Sermon Following Bomb Attack in Manchester

In the time of Jesus, the Roman Emperors had declared themselves to be Gods.  And by the time the Gospels were written, a statue to the emperor was even erected in the temple in Jerusalem.

The emperor presented himself as having a direct mandate from heaven.  Everybody else just had to deal with that.  The emperor was claiming that the gods dealt directly with him because he was one of them.  And the rest of the people living in the empire were not gods.  So the gods only dealt with them indirectly, through the emperor.  The emperor had a mandate from heaven through his own divine status.

It may not feel any different for millions and millions of people in the world today.  There are millions suffering today from war, famine and all the rest.  It is not difficult to see how they might feel that heaven has no interest in them.  That there are only a small number of powerful people who have a chance to get things right and we just have to hope for all our sakes that they do.

It is into this world that Jesus speaks of a dramatically new relationship between heaven and earth.

We know he ascended into heaven bearing the wounds of the cross and carrying with him the love he showed here on earth for all humanity and especially the ordinary people.

And our Gospel this morning contains the words that Jesus spoke to the disciples at the last supper.  So let’s just remind ourselves of who they were.  They were ordinary folk.  Quite a few were fishermen.  With a tendency to get a bit muddled up theologically.  They were powerless on earth and felt powerless in heaven also.

How does Jesus describe them?  Speaking to God, he says, ‘They were yours and you gave them to me and they have kept your word.’  Without erecting any statues, the mandate of heaven has just been passed to a group of Galilean fishermen.

And then Jesus asks God for something on behalf of this collection of fishermen, not on behalf of the world and its leaders, but on behalf of the people whom he says are ‘those whom you gave me, because they are yours.’

What does Jesus ask for?  He asks God to protect them and to sanctify them, to make them holy.  And when he asks on behalf of them, he is of course, asking on behalf of us.  He asks God to protect us and to sanctify us, to make us holy, so that we may live under heaven’s protection.

And because we are sanctified, heaven is our place.  A place, Jesus has prepared for us.  A place where we have everything we need and where we are protected.  It is our proper place. 

And Jesus says the world is not our proper place.  He says we do not belong to the world just as he did not belong to the world.  The world is messed up.  The world is full of suffering.  This is not how we are meant to be living.  This is not how it is in heaven.

But there is a danger here that as followers of Christ we might be tempted to conclude that we don’t really care what the world is like because we don’t belong here, we belong in heaven.

So we need to remind ourselves now of the prayer that Jesus himself taught us to pray.  ‘Our Father.  Who Art in Heaven. Thy Kingdom Come. Thy Will be Done. On earth as it is in heaven.’

Jesus told us to pray that the earth become like heaven.  And he also told us our prayers would be answered.  Thy Kingdom Come is what the banner outside our church says.  It is our prayer for this community and for the world.

What we are saying to our community is, the world is not how it should be.  It is not like heaven.  But it will be like heaven.  And we invite them to pray with us for that to happen.  Because heaven is our place.  We have the mandate of heaven.  And the world is being transformed to be like heaven and we can participate in that transformation.

What can we say to the people affected by the terrorist attack in Manchester?

Throughout this last week people have been coming into our church to pray and to light a candle for Manchester.  We have said prayers for the victims of the terror attack, for the bereaved, the injured.  We have said prayers too for people working for emergency, health and security services.

As the days have passed we can reflect on how the city and the whole region has responded.  I’m sure each of us has a particular image that has stayed with us.  Which image was it for you?  Was it

  • The homeless man who cradled a dying woman?
  • The taxi drivers who rushed to the scene so they could drive people home for free?
  • The many members of the public and businesses who offered places to stay?
  • The vast crowds that gathered for a vigil in Albert Square?
  • The image of an old Jewish woman praying alongside a Muslim man?
  • The words of our poet or our bishop?
  • The sight of our new Catholic mayor embracing the Muslim man who drove up from Gloucester to attend the vigil?
  • The impromptu memorial in St Anne’s Square?  Maybe you have visited it?
  • The bartender who was turned away from the blood donor centre because there were too many donors who, interviewed by the media, announced that he would instead just walk around the city centre smiling at people, because he had to do something?
  • The impromptu singing of the Oasis song ‘Don’t look back in anger’?

And Manchester is not looking back in anger.  We haven’t had a pogrom.  Voices who want to respond to evil with more evil have been muted and drowned out.  Manchester is a city that has responded to hatred with love.

John Sentamu was on the radio with a thought for today about Manchester.  He quoted Martin Luther King.  ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that’.

Manchester is a city that seems to know that.  Manchester seems to be a city of people who refuse to accept the way the world is.  They refuse to be defined by the evil in the world.  They are people who, generally, don’t go to church, but faced with a crisis have turned to prayer.  They are a people who may not identify closely with the Christian religion but seem over the centuries to have absorbed some of its most challenging teaching.

Don’t look back in anger.  Darkness cannot drive out darkness.  You do not belong to the world, you belong to God.  He has sanctified you in the truth.  May his Kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

And so, even though we are still feeling shock at the events of Monday night, we take heart.  We continue to pray for the coming of the Kingdom of God.  We pray for our community and the wider city and region, confident that we will see the coming of the Kingdom in this place.


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