Summary: Sermon about alcohol fuelled killings of youth in Kapiti.

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Like the rest of our community, I was shocked by the recent violent deaths near local popular drinking spots of two of our young citizens: Izak Millanta and Sean Strongman-Lintern. As well as mourning its loss, our community is, quite rightly, asking questions. Asking what caused these tragedies. And asking what can be done to stop such senseless killings from happening again in the future.

One obvious factor is the drinking culture of our youth, which is fuelled by boredom, disaffection and a ready supply of cut price alcohol in supermarkets and other outlets. Now it is no secret that I don’t drink alcohol. And the reasons why I don’t are not much of a secret either. So let me state unequivocally that I have no problem with people consuming alcohol in moderation, such as enjoying a few cold beers on a warm afternoon, or finishing a nice dinner with a decent cognac.

But I do take issue with how readily available alcohol is, especially to our youth, and I am mystified the legal status of alcohol is far more liberal than that of any other recreational drug apart from tea and coffee, especially given that it could be argued that alcohol causes more harm and misery than any other social vice in our society. If I want to treat myself to a nice Cuban cigar on my birthday, I have to go a discrete shop that is not allowed to openly display its wares. I cannot browse what is available, and I have to either know in advance what I want or, if I am lucky, select it from a list. But I can go to a supermarket early on a Sunday morning, and buy an overtly promoted cask of cut-price gut-rot that is not fit for any purpose other than getting cheaply obliterated.

One of the effects of alcohol is that it lowers inhibitions. This means that people under its influence are more likely to say and do things that they otherwise wouldn’t. It also means that they are more likely to react to what someone else has said or done, or rekindle some long simmering resentment, and this can result in a rapid spiral into serious violence that can have tragic consequences, like we have recently seen in Kapiti.

Another effect of alcohol, especially when taken to excess, is that it offers a temporary escape from reality. But too much escape from reality can turn into forgetting about reality altogether. And when reality does return, it comes back with interest.

But while alcohol is a big part of the problem, it still is only a part. The question has to be asked, where are the parents, and what boundaries – and examples – are being set?

Attitude is also a big factor. When people say and do things when drunk they would not normally say [and do] when they are sober, they are often expressing what they really feel inside, but they have the social skills to suppress it the rest of the time. The person who tells their boss what they really think of them at the office Christmas party, and the drunken guest who insults everybody at the dinner table, have not usually suddenly started thinking this way. They have probably thought this way for quite a while, and a few drinks have removed the inhibition that had previously stopped them from saying what they really felt. So, while intervening to curb the drinking culture of our youth will go a long way towards reducing alcohol fuelled violence, we also need to look within ourselves and deal with those resentments and other issues deep inside that are quietly festering away and spiritually poisoning us. And this applies to us all: the young who are risk, as well as those of us who are not so young.

In today’s Epistle reading from the Letter of James, we are warned how envy and selfish ambition lead to disorder and wickedness of every kind. And we are reminded how conflicts and disputes come from within. In contrast, wisdom from above is pure, peaceful, gentle and willing to yield.

James was traditionally believed to have been written by James, the brother of Jesus, but we really don’t know who wrote it. James nearly didn’t make it into the Bible, and its inclusion was still controversial as recently as 500 years ago. Martin Luther would have happily seen James taken out of the Bible, because it was not evangelical enough for his taste, and it emphasised the importance of good works instead of salvation through faith. But James tells us that faith without works is dead. For what is our faith if we do not demonstrate it to the world through our words and our actions? James is a simple yet profound encapsulation of Christian living. And that is why it is my favourite book of the Newer Testament outside the gospels.

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