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Sunday, 02 September 2007 00:00

Sermon Preached at St Pauls Cathedral, London by Fr Michael Lapsley,SSM

Sermon Preached at St Pauls Cathedral, London by Fr Michael Lapsley,SSM 02/09/2007

Dear sisters and brothers

To be here at St Pauls is a great honour for me. I would like to thank Ian Woodall and Canon Warner for the invitation extended to me to preach here today. Please accept the greetings of my brothers in the Southern African Province of the Society of the Sacred Mission as well as the extended community throughout the world linked to the Institute for healing of memories in Cape Town. The Institute seeks to contribute to the healing journey of individuals, communities and nations.

I would like to acknowledge all in this cathedral today, who live with disability – visible or invisible.
As a child of the Anglican church brought up in far away Aotearoa New Zealand, this great cathedral was always considered as part of our spiritual patrimony. However it was to be many years before I finally had the opportunity to come and worship here – indeed this is the first time I have been here for a Sunday Eucharist.

When preparing to preach and praying about what I might say, I often wonder about who will be there, as they say, on the day.- what joys and sorrows, delights and pain will be filling the hearts of the worshippers - all here to worship God, yes, but also looking for balm for their souls – seeking a word of encouragement, of hope.

In church on Sunday morning – normally only one person preaches – but we all have stories to tell – about our life journeys - all that has shaped us and created us into the people we are today. Sadly no matter what spiritual tradition we follow, in mosque, temple, synagogue or church, we can be faithful worshippers for our whole lives without ever having had the opprtunity to tell our own story. To speak, both of what we are proud and gives us hope as well as what makes us feel guilty and ashamed. All of us need to be listened to, to share what we feel.and not just what we think.Or to put it another way – every story needs a listener.

It is particularly around the issues of remembering and forgetting, around acknowledgment and denial and about struggling with forgiveness, that I would like to reflect with you today.
With a mixture of emotions many across the world have been remembering the peoples princess, Diana Pincess of Wales on the 10th anniversary of her tragic death.

As I read on your website this cathedral has for many centuries played a particular role in marking, in acknowleding, in remembering, significant events in national life. Not leaast among them the services marking the coming of peace at the end of the first and second world war.

As I wander around the world, listening to the pain of the human family people who are hurting often tell me how much they would like to forget what has happened to them but they cannot.
Can we or should we forget the past?

For a long time. I have mulled over these questions of remembering and forgetting. If you are a Moslem, if you are a Jew, if you are a Christian, whether you worship on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, you belong to one of the worlds three great remembering religions.

Pervading the Hebrew scriptures is the Exodus story: from slavery to freedom – when the Jewish people misbehaved or became morally lost the prophets would chastise them with the words, remember when you were slaves in Egypt. Remember the God who walked with you, who talked with you.
And today at this as in every Mass, the words of Jesus will be said, take eat, this is my body, this is my blood, do this in memory of me.

Indeed we are and we are called to be, remembering people.
What kind of memory is it that we are invited to have in Scripture: it is redemptive memory – memory of good that comes out of evil, of life that comes out of death. .
From slavery to freedom. And in the Jesus story – the betrayal, the suffering, the crucifixion, the death and the resurrection to new life.

There is another kind of memory – destructive memory – memory that fuels conflict from one generation to another – memory that has poison connected to it. Grandparetnts teach there grandchildren how to hate – they tell the stories, they remember and there is poison connnected to the memory.

This last week Nelson Mandela has been here in London – as Prime minister Gordon Brown described him – the greatest person of our generation.
Imagine for a moment, if Nelson Mandela had walked from prison after 27 years and said "Its time to get them" We would have died in our millions – if his memories were filled with poison – instead he said: Never, never, and never again should people do to one another what was done to us.

The key question is how do we transform memory from destructive memory to life giving memory.
This is true in relation to individuals, communities and nations.
For many people, the key first step on the journey to healing and wholeness begins with the journey from knowledge to acknowledgment. Individuals, families, communities and nations have guilty secrets – everybody knows something to be the case, but there are conspiracies of silence
There is knowledge but no acknowledgment
In our intimate relationships, all of us know the power of "Darling, I am sorry, I was wong, please will you forgive me." Of course, "darling" may say "Not yet, come back tomorrow, I am still hot".
When I am in the wrong, even only partly, the beginnimg of healing often begins when I acknowledge to myself, .my part in the wrong that has happened.

