Event Name Sermon given at the Sung Eucharist on the Fourth Sunday of Lent 2017
Start Date 26th Mar 2017 11:15am

The Reverend David Stanton, Canon Treasurer and Almoner

Last week, as I’m sure you are all aware, four people died and at least forty were injured, almost immediately outside this church. The assailant was shot dead in the grounds of parliament, and ever since then, the police and protection authorities have been working extremely hard to find out all they can about him.

His desire to cruelly harm others, with a total disregard for the sanctity of life was, sadly, deeply misguided and depraved. It demonstrated dark spiritual blindness, a mind, caught up in terrible untruth, a fundamental rejection of God's creation of diversity and unique beauty.

It also revealed a lie that mistakenly believes that it doesn't really matter who you are or what you have done or what you think, or what you believe, you’re still a target just because you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This act of violence was blind to our God of love and compassion, for he didn’t just violate those around him, but he violated the whole idea that each of us is unique, intrinsically special and irreplaceable.

If we were asked to describe a terrorist, we would probably picture in our mind’s eye a man with an assault rifle and probably a bomb, a man who feels so betrayed by something that he will attack anyone, even the innocent, to get the recognition that he believes is due to him.

Such is political terrorism. It’s spiritually blind to the God we know and worship and love in Christ Jesus, and its vision is distorted by a dark, bitter heart, which in turn breeds further bitterness and hatred.

In his film The Birds, Alfred Hitchcock created horror by showing us what birds could do, but thankfully don’t do: they could viciously attack anyone and everyone without provocation.

Deep down we all have that same capacity for animal aggression, but fortunately the vast majority of us don’t just manage to contain it, through civilisation and faith, we actually transcend it.

With the help of God’s grace, we come to honour and respect others by reflecting something of the true majesty of God. Yet just imagine how it would be if we weren’t willing or able to restrain our cruel and destructive impulses.

Last Friday evening, the film Schindler’s List, was on the telly. There a Nazi officer, sitting at breakfast one morning, on the balcony of his luxurious house, casually picks up a rifle and randomly shoots at inmates in the concentration camp below.
All the while, his mistress, hearing what is happening, and knowing what is happening, tolerates it. And so she too, in her own private way, is a terrorist.

Whenever we confront something that’s diametrically opposed to all we stand for, we recognise how crucially important it is to hold on to that passionate conviction of the beauty and dignity of each unique person. We must above all cling to those things that set faith, humanity and civilisation apart from the mind and the world of the terrorist.

In today’s Gospel reading (John 9) Jesus uses a blind man to convey this crucial spiritual message. Right at the end of this biblical account it suddenly becomes apparent to the hearer that spiritual blindness is the real sin, not physical blindness, as the disciples and the Pharisees had thought.

Unlike the terrorist, we see Jesus caring for the body of the man born blind, and making him whole. In the very act of mercy, through the giving of physical and spiritual sight, Jesus reveals the glory of God, and that of course is his unconditional love.

That love is ultimately revealed to us through the cross; for there we see a God who does not reject suffering, or recoil from it, or remain impassive to it. Here we see Christ embracing suffering out of love for the Father, but also out of love for us.

So in all human suffering there is the possibility of redemption because, in all human suffering, God is present. That is the life-changing truth that lies at the heart of our faith and of this Lenten season.

But Lent also reminds us, there’s no way to that life that doesn’t take us through the wilderness. When Christ celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples, he said of the sharing in the broken bread: Do this in remembrance of me. And again of the wine: Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.

By sharing in this Eucharist, we’re not just taking part in a memorial service. We don’t just contemplate Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension as things that happened centuries ago. We actually identify ourselves with his passion and death, and so also with his resurrection and ascension.

As these events affect us personally, so they become contemporary. Earlier in this Mass, the choir sung psalm 23. That well known psalm talks to us about walking through the shadow of death and not fearing evil.

If you're going through a dark valley, you probably think the sun has stopped shining, that God is far away, and you’re all alone not able to see at all because you think you're in total darkness.  And yet whenever there’s a shadow it means there is a light somewhere.

If we start to get afraid of the shadow in the dark valleys of life, what we must do is turn our backs to the shadow and look directly at the light and allow the shadow to fall behind us.

For as we also heard this morning in St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we must live as children of light, for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. This echo’s those famous words of our Lord, ‘I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness’. (John 8:12).

Whenever we look at Christ we must not be afraid of all the shadows around us, for ultimately they fall behind us. Turn your eyes upon Christ, look full in his wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace. Don't dwell too much on the shadows.

When you're walking through the valley, look at the light and allow Christ to perform his miracle of opening your eyes again to his wonderful love and unconditional compassion.

© 2018 The Dean and Chapter of Westminster

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