I’m not in the habit of posting sermons, but in light of a recent twitter debate on the subject of remembrance, I thought I’d share my thoughts for Remembrance Sunday.
The subject of remembrance can be a tricky one for Christians. I mean how do we tread that fine line between remembering the sacrifice of so many young men and women but not glorifying the wars they fought in.
I find the annual Remembrance Service is very important to me personally, When I was a child, growing up in an atheist house the one day a year that we as a family would set foot in church was Remembrance Sunday. I was also brought up with a strong sense of family history, my Dad’s dad, my grandfather was a career sailor, he joined the Navy in 1935 and served on a number of His Majesty’s Ships before finally, in 1939 being posted on the Fleet Flagship an ageing Battle Cruiser called HMS Hood. When the Hood was sunk by Bismark 18 months later, all but three hands were lost. My Grandfather was not among the survivors.
The sacrifice my grandfather made has always been a very important part of our family story, and I know that it is a story that was repeated time and time again as every family had similar tales to tell of loved ones who were lost fighting for what turned out to be the greater good.
The legacy of the second world war is something we still feel strongly today. As well as those wars that have been fought in the sixty-five years since the liberation of Europe and the ending of the war in Japan. In fact in the intervening years since the end of WWII some 16,000 British service personnel have lost their lives serving in our armed forces. The names of the conflicts are all-too familiar, Korea, Suez, Northern Ireland, The Falklands, Iraq, Bosnia, Iraq and of course in Afghanistan to mention but a few.
But I guess the nature of sacrifice in the face of a tangible evil like Nazi fascism is why we again and again come back to the Second World War. In Britain we almost seem morbidly fascinated by it. I don’t know how many people here have Freeview or Digital Satellite television in their homes, but you only have to watch the History Channels on these TV services to see that the vast majority of documentaries are about World War II. Perhaps the reasons for this are due to the fact that as Winston Churchill said it really was ‘Our Finest Hour’. A time when a nation pulled together, a time when Britain did stand alone against a very real evil, a time when people willing gave up their freedom and worked together for a greater good.
But again, we have to be careful because it is all too easy to see the past in a glorious glow as a time when all was right with the world, and forget that real people lost their lives in unimaginably horrible ways, that yes a nation worked together to fight for good but against a background of horrendous conflict and misery for millions of people.
But what we do get from that time, perhaps more than we get from more recent conflicts is a sense of sacrifice for the greater good. When I was a teenager I actually saw an older gentleman give a lecture to a school friend who was misbehaving slightly – and in true Alf Garnett style this chap actually said ‘I didn’t fight for you to give me lip young man’ Now I am not defending the cheek my friend had given, but I would now want to take that gentleman to task about this. Actually that freedom is exactly what he fought for. We may not like the way people choose to use their freedom, but the Second World War was fought in order to preserve an ideal of freedom. The sacrifice of the past has given us the freedom of the present.
When Jesus was nailed to a cross two-thousand years ago he too was making a sacrifice to buy freedom for the future. He willingly went to his death in order to provide a better life for you and for me. When my Grandfather and thousands of young men like him went to their deaths, he did it because he had been ordered too, he did it because he knew that the War was about defending his family and country from being overrun by a very real tyranny, he did it but because he knew there was no other way but hoped that he would survive.
When Jesus went to his death he did it because he loved us, he did it because he wanted us to have the life he had originally envisioned for us way back at creation, he did it because he wanted us to be free, he did it because he knew there was no other way, but he knew he HAD to die.
When we look back on the sacrifices made in times of war over the past century we might wonder whether the deaths were worth it. We might look at the world around us, and like the chap who took my friend to task, be distressed at what people are doing with the freedom that was bought at such an enormous human cost. We might look at our town here on a Saturday night and be upset at what people choose to do with that freedom.
Try for a moment then to put yourself in God’s shoes. Look around at our world today. Look at the poverty that there is both here and abroad. Look at the things that entangle people, the injustice visited on so many people. Look how God’s people have rebelled and what they do to each other, not just in war and conflict, but they way people talk to each other, lie and cheat each other. The moral melt-down as individuals peruse their own ends and self-gratification. Look at what we choose to do with our world, how we pollute and degrade the creation around us.
Did you know that every day, over 1 billion people – that’s one sixth of the entire global population – have to survive in the growing slums in many of the world’s cities.
The basics of life can be very hard to come by. Houses are built from scraps of timber, plastic and cardboard. Toilets may be non-existent or shared by hundreds of people. Piped water is a luxury that people in slums can’t afford.
Imagine how that makes God feels when he looks at what we have done with the freedom that he bought us at such great cost.
Our freedom that was bought by Jesus gives us the imperative to try and be more like him in the situations we see around us. There is a modern song of worship that my Children learnt at the New Wine conference in the summer, its chorus is very simple and yet sums up exactly how we should be in the world, it goes like this:
Help me be your eyes Lord Jesus, seeing where you love is needed, may I be your hands to help
We are called to be the hands and eyes of Jesus in the world, – to do the things he would want us to do. To paraphrase a the slightly older hymn we sang at the beginning of our service today –
Where there is hatred bring love,
where there is injury, pardon
where there is doubt, true faith,
where there is despair, hope
where there is darkness light
and so on.
We are called to be Jesus in the world. Christians have a duty to change the way we act and to make a real difference in the injustices we see around us.
The good news is that Jesus never meant for us to do this on our own. He gave us the Holy Spirit to guide us in the situations where his love is needed, to give us the sensitivity to know when to act, the wisdom to know what to say and the compassion to see how to help.
Now, we can choose not to do that, our salvation is not based on the good works that we do. We can decide to turn away from those that need us, to carry on with our own lives. We have that freedom. As Martin Luther rather succinctly put it:
Faith without works is sufficient for salvation, and alone justifies.
Although of course he said it in German.
But the reality of our faith is that if we allow Jesus into our lives, to fully live the life that his death and resurrection bought for us, then we will find that we have no choice but to act. Our very faith in Him will compel us to act and to react to the things we see around us that need his love, his touch his compassion.
The sacrifice of the men and women we will remember this morning when we stand in silence, bought us a country where we are free to live as we choose, vote freely and to say what we want – even if we choose to squander those opportunities.
We are right to remember the incredible thing that they did for, and that our armed forces are still ready to do for us today – That is why alongside our remembrance we wanted to make the collection for our serving soldiers.
And yet their sacrifice pails when compared to the sacrifice of a God who, became a lowly man, born of an unmarried mother from a peasant family in an ill regarded town in the back-end of no-where of an occupied territory. A God who experienced everything we know as part of the human condition and yet resisted the sins that entangle us so easily. A God who went to the cross – the most brutal of deaths – in order to take on the sins of you and me – so that we could be raised up like he was – into a glory that we do nothing to deserve.
Today let us remember our own dead, but also let us remember what Jesus did for us. And as we go into the week ahead lets see if His sacrifice can make a difference in the way we live and work, in our relationships and in our attitudes to others.
When we leave here today, Lets truly go in PEACE to LOVE and SERVE the Lord Jesus.