Every story needs a listener.

Many of us have heard about different activities in the United Kingdom which have marked the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade.
A few weeks ago, from this pulpit Canon Warner spoke about "this Eucharist, which is, in origin, both a sacrifice of praise and a meal to prepare the children of Israel for emancipation from slavery in Egypt, and that, and I quote "we are delighted that this year's City of London Festival includes a number of events that commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade."
The inspiring film "Amazing Grace" about Wilberforce and the struggle to abolish the slave trade could be described as a form of acknowledgment. Yes, it was true that it happened.and it was wrong. It caused dehumanisation and great suffering which has had consequences down the centuries.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the northern part of Sweden meeting with the Sami – the reindeer people who have their own stories of oppression and dispossession. There has been formal acknowledgment by the church of the wrong that was done to them over centuries. . However I was told that whilst there was acknowledgment, ordinary Christians lacked knowledge about what happened. People have not heard the stories and dont know about the pain which was caused.
I just pray that it will not take 200 years for the political establishment here to say.sorry to the Iraqi people for this illegal and immoral war. (Of course history will record that the largest demonstrations in the history of London took place before this terrible war began).

Iraqi suffering is exponentially greater than people here. But we should not underestimate the long term impact of wars both just and unjust, not only on the lives of combatants but on their families. This can continue across the generations.
Often the legitimised violence of armed conflict which happens in public space gives way to other horrors which happen in private space behind bedroom doors – sometimes in harm to loved ones and sometimes in harm to self. Domestic violence, alcohol abuse, and psychological disturbances are just a few of the consequences of war.
If a war is popular, soldiers return as heroes. If a war is unpopular soldiers may be seen as villains, or at the very least seen as pawns of politicians. In neither case does society really want to hear the story the soldier has to tell.

Last Sunday I preached in another cathedral – St Marks in Minneapolis in the United States. They had invited me for two purposes: to explore with them their ministry to indigenous people and how they could respond as faith based communities and become safe spaces for returning war veterans. I listened to the pain of mothers and fathers whose children have come back from this war with PTSD, who have become drug addicts, who are unable to hold down a job. Because of the advances in medicine, those who are injured in the conflict, often live for the rest of their lives, with indescribable physical injuries. Even more terrible are those whose pain and terrors are not visible to the naked eye.

In the South African context, I recall a young man coming to a healing of memories workshop – he had been a fighter for freedom and for good reasons was regarded as a hero in his own community. He told us that he did not want to speak about the heroism but rather about that of which he was ashamed. The stereotype of just being a hero had not allowed him to be the complex human being that we all are – living with contradiction and ambivalence - capable of being a fighter for justice, bystander, perpetrator and victim.to varying degrees – sometimes all at the same time.

Are our churches safe places where we are willing to hear the stories of those who have imprinted upon them the horrors of what they experienced during war? And perhaps even more telling are we willing to hear the stories of those who represent the "other"
Perhaps for most of us here today, what is closer to us, are the wounds that have been experienced through the bombings that have taken place in London itself
I was greatly moved to read on your website
about Artists Bob Aldous and Ingrid Plum who coordinated interactive art events to mark the second anniversary of the London Bombings.

"Aldous' work, 'Silver Petition', was displayed in the Crypt of St Paul's Cathedral on the 5th, 6th and 7th of July of this year . Silver threads were placed by visitors across the words FEAR> ANGER> RAGE >REVENGE, transforming the words by a web of reflective light.

The works were designed to be uplifting and transformative. Both pieces have universality that comment on the suffering caused by terrorism, but then, through our compassion, transcends the negativity."

As people of faith dare we ask the question whether our own nation and the choices we and our leaders have made have contributed to exacerbating extremism and terror?

What role do we as followers of Jesus have to make in addressing the root causes of terrorism?

Our faith, the Jesus story itself, invites us to the life long journey of seeking to bring life out of death, good out of evil
I recall reading the debate at the end of the Falklands/Malvinas war about the desire of a certain political leader that the service in this cathedral should be a victory celebration. By contrast the church insisted that their would be a remembrance of all the, mainly young lives, Argentinian and British who had died
As followers of Jesus how do we navigate our path between the demands of the gospel and that of the state? In South Africa the choice was even starker for some of us. The state called for our loyalty on the basis of our skin colour, whereas the teaching of Jesus encouraged us to act on the basis of our common humanity.
Lets equally pray that it wont take 200 years for the leaders of the worlds great religions to say sorry to same gender loving persons for the pain that our faith communities have caused.
In that regard I have been greatly encouraged by the leadership of the Archbishop of Cape Town Njongonkulu Ndungane .- creating opportunities for us as people of faith to listen to the voices of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.

