Kia ora Tatou, Salaam Alaikum,  Peace be with us all…

It is good to be together at this time –    Thank you St Matthew-in-the-City church and the Ponsonby Masjid, Al-Masjid Al-Jamie. It is heart-warming that our two city communities, two distinctive faith communities,  can so easily join together in this time of quiet and reflection together……

This weekend we are mindful of a community remembering and honouring those who died a year ago;  mindful of the feelings of loss, loss  of family and friends, the loss of fellow Muslims that has rippled throughout our small New Zealand Islamic community;

mindful of the grief, the trauma,  suffered by those directly impacted by that savage act of 15 March 2019,

What happened was unprecedented in this country. It was born and festered in an attitude of US and THEM, when individuals blame THE OTHERS for what they feel is wrong in their own lives.  In their minds the OTHERS lose their humanity, no longer seen as people. OTHERS can then be dealt to in acts of violence – acts against Christchurch mosques, against Sri Lankan Churches, against a San Diego synagogue.

These are acts of violence carried out in order to sow seeds of fear and division…

AND yet the global response to the Christchurch massacre, shows that there are many, countless thousands, who want to see a better way forward:  the streams of visitors to mosques over the past year, the leadership of our prime minister, the international attention, and this past week the stories and the interviews carried by our media,  to say nothing of the compassion and forgiveness expressed with such dignity by the Muslim community itself….

All this is testimony to the example of a better way forward that the world has seen in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The  challenge for us all now?  The challenge  is put before us in a message, planned to be a global message from the Muslim community in Christchurch:  How can we work against the anger and harmful emotions and actions that result in such violence? 

What better way can we in New Zealand offer, in living and belonging together so we refuse to accept savagery and hate as any solution?

Those crafting the message ask us to name the hope we saw after 15 March. They remind us that we are all connected – humanity sharing a planet together, and this, a stark reality right now as the threat of the coronavirus hovers over the world. They remind us that we all have a responsibility to make this world a better place  – it is a global imperative as the earth cries out for attention.

And the challenge ?   We can all make a difference – stepping out of our comfort zones a little, making connections, making small changes, coming together, knowing we belong.

The Christchurch Message tells us that the Muslim community is looking to its own traditions – turning to the teachings of Islam – as they search for their way forward…

And they invite all communities – whether they are communities of faith, communities of culture or way of life – to look to their own traditions – at what has helped them to live with others in peace. 

So we are offered a key teaching of the Prophet Muhammad – Peace be upon him – when he was invited to adjudicate between clans and different races who were in constant dispute: O Mankind,  Spread peace, Feed the hungry, Rebuild relationships – amongst humanity and beyond with the earth,  and pray, doing acts of goodness,  unseen, hidden.  

AND from the Christian Bible we can offer:  First, from the First Testament’s ancient Hebrew scripture: What does the Lord request of you – but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.  And from the Second Testament: Love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth, Love never gives up and its faith, hope and patience never fail.

Our response to the challenge?  How are we to work against the anger and harmful emotions and actions that result in violence ?.

Since bad events start with words, can we strive to respond to the words that denigrate, words that put down someone’s religious practices and beliefs, words of prejudice and bigotry that hurt, that destroy, – words of hate…. Can we learn to respond with words that tell a different story?

Can we strive to open up a conversation – help New Zealanders who have learnt that you just don’t talk about religion – to share something of the human values, the spirituality we all share. – and so spread throughout our communities the ability to converse together in peace ….

For Anger does not drive out anger, Darkness cannot drive out darkness –  only light can do that, hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

Jocelyn Armstrong

St Matthew in the City Vigil

14 March 2020


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