Loving our Neighbours in a World of Fear - Biblical reflection on the Christchurch Attacks, 15/03/19

 

Readings from:

Leviticus 19:17-18, Romans 12:9-21, Luke 10:25-37

On Friday the unimaginable happened. All of us have been beaten and battered emotionally by the global news as we have witnessed terrorism right across our world. But we never imagined it would happen here in Aotearoa, never mind just a couple of hours up the road in Christchurch.

I’m a Christchurch boy through and through and my heart has been just so broken by the events that have happened this week. I am devastated for our Muslim brothers and sisters. It’s absolutely gutting.

Perhaps this morning you are angry, frustrated, sad, scared, confused or numb. It’s important to know it’s ok to feel what you are feeling, today we come just as we are, many of us still in shock and we gather here not to make sense of it all. I don’t know if that is ever entirely possible. Rather we come to seek God and His help as we grieve and as we seek to show love to one another.

It’s times like these when it is hard to know just what to say. I don’t have the words but I am so grateful that God’s word gives us some ways to wrestle with what’s going on. Today I want to talk about how the Bible helps us to pray in times like these, and how it introduces us to a God who loves us deeply and calls us to love others as we are loved.

SCRIPTURE HELPS US PRAY

I’m grateful that the Scriptures give us ways to pray in times like these. The words of Scripture give us ways to lament and cry and to plead for God’s mercy.

Psalm 10 says:

"O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek;

you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear

18 to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed,

so that those from earth may strike terror no more."

The Psalms are a good place to go with our feelings. Our anger and our sadness at this situation. Thank God that they are there to help us pray.

The Scriptures also give us a way to wrestle with the issues of love and hate and what it means to be a good neighbour to one another.

One of the first stories in the Bible is a tale of terror. Genesis 4 tells us about two brothers, Cain and Abel. They both bring offerings to God and Abel’s offering finds favour with God. Cain is jealous of his brother and so in anger he murders his brother.

The Bible says that “Abel’s blood cried out to God from the ground.” This expression shows us that God hears the cry of the suffering. This is a visceral image of the suffering and hurt of the world rising to God. The blood of the victims of violence cry out to God.

In the wake of this terror God confronts Cain and asks him “Where is your brother?” Cain’s response is chilling. He says: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

This is the question humanity has been asking ever since. In this primeval story we see the brokenness of humanity.

In recent politics the refusal to show compassion for refugees on borders is akin to Cain’s defensive question – “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Every time we turn a blind eye to racism or bigotry of any kind we collude with that question – “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

In days where politicians are polarising, and people are choosing camps from which to throw stones at one another this question from the Bible should haunt us. It essentially asks: “Am I responsible for the other?” Do I have a duty of care even to those I disagree with? …And the Biblical answer is always yes.

As so many of the comments in the media and social media have said: there is no them and us, there is just us. This is indeed a Biblical view of humanity. That we are all created in the image of God.

God made all of us and God loves everything that he has made.

One of Jesus’ most famous stories is about this common humanity.

We heard it read this morning, the story of the Good Samaritan.

NO US AND THEM

The whole conversation starts with a question pitched to Jesus by a religious man who says: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus points him to the law – Love God, and love neighbour.

Then the man asks a question that is just so eerily similar to Cain’s. Wanting to justify himself he says: “And who is my neighbour?”

The man wants to know who qualifies for his love.

And then Jesus tells a story.

He tells a story about a man who was mugged, beaten and left for dead. Two respectable religious people walk right past the scene.

Then we hear about the Samaritan who stops and goes above and beyond to help the man.

This is a deeply shocking moment and reading it as 21st century New Zealanders we easily miss the point. This isn’t simply a story about being kind.

This is a story about racism.

It is a story that unveils the unspoken bigotry of the person asking Jesus the question.

The Jews and the Samaritans did not spend time together. There were years of political and religious tensions that meant that these groups were enemies to one another.

Years earlier when the Jews returned from Exile in Babylon the Samaritan people offered to help rebuild the temple but the Jewish people refused the offer and a bitter rift was formed between the two groups (Ezra 4).

The Samaritans built their own temple on Mt Gerizim but this was burned down by the Jews a few hundred years later. It would be an understatement to say that there was a bit of friction between these people groups.

