Make me a channel of love, pardon and faith

We live in a troubled world! Last Sunday evening we began a series of sermons on prayer and we talked about peace. We saw that Peace is much more than just an end to war, an absence of conflict. In the Bible peace is not just a negative, an absence of something, but the Jewish and Christian idea of shalom is a very positive concept of calm, tranquillity, serenity, harmony, reconciliation, wholeness, completeness, soundness, well-being: very positive experiences. And we saw how we can experience God’s peace in our own lives by fixing our minds on God.

You keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is fixed on you, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3 (RSV)

And we fix our minds on God though prayer.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:6-7.
We all need to make time and space in our frenetic overcrowded lives to be in God’s presence and receive his peace, to set aside our busyness and noise to meet God in the silence.

God invites us to receive His peace, but then he also calls us to be peacemakers and peacebringers in this troubled world.
Matthew 5 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

So we pray, “Lord make me an instrument of your peace.” “Make me a channel of your peace.” Use me as you choose. Lord live through me to bring your peace to this troubled world. And our world needs peace! In Syria. In Israel and Palestine. In Ukraine and Crimea. With the breakdown of the peace process, now again in Northern Ireland. In so many places the world needs Christians to be channels of God’s peace!

This series of evening sermons on prayer is based around the famous prayer known as the Prayer of Saint Francis, which we often sing in the song “Make me a channel of your peace.” “Make me an instrument of your peace.” One purpose of praying this prayer is to ask God to bless us and give us his peace. Another purpose is to ask God to bless other people and to give them His peace. But another purpose in praying St. Francis’s prayer is so that the very act of praying will change us as people as we as invite God to make us more like Jesus. The prayer of St Francis is a “formation prayer”. It can be used as a meditation to help us to reflect on our own lives and our own experiences. Then we are asking God to form the character of Christ in us. The prayer begins like this.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith;

Love instead of hatred, pardon for injury, faith in place of doubt. These are the blessings of God’s peace, which so many hurting people desperately need to receive.

I begin by stating the obvious. We cannot share God’s blessings with other people unless we have first experienced them ourselves. So the first step to being a channel of God’s peace is to experience that peace in our own lives. We cannot ourselves be channels of love if we are consumed with hatred. We cannot help other people to find pardon and to give pardon if we have not experienced God’s forgiveness or if refuse to forgive those who have injured us. And we cannot share faith if we are full of doubts. So the purpose of using the prayer of St Francis in our personal prayers is firstly so that we can experience God’s peace for ourselves. Only then will God be able to use us to bring His peace to other people.

Lord, make me a channel of your peace:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Our world is full of hatred. I could ask us to think about people we ourselves hate – but that could be too personal and too painful for all of us. So instead I want us to think more generally about hatred in our world, and leave us to apply the principles to our own lives in our own time. At different times in history, different groups of people have been the objects of hatred but perhaps the most widely hated group of people in the world today are terrorists.

Tuesday 11th September 2001 is one of those dates which sticks in everybody’s mind. It is often remembered as 9/11. Most people remember what they were doing on that day when the first of four jets hijacked by terrorists crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York, followed by a second jet reducing both towers to rubble. 2996 people were murdered and over 6000 others were injured. Another hijacked aircraft severely damaged the Pentagon in Washington, killing 189 people. A fourth jet crashed in Pennsylvania with the loss of 45 lives. Although money in insignificant in comparison to the lives lost, the material damage on that day is estimated at $10 billion with $3 trillion in consequent damage. One commentator that week correctly observed,
“Tuesday 11th September will go down in history as the day the world woke up.”

In the fifteen years since that attack by al-Quaeda led by Osama Bin Laden, the West has seen a number of terrorist attacks, in particular over the last three years by so-called Islamic State. We probably remember the shootings and bombings in Paris in November 2015 which killed 130 people, or the 49 murdered in a night-club in Orlando last June, and the murder of a priest in his church in Normandy in July of last year, or the 12 people mown down by a stolen truck in Berlin the week before Christmas. The tragic fact is that, even without including the many atrocities in Syria and Iraq, Islamic State have so far claimed responsibility for more than 70 terrorist attacks, which have taken more than 3600 lives and injured more than 8100 people. So you see why I say that terrorists are among the most hated people in the world today.

There is a lot of hatred in the world! What should happen to the people who have plotted these hijacks and shootings and bombings and massacres. What ought to happen to the murderers, and to the guilty parties in terrorist organizations, and to the regimes that shelter them? The international community continues to take urgent and decisive action against such people. But the motivation for such action must be clear. It is morally right to act to bring these people to justice. It is morally right to take such actions as would successfully prevent these groups from acting in the future. And it is morally right to take actions which would then be a deterrent against other potential terrorists who might plot such atrocities. It is morally right to act out of a concern for justice. It is always morally wrong to act out of hatred. It is never right to strike out merely as an act of revenge or anger or hatred. The jury is still out on whether it was right to simply execute Osama bin Laden, rather than capture him alive and bring him to trial. We wait to see what will happen to the leaders of so-called Islamic State. But hatred is always wrong!

Listen to these words of Jesus Christ from the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 5:21-22 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not
murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.

Matthew 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, `Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’
39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also 43 ¶ “You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.

