Sermon Archives

Sunday, November 15, 2015
The 25th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28, Year B)
The Reverend Areeta Bridgemohan, Curate
Paris and God

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. 

Amen.

Today marks the beginning of the third week that Vicki and I have been here at Christ Church. I would like to thank you for being so welcoming and kind. I look forward to being a part of this active and vibrant community and I am eager for the deepening of our relationship over the next few years.

It is hard to hear our Gospel passage today without also hearing the tragic events of the last few days.
On Thursday, there were two attacks carried out in Beirut, Lebanon where 41 people were killed. The same day, 147 students were killed in an assault by al-Shabab militants on a university campus in north-eastern Kenya. On Friday, 26 people were killed in two separate attacks targeting Shias in Baghdad, Iraq. That evening, 129 people were killed in Paris in a series of attacks.

These horrific events, with the backdrop of the ongoing civil war in Syria and the outpouring of refugees, resonate with what Jesus describes as the beginning of the birthpangs – nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom. As I have been watching the various commentaries and opinions in response to these attacks, especially the attacks in Paris, one thread asked the question – why is it that the international response to the attacks in Paris has been so different compared to the response to the attacks in Beirut or Kenya or Iraq. There are a number of reasons for this I’m sure, but I wonder if part of it might be that the attacks in Paris feel closer to home. They might feel closer to home because France is part of what is known as the developed world, part of the world that we’re used to thinking of as safe – and these attacks jar our sense of safety. They shake our sense of protection from conflict.

Unfortunately, Jesus’ predictions about the destruction of the temple and his prophetic descriptions about the end of the world are not particularly comforting. The Gospel passage begins with Jesus’ prediction that the Temple would be destroyed. The Temple was central to Israel’s religious life, because the Temple was considered to be God’s dwelling place in the midst of God’s people. This structure was key to the identity of Israel as the chosen people of God. The building that Jesus and his disciples were contemplating as they sat on the Mount of Olives was known as the Second Temple. The First Temple was destroyed in 587 B.C.E when Babylon invaded Israel. Not only was the temple destroyed, but there were a series of deportations of people from the kingdom of Judah to Babylon (which is the context for the Book of Daniel). The destruction of that temple and the exile that ensued caused a major crisis of faith in Judaism.

The people asked: if God no longer had a house in Israel, where was God?

This crisis mirrors the upheaval that the disciples felt at Jesus’ death. His death also raised big questions, like: was Jesus the Son of God after all? Why did God let this happen? 

The answer to these questions are revealed to us at Easter. Jesus’ resurrection and ascension show us that death is not the final word. That even after the pain and loss of death – there is new life. Our faith reminds us that God is moving over the dark waters of endings always creating the possibility of a beginning.

In reaction to the attacks in Paris, there has been an overwhelming desire to donate blood. People are lining up around the block, waiting for hours, to donate blood at hospitals all over the city. Apparently after September 11, 2001, there was a similar reaction in this country. There is something in us that drives us to support those who are injured, because we share in their pain. The donation of blood shows our solidarity in the most intimate of ways. It counters bloodshed with life-giving blood donated out of generosity and love.

The Dean of the American Cathedral in Paris wrote a letter yesterday thanking everyone for their prayers and support. The prayers and support reminded the Parisian cathedral community that they are inextricably connected with us in the Body of Christ. Dean Laird requested prayers for the victims, for those who are helping and for all those whose anger, fear and hatred lead them to commit such acts. She also asked that those of us here in the U.S. give serious thought to next steps. There is great fear that these attacks will fuel more anti-Muslim sentiment. The possibility that one of the attackers was posing as a Syrian refugee may fuel a backlash against refugees, refugees who are fleeing that very same violence that Paris experienced over the past few days.

Here is what Dean Laird writes in her letter: “Our prayers must lead us to action. Here in France I suspect there will be very, very strong anti-Muslim sentiment, and one thing we must do is stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters, and foster conversation and understanding. I think we also need to work harder to care for the flood of refugees fleeing terror in their own countries – work for immediate care and for political solutions. You will need to find your own mission in the U.S., but I know that it must involve continued dedication and commitment to making justice and making peace, and being a light in the darkness.”

Amidst the debris of these tragic events, who is God calling us to be?

In our reading from Mark, Jesus offers his disciples some suggestions for such times as these. He tells them to be aware. The disciples are to be alert and listen with discerning hearts. For us, this may mean refraining from knee-jerk reactions or jumping to conclusions about the attackers and their motivations. He also tells them not to be alarmed. In other words, not to be afraid. This is a common refrain in the Bible – God is constantly telling us not to be afraid but to trust that God is with us. I think God frequently reminds us of this because sometimes it is hard to remember in the din of the brokenness of the world.

But we can also be reminders to each other that God is with us – because we are on this journey together. In the kindness and compassion that we show one another, we remind each other that God who is the source of all good things is among us, working within, around and through us.

Later on in Jesus’ conversation with the disciples, that is not included in our passage today, Jesus tells his friends to continue to proclaim the Gospel. We are called to continue to love our neighbour and to love God with all of who we are.

I would like to share a poem with you that I saw being posted on Facebook in conversations about the recent events. It was written by Warsan Shire, a young Kenyan-born British-Somali female poet.

“Later that night
I held an atlas in my lap
Ran my fingers across the whole world
And whispered
Where does it hurt?
It answered
Everywhere…
Everywhere…
Everywhere…”

May God inspire in our hearts the knowledge that darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. That hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Amen.