Sunday 13



Micah 4: 1-5
Luke 21: 5-19

Today we intentionally remember all those who have died in the service of this nation Through the last 102 years and especially those who lost their lives in the First World War. If you remember the poppies at the Tower of London, each one representing a person serving this country who died in the Great War, you’ll have an appreciation of the scale of loss. A sea of red in the Tower moat, some appearing as a waterfall evoking lives poured out – of those serving the British Empire, more than 900,000 died and 2,000,000 wounded. About 5% of the UK population were killed in the conflict. But, of course, it’s not just our war dead that we should consider. We’re not the only ones left malaffected by that war: Russia – 1.7 million dead, France – 1.35 million, Italy – 650,000 and so on; plus, of course, those allied with Germany, who lost more than any nation – just under 1.8 million (twice as many as the UK). Overall there were more than 22 million allied casualties and 37.5 million enemy casualties. What awful loss and terrible world-wide grief! 

So, why do we deliberately remember such sad facts each year and particularly today? 

Why do we remember WWI ‘the War to end all wars’? Each year, on this Sunday, we always remember, of course, in order to honour all those who paid the ultimate price in the fight to preserve justice in the world, whenever that has been the purpose of allied involvement. As one of the prophets, Micah, said ‘ Let justice flow like rivers and righteousness – right-living – like an ever flowing stream’. So we remember in order to consider the price that is paid in terms of human suffering and death in maintaining justice in our world and should ask ourselves why is it necessary?  But justice alone, brought about without mercy easily becomes barbaric, as we have recently seen in our                  international news stories. The prophet Hosea said, ‘What does the Lord require of you but to act justly, and love mercy and walk humbly with your God’. Loss on such a huge scale as in WWI does not seem to have had much of an element of mercy in it. But, `Why wasn’t WWI ‘the ‘War to end all wars’?’  What went wrong and continues to go wrong? We ‘remember’ today in order to consider just what makes for peace and what makes it so elusive?

This brings me to my second point: How can peace be achieved? It seems  hopeless – war does not end war. As we reflect over recent years on all the international war and peace-keeping efforts in the Middle-East and elsewhere, we may well ask ourselves ‘where is that peace for which we’ve worked so hard on so many fronts?’  

Yet the prophet Micah speaks of a day when, ‘…nations shall beat their swords into ploughshares…; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.’ But how can that be achieved?  

History tells us that even the best international efforts at peace-making and peace-keeping fail to bring lasting peace. Although we  should  recognise  that they can be very effective in restraining evil, such as in WWII when the evil of Nazism and the injustice of the arrogant imposition of a super, Arian, race was resisted and overcome.  

Despite our forces having a role in restraining evil through peace-making and peace-keeping operations, we must acknowledge that this does not lead to an end to wars. 

From today’s reading, we hear of a time when the Lord God will rule the world from His ‘city of peace’ (the literal meaning of the word Jerusalem). This hope for world peace has it’s root in the God bringing in His Kingdom and rule of peace. And in Jewish, Christian and Muslim belief, this is brought into effect by the future coming of the Messiah or, in Greek, the Christ.  Jesus claimed to be that one – the promised Messiah and said, ‘There will be wars and rumours of wars until I come again, in my power and glory.’ As Christians we look forward to the coming of the Messiah. In this hope we are united. In the Christian Faith we are taught by Jesus to pray for it’s coming in the words ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ 

So do we simply have to wait for Jesus to return for the coming of God’s kingdom on earth, or do we have a part to play before that day? I believe the answer is an emphatic ‘YES’. But what can we do? 

What is peace and what makes for it? What can we all do to contribute, whether we are in the forces or not? We tend to think of peace as an ‘absence of war’, that there will be world peace when all wars cease. But isn’t peace something much deeper, something which happens in you and me – something which is peaceable and is recognised in harmonious relationships? Would all relationships be harmonious if there were no wars? I doubt it somehow, as conflict seems to be in our very nature – the way we are as human beings.  The core problem, I believe, is that we’re hard-wired for self-preservation.

The old days of Empires were about making sure member nations were secure in having enough food and resources – usually at the expense of other nations who also wanted that security.  The root cause, then, is fear rather than faith. Fear that one’s security is at risk. If only all people could trust God for their provision and security instead of being fearful. Local boundary disputes are evidence of this – if you have ever seen the programme ‘Neighbours from hell’ you’ll know what I mean!

Consider how you feel when someone is rude to you or hurts you. What do you want to do? Hurt them back – that’s vengeance; alternatively, we may want to do something to make ourselves feel safer. In understanding how we get into conflicts, one can see how nations get into conflicts. When we feel under threat our hard-wiring can cause us to demonise the perceived threat and to rally our energy and forces to make us feel safe. It’s what goes on in our emotional life which seems to call the shots.  The real battle for peace, then, is an internal one. If only we could all so manage our emotions or channel the negative aspects into constructive rather than destructive action, (‘Do good to those who hurt you!’) peace could be attained. For this we need God’s Spirit in our hearts, not just His external just rule. This internal battle is the primary struggle that we, as human beings, have to fight if we are to know peace. In mainstream Islam as well as in many other Faiths this is the good fight that we have to engage in; this is, I’m told, true Jihad. It’s the battle to love the other even when we experience them as our enemy. It’s the struggle to be merciful and forgiving when all our emotions are shouting for revenge and conflict. It’s the fight to trust God rather than to give in to fear. It is the way of Christ that all Christians are called to practice. As Jesus put it, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.’ It’s something all of us here can do with God’s help – it’s within our grasp, if only we have the will to fight this good fight. Will you join me at working at it? If so, then peace will increase in our midst and we will be truly blessed. 