And yet Jesus casts the Samaritan as the hero.

Why?

Because he wants to shock his listeners.

Jesus invites all who hear this story to see that our neighbour is perhaps the least likely person we would ever imagine. It’s the one who doesn’t look like us, talk like us, think like us.

They are us. This is the heartbeat of the story of the Good Samaritan.

The early church understood this. Paul writing to the Galatians said:

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

The Gospel doesn’t diminish our differences, rather it calls us all together in love despite our differences around the table with Jesus.

Who is my neighbour? The Biblical answer is everyone.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

So how might we be good neighbours right now. What can we do?

The Scriptures also give us ways to think about how we can love each other in times like these and particularly how we can love those who are different to us.

How can we as Christians respond to terrorism? What direction do we get from the Bible when it comes to such horrific events? How can we as Christians reach out to and show love to particularly to our Muslim neighbours right now who have suffered such violence and hatred?

Firstly, let me say that it is time for the church to step up. In times like this we are called to be the hands and feet of Christ showing love to the broken.

In his letter to the Romans Paul paints a beautiful picture of Christian community. At the centre of this community is love.

Paul invites us to abhor evil and hold onto the good. We must be outspoken that acts of terror are unacceptable. There is no justification for what has happened, it is plainly evil and we are invited to name it for what it is.

We are invited to be patient in times of trouble and to pray constantly. We are invited to give materially and show hospitality.

We are called to weep with those who weep.

We are called to live peaceably.

And we are called to leave vengeance to God alone.

The Canon Andrew White, also known as the Vicar of Baghdad, has spoken extensively about Christian responses to terrorism. Reflecting on Romans 12 and 13 he makes the point that God will one day bring ultimate justice when God judges humankind. The wrongs will be put right and the hurts healed. In the meantime, governments and authorities are called to bring justice and uphold it as best they can. He then says: “The Bible makes it clear that the way to respond is not through personal retaliation or hatred but through personal good, and compassion.”[1]

Paul summarizes this point well in Romans 12:21 “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

If there is one passage we can sit with this week it is Romans 12:9-21. I invite you to meditate on it and sit with it through the week.

Since the events of Friday afternoon people have been posting a lot on Facebook, some helpful, some not so much. Something I found very practical and helpful was a post by Christchurch Vineyard Pastor Scottie Young, shortly after the event.

He offered a series of Do’s and Don’ts for us at the moment.

Do:

  • Pray for our phenomenal police force, emergency services, doctors and nurses.

  • Pray for the precious families and people in the Muslim community affected by this horror.

  • Pray for the healing of our society that has fostered this darkness.

  • Care and check in on any Muslim families or individuals you know, show them hospitality and pray with them.

  • Put your arm around those that feel afraid right now and need comfort.

  • Be especially kind in the coming weeks and months you won’t know who has been affected and many will desperately need your kindness.

Don’t:

  • Don’t throw around your anger just now. Now is a time for peaceful care, and kind communication for those hurt or affected.

  • Don’t blurt out assumptions and jump to conclusions, it is inflammatory. Wait for all the info and make measured statements.

These are wise and helpful words.

Finally, let me say this – all of Scripture points us to Jesus, who is full of love and compassion and who knows what it is to suffer.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, a Christian philosopher wrote a book called “Lament for a Son” after the tragic death of his son in a climbing accident.

He says this:

“How is faith to endure, O God, when you allow all this scraping and tearing on us? You have allowed rivers of blood to flow, mountains of suffering to pile up, sobs to become humanity's song – all without lifting a finger that we could see. You have allowed bonds of love beyond number to be painfully snapped. If you have not abandoned us, explain yourself.

We strain to hear. But instead of hearing an answer we catch sight of God himself scraped and torn. Through our tears we see the tears of God.”

As we look to the cross, we see not an abstract answer to suffering but we see a God who loved the world so much he suffered for it.

May we look to Jesus as we grapple with this tragic event. May we be unceasing in prayer for our Muslim neighbours. May we reject all forms of racism and discrimination. May we acknowledge everyone is our neighbour and may we be the hands and feet of Jesus showing kindness to all we meet no matter what they believe. Amen.

[1] Full video of talk on https://www.laidlaw.ac.nz/news/2018/canon-andrew-white-video/

 
Josh Taylor