Can you imagine what it must be like when the place you hold dear – a place of worship – becomes a killing field? It’s hard to get your head around it – imagine it happening here in our church.
It’s happened in other countries. In the country of my birth – in the St James Church massacre in 1993 (25 July) 11 people were killed and 58 wounded. The perpetrators were eventually granted amnesty by the truth and reconciliation commission in 1998. Families of victims and survivors of that shooting have suffered a lot and still do. It makes my recent talk on trauma very relevant.
It’s happened more recently in Christian churches in Egypt and other North African countries. We don’t think too much about them – it seems too far away.
But here? In this country? It would be like something happening on the South Island far from us – and something down the road if we lived in Christchurch. Unlike the earthquake which shook everyone again and again, a shooting down the road would have sounded like fireworks and maybe someone else’s problem.
Except that wounded people were running through the neighborhood. A young man asleep – not unusual of course for young people at lunch times some days – was more than slightly surprised to find a wounded man running through his home. He and his friend helped him and applied pressure on the wound and so forth, as you do when a man with a rifle shot wound walks through your house. He called for an ambulance. None came. So the friends took the man to hospital themselves.
You would have heard the stories as the world has – of a 66-year-old woman driving down the road being shot at and helping one wounded man and watching another die – feeling helpless and yet helping a great deal indeed. Other amazing stories abound.
You will hear the concerns about slow response time – about poor intelligence services, about innocence and complacency. About who should be held responsible for not picking up on extremists who can post things in advance on social media and not be picked up. You probably now know what a GoPro camera is – so that a shooter can broadcast live what he is doing – like a personal dash camera. You will also probably wonder about people who posted and shared video footage on line of old people, women, children, in a place of worship, being wounded and killed. And you may rightfully wonder if the world has finally gone mad and if people are actually totally depraved after all.
This kind of violence is not new, however. New Zealand has simply been spared it at home thus far. Sadly, we will have to rethink our lax attitudes about all kinds of things from now on.
We extend our love and prayers to all who have lost loved ones or have been injured. And we stand in solidarity with all kiwis who reject violence, hatred and prejudice of any form.
A lot of kiwis may well be reflecting on their identity today. Many are certainly standing together with the communities of those two Christchurch mosques in a powerful witness of unity as a people. They may well be thinking more about Muslim citizens of this country and the world. Maybe we all will begin to appreciate more that God loves the whole world.
Let’s hope that people who are often prejudiced toward those who are different will pray for them all, and especially pray that those who have been bereaved in Christchurch may be comforted. I pray that they may be drawn to Isa’s (Jesus’) love at this time.
May the God who is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3) richly bless those who grieve and this nation with his love.
God of compassion Hear the cry of those who mourn; where terror and violence have robbed them of their loved ones and shattered communities in our country; God of compassion, hear our prayer
God of peace hear the cry of those who yearn for peace; in battle zones and broken states, frightened, fearful, anxious; God of peace, hear our prayer
God of love hear the cry of those who yearn for love; fractured families, broken homes neglected, unwanted, alone. God of love, hear our prayer
God of justice hear the cry of those who yearn for justice; persecuted and oppressed, exploited, ill-treated, broken. God of justice, hear our prayer
God of healing hear the cry of those who yearn for healing; physical and spiritual hurting, weakened, depressed; God of healing, hear our prayer
Journey with us, O holy God, as we continue our way to the cross. Sharpen our focus, that our attention may center more on you than ourselves. Lead us through the shadows of darkness and prepare our hearts, that we might be a people of prayer, ready to perceive and respond to your Son and our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Readings: Lamentations 3:19-26; Luke 17: 1-10; 2 Timothy 1:1-14
I read this weekend that I should – well let me read it for you. This pastor wrote: I think the single most important thing a pastor can do is wake up each day and focus his energy on enjoying Jesus and having as much fun as possible. This is the only thing I know of that will protect you from the burnout most pastors experience from the relentless strain of preaching and leading a church. I don’t think there’s much power in preaching grace if you yourself are not revelling in grace. (30 September 2013 by Justin Buzzard)
But I thought today’s reading was about faith – you say.
Actually no. Both really!
All the readings today are also about God’s grace!
From the depressing state of Jeremiah lamenting over a destroyed city of Jerusalem – to the perplexed disciples who are told not to be a stumbling block to other Christians – and to keep forgiving others (together with all the other things Jesus told them to give up or hate as they learn to love him) to the young Timothy who learned like some of us about the love of God from His granny – all the characters, the speakers in these passages and those listening to Jesus’ words or hearing Paul’s letters – none of them – NOT ONE – could save themselves or work up enough faith to qualify for a Nobel Peace prize or the meekest of human trophies.
For Jeremiah – deep in the depths of despair and depression – listen to him again:
Lam 3:19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.
