Sermon for 10th November 2019.
May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen
The theme in our readings this morning is one of standing firm, working towards the time when wars and suffering will cease and the kingdom of God is established: the beautiful Beatitudes sum up the character of Jesus which, as we grow more like Him, leads us closer towards peace.
Ever since I was a little girl I have been to church on Remembrance Sunday and have always loved it, mostly because it falls on my birthday. I was born on the 11th November and I was so very proud to walk beside my parents into church, my mother in her lovely hat and my father sporting all his medals, pinned to a coloured ribbon across his lapel: there was no prouder little girl, the church adorned with flowers for my birthday and such a parade and air of contemplation. Needless to say, I have always loved poppies!
We all have memories told to us of the wars, and some of modern day conflicts, in which people we know were personally involved. My dad was a tank driver, a Desert Rat, 7th Armoured Division, in the 8th Army; he served under Montgomery in North Africa and Italy. He didn’t speak much of the war except when one of those war films came on the telly and he would sometimes say, “I remember that”.
My dad and mum survived the war, clearly, because here I am! My dad, like all the others who returned from both World Wars, and wars since, had fearful, haunting memories. As I grew older, he did share more with me, and his worst memories were of being helpless to rescue his friends whose tanks were hit and burning. He had to drive on, knowing they would die. That must have terrible beyond words. And never knowing if he would see his loved ones again.
Keith Morrison used to tell us there were no atheists on the battlefield and I am sure he was right. Faced with uncertain death, you would have to believe there was more than the carnage around you. My dad called Jesus the “Good Lord” even when things were hard. Some men may have lost their faith in battle and when you read the poems of Wilfred Owen about the 1st WW, you can see why. But my dad never did, and that touched me. I still have his Forces Bible which he carried throughout the war, one of my most cherished possessions. Even as a child I could see that having an assurance of God’s love and His promise of new life, could change one’s whole way of looking at life, and death. For each man, woman and child who had an awareness that they were known to and loved by God, it must have changed their war in many ways. Acts of sacrifice and heroism are born from a deep love for another and in the hardships of war, knowing God’s presence did make a difference. Reading some of the stories from the concentration camps, some people knew His presence even there.
When I was 16, I went to the huge war grave cemetery at Verdun. Remembrance Day changed for me, as I saw the extent of the sacrifice and loss. But also of new life rising through the lifeless, war torn fields in the form of these blood red little flowers. Seeing those white crosses in perfect rows, never ending it seemed, some with names, some with just the nationality of the soldier who fell; it is something I will never forget. I know some of you have seen these war cemeteries too and some have even been to the concentration camps, a thing I could never do!
The people we honour fought, and continue fighting, for freedom from oppression; those who have died fought for a more just and peaceful world. And their sacrifice is one which pulls us back time and again to reassess what is right and wrong in the world. This simple service makes us recommit our thoughts and prayers to peace and justice and the freedom to worship as our faith requires and in that, it is such a special thing. It means something different to each one of us, I have shared a few of my memories and how they have shaped my view of the world. And I am so grateful for the parents to whom God entrusted me. I learned that because of Jesus and His love, there is hope in the darkest of times. That in death, those faithful find new life.
Today and tomorrow, we remember, not just the brave souls who gave their lives, but the reason they gave their lives. They held onto God’s principles of justice and mercy, of love and freedom to live as God wants us to live, they took a stand for their country and the values our country was built on. Our very laws come from Biblical values and they are worth defending. A phrase always heard in my childhood was “God Willing”. Every plan and hope for the future was understood as being in His hands; it is a simple awareness of His Sovereignty that we sometimes miss today. We make plans, full stop, whereas for my parents, it was “we will do this, God willing”.
We all look at Britain now and feel it is not the country we grew up in or left when we came to Spain. Or the country my dad would have recognised. Richer in so many ways, but immensely poorer in others. Somewhere along the way, we have lost our Christian values, our determination to keep God central in the fabric of society. Our young people are schooled in individualism and the principles of working together as one nation seem lost in the innumerable divisions. We see a government unable to govern, because of individual ideals replacing national concern. Sadly, unlike the people we honour today, we have pushed God into the periphery of politics, education and religion to such a degree that we only seem to come together in prayer when there is an atrocity or attack from outside terror groups. An outside enemy pulls us together for the immediate aftermath, filling our churches, but then we forget. So when we say, “Lest we forget”, it is as much the principles which take men to war as the men themselves who were willing to die for these principles. We think of the Christmas football match in the 1WW between the entrenched front line British and German soldiers. Men who shared common fears and loves but who had been pushed into war through power lust and extremism. These are our enemies still and these are the things we must pray for to remember the values of those who died in wars and still do. Prayer does not enable or empower God, it enables and empowers us. He sends His angels out in answer to prayer, we work with our God as watchmen, reading the times and praying for His will to be done on earth. Prayer is our place of battle and victory. It is our battlefield if you like.
Memories fill our thoughts and hearts today, for real people who did what they had to do to protect our freedoms. Churches are filled and God is central in the worship and prayers. Through us, let our lives and prayers honour not just our war heroes, but our God. Let the principles and values which took these folk to face unimaginable hardship and death, become our country’s values again, across the UK and Europe and may our prayers remain constant in this, not just today but every day.
I want to end with Job’s inspirational words, a man whose faith in God and willingness to serve Him survived every tragedy the devil could throw at him, apart from death,
“I know that my Redeemer lives and when this body has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God: I myself will see Him with my own eyes, how my heart yearns within me”. Could there be a more appropriate or true thought for today, as we remember those who have fallen in war? Those who continue to suffer as a result of war, and our country, where so many are unwilling to acknowledge the words of our Good Lord, that “those who are counted worthy of being raised from the dead, get to heaven.” May the tide turn again and the sacrifice of so many be rewarded with a return to the values they fought so hard to save.