sermon was preached
Thank you again to Adnan for your words earlier
and for reminding us of our common heritage,
including Abraham and his family.
want to study the way in which
Islam, Judaism and Christianity all trace their roots back to Abraham,
you might like to look at the chart
on the wall at the back near where you came in.
Abraham of course had two sons –
Ishmael, the son of Hagar, and Isaac, the son of Sarah.
Sadly Sarah, once she has given birth to Isaac,
really turns into a wicked step mother.
She deeply resents Abraham’s elder son Ishmael,
and insists that he is thrown out.
So Abraham drives Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert.
But – and
this is a key point –
although Abraham and Sarah turn against Hagar & Ishmael,
God does not.
God loves and protects Sarah and Isaac,
but he also loves and protects Ishmael and Hagar. –
So when Hagar realizes her water is gone
and she and Ishmael are facing death in the desert,
God comes to their rescue, gives them water,
and promises that Ishmael too
shall be the father of another great nation.
And tradition has it that the children of Ishmael
were the forebears of the Arabs.
And so in later years, the Prophet Mohammed
came to trace his spiritual ancestry back to Abraham via Ishmael.
of Isaac and Ishmael reminds us –
that, for all the nationalism and militancy of parts of the OT,
the Biblical story is one of God creating and loving all people,
not just one group. If, like Abraham and Sarah,
we are sometimes tempted to exclude from the blessings of our life
those who seem to threaten our peace and prosperity,
never forget that when we throw them out
then God will walk with them in exile.
And in the NT, in the story of the Good Samaritan,
Jesus makes it clear that the Samaritans
(regarded by orthodox Jews as an heretical sect to be shunned)
can be neighbours just as much as others.
Who are we to reject those to whom God himself offers his love?
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism,
wrote 250 years ago about the relationships
between Protestants and Catholics –
writing in an age when they were often at each other’s throats.
But Wesley set his face against intolerance and bigotry.
It doesn’t matter, he says,
whether we are always of the same opinion.
We may differ on doctrine, he says, but (quoting 2 K)
“If your heart is as my heart, then give me your hand.”
This may not be easy –
those who have suffered violence at the hands of those of other faiths,
whether Christians who have suffered terrorist outrages,
or Muslim villagers who have suffered British or US bombs,
may find it hard to offer the hand of friendship and peace
But for those of us whose faith is centred on the cross,
we are called to the way of sacrificial love.
Of course welcoming and loving does not mean agreeing on
There is a great raft of issues
on which the world faiths disagree quite profoundly,
and we do no one any favours to ignore that.
Yet neither must we forget what we do hold in common.
I recall a funeral service I took four years or so ago
when I was in the West Midlands.
The young man who had died
came from an Afro-Caribbean Christian home,
but he had many friends and relations
who attended either the Mosque or the Gudwara.
So the funeral service in the Methodist Church
was attended by those of many faiths.
graveside, following normal West Indian Christian tradition,
the women gathered around the grave to sing choruses
whilst the men took shovels and filled the grave.
As this was going on I noticed that a few yards away
at a respectful distance a group
of perhaps 15 or 20 young men from the Mosque,
friends of the deceased, had lined up in a row.
Then on the cold muddy earth of a midlands cemetery,
they all knelt and chanted their funeral prayers.
I went over to talk to them and asked what prayers they had offered.
They said “In our prayers we have said that we are all sinners,
that we rely on the forgiveness of God on Judgement Day,
and pray that through his love,
God will grant for our brother a place in Paradise”
I said – In my prayers I have said these things also
As we learn to understand each other,
we learn that we are all a part of God’s people,
and that we have to live and act as a family.
lot has been said this week
about cartoons and about freedom of speech–
Many of us hold freedom of speech very dear in this country.
But we all
know that we should use that freedom
responsibly and lovingly.
British freedom of speech would allow me
to say and publish hurtful and wounding things
about my parents, my children or my friends –
provided I took care of the libel and slander laws,
nothing in law would stop me.
But of course they do not need the protection of law –
precisely because they are my family, my friends,
I would not dream of exercising my freedom to hurt them
have the constitutional freedom
to insult and distress those of other faiths –
and maybe that is important.
But pray God that is a freedom
which we in this country might learn never to use –
for those of every faith are indeed our brothers and sisters,
for we are all part of one human family.
A final word to those who are
joining us here for the first time today –
and if I may a special word to those newly arrived from Korea.
If you are still with me at the end of the sermon,
You have done very well!!
You may find the inhabitants of Exeter
very very strange people in many ways –
with strange habits to do with
handshakes and kissing and knives and forks…...
But I hope and pray that you will forgive us our oddities,
and accept our love and welcome.
For this we hold – that every man, woman and child –
whatever their race or colour or language or creed -
is loved by God.
And whether you come today from Korea or England
or from some other part of the globe,
whether you are a Moslem or a Buddhist,
a Catholic or Protestant, Methodist or Presbyterian,
you are indeed welcome among us.
We welcome you as our sisters and brothers.
Together may we learn God’s will and find his way.