Sunday, 28 May 2017

Where was God?

This sermon was preached at Evensong on Sunday 28th May, 6 days after the Manchester bombing that claimed the life of 22 people and injured many more. The New Testament reading was Ephesians 1:15-23.

Like many, if not all, of us, I have been trying to come to terms this week with the horrific actions of Monday night, when, after a pop concert at Manchester Arena, a young man, full of religious fervour, set off a bomb, killing himself and 21 other young people, and wounding many others in the area. 

“How can this happen?”, we ask ourselves.

How does God allow it?

Where is God in this awful situation?

These are natural questions to ask ourselves, and ask of God. I’d go so far to state that not only are they natural, but they are necessary. Ours would be an immature faith if we did not ask; if we simply stopped our ears at the sound of the question. An immature faith ignores this issue. Not as immature and perverted a faith as one that persuades its adherents that God demands death and slaughter; that is clear, but one that is – if not new-found – stunted. As our faith ages, it must grow and be able to deal with issues such as this.

In our New Testament reading tonight, Paul writes to a group of new Christians in Ephesus. They, in their new faith, were understandably immature. And tonight, we heard Paul’s prayer for them, and it’s fair to say, it’s not what we would expect.

For, for this group of new Christians, facing persecution from their fellow citizens, and their nation, Paul does not pray for their security, or their safety. He doesn’t pray that they won’t face discrimination. He ignores all of that, and instead, prays for them to gain wisdom, for the eyes of their heart to be opened to see what the power of God is doing now in their lives, in their families, in their city.

And that’s what, I think, Paul would be praying for us too, in Manchester today.

Where is God in all of this? Lord, enlighten the eyes of our hearts to see you at work.

God is there, found in the aftermath of the bombing. He is there to be found, working through all those who rushed to help, to comfort, to mourn and to stand in solidarity.

God showed up. He was a police officer, ensuring the safety of whoever he could.

God showed up. She was a doctor, turning up at hospital on her day off to offer assistance.

God showed up. He was a Muslim taxi driver, working for free to ferry people wherever they needed to be.

God showed up. He was a homeless man, seeing the wounded and needy, and rushing to help.

God showed up. God was everyone in the city, offering free rooms, hot drinks and free food, out searching for the lost; queuing to give blood.

And on Friday, God marched. God marched with hundreds of Muslim adults and children on a peace-walk to honour and mourn those who died, and to show that his way is the way of peace.

God showed up. Maybe he even went and got himself a bee tattoo.

The Worker Bee - the symbol of Manchester

But, he was not just there in the aftermath. Of all the stories that came out of those who died, one struck me in particular. It was that of Kelly Brewster. Kelly died in the blast whilst shielding her 11-year-old niece. She lay down her life that others may live. Where was God? Have no doubt that God was there that night, present in the Arena.

You might have read the story told by the American-Jewish writer Elie Wiesel, of how, as a teenager during the holocaust he witnessed the SS hanging two men, and a young boy. It’s very difficult to hear, but I’d like to read an extract now, as I believe it’s relevant.
The three condemned prisoners together stepped onto the chairs. In unison, the nooses were placed around their necks. 
“Long live liberty!” shouted the two men.
But the boy was silent.

“Where is merciful God, where is He?” someone behind me was asking.

At the signal, the three chairs were tipped over.

Total silence in the camp. On the horizon, the sun was setting.

“Caps off!” screamed the Lageralteste. His voice quivered. As for the rest of us, we were weeping.

“Cover your heads!”

Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish. But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing…

And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.

Behind me, I heard the same man asking:

“For God’s sake, where is God?”

And from within me, I heard a voice answer:

“Where is He? This is where – hanging here from this gallows…

Where was God? God showed up that night.

God was in the Arena.

Amen.

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