Monday, November 12, 2018

To End All Wars—a sermon for Remembrance / 100th anniversary of armistice

Rev. Teri Peterson
Gourock St. John’s 
To End All Wars 
Micah 5.2-5a, 6.6-8 (CEB)
11 November 2018, NL1-10, To See Ourselves 4, remembrance 

As for you, Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
    though you are the least significant of Judah’s forces,
        one who is to be a ruler in Israel on my behalf will come out from you.
    His origin is from remote times, from ancient days.
Therefore, he will give them up
        until the time when she who is in labour gives birth.
        The rest of his kin will return to the people of Israel.
He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
        in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
        They will dwell secure,
        because he will surely become great throughout the earth;
        he will become our peace.

With what should I approach the Lord
        and bow down before God on high?
Should I come before him with entirely burned offerings,
        with year-old calves?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
        with many torrents of oil?
Should I give my oldest child for my crime;
        the fruit of my body for the sin of my spirit?
He has told you, human one, what is good and
        what the Lord requires from you:
            to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.


Photo of St John’s Church, Gourock, by Ronnie McFadyen
A hundred years ago right now, men up and down the Western Front, on both sides, were picking up their things from the trenches and walking away. The silence was eerie, after years of fighting. There was a recording that went around this week, a recreation of a sound graph of the few minutes before and after 11:00. The guns sounded right up until the moment the armistice became official, and 2,738 men were killed on the last day of fighting, including one at 10:59am. And then, suddenly, as the clock ticked over, silence.

The men and women who went to war in those early years of the 20th century did so because they hoped to be participating in the war to end all wars. Not just the biggest and most all-encompassing war the world had experienced thus far, but the last war the world would see. The intention was that we would learn that fighting each other for territory or partisanship or resources was not the way forward into the modern world. As Micah put it: they will dwell secure, and God will become our peace.

To say we have not learned the lesson they tried to leave us would be an understatement. We remember with great gravity the sacrifice of so many lives, both in the war to end all wars and the many we have engaged in since then, and the words “for our freedom” fall easily from our lips, yet sometimes I think we neglect the meaning of that sacrifice. We say “they gave their tomorrow for our today”...which is true. And we are meant to use the today that they gave us to ensure that no others need be sacrificed, that the world finds another way forward rather than violence being the only means we can find to the end—or worse, an end in itself.

The prophet Micah calls us to account, reminding us that all the ceremonies, all the right words, and right offerings will get us nowhere when it comes to being part of the Kingdom of God coming on earth as it is in heaven. It isn’t the symbols or the songs or the rituals that bring us into right relationship with God or with God’s world, it is the way of life that honours God’s call, honours the image of God in each person, and honours the gift given to us by our ancestors. And what does the Lord require of us? To do justice, to love faithfully, and to walk humbly with God. 

This is the way to peace: to create a just world for all, to put love into action, and to be humble. 

God does not ask us to perform for him. God asks us to live for him. 

The story in which God places us is a story with many twists and turns, with violence and peace, hope and despair, remembering and forgetting. Yet over and over, God calls us to look at ourselves, to see ourselves truly, to remember who we are and to whom we belong. Only then can we behave in ways that make for peace with others. 

This is our story: we belong to the One who brings a future out of the tiniest of the clans. We belong to the One who offers security beyond our shallow understanding of the word, who gives us life when all seems lost, who made us in God’s image and holds us in God’s care. We belong to the One who created all things and called them good, and who invites us to a different way of life—a way that seeks God’s glory, not our own; a way that serves others before self; a way that recognises a variety of paths and chooses the one that seeks the nurture and flourishing of all people; a way that loves both neighbour and enemy the same way we love ourselves. 

This way is not easy. But it is nonetheless the way to which we are called, if we claim to follow Christ. And the peace that passes all understanding is the peace we seek—we may not be able to see it for ourselves, we may not be able to figure out how to get there, but still we pursue it. Those who have gone before offered themselves in service of that goal, which is now in our hands.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

“To you from failing hands we throw the torch—be yours to hold it high.”

The torch they have passed to us is the torch of seeking peace and pursuing it. To do what God requires—not simply a few words or minutes of remembrance, but a life dedicated to doing justice, loving faithfully, and walking humbly. 
In this life, we will do everything in our power to ensure that no one else is sacrificed, so that one day soon we may truly see the end of all wars. 
In this life, we will remember that each of those names on the memorials, and each of those lives lost without ever getting a memorial—whether because they were civilians or because they were on the losing side, or because they were part of one of the many conflicts we have had since the war to end all wars—was a person, made in God’s image, precious in God’s sight; a person with a family and friends, a story, hopes and dreams and fears and loves, baby pictures and birthday cakes and lost teeth and Halloween costumes and childish dance moves and high school sweethearts and job prospects and talents...a whole person, who was seeking to do the right thing, to leave us a better world that they would never see. 

One of my favourite young adult novels includes this bit of advice from an older woman to a young man:
“You must learn to see death as something more than loss, more than absence, more than silence, more than a bad dream. You must learn to make mourning into memory. For once a person takes leave of his life, they become so much more a part of ours. In death, they come to be in our keeping. The dead find their rest within us. Thus, in remembrance, we are never alone, and neither are they.” (DeathWatch, by Ari Berk, p299)

In remembrance, we are never alone, and neither are they. Our ancestors have given us a gift: the chance to live according to God’s calling, to make the world look more like God’s kingdom, no matter how small or insignificant we feel, to do justice, love faithfully, and walk humbly. May we take this gift as seriously as they gave it.

1 Hope for the world's despair:
we feel the nations' pain;
can anything repair
this broken earth again?
For this we pray:
in every place
a spark of grace
to light the way.

2 Wisdom for all who bear
the future in their hand,
entrusted with the care
of this and every land.
When comes the hour,
O Lord, we pray,
inspire the way
we spend our power.

3 Honour for all who’ve paid
war’s painful, bitter price,
when duty called they made
the greatest sacrifice.
Their memory
will never cease
to cry for peace
and harmony.

4 Ease for the troubled mind
in endless conflict caught,
each soul that cannot find
the peace beyond all thought.
May they be blessed
with healing balm
for inner calm
and perfect rest.

5 Love for the human heart:
when hate grows from our fears
and inwardly we start
to turn our ploughs to spears.
Help us to sow  
love’s precious seed
in word and deed,
that peace may grow.

Ally Barrett
Winner of Jubilate's Hymns of Peace competition 2018, to mark the centenary of Armistice Day and the end of the First World War.
Tune: Love Unknown


No comments:

Post a Comment