Be thou our vision

Sermon by Rev Allister Lane on 24 March 2019

Readings were Psalm 63:1-8 and Isaiah 55:1-9

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“Hello brother. Welcome…”[1]

These were the words of Daoud Nabi, a 71-year-old worshipping at the mosque on Deans Avenue. He spoke these words to the man alleged to have killed him.

“Hello, brother. Welcome” were his last words. In the irony of these what followed these words of peace, there is something more…

In the default to be open to others; to automatically extend goodwill, might be a vision for who we want to be.

I have been listening carefully to different voices over the last nine days. And in the many conversations and reflections, you and I have heard a range of feelings, haven’t we?

We all feel enormous sadness. Many are fearful. Some have told me they feel angry.

These feelings reflect the significant loss. Because there has been a big change, a shift from under us.

And, as I shared last Sunday, we do need to acknowledge what has happened; count the cost. We lament what has happened as an act of evil and deathliness.

But does this need to be accepted as our new reality? We will let this define us and our community as much as we allow it.

What I sense is a strong hunger and thirst for something different.

So, recognising this loss, what is it that we need to restore? What future do we want to have? What is it we treasure in our community? What is our vision for moving ahead?

Restoration started immediately. If we look at much of what we count on in our justice system, it is geared to restore common good.

Immediate public safety (police action and intervention)
Fairness – even to the perpetrator (judiciary)
Protection (firearms regulation)

As well as restoring what we know, there have been wake-up calls to attitudes not fully recognised in our community. Racism needs to be confronted. All forms, however subtle. We need to do better and value each other more.

Of course, the attacks on the mosques are an extreme manifestation of hatred. And because it is so overwhelming, it may feel a long way away from us. But the wake-up calls encourage us to see that the motivation of hatred is not disconnected from a culture that does not always adequately confront racist attitudes.

This is something I am still needing to come to grips with, and perhaps you feel the same.

Restoring what we treasure, and confronting things that need changing, is part of articulating the sort of future we desire; the kind of future we want to have; what we treasure as people together. What our vision is.

As a faith community, we are equipped with particularly good resources for expressing vision. Today’s scripture readings from Psalm 63 and Isaiah 55 both express a thirst for something else. Both identity God as the focus of the vision for humanity’s future.

The historical context for Isaiah was the desolation of God’s people exiled to a strange land. They were far from home, and loss was their daily reality. Through the words of the prophet, God addresses these people in Babylonian exile – what are the words of hope for their future?

I will make with you an everlasting covenant,

5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.

This is a stunning promise to the exiles in Babylon, and to us today. Not only will God give you and me new life (a future, certain in God’s own promise) but God also involves us in this future. We share in God’s mission to be witnesses to others (other ‘nations’).

This is of course the same mission Jesus proclaims and gives to us. When Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan he gave a vivid picture of what our mission is – what it means to be a neighbour to one another. We have recently considered how Jesus encourages a radically expansive recognition of who our neighbours are, and how radically inclusive Jesus is – it’s his default setting!

I won’t go into detail of the story of the Good Samaritan, but this is a major resource of the Church’s faith at time like this, as we thirst for the kind of future we want to have; what we treasure as people together. What our vision is.

  1. An innocent man is attacked and left for dead
  2. Of three people, one person (a Samaritan) responds as a neighbour
  3. He acts impulsively in the moment, and he provides follow-up care by taking him to a place of shelter.

Following the horrific attack in Christchurch, we have been able to give thanks for the ‘first responders’. These are the people who first expressed a restoration of what we all thirst for; what we treasure. They put themselves directly into the situation – to stop what was happening, to help the victims, to bring shelter and comfort.

And, if we are going to press ahead on our journey toward our vision for the future, we need ‘second responders’, ‘third responders’, ‘fourth responders’,…(you get the idea)

We need friendships, healthy and vibrant networks, better understanding between peoples, attentiveness to one another.

We have inducted a new Youth Pastor today! In doing so, we draw upon our tradition, our passion, our resources as a community – we look to the future and act intentionally about the sort of future we desire.

You and I recognise we have a part to play; we share in the mission to be light to all people. We acknowledge we have been promised a future, and that God guides us forward:

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

We claim this as our vision – nothing less than the wonderful fullness of God is our vision. God knows our thirst, gives us hope, and fulfils the destiny we have been given – you and me together.

“Hello brother. Welcome…”

is an expression of vision. A vision where there is openness to others, an extension of goodwill.

It is risky. We know that more now, than we did a couple of weeks ago. If you and I hold this vision, it will make us more vulnerable. To maintain this vision will affect our personal security.

But, my friends, when we look to Jesus – his humanity, his teaching, his dying for our sakes – we know we are involved. We are a people of vision.

Jesus said it’s not remarkable if you love those who love you; what makes a difference is loving your enemies.

Of course, we need God’s help every step of the way – to know who we can be, and what we can do to love, to be open to others, to restore, to share hope.

Paul pleads with the church to see the vision of God and how we are part of it…

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.  (Romans 12:1-2)

Let us pray…

Lord God,
We are hungry and we are thirsty.
We have lost much.
We need restoration and renewed vision for our future.

Our vision is a place of rest.
Be Thou my vision

Our vision is a sense of peace.
Be Thou my vision

Our vision is a generous welcome.
Be Thou my vision

Our vision is refuge from fear.
Be Thou my vision

Our vision is an open table.
Be Thou my vision

God of all places and people,
you are not bound by walls,
contained by addresses,
or limited by borders and barriers.

Open our eyes to see ourselves at home in you,
wherever we are and whatever our experiences.
Teach us to recognise our neighbours
as our fellow travellers and co-habitants,
sharing the gift of life given to us all.

Hear our prayer through Jesus Christ. Amen.


[1] The final words of Daoud Nabi, a 71-year-old worshipping at Masjid Al-Noor on Friday, were “Hello, brother. Welcome ” – directed at the man alleged to have killed him.

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