Bishop Philip JonesLike all of you, I am stunned by last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut. It probably affected your preaching schedule, as it did mine. We were finishing up a sermon series on I Peter where we have been talking about the role of the church in an ever-changing culture. St. Peter was writing to a group of scattered Christians in what is now modern day Turkey. They too were in an environment antithetical to Christian beliefs and understanding. He begins his letter with a call to remember who they are in their identity with Christ. “Born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Christ with an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…”. (I Peter 1:3-4)

Like us, these first century Christians were facing external pressures from the Roman Empire as well as internal pressure with the power of our own flesh. In the face of these terrorist attacks on our allies and the fear, anger and anxiety these attacks can engender, how do we respond?

In Chapter 5 of his first letter, St. Peter exhorts us to stand firm and be on our guard. Thank God we have the hope given to us in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Through our faith in him given to us by him, our eternity is secure. With every difficulty, trial and challenge we read – plant the cross of Christ.

Some of our Mission Partners live with threats of terrorism on a daily basis. Some of our partners have had churches burned and people they minister to threatened or kidnapped. Since 2001 we probably have become numb to these reports. However, we must stand firm with our sisters and brothers through prayer and support as we share a common humanity and a common enemy. We grieve with them and pray for their churches to be places of hope in Christ to all those that mourn.  We, too, pray for justice and the need to be on our guard against the enemies’ attack. As hard as it is, we must pray for the terrorists as well, that they will see the evil in their ways. Again, I Peter 3:9 and 3:14 says “do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing…. even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.” This is a lesson that I have been reminded of many times through the stories of our Mission Partners. Pray with joy and without ceasing, pray blessings upon those that would do you harm. Not something we are used to doing here in the West, but nevertheless, a most important lesson we can learn from these events.

It seems very likely that other attacks will occur in “soft spots”. We have the responsibility to protect those with whom we have care and concern. The right to protect must be held in tension with the need to pray not only for those who are in harm’s way but also for our enemies. Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner in an article in this month’s Christian Today reminds us that “those who believe in a sovereign God should be the least angry, the least anxious and the least fearful. One of the most frequently repeated commands in the Bible is, “Fear not”. God is the author and finisher of our stories, both individually and collectively. He invites us to a calm trust.

I commend the following prayer and pray with you these words.

Our Lord and God,

Welcome into your arms the victims of violence and terrorism.

We stand with and pray for especially the victims of recent terror attacks in Paris, Beirut, Kenya, Russia, Syria and all those areas affected.

Comfort their families and all who grieve for them.

Help us in our fear and uncertainty,

And bless us with the knowledge that we are secure in your love.

Strengthen all those who work for peace,

And may the peace the world cannot give reign in our hearts.  

Let those who caused this needless act of violence and death be brought to justice. 

We ask this in the name of the One who defeated death and rose from the grave, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

God bless you,

+Philip