In all human conflicts there is an "us" and a "them". A key element in the journey of healing happens when we meet the full humanity of the other – discovering that in the deepest sense there is only "us " - we do share a common humanity and that we all have a shadow side – in the horror of what others do I am confronted by what I am capable of doing myself. There but for the grace of God, go I.
Religion is increasingly a factor in contemporary conflicts. Never in human history has it been so important for religious leaders at local and national levels to model interfaith dialogue and to encourage their followers not simply to "tolerate", but to "reverence" people of other faith traditions. As Jesus says, I have other sheep that are not of this fold. The western media speaks constantly of the danger of Islamic fundamentalism. There is silence about the dangers which we face from Jewish, Christian, Buddhist and secular fundamentalism. Some us us were very encouraged when some years ago, Prince Charles asserted that he did not want to be defender of "the faith", but defender of "faith".

Allow me to return to my own story – to come up close and personal for a few moments.
For nearly 20 years, I was part of the liberation struggle in South Afica, becoming one of the chaplains of the African National Congress of South Africa. As you recall, we as a faith community came to the conclusion, that apartheid was not only a crime against humanity, we also declared it to be a heresy, a false doctrine
Back in April of 1990, after Nelson Mandela was released from prison, on the eve of negotiations the apartheid state sent me a letter bomb hidden inside the pages of two religious magazines.
You can see some of the results. Whenever I tell the story of that night – what is important for me to tell you, is not about the pain, but the sense that God was with me, that Mary who watched her son being crucified understood what was happening to me.
For 14 years before the bomb went off, I had lived in the countries of Southern Africa and travelled the world seeking to mobilize people of faith to see that apartheid was an option or a choice for death, carried out in the gospel of life. After I was bombed I received messages of prayer and love and support from people of faith and people of good will across the globe. My own story was acknowledged and reverenced and given a moral content.

This was what enabled me to travel a journey from victim to survivor to victor – to move from being an object of history to become a subject of history once more – to becoming a participant in helping shape and create the world. 
Today I would like to acknowledge the role that my sister Helen, and my sister Irene together with other family members and members of SSM played in my journey of healing. Helen and Irene are both present with us today.
Often when I speak I say that I am not filled with hatred and that I dont want revenge. After I have spoken, people tell me that I am a wonderful example of forgiveness – curiously because I never mentioned the word forgiveness.
In the faith community we are inclined to speak of forgiveness as something glib and cheap and easy. Most human beings find forgiveness, costly, painful and difficult. Sometimes we are too quick to tell people they should forgive whilst they are crying out for their pain to be heard to be acknowledged.

So far no one has claimed resposibility for what happened to me so there is noone to forgive yet. Perhaps on my return to Cape Town, someone will ring the door bell and say : I am the one, please will you forgive me. Now forgiveness is on the table – I guess I have three choices of response: yes, no or not yet. Perhaps I might ask: Excuse me, Sir, do you still make letter bombs? No he replies – I work around the corner from you at the local hospital.Will you forgive me? Yes, of course, I forgive you. I would prefer that you spend the next fifty years working in that hospital rather than be locked up. I believe much more in the justice of restoration than the justice of punishment – in restorative justice than in retributive justice.

Over tea, I might say to my new friend; I have forgiven you, but I still have no hands, one eye and damaged ear drums. I will always need someone to assist me for the rest of my life. Of course you will help pay for that person – not as a condition of forgiveness but as part of reparation and restitution in ways that are possible.
Reparation and restitution are part of the journey of forgiveness.

Dear sisters and brothers, I hope as you have listened to me, and as you reflect on what I have said, you will ask yourselves, whether to yourself or to others you need to do some acknowledging. How have I been shaped by my country's past and what acknowledging do we need to do collectively as part of the faith community and as citizens? Do I need a safe space where I can begin to let go of that which is poisonous within me – because of what I have done, because of what was done to me, because of what I failed to do.

Do I need to begin a journey of forgiveness for the sake of my own freedom?
Let us claim the promise of God: God's promise to accompany us on our journey. We receive it once more as we eat and drink – Christs body broken and blood poured out – food for our journey.

Amen.