Preaching and God does the work.

Preaching.  Meeting people where they are in their context with scripture with integrity.  Usually.  Today I took a step into Remembrance Sunday, but instead of trying to meet them where they are, I started where I am.

Because there are so many people to meet today.  The bereaved, the maimed in body and spirit, those for who fighting is a way of life, those who go on anti-war marches, those who expect everyone else to protect their freedom, those who see criticism of any war as high treason against Her Majesty, those who insist we must all wear a poppy in order to demonstrate support for our armed forces….the list goes on.  I cannot meet all those people where they are.  

So I started where I am.  This felt a self indulgent misuse of the pulpit.  But I couldn’t find anywhere better to start from.  I preached from what I read, what I see, and how I feel.  I preached where I find God in it all.  And I have never had such a loud, varied, long, positive load of feedback from so many people about any sermon I have preached ever.  I haven’t done Remembrance Sunday in that particular parish before.  I didn’t quite know who would be in the congregation.  But I had at least one veteran of Afghanistan, and more of earlier wars.  I had families who had relatives among the fallen.  I had people who have been anti-war ever since they found CND, I had Christians who have no doubts about anything, and Christians who doubt everything.   I had people who come to church because it’s social, and those who come because God is their rock.  And I had me too, I was there because I was rota’d to be, and if I hadn’t been rota’d I would have hidden away.  

And somehow God reached many people today.  I am grateful, thankful, and awed.

If you want to read what I preached, the text (which I may have deviated from now and again) is below.  And I didn’t wear a poppy – bought one on, put it safe in my bag for today, couldn’t find it anywhere.  No-one said a word about it.  

Remembrance Sunday Year B  2012 St Mark’s Ampfield
Is 57:15-19
John 14:23-end
May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight o Lord our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”.
Remembrance Sunday is a difficult Sunday on which to preach a sermon.  Because Remembrance Sunday is full of contradictions and difficulties. 
On Remembrance Sunday we remember those who have died in wars, whether soldier or civilian.  We remember lives cut short, possibilities closed down, hurt, pain, fear, grief. 
And consciously or not we make decisions about who we blame for those deaths.  Whose fault is it that millions of people died in World War I, whose fault is it that men and women are dying in Afghanistan?
And then we meet the contradictions, that we are proud of men and women who risk their personal safety to fight for their fellow human beings – that we appreciate what they give and do.  But on the other hand why should they have too?  Why should people have to die to defend others?  Where does that leave those who try to live normal lives in places which are perpetually described as “war torn”? 
War is a complex business, and it makes Remembrance Sunday complex.  And here, we are remembering at a Christian service for the glory of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit.  We are in the presence of a God made incarnate human, who said “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Do we believe that?  Do we believe that Jesus left us peace?  Where does that leave wars where the victors and vanquished both firmly believe they are fighting with God on their side?  Does God even take sides in wars?   Do we buy into the sentiments expressed by Bob Dylan in his song With God on our side?  He ends with the idea that “If God’s on our side, he’ll stop the next war”.
“peace I leave with you” 
We might need to be a little more careful about how we read that, how we hear it.
Jesus may well be leaving us peace, but what if we think differently.  We leave things with people if we want them to do something – I’ll leave it with you.  I left it with them.  What if Jesus is leaving peace with us, for us to sort out? 
Peace, I leave with YOU.
What does our world look like if each of us consciously, every time we make any kind of choice, seeks peace with our neighbour and our wider community?    
Later in this church we will pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”
We don’t have to worry about the Kingdom in heaven – the war is won.  It’s on earth that we still fight the battle of good against evil, and that is the battle with which we should engage.  It’s a battle which requires total self honesty, total personal integrity, courage, and always always choices.  And it requires us to carry an image of what peace looks like – Jesus also said “My peace I give you.”
That is where we get the pattern for how peace looks as far as God is concerned – blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, blessed are those who mourn, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. 
What happens if we consider the impact of each action we take upon other people?  In one sense, at one level, paralysis.  We are all interconnected; we all affect everyone else.   It’s obvious how words do this – look at those who are believed when they speak out, and at those who are not.  Look at the effect of rumour.  Look at the effect of a word of encouragement to someone in need.  Words matter.
But so do actions – the cheap t shirt in the market might have been produced by someone working in dreadful conditions….but at least they have a job of sorts and we need to keep warm…..there are decisions and choices we make which affect people we will never ever meet, people whose names we will never know, people made in the image of God. 
We may feel we cannot stop human wars.  We may feel that some wars have to be fought.  And the question is “Are they bringing about the kingdom on earth?”  Are they wars that lead to liberation of spirit, of humans able to be fully themselves?  Or are they wars of power, of resources, of fear?
For to bring about the God’s Kingdom on earth means change – it doesn’t, by experience, appear to be here as a permanent state right now.  There must be change. But change is frightening – so “do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid,” are the words Jesus added.  It’s easy to say to someone don’t be scared.  It’s much harder to do. 
But Jesus has told us what to do, has given a pattern by which to do it, and has told us not to be afraid of doing it.   
I don’t buy into Dylan’s song – God won’t stop wars.  But human beings can choose, each of us can choose, and must choose carefully.  Is this a battle which is part of the already won spiritual war against evil?  Or is is about one set of humans having power over another set, about imposing one way on others?  Choose.  Carefully. 
Otherwise in another thousand years time, our descendents will be standing here, comforting the bereaved, caring for the maimed, and trying to work out how history got them to this point.  We are their history, we are the ones who can make a difference to their present.
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Amen.  

