Saturday 14 November 2015

After Paris? - Sermon for Sunday 15th November 2015

Sermon for Sunday 15th November 2015 - After Paris?

' When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. ' - Mark 13, 7-8
          It would be very easy to take today's Gospel reading which is known as the Little Apocalypse and apply it to the horrible and tragic events of Friday night in Paris
I have already heard it said in some circles that this event and others like it are signs of the end times. Some others say the passage refers infact to the now historic destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and others that it refers to Jesus 2nd Coming in glory but at the end of the day we don't know and to indulge in such speculation unduly is a distraction from the very real and pressing responsibilities we have as Christians in the wake of  such senseless and brutal events.
For almost 2000 years scholars and people of faith have debated this passage and frequently predicted its immanent fulfilment but we are still here! So what is our response to the massacre on the streets of Paris? And respond we must because even if as the passage suggests there is a certain inevitability in war and violence we are not mere spectators but followers of a God who has acted and continues to act in human history and very often that action is exercised through us, his people, the Body of Christ. We have work to do!
          Let me backtrack a little - I had another sermon in mind for today (the World Day of remembrance for Road traffic victims) and it was precipitated by the chaos of last Wednesday morning when Dublin was paralysed by a traffic jam on the M50 which was caused by the collision of a car and 2 trucks.  At the centre of this disruption was a woman badly injured in the crash and who has subsequently tragically died.
          But like many my first reaction was not to dwell on the plight of this woman but rather to feel frustration and anxiety about how this incident was going to effect my plans for the day. I got caught up in the gridlock as I brought our son Aaron to his college in Maynooth and found myself getting unduly stressed about being late back to Celbridge to celebrate the midweek Holy Communion. I was late but the sky didn't fall in and nobody minded. During the service it struck me how wrapped up I was in my own needs and agendas and that the really important thing at the centre of this was the life of fellow human being then hanging in the balance and so when we came to the intercessions I added a prayer for her and I hope regained a sense of perspective.  As any driver will I am sure agree it really is a case of 'it could just as easily have been me' when we consider all the 'near misses' we have on the roads in a lifetime of driving. It has certainly reinforced my belief in Angels (especially of the Guardian variety).
          But back to the traffic and that morning when things did not go according to plan. It strikes me that it as good an illustration as any of the interconnected and interdependent nature of all our lives. It only took an accident involving only three commuters among tens of thousands to bring our city to a standstill! Strangely enough this shared experience of inconvenience on Wednesday morning actually brought us all closer together in a world where there is so much choice in terms of networks and relationships that we can very easily live lives that rarely intersect with those around us. It was what is sometimes called a 'watercooler moment'... something that everyone talks about - even to total strangers!
As Christians though we do believe in the centrality of relationship in our lives and one of our foundational metaphors is the Church as the Body of Christ, emphasising that same mutuality and interdependence where each member needs the other to function properly and that if one member is hurt then we all feel the pain. Life should therefore be one long 'watercooler moment'.
          But increasingly that does not reflect how we behave as Church! When the behaviour of another brother or sister in Christ disrupts our lives and our agendas our first instinct is to cut ourselves off from them without even asking the question whether they too are hurting and if they are outside the Church it is even worse! We are so wrapped up in our own rightness and righteousness that we automatically assume that we are better off without those with whom we disagree, no matter what their situation. 
This mirrors the way we relate to each other in wider society. In a world dominated by social media we are increasingly inclined to build relationships only with those who are of a like mind and often at the expense of meaningful engagement with those around us, especially if they don't agree with us. It seems that it is a basic human instinct to narrow the circle of those who we are prepared to relate to and by implication those who matter to us, all at the expense of our common humanity.
          Like the events of last Wednesday morning the horror of Friday night created another of those 'watercooler moments' - it is the only thing we are talking about and yet again in a cruel irony it is a sad and in this case horrific event that unites us as human beings.  We are all horrified by the slaughter of ordinary citizens out on a Friday night enjoying themselves until their lives were ended in such a callous and random fashion! And it is right that we should be horrified but let us pause for a moment and ask this question: Are we equally horrified by what happened in the 'Paris of the East', Beirut on Thursday night when 50 people were killed in an ISIS suicide bombing? Are we even aware of it? I hold my hands up and say 'NO!' - For whatever reason it doesn't have the same impact! Why is that? Well like most of you I suspect I have been to Paris, I learnt French at school - I even have a cousin living very close to the events of Friday night and I am a European. But is that really an excuse? At the end of the day all those who died were human beings created in the image and likeness of God and all their deaths were blasphemy.
          We have a huge responsibility as people of religious faith to ensure that we are not unwittingly contributing to the alienation and marginalisation of those who are driven to such appalling acts of violence. There are many people today who are blaming religion for what happened on Friday night and there is a very real danger that we will prove them right if we allow ourselves to be sucked into a them and us mentality. This is not a religious war between Christians and Muslims or Muslims and Jews but rather a distortion of religion which suggests that for any religious identity to thrive it must destroy all alternatives. Most of those who died in Beirut were Muslims and indeed some of those who died in Paris were Muslim.
This is not the age of the Crusades with the Christian armies marching against Islam and if we buy into that narrative we will only be perpetuating the culture of death and mutual destruction. In a nuclear age this is something we need to consider very carefully - we are living in very dangerous times and the Christian Church worldwide can be an agent for peace or catastrophic conflict!
          But it is not easy - Violence comes naturally to us - I was delighted at the news that the British Islamic terrorist Jihadi John was likely blown to bits by a drone strike earlier this week - his actions in the decapitation of numerous hostages over recent months were unspeakably evil and yet one must ask what was it that made him hate so much? And also how many more terrorists were created by the deaths of those who died alongside him this week? Violence is not the answer and I am disappointed in myself for celebrating yet another act of violence however justified it may be argued to be.
          As Martin Luther King Jr put it so well: ' The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. ...
.... Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.'
          As Christians we should never be comfortable with hatred - If we are to be a force for good in the  world we must overcome our base instinct for vengeance and retribution - Someone has to stop the madness and as those who follow the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ we cannot shirk our responsibility.  We need to widen our circle of care and compassion - We need to stand up and say that those who die on the streets of Beirut and Baghdad matter every bit as much as those who die in Paris or New York whatever their faith or ethnicity.
          Our silence in the face of the suffering of our fellow human beings on whatever corner of this planet only contributes to the culture of suspicion and hatred which has brought us to where we are today. It is extraordinarily ironic that the so called global village created by communications technology has actually further alienated us from our fellow human beings who we wilfully choose not to relate to.
Why? Because we have been conditioned to believe that choice is everything, that it is our right but the reality is that with choice comes responsibility! Our choices have consequences and if we choose to make non-persons of those who are different from us then we should not be surprised when these same people treat us with less than the humanity we believe we deserve. I am not for one moment condoning the horrific acts of Friday night but I am saying that we can and must and can do something to reverse this spiral of death and destruction. We must affirm our common humanity and recognise in all our fellow human beings the creative impulse of a God who loved us all into being and wishes only the best for all that he has created.

