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Bury Unitarian Church



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Sermon by Rev. Kate McKenna 19-6-16


Later that night, I held an atlas in my lap, ran my fingers across the whole world, and whispered “where does it hurt?”  It answered “everywhere.  Everywhere.  Everywhere.”

I’ve changed today’s sermon.  I was going to talk to you about the benefits of doing things slowly and mindfully, and about sometimes stopping altogether.

But that seemed wrong.  This has been one of those weeks where our little world feels broken.  When we are given such horrible news to digest and where it’s hard to shake ourselves out of a feeling of gloom.

 At the weekend, just as we were coming home from church, we heard the horrible, horrible news of 49 people – who only wanted a night of dancing – shot dead, and over 50 more seriously injured. 

 And while we were still dealing with our horror at that, we hear of a young MP, out doing her work, being shot and stabbed and dying.

 Lives ended, brutally and seemingly senselessly, by the actions of others. 

And all this, while the “normal” stuff is also going on:  bombs are killing civilians in Syria daily; refugees are still dying trying to find safety. 

It’s one of those week where I nearly find my faith in the ultimate goodness and lovingness of humans shaking. 

Human actions, leading to untold human misery.

Sometimes the horror of all this is enough to make us want to fall to our knees, either metaphorically or literally. 

It’s really easy to feel helpless about this stuff, and I think there are basically two ways we can deal with hearing it.

We can ignore it:  sometimes, and it may be surprising to hear this, sometimes we have to ignore it.  There are times in all of our lives when we can’t take on any more than we’re already carrying. 

But if we do have the capacity to take it into our hearts, and most of the time I think we do, we need to decide what to do about it.

As religious people, or as people with a social conscience, I think we actually shouldn’t be able to hear this stuff without feeling upset and angry.  We probably shouldn’t be able to hear of people making these decisions, or being in situations where these are the only solutions they can think of, without feeling our heart break a little.

We don’t tend to think getting upset about things changes much.  But it can.  It’s that upset that can bring about action – whether that action is hands on and practical or whether it takes the form of prayer.  I know we don’t all feel that prayer can work, but I also know that some of us do. 

But, sometimes, even when we’re engaging with what’s happened, it’s hard to see a way through.  We can be so shocked and saddened by what’s going on that we can’t seem to see anything good in it. 

Sometimes, we’re so overwhelmed that we can’t seem to see anything good.  But we have to try. 

I wonder if any of you have heard of Louise and Conor Taaffe?  It won’t be surprising if you haven’t. 

Louise and Conor are a couple who were walking home from a prayer meeting almost over 20 years ago, when they saw two young black men running towards them.  And then one of the boys collapsed, and Louise and Conor knew something was badly, horribly, wrong. There was blood on the ground, and the couple knew straightaway that the boy was going to die, and that there was nothing at all they could do to prevent that.

But something also told them that they could help.  They both knew that it’s generally thought hearing is the last thing to go when someone is dying.  And so Louise Taaffe knelt down beside the young man, held his head in her arms, and whispered, repeatedly, “Remember, you are loved.  You are loved.”  And she kept whispering that to him until, as they knew he was going to, he died.

The young boy, you may have realised, was Stephen Lawrence. 

I don’t know, we won’t ever knew, how conscious he was while Louise Taaffe was talking to him.  He may, or may not, have known what she was saying to him, and he may, or may not, have died with those words in his ear. “Remember you are loved.”  I hope, and pray, that he did.  That his last consciousness was of someone caring, and someone showing him love. 

The thing about Louise and Conor is that they probably weren’t particularly special.  They were just a couple going home one evening.  But it’s possible, likely, even, that they made a huge difference to the last moments of one very frightened boy’s life. 

And there are, actually, a lot of Louise and Conor Taaffes around.  It’s just easy to lose sight of that, because some of the horrors we see blind us to it. 

A few years ago, after the bombing at the end of the Boston Marathon, people started posting a picture on Facebook of American TV personality Mr Rogers, saying:  “When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me “Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.””

There are days, there are, when it’s hard to see the good in people as a whole.  When all you seem to read is about people doing really bad things.  And it’s only too easy for disillusionment to slip in. 

But you can, almost always, if you look hard enough, find the helpers.  Louise and Conor Taaffe were helpers.  Pictures appeared only hours after the new of the Orlando shooting of queues and queues of people – hundreds of people – waiting to donate blood.  Wanting to be helpers.  People brought towels and blankets and did what little they could once it was clear how horrible the situation was for Jo Cox, the MP shot dead.  People want to help. People’s instinct is to be helpers.   

The help doesn’t, of course it doesn’t, always stop the tragedies from happening.  But there will almost always have been someone trying. 

There will always be helpers.  And it would be the easiest thing, now, for me to say that we should be the helpers. 

But almost all the time, saying that would just be a platitude.  It would make us feel, for a couple of minutes, empowered.  Because, realistically, we often can’t actually be the ones to help.

But I think looking for the helpers is a positive step.  Despair doesn’t help.  It’s understandable, and it’s natural, and it’s human, but shaking our heads and despairing of the human race is just not right. 

The advice Fred Rogers mother gave him was simple, and perhaps it was even simplistic.  But when there’s nothing practical we can do, we can at least remind ourselves that there is a vast, unimaginable, amount of good in people, and that the vast majority of people are entirely good themselves. 

It won’t stop tragedies.  It won’t bring anyone back to life.  It will, perhaps, help us to move on and to do what work we can do to bring about change.  Restoring our faith in humanity is not nothing.  It’s huge. 

Human beings, I firmly believe, I have to believe, and the evidence shows me, are essentially good.  We have to hang on to that when we have a week like this one has been.  We just have to.  It can feel like our only defence.

I’m going to end with another – very short – story. 

Once, many years ago, the people of the world became tired of what they saw all around them. They had seen children suffering at the hands of adults, adults suffering at the hands of those who should have cared for them. 

They had seen people die in pain and alone and frightened.  They had seen war and famine and loneliness and misery and meanness and spite and gossip and cruelty.  And try though they might, they could not make sense of how this could happen.  They discussed it, and they debated it, and they fought about whose fault it was.

Eventually, they could see only one culprit.  It was surely God’s fault.  And as one, they rounded on God, crying out “Look, God, at the suffering of your people!  Why don’t you do something about it?”

And out of a deep, dark, long silence, God answered them, saying “I did do something about it.   I made you.”







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Bury Unitarian Church 2016