Lam 3:20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
There is a word of Hope:
Lam 3:21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Lam 3:22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
Lam 3:23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
And the key word here? Chesed – meaning mercy or loving kindness. The LORD’s “great love” is the one to look out for in the NIV.
The loving kindness of God is at the heart of it all. Mercy is right there.
With that the endless forgiveness that Jesus talks about in Luke 17:
Luk 17:3 So watch yourselves. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.
Luk 17:4 If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
Of course the Lord’s prayer backs this up. There is only one line in the Lord’s prayer about what we do:
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us!
It’s the heart of it all – it’s built into the loving kindness and mercy of God!
By the way – what do you think of the disciples response to this challenge? It follows hard on the heels of the warning against causing others t sin in verse 1: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come.”
Their response is simple: Luk 17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
He replies: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.
Jesus’ response has been interpreted in a couple of ways:
1. A rebuke – chiding them for not having enough faith. Can you think of other times when he did this?
(In the context of worry) (O Ye of little faith?) Mat_6:30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
(In the context – a storm) Mat_8:26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.
(In the context of Peter walking on the water) Mat_14:31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
(When they were discussing bread) Mat_16:8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread?
(In the context of a demon they could not cast out – although in an extra verse (textural variant) he adds prayer and fasting as a requirement for recalcitrant demons). Mat_17:20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
So he says on this occasion: (In Luke 17:6) “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. This could be a rebuke – if you had just a tiny particle of faith – if you only had that tiny speck of faith like a mustard seed).
2. Humorous – there is an amusing angle – in the piucture of this mulberry tree
Luke 17:6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. There is an amusing angle to this too. The particular mulberry tree was known to have a very complex root system. It was a sycamine tree -a kind of mulberry, with a root system so intricate that it would take six hundred years to untangle it, according to the rabbis. The idea of it being planted in the sea is odd – almost a joke. It would look a bit strange.
3. The main focus is on the faithfulness of God in impossible situations!
In Matthew we read the mountain version of this. Mat_17:20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
Some of our problems are like mountains. We say things are insurmountable. Basically that means impossible. Overwhelming.
Something like the destruction of Jerusalem – the wasted city of Lamentations. Think of any bombed-out city in the world. Everything gone. Think of hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and the mess that you land with.
How do you find hope in that situation?
In your relationship with God, there are some key responses – prayer (pray the Bible) and worship (sing the Bible) especially – both of which build faith!
As an example we used to sing years back: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases – his mercies never come to an end – they are new every morning, new every morning, Great is they faithfulness Oh Lord! Great is Thy faithfulness!”
It is hard to find hope, though – especially in the face of wholesale destruction as Jeremiah had faced with the people of God. Those of you who have seen terribly traumatic things – or even have lost a loved on under less horrible situations – or those who battle with depression – understand how hard it is to find hope.
Consider this picture – a sculpture from 1894 by William Wetmore Story – carved for his wife’s tombstone and ultimately his. It is called the “Angel of Grief”. Have a look:
It’s the angel mourning on the tomb! It’s a picture for many of the darkest day of the year – linked by Christians to Holy Saturday – Easter Saturday – where Jesus himself is remembered as dead.
The gloomy mood of all of Lamentations captures these terrible feelings of loss. And yet there is hope in this passage!
The truth is we often have to grieve first – as did Jeremiah. His poetry is gloomy and sad. That must happen in bereavement and loss of all kinds.
There’s a great moment in the movie “Four weddings and a Funeral” – not at the weddings but at the funeral where the dead man’s friend recites W H Auden’s poem “Funeral Blues”. It will resonate with those of you who are grieving. It certainly does for me. It goes like this:
W. H. Auden (Wystan Hugh 21 February 1907 – 29 September 1973) Funeral Blues
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Brilliant and real. And that kind of grieving is normal and important – as it shows the extent of love and loss in a powerful way.
Depressed people can get stuck in the desperation of hopelessness and persistent loss. People can get a kind of frozen grief. I have encountered that with the losses of immigration – you find it with refugees too.
In that kind of desperation another drum begins to beat out a different song:
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases…”
Or if you like:
“ Great is thy faithfulness oh God my father, there is no shadow of turning with thee….”
Morning by morning new mercies I see!
The morning prayer time seems significant as we tackle the day. Think of the beauty in the KJV of Psalm 5: Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation. Psa 5:2 Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray. Psa 5:3 My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.
It is important to start the day well like that – recognizing his mercies and looking up, because
“All I have needed they hand hath provided!”
The point is – the bottom line is – you can’t work up your faith.
You only need a tiny bit – like the size of a mustard seed – to move that mountain or cast the tree into the sea!
It’s about the greatness and faithfulness of God.
Let’s close by listening to this song – sing along as we declare these truths.
Song: Who alone could save themselves?
Have a listen and as you do ask God to birth new hope in your heart: we all need faith and grace!
Click on the link and listen: