This week as you will all be aware an awful, hateful and brutal event took place in Manchester. There can never be any excuse for murder; murder is always an act of hate.  As Christians the questions we must always ask ourselves when we encounter violence and hatred include how do we respond in the face of hate and injustice? And, when the world is full of hostility and violence  what should be our first, primal,  deepest instinct?

These were the questions both Jesus and the early Christian community, which was a persecuted community, had to ask. They are questions of holiness. Today’s readings perhaps provide something of an answer.

In the Gospel St. John provides us with an insight into Jesus’ own interior or prayer life. Jesus knows that he is about to be handed over to the authorities, who have colluded against him, and that the only possible outcome is his execution, crucifixion, or murder. He is about to feel and experience, bodily and spiritually, the worst consequences of injustice and human depravity or, sin. So what does he do? He prays:

‘Holy Father protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.’

 

Jesus’ prayer is for unity because Jesus knows that hatred seeks not only to damage, hurt and, kill, but to divide, and of course it is through division that hatred perpetuates and further violence is fed. We must not allow hatred to win. Through prayer we must learn the art of overcoming hatred; through prayer we can develop the virtue of Godly unity. Godly unity is based on a resolve to never stop loving, caring and working for justice. The people of Manchester stood out this week for the love that they showed expressed through countless acts of hospitality and charity. Hospitality, charity, the pursuit of justice and love, these are ultimately winning qualities because they are kingdom qualities.

The centrality of prayer is beautifully depicted in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles. The early Christians knew that they had a mandate to preach the Gospel both in word and deed. They not only talked of the Gospel but became the living embodiment of the Gospel. But they knew that they could not represent Jesus and his values without living lives rooted in and, routed from prayer. As the reading from the Acts of the Apostles reminds us:

‘All of these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus (who let us remember had recently watched her beloved son being crucified) as well as his brothers.’

 

The first instinct of the early Church was to pray. So here is the question: ‘is our first instinct to pray?’ I would like to suggest that prayer must be the oxygen we breathe and, that as Christians anything that we do must be rooted in prayer and routed from prayer. Prayer doesn’t change God but it sure changes us. It is through prayer that unity is preserved and hatred, justice and violence defeated. It is through prayer that we remain strong when we feel week and impotent. It is through prayer that we might just start the process of making sense of the senseless. It is through prayer that we become peace makers. It is through prayer that our stock of holiness increases. It is through prayer that that the kingdom of God breaks through and triumphs.

The Archbishops have called for a national renewal in the prayer life of the church. They are right to do so. Following the barbarity of the Manchester bombing their plea feels even more apposite.  Can I urge you to pray the Lord’s prayer each morning and evening between now and Pentecost? Can, I encourage you to particularly allow the phrase ‘thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,’ to penetrate the very depths of your heart?As Gandhi once said: ‘be the change you want to see.’ The place where change takes root and violence overcome  is prayer. If you want to see a better more Godly world pray for it. Amen.

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

 

 

Yesterday was in many ways a surreal day. We had been invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace and yet we awoke to hear the awful news of the brutality that took place in Manchester the night before. It was a day of strange feelings, mixed feelings. At the palace, before the playing of the National Anthem, a period of silence was observed. It was unannounced and yet everyone knew why it was being held.  I enjoyed the tea but I couldn’t stop thinking of Manchester.

On the way home I read the Evening Standard. I also looked at the Church of England website. I want to offer you just a few thoughts that others have written; I will offer my own thoughts on Sunday. In the Evening Standard Matthew D’Ancona wrote:

‘So as we wait the fill facts lets us begin by declaring what this attack is not…….it is not part of a war between the West and Islam, between one civilization and another. The opposing forces in this conflict are sanity and extremism, pluralism and fundamentalism. The teenagers who went to see Ariana Grande last night represent the world as it should be: multi-ethnic, diverse, united in shared enthusiasms.. Whoever was responsible for the heinous crime that hurt so many represents the precise opposite…...the best possible response is to live well together, as did New Yorkers after 9/11, and Londoners after the 2005 attacks.’

