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Sermon preached on the Day of Pentecost (4 June 2017) by the Reverend Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor
On the Day of Pentecost The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel looks at "the overflowing love of God through the Holy Spirit", just hours after an attack in nearby Southwark left seven dead and many more injured.
The Church has been preparing for this Day of Pentecost by a national call to prayer through an initiative called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’. It drew to a climax here last night in a great act of worship attended by people from all over London and beyond. At the end of the service, the Great West Doors were flung open and the Bishop’s blessing echoed through them as passersby outside continued on their way.
As it turned out, this was a mere hour or so before the hell-ish chaos that ensued only a few hundred yards away from this cathedral church in Southwark.
It’s usually given to people in public life to know the right thing to say in the aftermath of such horror. And expressions of shock, sympathy and resilience are wholly appropriate and much needed. What else can one say?
On a day when we celebrate the overflowing love of God through the Holy Spirit, I want to add that I am absolutely clear that terrorist outrage in this or any country has nothing to do with God and cannot be legitimately perpetrated in the name of God. And, when there is a connection with religion, that connection results from deranged people who exploit religion to bitter ends.
‘Thy kingdom come’ has been our prayer over the last ten days. It prays for the building up on earth of the messianic vision of God’s kingdom as it is in heaven. That vision from the Book of Isaiah where true knowledge of God means that there is no hurt or destruction – a world turned upside down when the poor and the needy finally experience justice. A world fulfilled in Jesus Christ – a fulfilment we hear from his own lips when he takes the scroll in the synagogue and reads elsewhere in Isaiah of the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of despair.
So why do deranged people latch onto our constructs of faith as a vehicle for their own hatred and grudges? What grounds for misinterpretation do we leave carelessly in their way to justify their mad passions? Is there anything in our behaviour which might signal assent to their denial of divine love?
Just in case there is any doubt, we as people of faith must turn our backs firmly and resolutely on anything in our religious behaviour which even begins to hint at tribalism, exclusivity and legalism. I urge you to enter your heart and search these things out and reject them.
God is love and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them.
We in this country have been here before. During the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s, terror was an ever present reality in Northern Ireland and on the mainland, especially here in London. Then it was so-called Christians claiming that their version of Christianity was the right one. Like so much religious warfare, it was actually about nationalism and territorialism. So that another thing we must be clear about in our reaction to what is currently happening in our world is that to lay the blame at the door of faith is to miss the root cause. We didn’t proscribe Christianity in those days and we must not proscribe Islam now.
God has spoken to us in many and various ways. God has spoken to me through Jesus Christ so that, on this day of Pentecost, I am obliged to drench myself in the love and joy and peace which the Spirit brings. I am obliged because I am a follower of Jesus Christ and that obligation denies me the right to count anyone out, to judge anyone’s humanity, or to put stumbling blocks in anyone’s way.
It causes me to weep for those who died last night and to pray for those who hurt this morning and to rejoice at the courage and skill of those who look after us.
And, while it tests my faith, it also deepens it because I have seen too much evidence of God’s love for the world to have any room now to deny it.
Let us pray.
And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore. Amen.