This homily was written and spoken by Strahan Coleman at our Prayer Vigil on March 20th.
What is love?
We say that God is love.
But if so, what kind of love is God? Is it the kind of love that seeks for itself to be in control? Or to overcome evil or their enemies through coercion and strength?
Is God the kind of love that separates, see’s others superficially and seeks to overcome their individuality and personal expression?
What is love?
God is love.
But what kind of love is he?
And if God is love, then what does that mean for us, for humanity and for the world?
God may not be anything at all for you tonight. God, may be a myth, a hypothetical or an obstruction to love. God may even be a terrible memory or a bad taste in your mouth.
If so, then what is love?
And if God isn’t love to you, then who is God?
We can be in danger of misunderstanding love. Without an anchor love can become a chameleon to our own personal motives, our selfish ambition or at worst, our untamed hatred.
When we misunderstand love, we misunderstand one another and even our enemies because humanity was made to function perfectly only under the warmth and expression of love. Love is meant to be in our DNA. Like oxygen, love has the power to air out the sickness within us, within our communities and within our minds if we will allow it.
So when we lose love, when we misunderstand or manipulate it, we risk the wellbeing of our society, and the fabric of goodness that holds it together.
Regardless of religion or belief few people could disagree about the qualities of love that we heard earlier tonight - that it is kind, that it is patient, that it is caring and seeks to build up rather to tear down another.
Few people would argue that love is violent, that it is self-seeking, that it excludes or that it would rather risk harming the other before laying down it’s own self.
In the Christian tradition it is believed that God is love, and that he is the kind of love that would rather die for His enemies than kill them. Something we largely misunderstood for millennia, and something that sadly today, many of us still completely miss. That kind of love, that Christ-love, would have been found lying with the victims in the mosques last Friday. That kind of love would rather have bled with them than be the aggressor against them. That kind love, we must sorely admit, has on the whole been absent from our tradition for far too long.
That same kind of love would refuse to coerce even its enemies to believe as it does, or to act as they do. Because that kind of love also respects the autonomy of the human heart to choose.
Because what is love if it is not free?
Love was made to be the fabric of every culture, religion and race.
Love is humanity expressing herself at it’s best. But when love is centered on oneself, one’s own race, or one’s belief systems, then this distortion tears at the fabric of human dignity.
What happened last Friday was not right-love. It was fractured love, love for self and an obsession over differences.
In fact, it wasn’t love at all. It was hatred, hatred born from the fear of losing power. What if that kind of hatred is born when we consider ourselves more worthy of particular rights than another? More worthy of land or peace or power.
Maybe hatred isn’t in that sense necessarily an absence of love but a misdirection of it. Maybe it’s an over consideration for one’s own self which when placed in the hands of ideologies that further exaggerate them, causes love to suffer great harm.
In this light, last Friday, the life of fifty people were taken because one refused to allow a self-sacrificing love, an other-love, to inform their own worldview.
It’s easy to place the blame for that kind of misdirected love solely on the deranged, the obscure or the rare. But painfully, the risk of that kind of malfunctioned love exists within every one of us.
Last Friday true-love wept and grieved as hatred stole the lives of fifty innocent people.
People who were themselves seeking greater love, greater peace, and greater hope.
These fifty people had taken time out of their week to actively embrace love, and were slain during their ascension toward it.
That injustice, that heartbreaking image will haunt our history forever. There is no way to go back, no way to erase the pain and horror that their families now experience as a result of another’s hate.
In our limited capacity we can’t change the past.
But we can change the future.
We can change the future by not waking up tomorrow as we did yesterday, but by being more aware and more willing to seek out the other.
We can change the future by refusing to continue to love in a passive or naive kind of way.
We can change our future by allowing our love to be affected by grief, even matured, even transformed by it.
By choosing tonight to wake tomorrow with the kind of love that humanity should hope for - a selfless, other-filling love, love that seeks to embrace and celebrate difference rather than allow it to separate us, a love that doesn’t need to agree in order to eat together, play together, or dream of a better future together - we can change the country our children will grow up in and that the marginal in our communities can enjoy.
These days require so much more of us than the past. For the religious, they require us to practice what we’ve preached for so long but refused to live. We must look outward toward those who are different to us and unite in the face of a world in crises, an environment in deep threat, and a society broken in pieces by the politics, beliefs and actions of hate.
These days require us to not allow assumption to empower our enemies. They require us to speak up, not just for Muslims, not just for immigrants or those from different cultural backgrounds, but for the marginalised wherever and whoever they may be.
These days require us, regardless of beliefs, to seek out a true love, a love that can unite an increasingly hostile global community and an increasingly aching one. They require us to lay ourselves down not for one another’s similarity, but for the innate value of humanity in every single human being.
Because the kind of love we long to celebrate, the kind of love we hope to saturate our lives in, is the kind of love that seeks not to assimilate one another, but to honour and embrace.
That is probably the kind of love being sought by the men, woman and children at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre last Friday.
So today we grieve, we weep and we remember the fifty who were unjustly slain and their mourning families.
But we can also resolve to not allow our communities, our families and ourselves to go on un-evaluated and unwilling to make this world a better place, in love.
We may carry wounds, we may carry anger and frustration, but those wounds can strengthen us if we let them, they do not have to weaken us.
They are a part of our story now. A story of redemption and hope and of forgiveness and love, if we choose it to be.
My prayer is that that story will become our story.
The story of Aotearoa.
A people learning to love.