Event Name Sermon given at the Sung Eucharist on the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity 2016
Start Date 7th Aug 2016 11:15am

The Reverend David Stanton, Canon Treasurer and Almoner

Yesterday the Church throughout the world celebrated the feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord. It was a celebration of light and love and trust; how Christ revealed his glory to his disciples, and how we in turn not only give thanks for his divine gifts, but attempt to live ordered and rational lives in accordance with his will.

This feast day was marked gently and quietly within a world that is becoming increasingly concerned about sudden, irrational acts of violence and brutal acts terrorism.

In a recent poll on what scares the British, the answer was unequivocally terrorism and religious extremism. Such fear is very real and very understandable, but at times it can border on the xenophobic, the irrational sensation of fear, when things are strange or foreign to us. The natural fear of things that move beyond our comfort zone.

Knowledge is a great counter-balance to such fear, and within the context of world religions, its increasingly important that we come to understand faiths other than our own; what they stand for and how they nurture spiritual goodness. To this end I find it fascinating that the qualities of light and love and trust, naturally associated with Christianity, also lie at the very centre of Islam.

You will recall that last Tuesday the Requiem Mass took place in Rouen Cathedral for Fr Jacques Hamel, who was murdered in an attack at his church in St-Etienne-du-Rouvray. You may also have noticed that in showing respect and solidarity, Muslims gathered outside that cathedral, allying themselves with peace and vocally condemning senseless acts of violence.

This of course is in stark contrast to the so called Islamic State (ISIS) that regularly puts out well constructed internet propaganda aimed at recruiting jihadists from the West. A perversion of authentic Islam, it boasts of victories and paints a romantic image of the restoration of an Islamic golden age, heralding a 'glorious' new caliphate based on holy war.

You may also remember the terrorist atrocity at El Pozo railway station, Madrid, back in 2004. How in the aftermath of that terrible day, recordings of the Koran were found in a truck associated with the bombings, and related al-Qaeda emails were intercepted before the final bloody show down took place.

Then, as now, peoples of all races and belief prayed for peace and stability; peace at home, peace in the Middle East and a girding of world order. Against this backdrop of uncertainty, the world remains conscious of a growing polarisation between Western Christian based society, and Eastern Islamic society.

Of course the real danger is that authentic religion is used to fuel extreme prejudice and social division. One of the great misunderstandings and tragedies of our modern world concerns the lack of knowledge that most Christians have about Islam, and the lack of knowledge that most Muslims have about Christianity. If we're not careful, such lack of understanding can very quickly lead to a lack of trust. That is something that we all need to be very conscious of, and guard against.

The whole current situation today is greatly compounded by some real hatred that is travelling around the world, not just sharp divisions between the predominantly Christian West and the Islamic East, but a growing simplistic belief that one religion contains the whole truth and that the other is completely flawed.

What's not often realised, on both sides of the religious divide, is that both Christian and Islamic traditions contain a network of overlapping insights that, if only they could be seen, provide real space for greater understanding and respect.

That's not to say that the two religions are the same, in some politically correct sense. Each has unique and incompatible claims. However there are common themes that can help to knock down crude prejudice, and I think all of us who take our Christianity seriously should know what they are.

To begin, many of the basic beliefs of both faiths are closely aligned. For example: Belief in one creator God, Resurrection and Judgement Day, Repentance as a key stone of each faith. That any human being, however evil, can start again. As the Koran says: 'Those who do evil deeds, repent thereafter and believe….thy Lord is all-forgiving, all compassionate'. (vii, 153).

Christianity, in turn, teaches complete renewal, through repentance in Christ. Everyone 'can walk in a new life' (Romans 6:4). In this shared commitment to personal repentance and mercy, there is a profound link between Islam and Christianity. The God of the Bible knows everything, and cares for everything. As does he in the Koran: 'Not a leaf falls, but he knows it'. (vi, 59).

All Christians are taught that no sparrow falls unnoticed by God. And the Early Church was sure of God's detailed reply to every one of our problems: As we're told in Hebrews: 'We receive mercy and find grace to help us in our times of need'. The Koran also shows measured respect for Jesus and Christians. Jesus is 'high honoured….in this world and in the next, near stationed to God' (iii, 45).

Paradoxically, its in the figure of Jesus that Muslims and Christians could well find a meeting place. For Muslims, He is a prophet, although not divine; for us Christians, He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Nevertheless, His life and teachings, which are important in the Koran, can found one interfaith connection.

As in Christianity, the command to love others and care for the poor and weak, give up possessions, and help the poor is fundamental to an authentic Muslim way of life:

For the Koran says: 'To give one's substance, however cherished, to kinsmen and orphans and the needy'. (ii, 177). Indeed the letter to the Hebrews is even more insistent: 'Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds'. In both these examples we see how each faith demands the same sort of behaviour from its followers.

Indeed its also critically important to say that both faiths share a sense of mystery. A deep set belief that there's a God who transcends all human reason and vision, in a most beautiful way.

In the Koran, God's light is 'a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star kindled from a Blessed Tree…Light upon Light'. (xxiv, 38-43). The Gospel too places a clear emphasis on light: 'let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven'.

Indeed in the book of Exodus God's glory is described as being of such unbearable force and beauty that, to sense God's presence, Moses must stand in the cleft in the rock, his face shielded by the Lord (33:22).

Light and love are at the centre of both Christianity and Islam. In both, God is seen and described as all-loving. With this understanding, the great challenge for our world, even in the face of vile acts of terrorism is to try and find space to talk together without prejudice and in the light of trust with mutual respect and knowledge.

To this end it must surely be the duty of all the faithful, in both great religions, to actively engage in such dialogue for the good of our whole world. Acts of terror strike at the heart of trust and community relations; for terror is the ultimate denial and destroyer of trust.

Typically terrorists do violence and coerce, they deceive and they manipulate religion and they intimidate and perhaps inevitably, in the wake of terror, the result is that trust spirals downwards. Restoring that trust is one of the hardest social and religious and political tasks. Its not one that governments can handle alone.

We all have a duty to be pro-active in this regard. In the light of recent events in Nice, and in Paris and in so much of the Middle East, we all now have a special opportunity even a real obligation to understand one another better and recognise the common ground that we have, in fact, held for centuries.

The themes of Light and Love and Trust continue to lie at the very heart of both Christianity and Islam, and shape our common living. Above all, they characterise our one true God.

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