A declaration of love
The following is a sermon delivered by Rev. Buote-Grieg on Sunday, March 17, following the mass shooting in New Zealand. This declaration can be signed by island residents at St. Ann’s by-the-Sea. the Island Free Library, and The Block Island Times. The Rev. Eletha Buote-Greig is the pastor at St. Ann’s by-the-Sea on Spring Street.
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.
In the Name of God: Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker. Amen.
I would like to change one sentence in our reading from Philippians. “For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” I would like to say ‘For many live as enemies of God.’ Once again on a recent Friday morning we heard the terrible news that a man filled with bigotry and hatred killed 50 people and wounded 40 others while they were worshipping in two Mosques in New Zealand.
I, like the Apostle Paul, tell it with tears that another human being chose hatred over love, and evil over God. I tell you with tears for the victims who were faithfully and actively following their pathway to God. I tell you with tears that another gunman opened fire on worshippers in a Roman Catholic Cathedral in Brazil. He killed four people and wounded another four.
In the surveillance footage from inside the cathedral, a police investigator told news reporters that the shooter “came into the church, sat on a chair, with time to think, and then got up and starting shooting.” He too took his own life after being shot by a policeman.
Also in Brazil, two men armed with machetes and knives killed eight people, five of whom were young people around the age of 15. Three other adults were also killed by the same people before they killed themselves. Once again four people chose hatred over love and evil over God.
We can choose evil over God, or God over evil, hatred over love or love over hatred. As I mentioned last week, we exercise this gift throughout our days. Of course, this gift comes with tremendous responsibility, and the need for us to take a moment or two and ask ourselves: “What would God want us to do?” What effect will this choice have on others?
Are we choosing good over evil, selflessness over ego and God’s way over our way? Basically, our choices can be life-giving, life-draining or life-taking.
So, what does our exercising free will have to do with what is happening in New Zealand, Brazil, here at home, or anywhere else in the world? Of course, that will depend upon the choice we make as to whether we are willing to give voice to good when evil is spoken, when someone makes a negative comment about someone’s ethnic background, or someone’s faith system. Are we willing to witness for God and simply say; ‘God loves them as much as God loves you and me.’
On Friday night I watched the Sabbat service from Central Synagogue in New York. The words of one of the hymns that they sang were, “the main thing is not to be afraid.” It takes courage to speak up, to express our disagreement and disapproval of attitudes that diminish and devalue other human beings that are different than we are. But silence, whether we intend it or not, can convey complicity — agreement.
Are we willing to make a public statement about how we feel about all of God’s children. That we believe that we are all equally loved by God? As I have said before, God has clearly demonstrated with the order of creation that diversity is part of God’s intentional design. We are meant to be different and hence our pathways to God will be different, and each pathway needs to be honored and respected, just as each human being in their differences needs to be honored and respected.
A few weeks back I shared with you my belief that we as human beings will never be able to fully comprehend the totality of God, and that each faith system possesses a piece of the truth about who God is. I believe that each time we learn about a different pathway, a different faith system, with open hearts and minds, we are able to encounter one more piece of God’s truth. But to be clear, for me Jesus is my pathway. It is he who helps me to understand God’s nature and God’s love for all humanity.
It is he who encourages me to embrace others in their differences and different pathways as they too seek God. It is he that gives me courage to give voice to God’s goodness when others are living as enemies of God.
I would like to share with you a prayer that was given by Bishop David Rice at the Bishop’s conference in North Carolina. Bishop Rice is now the Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin, but was once a vicar in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Rice evoked the statement from the New Zealand Prime Minister who said of the victims of the attacks, “They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand.
Rice said this prayer, “Say that with me. They are us.” The house responded loudly, and Rice stopped to compose himself.
He continued, “Our immigrant and refugee sisters and brothers, say it with me: they are us.” The house responded, “They are us.”
“Our Palestinian sisters and brothers, say it with me: They are us. The house responded, “They are us.”
“Those who even lose their way and do harm, say it with me: ‘They are us.’ The house responded, ‘They are us.’”
“Amen,” Bishop Rice said, returning to his table.
Now my brothers and sisters, please join me. Gracious God, our immigrant and refugee sisters and brothers, say it with me, “They are us.”
Our Palestinian sisters and brothers, say it with me: ‘They are us.”
Those who even lose their way and do harm, say it with me: “They are us.”
And God may we boldly proclaim that truth: They are us and are just as precious in your sight as we are. Amen.
Declaration of God’s Love
The following is a Declaration of God’s Love. I do hope that you will join us and sign this declaration. God’s blessings.
As the people of Block Island, we offer our prayers and love to the family and friends of those who were killed while worshipping our loving God.
For the 49 men, women and children who were in the two mosques in New Zealand and the four Roman Catholic men and women who were in the Cathedral in Brazil.
We also pray for the five students, the teacher and the school administrator who were killed in their school in Brazil.
We pray for the peace of their souls.
We pray for healing for those injured in the Mosques, the Cathedral and the school and for the members of their families and their communities.
We denounce and condemn the actions of those whose bigotry, prejudice and racism has fed into their hatred against God’s children.
We proclaim to everyone that God loves all human beings of every race, ethnic group, every faith system and non-believers.