The Paris Attacks and Jennifer’s Baptism
On Friday night Paris suffered the worse terrorism attack that Europe has seen for a decade. Over 120 people killed and hundreds of innocent people injured, damaged and scarred.
We know in our hearts that there is so much good in the world and yet the presence of evil is all around us. Evil is present in the war in Syria. Evil is present in the refugees fleeing and drowning in the sea. Evil is present in every attack and atrocity committed by ISIS or inspired by ISIS.
And today, in her baptism promises Jennifer will promise – she will make a decision to renounce evil. Is Jennifer guilty of the type of evil I have described?
Of course not. But evil is a path – it’s a way of thinking – it’s a way of life – it’s present in our malice, our road rage, our gossip, our envy, and in all kinds of hatred – when we choose to follow Jesus – as our Lord and Saviour – we choose to follow the prince of peace – who said love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
It’s a totally different way of life. It’s a way of peace and love. And yet we have to constantly choose to follow this path – we have to constantly choose to turn to Christ, to repent of our sins, to renounce evil – because the pull of that path, the attraction of that evil is so strong in us.
Getting baptised is such a joyful moment in our lives – it’s a moment when we strongly hear Jesus’ call to follow and reply with an immense yes! It’s a moment when we publicly recognise the joy of the good news of the gospel – we are forgiven, we are loved, we are precious in God’s sight – and at our core is not a NO but a YES – God’s yes – at our core is a deep knowledge that we are created by God, loved by God, saved by God, known by God – and this is the most healing and transforming things that we can know.
As I have gotten to know Jennifer over the last 2-3 years I have seen this faith – which developed in her as an adult, from a communist background, grow and flourish. Jennifer is bright and intelligent, sparky and witty and funny and asks very good questions. I have loved travelling with her on this journey of discovery – a journey that will go on for the rest of her life. She has found the person of Jesus to be compelling – she’s been drawn to him – so much so that she wants to define herself as a Christian – as a follow of Jesus.
Jennifer wanted to be baptised in a pool, with more water – to show more dramatically her commitment to Christ – to go into the cold water which takes courage, to kneel in that water, which takes humility and to be baptised with a lot of water – to show the fullness of her commitment to Jesus. If she could have had her way, she would have preferred it in a river! But we couldn’t quite make that happen.
Some sceptics might say, in the wake of the attacks on Paris – what good is religion to any of us – look at the damage it does. What happened in Paris is not about religion. It’s about power, and politics, hatred and violence, it’s about feeling disenfranchised, but it is not about religion. It is anger and hatred wrapped up in the cloak of religion.
Having faith in God, knowing you are loved by God and living out of the strength of that deep knowledge gives you the tools to show others love. Not just your immediate family or friends – but to reach out with generous love to your neighbour and even to your enemy. This is not gushy, easy, valentine love – this is a strong, careful, patient love – a love that comes by grounding your life in the Jesus that you find in the gospels – reading the scriptures, praying deeply – from this place of prayer – a quiet place – comes strength, holiness, the ability to be a peacemaker, the ability to see Christ in the face of another.
If you have Muslim colleagues at work, or neighbours on your street – be a blessing to them this week – can you imagine how it will feel being a Muslim in Britain at the moment. Be a blessing to them, because imagine how many people will seek to harass or torment them.
I wonder if this week you might commit to pray for peace and justice every day. You could light a candle and pray for two minutes every day. Pray for peace. Pray that you can stand in solidarity. Pray to be a peacemaker. Pray to be a bridge-builder. Remember the suffering of others.
Being a peace-maker is hard work. It means walking the extra mile. It means shutting up for long enough to hear another side of a story. It means trying to find common ground where there doesn’t seem to be any. It takes hard, conscious effort – and yet I believe it’s a central calling to Christians in these hard times – “Blessed are the peacemakers”.
When the attacks happened a campaign began on social media #porteouverte – open door – letting people know if they were stuck in Paris, strangers were ready to protect them and help them – humanity in action.
This is such a beautiful image of the goodness of humankind. But also it’s a very spiritual image – the door of God’s heart is always open to us – and he calls us to live lives where our doors (doors of love, service, friendship, prayer) are open – not closed – open to others, open to the stranger, open to our enemies.
Desmond Tutu said – Goodness is stronger than evil, life is stronger than death – Amen, Amen!
May God the Father give us the courage to live that out today – as we pray for peace and healing in our world. May God give Jennifer a deep knowledge of his presence that she might share the light and love of Christ with others. May the Holy Spirit renew and energise us in our bids to be peacemakers, bridge builders and committed followers of Christ.
(Sheridan James - 15 November 2015)
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