start?
Firstly, we have to take a step back from the present conflict to look at scripture for the model of society that God in creation brings into being. Such a vision is deeply rooted in scripture from garden of Eden, through the ten commandments, in Exodus and Leviticus. People so often look at the Old Testament with such negativity but within its pages is the blueprint for a world in which God’s abundance is to be distributed fairly and regulations given to prevent the accumulation of extreme wealth through the burdens we impose on the poor. But the human heart,through fear of scarcity and human greed, is so often subverted into a world of have’s and have nots. From such conditions tensions can build and human conflicts explode.
Secondly, we have to remember that our God is a God of invitation not compulsion. He invites us to join in the creation of a promised land, a different type of kingdom on earth. God rarely, if ever removes choice, he speaks truth and in freedom the human heart must decide whether or not to embrace such truth and build it in our lives, institutions, religions, our laws and nations. It is in such work that we find favour in God’s eyes. God is not a God that takes sides for nationalistic fervour but a God who takes the side of humanity in creating a world which is fair and free for all, as long as we understand what fair and free really mean rather than seeking to adopt such terms to serve our own needs or agenda.
Thirdly, our God is not impotent in situations of conflict but God does not will war, war is a ungodly construct. When the book of revelation reveals that war broke out in heaven we are told it was because of rebellion against God. War is a sign of rebellion against the God of love even though at times it has been the only way we seem to have found to counter terrible evil in the world. Does that then mean that God is silent in the face of violence and warfare? Is God but a disinterested bystander in the atrocities of war? No of course not! Who would want to worship such a God, how could “love” be the attribute we assign to such a God?
In his book Night, Ellie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor writes about the horrors of Auschwitz. He records a day where all the prisoners were called together and compelled to watch the execution of four Jews, three men and one young boy on a crudely constructed gallows. The three men died fairly quickly but the boy took a long time to die. I can’t even begin to imagine being forced to witness such horror. Wiesel writes that as they watched the boy struggle from life to death,
‘Behind me, I heard the same man asking: "Where is God now?" And I heard a voice within me answer him: "Where is He? Here He is. He is hanging here on this gallows"
Whenever I have read those words I cannot help but imagine Jesus on the cross and remember how difficult so many found it to reconcile in such a death the possibility of God. Jesus, God on earth, does not raise an army of zealots to fight the mighty Roman Empire though their reign was violent and cruel. Jesus comes and walks among the poor and outcast, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, speaking the truth of a different way, he doesn’t denounce the Romans he ignites an ancient and eternal vision of a new world and invites his followers to grasp the vision and build it amidst the horrors of occupation. That remains God’s call today, his call to us.
Does that mean God is inactive, no it absolutely doesn’t, but it means we have to look for God differently. Those who looked to God to strike the Romans would have beenunimpressed with a carpenter from Nazareth, but there God was. So in the horrors of events unfolding in the Holy Land today, just like Ellie Wiesel at the execution in Auschwitz, we must seek to find God as God has revealed himself to us in Jesus. We have to have different eyes and a wider perspective. Many voices in our world, maybe in our faith, maybe in this very church are echoing the angry question of the man in Auschwitz, Where is God now?!
There are no easy or immediate answers to such profound questions but that does notsuggest that we can’t say anything!
I believe we discern the presence of God in those who will risk their reputation to seek to broker peace in the midst of the anger of war, I believe we discern the presence of God in the politicians and diplomats who are seeking to secure the release of the hostages, I believe we discern the presence of God in journalists risking their lives to report the facts, I believe we discern the presence of God in those seeking to secure safe corridors for humanitarian aid, I believe we discern the presence of God in those world leaders seeking to bridge an unbridgeable divide so that the whispers of peace can begin, I believe we discern the presence of God in those NGO’s, like Christian Aid, already preparing to distribute food, shelter and medicine, I believe we discern the presence of God in the doctors and nurses seeking to mend the broken without electricity, medicine or supplies, I believe we discern God’s presence in those on all sides who stand weeping at the grave of parents, siblings and children in the rubble of devastated cities.
War is a human disease but I think the only way to peace is to be prepared to open our eyes to the unpalatable reality of war, to look not for a vision of a God ready to point fingersand take sides, but to allow our eyes to search amongst the rubble and see amidst the horrorsand devastation the vision of our God who, in Jesus is walking even now in their midst. Amen.