Sermon preached at Evensong on 6 June 2017 by the Very Reverend David Ison, Dean

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Sermon preached at Evensong on 6 June 2017 by the Very Reverend David Ison, Dean

Reflecting on the recent terrorist attacks in Manchester, London and Minya, Egypt, the Dean tells us: 'In the power of Jesus Christ, do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.'

On 22nd May 2017 a suicide bomber ended the lives of 22 people at Manchester Arena. On 3rd June at least seven people died in the terrorist attack around London Bridge. The lives of many more people have been changed for ever.

We’ve reacted in many different ways, but solidarity, compassion and concern have been primary among those. There’s the sense of being together in adversity, of not giving in to terror and hatred, of holding on to our humanity in the face of the inhumanity and evil wrought by others.

‘Let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good: rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer, give hospitality to strangers, weep with those who weep, live peaceably with all.’

The words of St Paul on practical, genuine loving which we heard earlier in this service are still relevant to today. But there’s more to come.

Five days after the Manchester attack, 28 men, women and children were shot dead and many more wounded in Minya in Egypt. Another terror atrocity: this time against Coptic Christians, the ancient Egyptian Church community. The Egyptian government reacted by sending fighter jets to bomb extremist training camps in Libya. The Grand Imam of Egypt called for Egyptians of all sorts to unite against such brutal terrorism.

But Coptic church leaders have responded with calls for prayer and forgiveness. Bishop Angaelos, the Coptic Bishop in the UK, has said of such acts, ‘it is not only for our own good, but indeed our duty to ourselves, the world, and even those who see themselves as our enemies, to forgive and pray for the perpetrators of this and similar crimes. We pray for these men and women, self-confessed religious people, that they may be reminded of the sacred and precious nature of every life created by God.’

A few weeks ago when Coptic Pope Tawadros 2nd was making his first pastoral visit to this country, the Archbishop of York welcomed him by paying homage to the Christian commitment of our martyred and suffering Coptic sisters and brothers, and their determination to love, not to hate, those who persecute them.

What does St Paul say? ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, No. “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’

How can we possibly act like this? By opening our hearts to receive the love of God in Jesus Christ for us, and coming to know how great God’s love is for every person, including those who in their blindness and arrogance and anger turn their hatred into inhumanity and evil, and who desperately need to be transformed by God’s love.

I have no right to comment on how St Paul’s words relate to what’s happening to us now, so I’m going to do something I hardly ever do, which is to quote at length the words of someone with every right to respond. Over recent years Bishop Angaelos has seen many members of his Coptic Church persecuted, shot, beaten, bombed or beheaded because they are Christians. This is what he said the day after the Minya massacre:

‘I have previously addressed victims of terrorist acts; I have addressed their families; I have even addressed those who may have had an opportunity, even in some small way, to advocate for or support those most vulnerable. This time however, I feel a need to address those who perpetrate these crimes.

You are loved. The violent and deadly crimes you perpetrate are abhorrent and detestable, but YOU are loved.

‘You are loved by God, your Creator, for He created you in His Image and according to His Likeness, and placed you on this earth for much greater things, according to His plan for all humankind. You are loved by me and millions like me, not because of what you do, but what you are capable of as that wonderful creation of God, Who has created us with a shared humanity. You are loved by me and millions like me because I, and we, believe in transformation.’

And Bishop Angaelos continues: ‘Transformation is core to the Christian message, for throughout history we have seen many transformed from being those who persecuted Christ Himself, and Christians, to those who went on to live with grace.

‘We believe in transformation because, on a daily basis, we are personally transformed from a life of human weakness and sinfulness to a life of power and righteousness. We believe in transformation because the whole message of the Cross and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is to take humanity from the bonds of sin and death to a liberation in goodness and everlasting life.’

St Paul writes: ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.’ He writes these words because he had persecuted and killed Christians for their faith, before he became one himself. He knew the power of love to transform. And so may we.

Bishop David Walker at the vigil in Manchester the day after the bomb said: ‘Love in the end is al­­ways stronger than hate... Love wins.’

Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’. In the power of Jesus Christ, do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.