Reflection Part One: Expectations
This morning it will not surprise you to learn that I want to talk about remembering... for we call this day Remembrance Sunday with good reason; this year especially, as we commemorate 100 years since the start of the Great War as it was known – the war to end all wars.
The month of November has long been a time for remembering; not just in the last century as the country paid tribute to the fallen; but over many centuries as folks took time to remember their own loved ones who were gone.
November 1st is All Saints Day – thus October 31st is All Hallows Eve – the night before All Saints, and in many churches all over the world last week, there were acts of remembering for all those who had died in the previous year... and for those who were remembered for particular anniversaries.
Thus, this time of year is the time for memories; for sharing stories and experiences, but most of all for us, to bring to mind the sacrifices made by young service men and women, and their families during the First World War, and beyond.
This first part of the sermon is called expectations... think of all the things we anticipate and expect, and think of all the things we do not...
It is now November.
The clocks have turned back
It is getting darker earlier
The days are getting shorter, and (finally) the mornings are more likely to be frosty, or cold.
All fairly obvious things to expect.
Today there are things we expect to see
On shirts and coats
On the wreaths
Medals – on those who have served our country, and on their family members
Do you know how you can tell the difference?
Worn on the left by those who were awarded them
Worn on the right by those who proudly wear their grandfather’s or great grandfather’s medals.
And what about us?
What is expected of us today?
To be respectful
To take some time to remember
To try to live in a way that honours the memory
And most of all, to strive to keep the peace.
To remember, and not forget
And hope, above all hopes that there will come a day when weapons, and war and remembering will no longer be necessary.
Choir sings “What shall we pray for those who died?”
Reflection Part Two: Doing the Right Thing
For those of you who are visiting today, a little word of explanation regarding our bible reading. This year we are using a new lectionary called the Narrative Lectionary. It has taken us through some very familiar Old Testament stories over the past couple of months, and now this week, we move into the Prophets, and will be listening to some well known, and less known writers and their prophecies over the next few weeks as we approach the season of Advent.
So to the Prophet Micah, a promise for a little, unimportant backwater, and perhaps one of the most well known verses:
What does the Lord require of you?
To act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.
This simple command tells us how to live right. How to be.
And! Imagine what the world would be like if every man woman and child lived by that mantra.
If we really did always act justly, mercifully, humbly – what would our world be like then?!
The prophet has wondered about how people were living: he looked at the faithful acts they employed then – making burnt offerings; bringing the best of the crop to dedicate to God – seeking to be worthy as they gathered regularly to worship God.
Micah identifies an age old truth: we can never do it all!
We can never work hard enough; give generously enough; offer enough to pay back all that God gives us...
And here is the most wonderful thing of all!
We don’t have to!
Faith and living a faithful life is actually far more simple than most people expect.
And in that simplicity lies the difficulty!
I read on one of the ministers websites this week this very profound interpretation: “almost ALL of us find it easier to spend time and energy on helping people "walk humbly with God" and "do kindness" than we do on helping people learn to "love justice."”
(Facebook, Narrative Lectionary Group)
He was so right!
We see injustices: and we know something needs to be done
But, we are at a loss to know what.
How can I influence other nations, or the government, or the banks? Or local planning? Or those who act differently to me?
How can I help the world to be a better place?
I know I can be kind and merciful.
I even know I can strive to follow God to the best of my ability.
But what do I do about the rest? How can I act justly in everything I do?
I have often reflected on this verse; it is one that has cropped up in various places and times over the years; but I think this is the first time is has coincided with Remembrance.
So I turned to young Wilfred Owen. A young army officer so galled by what he saw that he was moved to write: not about the glories of war, but of its futility. In his collection of poems, published under the title of Futility he wrote this as the preface:
“This book is not about heroes. English poetry is not yet fit to speak of them. Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion, or power, except War.
Above all I am not concerned with Poetry.
My subject is War, and the pity of War.
The poetry is in the pity.
Yet these elegies are to this generation no sense conciliatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. That is why true Poets must be truthful.
If I thought the letter of this book would last, I might have used proper names; but if the spirit of it survives – survives Prussia – my ambition and those names will have achieved themselves fresher fields than Flanders.”
I wonder what he’d think, if he knew that his words did indeed last, that we, one hundred years later, still read his poems; still try to understand his words. That War is not the answer, that lives given are priceless still. That to die for one’s country may be a necessary evil, but it is not the sweet glory that the journalists of the time were espousing.
Out of the most unexpected places, come the most astounding promises.
Bethlehem – the little unimportant town, became globally important
Out of the War to end all wars came some of the most beautiful and profound truths, writ into astonishing poetry.
Not Owen alone, but Sassoon and Binyan and McRae and countless others who wrote from experience and gave us a lasting legacy.
We wear our poppies with pride
We remember the fallen of one hundred years ago
And of fifty years ago
And of ten years
And last year
And, for as long as we and our children have breath, we will remember still. For to forget is unthinkable.