Tuesday 5 May 2015

Marriage Equality 2015 - Waking up to the Importance of the issue

I have tried very hard not to get sucked into the current Marriage Referendum debate - I have often spoken out from an inclusive standpoint on human sexuality issues both within the Church and in the public square - I voted with my feet in attending the Consecration of my friend Gene Robinson's (1st openly gay bishop) consecration as Bishop of New Hampshire USA in 2003 which was one of the highlights of my life to date - I am conscious that for many this event is seen in a very different light but for me it was Spirit filled and inspirational despite having to pass through a demonstration by the hate filled Westboro Baptist Church and Airport level security (due to death threats against Bishop Gene) to attend the Consecration service. The consequences for me in supporting my LGBT brothers and sisters have not always been entirely positive - I have experienced vile personal abuse both verbally and through hate mail and have been driven to some intemperate and less than constructive comments and responses to 'the other side'. That is probably why I haven't really engaged publically in the current referendum but tonight a threshold was crossed. I was watching the RTE Prime Time debate and realised that this is not a discussion I am free to opt out of - This is a social justice issue and I cannot as a Christian priest opt out of justice issues - As I listened to the No protagonists trot out one dishonest, irrelevant and cynical argument after another I knew I could no longer sit on the fence or I would be complicit in this dishonesty. The God I believe in isn't black or white, gay or straight, liberal or conservative but a God who is able to embrace a greater diversity than any one human being can contemplate - who am I to define the limits of Love when I am loved unconditionally and who am I to stand by when others seek to define the limits of that Love?