There is a tightrope to walk between a concern for justice and a desire for revenge born out of hatred.

Romans 12:17-21 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

All these terrorist attacks have been the actions of small groups of very evil men and women. The nations of the world must make sure that their responses are measured and appropriate. In most cases those who are most guilty, the hijackers and the shooters and the bombers themselves, are already dead. Innocent people have already been murdered – it is vitally important that more innocent people do not die needlessly. We hope there will be justice, prevention, and deterrence, but not hatred, not revenge, not vengeance.

Since 9/11 and especially over the last few years across Europe we have seen many who have tried to stir up hatred and fear – people who have exploited the acts of terrorists and extremists to fuel racial and religious intolerance. They have tried to spread the guilt of the few on to entire nations or religious communities or particularly on to migrants and refugees. We must make sure that we do not harbour such false ideas. And we must seek to help other people whose lives will only be destroyed by hatred to find God’s love for themselves. Time and time again the Bible teaches us to let go of hate and show God’s kind of love. The Christians of Uganda suffered terribly under Idi Amin. But their Archbishop Festo Kivingere could still write a book entitled “I love Idi Amin”. Christians in Uganda and Christians who suffered under communist persecution in Eastern Europe have so much to teach us about letting go of hatred and bringing God’s love.

I have pointed to terrorists indiscriminately murdering innocent men, women and children to help put our own hatred and anger into context. But there may well be people in our own lives who have hurt us deeply and painfully. It is understandable when we feel anger and bitterness towards such people. There may be people who, we have to admit it, we hate. In many ways it is easier to forgive terrorists we don’t know than people we do know whose actions have wrecked our lives. But for each of us this is where the rubber really hits the road. “Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”

With the prayer of St Francis, we can spend time in prayer to help us overcome our own hatred and anger. We pray so that God will give us His love whatever has happened to us and whatever situations we now find ourselves in. And then we pray so that God can use us to help other people to let go of their hatred and learn to love. “Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”

Make me a channel of your peace:
where there is injury, let me sow pardon;

It is not our place to forgive people for the injuries they have caused to somebody else. It is not for us to declare, “they are forgiven”. Only the person who has been injured has the right to declare that forgiveness. Only those who lost loved ones in 9/11 or in Paris or Berlin have the right to forgive their murderers. And there is no moral obligation on those mourning relatives and friends to show forgiveness to anyone, ever. I do not want to suggest that we should forgive terrorists and their supporters. It is not our place to do so.

But I do want to proclaim the gospel of grace. I do want to say that the Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) And the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23) And Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Acts 2:21 and Romans 10:13). The gospel we proclaim says that Jesus Christ has died to save sinners and that NO sin is too great for God to forgive.

So we can pray that those who have plotted these terrible attacks on the civilised world will be brought to justice. But we should also pray that God, by his grace, will bring them to repentance. I heard somebody say “no torments in hell will be too awful for those terrorists – they deserve the very worst!” That is true. But the Bible says that the Lord is patient with us all, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9) God’s heart is to offer forgiveness to all, even the worst of sinners.

And when we have received God’s forgiveness, then God call us to forgive others who have hurt us. Once again Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount, in the Lord’s prayer,

Matthew 6:12 Forgive us our trespasses, our sins, as we also have forgiven those who trespass against us, who sin against us. …. 14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

This is hard teaching! It is not that we earn our forgiveness by forgiving others. Rather it is that as we realise how wonderful it is that God has forgiven us, miserable sinners, so God puts his love in our hearts so that we can forgive other people who have injured us.
We are hearing so many cries for justice this week. The gospel holds out the offer of forgiveness.

Using the prayer of St. Francis, we can spend time in prayer to help us forgive those who have injured us. Then we pray so that God can use us to help others to forgive the injuries they have experienced. “Lord, where there is injury, let me sow pardon.”

Make me a channel of your peace:
where there is doubt, let me sow faith;

Terrorist murders are just another example of “man’s inhumanity to man” which cause many people to doubt the existence of God. Why did God allow this terrible tragedy to happen? Why didn’t God stop it from happening? Is God not almighty? Is God not all-loving? These are important questions. You may recall I dealt with this issue in a sermon just over a year ago, “How can we believe in God in a world so full of suffering?” The answer I gave forms chapter 10 of my book, “Prepared To Give An Answer”.

Many people have doubts. Does God exist? Is God all-powerful? Is God all-loving? Especially in the face of terrorist attacks but also with all the suffering in the world we need to be there to help people overcome their doubts and put their trust in God. In Jesus Christ, God has drawn near to everyone who is consumed with hatred and overwhelmed by hurts and struggling with doubts. Even to these, God offers his love and his pardon and his peace.

Using the prayer of St Francis, we can spend time in prayer bringing our own doubts and questions to God and listening for His answers. We pray so that our own faith is strengthened. And then we pray so that God can use us to help others overcome their doubts and find true faith. “Lord, where there is doubt let me sow faith.”
When we experience hatred or injury or doubt, we can pray, “Lord, make me a channel of your peace.” And any time when we meet other people who are grieving, or are struggling with hatred or injury or doubt, we can pray, “Lord, make me a channel of your peace.” Lord, use me to help these people today! Use me to spread love and forgiveness and faith.

This week, Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, let me sow pardon;
where there is doubt, let me sow faith; AMEN

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