Sermon preached after the devastating fires of East Attica

Trinity 9 (29th July 2018)  2 Kings 4, 42-44; Ephesians 3, 14-21; John 6, 1-21   (Preached in St. Paul’s Athens)


Revd. Canon Leonard Doolan, Senior Chaplain, Greece.


When a priest asks an elderly man why he comes into church for a time each day, the elderly man  says, ‘Sometimes I sit and pray. Sometimes I just sit.  ’Sometimes I sit and pray. Sometimes I just sit.’

The three readings set for our liturgy today have a common theme, namely the abundance of God. God is the great and generous provider, offering to humanity more than we could ever ask or deserve.

A  hymn so wonderfully says, Finest bread I will provide, till their hearts are satisfied.

In the first reading Elisha is faced with a dilemma. How can he feed a hundred people with insufficient grain to make the bread? God says,’ Let them eat. They shall eat and have some left.’

God is indeed a God of bounty and of endless generosity.

What of our dear friend Sue who has been in hospital since losing her home, her car, and her dear dog. Some will want to ask, where is the God of bounty and endless generosity? So many deaths, so much destruction and grief  during the early days of this last week.

Sometimes I sit and pray, sometimes I just sit.

The reading from Ephesians speaks of the riches of God’s glory. St. Paul presents us with a wonderful vision of the abundant accomplishment that God can do in and through us, as we seek to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. To God indeed be the glory.

However, what of Mr. Japatia, lying in Evangelismos hospital, with every generation of his family from grand-child through to mother-in –law, affected by flame and smoke. The eldest member of the family may not survive her injuries. Some people may well ask where is the God of bounty and endless generosity after the devastation of this week?

Sometimes I sit and pray. Sometimes I just sit.

St. John’s gospel – a classic miracle illustrating through the feeding of thousands of people that God in Christ is able to sustain and nourish humanity without number. All can be fed in Christ. There is more than enough Christ for all of us and more. This is a Christ who not only feeds and satisfies us, even the wind and the rain, the storm and the tempest are at his command.  Some will be saying to themselves, if he can command the storm to cease, where was he is Eastern Attica?

What of the mother of the Irish citizen, Brian, married only one week and on his honeymoon. His new wife is still lying in a hospital here in Athens. His mother came into this church to pray. Her first son died 22 years ago in a motorbike accident, her second son died in a fire in a beautiful part of Greece where he was to have perhaps one of the most wonderful weeks of his life. She has buried 2 husbands and now two sons.

Sometimes I sit and pray, sometimes I just sit.

The three wonderful and dramatic readings represent to us what God is like, who God is, what God does for us. But they sit in stark contrast to what the reality has been for so many families in Greece and beyond during this fateful week. Our hearts go out to all.

The challenge that we are faced with is how we balance out the God we really want to know about, and deep down really want to believe in, and our sheer exasperation in trying to figure out where this last week, and for that matter, any tragedy, leaves our vision of a God of glory, of awe, of love. In our attempts to do so, many find the dilemma too challenging, and for perfectly understandable reasons feel they have to part company with God, because they are left feeling that God has parted company with us.

Some will look to priests and pastors to try and explain the conundrum. So I will do so to the best of my ability. (Pause) Sometimes I sit and pray. Sometimes I just sit.

However, before I leave it there, so unsatisfactorily answered, there are just a few things I would wish to draw out. When I visited Sue in hospital someone said, in naturally normal language, that Sue had been very lucky. I had seen Sue earlier in the week in Evangelismos hospital, so I could safely say in reply that I did not think it was luck. Sue says that she knew she was not trying to survive alone and unaided.

Mr. Japatia, a brave man who ran along the corridors of the hotel waking everyone up and urging them to make a run for it before the flames engulfed the hotel, and who has paid the price of his bravery with badly burned legs, was immediate in saying that he had found this extra energy by the power of God and that it was in God that he found his survival. We acknowledged that he from an Asian faith, and me as a Christian,  there is only one God.

And what of Mrs. O’ Callaghan-Westropp, struggling to deal not just with the effects of one loss in her life, but many over these years? As together we lit a candle on the altar here for Brian she stared at its light, and maybe unknowingly said, ‘This is what I have left now.’

So in this very baffling week, I would want to urge everyone not to be too hard on themselves by trying to make sense of everything. You can sit and pray if you wish, but you can just sit. When we do this we might find that God has not gone, but like Sue, Mr. Japatia, Mrs. O’Callaghan-Westropp, we might just faintly hear those words of Jesus in the midst of the storm. ‘It is I. Do not be afraid.’ (John 6, 20).

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