3 responses to “Preaching and God does the work.

  1. Claire,

    I think that you have given real food for thought about ware and peace. I'm not a fan of the Just War concept, because it's used to cover for political machinations and failures or deception. The Iraq war amply demonstrates that for me. And, any was, whatever the justification is an admission of failure of peace, of the will for people to actually listen to Jesus' words, “My Peace I leave you”

    Even a just war has it's casualties or collateral damage as the allies in Iraq so charmingly put it. There is no defence for civilians, battles are not fought on remote fields of conflict, they are fought in, or around or over centres of population who are caught in the crossfire between antagonists. Just look at Libya or Syria for evidence of this.

    I supported the Falklands war for the very reason that a Foreign power had invaded British Territory, and were denying the inhabitants the right to their own self-determination. We had a moral duty to defend them. But the outcome was heavy in casualties on both sides, but the majority were Argentinian, most of whom were conscripts, poorly trained and equipped, and sent on a mission by a Dictator, who saw an opportunity to divert public attention within his own country from his activities which were killing his own citizens in secrecy by just 'disappearing them'.

    But, now, I am no longer a participant in uniform, and no longer likely to be called back to serve, I can state that I am now a pacifist – not one that turns the other cheek, but one that wants to see all humans living at peace with each other, without exploitation and without fear of persecution. The only way that I can conceive of that happening is joining hands with all who love and want peace and to take words of Jesus seriously, and hold out our hands in peace to the world.

    On this basis, defence is predicated on the fact that if attacked we will retaliate, but we will never take offensive action against another state or nation. We would need to pull out of NATO to achieve this and to abandon any pretence to be a big player in the military stakes world wide. Turn our Swords into Ploughshares, literally.

    I'm probably naive in this, but my experience of war, the outcomes of war, the casualties of war have just changed my view of what can be justified in terms of offensive action in the world we live in now.

    I am proud to have served, and take great pride in those people who put themselves in harms way, notionally for our sake, but I deplore them being used as political pawns to advance government strategy or to protect interests, which are in reality, exploiting others, which so many recent wars seem to be about.

    Ireland and Switzerland have remained Neutral through two world wars, which should be the model that we seek to bring about between all nations.

    I hope and pray that if we all join in taking the Peace that Jesus left us, we can overcome.

  2. Pingback: More change… | Rev'd Claire·

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