Wars cannot bring lasting peace. But God can and ultimately will. But it begins with you and me.  I end with a quote by the current Dalai Lama: " "Peace starts within each one of us. When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us. When our community is in a state of peace, it can share peace with neighbouring communities, and so on.”




Ecclesiastes 3: 1-11
John 14: 1-6

Someone once said, “It’s not that I’m afraid to die — I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” This is probably how many of us here today feel. But the fact remains; death is as much a part of life as life itself.  Every family faces death at one time or another.  Death reminds us how tender and fragile life can be.

A little over halfway through the Old Testament part of the Bible, is a relatively short and probably little read book called Ecclesiastes. There are some mysteries about this book: we don’t exactly who wrote it, although tradition tells us that the writer was King Solomon, the son of David.                                  

The complex theological and philosophical reflection in this book is one of the deepest insights into human life, not only in the Bible, but anywhere in literature or history. Perhaps the best know section of the book reflects on the variety of life and how different emotions and events occur throughout our lives, over which we have little or no control. "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak.”                   

We are here today, joined together in the common bond of grief to remember those for whom it was their time. In many ways the hardest part of grief, is the remembering of those who are gone from us, yet today we gather specifically to remember our loved ones, whether family of friend, neighbour or colleague.   

None of us here today is alone. That statement may bring particular comfort to any who have come here today on their own. Although we grieve for different people, our grief is shared. A Honduran proverb says, ‘Grief shared is half grief.’                                                                                                                      

The time of grief and mourning can be an uncertain time, both in terms of its longevity and also in knowing how we or others will react. C.S. Lewis observed after the death of his wife that he was resentful if people asked him how he was as he often wanted to be alone in his thoughts and didn’t know how to even begin to answer the question, but he was just as resentful when people didn’t ask after him, observing that "no one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear."                                                                                                                         

Grief is, in one way, a costly consequence of love. “The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief”. We grieve because we feel the pain of loss, but we also grieve because of the strength of our love for the person that we have come here to remember today. That love continues and grief does not diminish it and often in the early months after death we feel that love even stronger than we did before. The only way we can avoid the pain of grief is by also avoiding the joy of love. The German psychoanalyst Erich Fromm noted that “to spare oneself from grief at all cost can be achieved only at the price of total detachment, which excludes the ability to experience happiness”.                         

And so, what brings us here ultimately today is not grief, but love – love for the person that has died, love that carries on in spite of their death, love that will carry on.

With love there is always hope, and the greatest love is the love of God for us. A love that never diminishes and never dies because it is a love of the Creator for his created children. In the words of our reading from John’s gospel we see the hope that can grow out of love. We see Jesus explaining to his disciples, even though they don’t yet understand, that he must go away from them, that he must die, so that his work can be finished and so that the place can be prepared ahead for them in heaven.                                                                                               

Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples, was always the disciple who was willing to ask the brave questions that the other disciples perhaps though foolish to ask. After hearing Jesus’ explain that he was going away and that they know the way, Thomas is willing to admit his ignorance and say, ‘I don’t know the way, but how can I know?’ Jesus’ answer is simple yet profound, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’ – The hope for the future.                                                       

The best answers to the big questions of life and death are to be found in the God who created us, the God who came to earth as Jesus to show us the way to return to him again, the God who goes ahead of us to prepare a place for us in eternity with him if we will but acknowledge his presence and his glory.                 

Today we are not alone. We meet together to share our grief, to share our love for those we have gathered together to remember, but we are here also in this building, this special holy place, a symbol of God’s love for each one of us, here or absent, a symbol of God’s desire to be deeply involved in each one of our lives.                                          

The American poet, Robert Frost said, ‘In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.’ God longs to be with us as our life goes on, to show his love for us and to transform us – to turn our sorrow into joy and our mourning into dancing.

Today we remember our loved ones, all those who once belonged to us and from whom we are now separated. We give thanks for those who by their lives lit up our lives and those others who loved them. We remember the special ways in which their lives touched ours. We acknowledge that their passing has left a gap in our life and so we feel a continuing sense of loss, not for a week or a month or even a year. We will never get over it, not so long as we ourselves draw breath.                                                                                            

Yet our loyalty to our dead is not just about missing and longing. This is not about being mawkish or sentimental. It is also a sign of our trust in God and his promises.  

We look back with thanks, we look forward with hope.  When we pray God grant eternal rest, we show our trust in God for the future.

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