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Peace Sunday - Feast of the Transfiguration 5 August 2016
What is happening on the world scene is truly awful. Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, South Sudan, indiscrimate bombing across Europe and the USA. ISIS and its evil tentacles. What is happening to the USA in the astonishing presidential election campaign. What's happening as political aspirants nurture a culture of fear in order to scare people into actions which go against all the values we have aspired to. And in our own back yard we are shamed at the statistics of our own when it comes to child abuse and youth suicide.
I remember 10 years ago In 2006 as things began to spiral out of control in the Middle East, Riah Abu El-Assal, the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem wrote to the whole Anglican Communion. 'Perhaps, as others have, you will ask. “What can I do?” Certainly we encourage and appreciate your prayers. That is important, but it is not enough. If you find that you can no longer look away, take up your cross. It takes courage as we were promised. Write to every elected official you know. Write to your news media. Speak to your congregation, friends and colleagues about injustice, and the threat of global war. If Syria, Iran and the United States, Great Britain, China and others enter into this war – the consequence is incalculable. Participate in rallies and forums. Find ways that you and your churches can participate in humanitarian relief efforts for the region. I urge you not to be like a disciple watching from afar.’ What he feared has of course come happened.
I am reminded of the words of then Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams when the Americans and British advanced in to Iraq. Rowan warned that we were stepping ‘deeper and deeper into tragedy’. And so it has proved to be.
Today is the 71st anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. John Daly has wrote:
‘At school it seemed so simple;
Surely we had learned our lesson now
Or rather others had learned it on our behalf;
After all those photos of a reality
Beyond our imagination even in nightmares.
Surely, everyone would see now
That even the winners would never again
Walk in their gardens in the cool of the evening
Their spoils only a slow death in a bunker…’
‘What can I do?’ What can I do, we do, as followers of the Prince of Peace?
Who am I to understand the complexities of the politics and power games that are being played out around the world with such terrible consequences? How do we expect those whose homes and countries are violated, whose children are killed, who live daily in fear of their lives and livelihoods, to react other than in anger, seeking to return an eye for an eye, a life for a life? The history of our human species shows us to be creatures who one the one hand have the most awesome capacity for love and compassion and on the other the most vicious and violent of all species, with scant respect for the rights of others?
What do we do in the face of this huge tide of violence, when whatever truth may be is twisted and turned to support whatever ideology we subscribed to and are conditioned by? How are we human in all this?
What I know is this. . You do not ultimately banish malaria to the history books by killing mosquitoes; you do it by draining the swamps from which they breed. Only be dealing with the root causes of injustice do we have the possibility of stemming the violence which is sweeping across our world. Working for peace with justice is love in action, and this is the work of God, that we are called and commissioned to do, yes we here in safe and cosy New Plymouth, the calling which is ours at St Mary's..
Seventy-one years on, we still recoil at photos of the injuries inflicted on the civilian survivors of the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, people who we realise are no different from us – mothers, fathers, partners, children, friends, colleagues. The blinding light and the dense mushroom cloud of those nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed, vapourised, thousands and thousands of people, these are icons of all that separates, injures and destroys...the evil that encompasses our race
It is ironic that Hiroshima should also be the day of the Feast of the Transfiguration. We read that the disciples are dazzled by the light of Christ’s glory The defining characteristic of the Transfiguration is glory. We are told that “while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Moses and Elijah also appear in glory. We see that glory involves a light so bright that it is dazzling. But we see that glory also involves a dense cloud which engulfs the three holy ones and the three disciples, and that the disciples are terrified.
The Transfiguration marks the point at which Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem where he will perform the supreme act of salvation, when as we hear in our Eucharistic prayer, “In Christ's suffering and cross you reveal your glory and reconcile all peoples ro yourself, their true and living God.'
In the Transfiguration, we are faced with a deep and shimmering mystery, at the very heart of which is God whose love for us is so all-encompassing, that that self-same God came to live among us, to share in our humanity, our tears and laughter, our sorrow and celebration, and most of all, our pain and suffering, who came to live as the least and lowliest among us, to bear rejection, scorn, hatred and violence, for love for all humankind. The same God came for all people and taught us, whilst still in our midst and stooping to wash his disciples’ feet, “Love one another, as I have loved you.”
Or, as we hear in the second letter of Peter today: “So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
When we begin to dehumanise and debase others, we do the same to ourselves. We turn away from the glory, which, as Peter reminds us is the “eternal splendour for which God has created us.”
'Love one another as I have loved you ' Some words of Anthony De Mello, a wonderful Indian monk and mystic:‘love springs from awareness. It is only in as much as you see someone as he or she really is here and now and not as they are in your memory or your desire or in your imagination or projection that you can truly love them…this involves the enormous discipline of dropping your desires, your prejudices, your memories, your projections, your desperate need, your selective way of looking…and that can be a burning fire of self-searching and deepening self-awareness of your own motives, your emotions, your needs, your self-seeking, your tendency to control and manipulate. Love that is born of sensitivity and honest awareness of the other and of oneself responds not to prefabricated guidelines and principles but to present concrete reality…’
Anthony concludes” If it is love that you truly desire then set out at once on the task of seeing, take it seriously and look at someone you dislike and really see your prejudice. Look at some one you cling to or something you cling to and really see the suffering, the futility and the unfreedom of clinging and look long and lovingly at human faces and human behaviour.’
We do not need to be paralysed for we have a vision of the world as God’s love would have it be. And this is what we can do and are to do to counter the forces of death in our world.
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. Let there be peace on earth the peace that was meant to be. With God as our Creator, we’re one family; Let us walk with each other, in perfect harmony. Let peace begin with me; let this be the moment now. With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally. Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.
'We must build dykes of courage to hold back the floodgates of fear...the old law about 'an eye for an eye' leaves everybody blind...Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal' Dr Martin Luther King Jnr.