 

To live well together is something that all men and women of faith need to practice. The prophet Jeremiah as we have heard (Jeremiah 29, 4-8) is adamant about this.

A retired Bishop of Manchester suggested yesterday that the response from the people of Manchester  is what will be remembered. He described it as the ‘thunder’ of love, charity and, hospitality. He is hopefully correct. Manchester’s response was amazing. Despite the act of a very evil man it is obvious that Manchester is a city that takes the concept of good neighbourliness very seriously.

 

Matthew D’Ancona also wrote:

‘‘‘I am the resurrection and I am the life’’ is not just a biblical text but a cherished lyric of Manchester’s most beloved band, the Stone Roses. Today the world mourns for the city. But be in no doubt; it will rise again.’

 

As the Mancunian, Muslim comedienne Ayesha Hazarika also reminded us yesterday people of faith always need to remember that ultimately ‘hope triumphs over hate.’ This doesn’t mean pretending that evil doesn’t happen but being committed to being the good in the midst of evil; just as the people of Manchester did yesterday.

Of course we must also be aware that the harsh reality is that good people have lost loved ones, hearts have been ripped apart, a terrible price has been paid and so let us keep a short period of silence, holding the people of Manchester and especially those who have suffered the unimaginable loss of a son or daughter before God, Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

Sometimes in life we are advised to ‘play it safe.’ Football teams might be encouraged to protect a lead, in cricket batsmen are often encouraged to play themselves in. In job terms there may be times when we are best off sticking with an employer we know. But, sometimes we also need to take risks, to go for it, to follow our instincts and, convictions. Sometimes we might even feel that we need to risk all, and I suspect that we are most likely to take the real big risks, or leaps of faith, where love is concerned? Faith, hope and, love seem to me to be inextricably bound.

I don’t know if you have ever taken a risk for your faith? Taking a risk might not necessarily mean grasping your courage in both hands and, risking your life, but it might mean seeking to do the right thing for no other reason than doing the right thing seems the most important, and most virtuous, thing to do. For me listening to my calling to ordination and responding was a big risk. It meant leaving behind a good job and career. It meant accepting far less in pay, and possibly in esteem. I was aware that when I left my job in the city several, perhaps many, of my contemporaries felt that I had ‘lost the plot,’ or had a ‘mid life crisis.’ In fact in many ways they were correct because at the end of the day we all do have to answer the following question:

By which plot line are you going to live?

For the first Christian martyr, Stephen, the answer was clear. Stephen regarded Jesus as the author of his life, and such was his faith in Jesus and his love for Jesus that he was no longer prepared to ‘play it safe.’ He was prepared to risk all for Jesus, such was his faith. Of course there are many people around the world who are prepared to risk all for their faith. In Egypt the Coptic Christians live in daily danger, for example. But, there are also those who are prepared to die for a hateful exposition of faith. ISIS killers for example. So the question arises again:

By what plot line are you giving to live?

Stephen was prepared to live by the Jesus plot line; a plot line which is summarised in today’s gospel reading. It is a plot line through which Jesus suggests that he is the author of our destiny by declaring himself to be the ‘the way the truth and the life,’ but it is also a plot line with generosity, inclusivity and hospitality as its guiding virtues: ‘in my house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you.’

It’s a staggering thought isn’t it that Jesus wants to welcome all, to offer hospitality to all, not simply folk like you and me.

Our earthly mandate is to offer such radical hospitality in the here and now. The only way we can begin to do this is by following Jesus, by being as fascinated by, and dedicated to, the Jesus story as Stephen: ‘very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, in fact will do greater works than these.’

Only by being a Jesus-centred church can we bring hospitality and healing to others. Following Jesus is never cost free. In Winslow its unlikely to cost us our very lives but we should always be prepared to take risks and to step out in faith, risking something of our own comfort and security, and each and every day we should perhaps pause and ask ourselves:

By what plot line am I going to live my life today.

Amen.

Rev. Andrew Lightbown