…originally called Armistice Day, commemorating the end of World War I, was conducted at the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, 91 years ago in 1918. Back then, standing at the cenotaph, all agreed with hands on hearts that war would never happen again. Sadly, this was not to be. Inevitabley, world war broke out again in 1939. No one could have forseen the number of military campaigns our country would face throughout the 20th century.
Today, nearly 10 years into this century, many precious lives have been cut short in service to our nation. Last week five British soldiers were killed in Afghanistan by a “rogue” Afghan policeman with tribal links to the Taliban. A total of 92 troops have now been killed this year. History does repeat itself. Go back to Iraq, the Falklands and Northern Ireland.There’s so much sorrow for families and friends who mourn their loved ones that it’s a little awkward for peace loving Christians. We are idealists. We follow the Prince of Peace. We believe that love can conquer all. Jesus commands us to love, not just our neighbours, but our enemies too. But then, from time to time, we are faced with absolute evil.
When my grandparents, and some of you, faced the rise of Hitler in 1930s, the mood changed. Love couldn’t conquer all. Peace talks had broken down. We’d had the wool pulled over our eyes. Many Christians changed their minds. War against Germany was the only option in 1939. I was 13 years old when the British Taskforce sailed to the Falklands in 1982. Galtieri had taken down the Union Jack. His troops were marching on British soil and threatening our citizens. Once again, war against Argentina was justfied. A year ago in Zimbabwe a growing cholera crisis killed over 1,000 people. The country’s president, Robert Mugabe, denied the disease was a reality – seeing it as a fiendish Western plot to justify an invasion of Zimbabwe – where the government barely functions and democracy is questionable.
Inflation is out of control. Millions are starving. Surely the fact that Zimbabwe faces a humanitarian crisis justifies military intervention? But we’ve not overthrown this dictator, or invaded his country that was once part of the British Empire a place that was once prosporous and known as the “bread basket of Africa”.
We choose some conflicts and not others it seems.
There were no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq. It was an illegal war. But oil keeps the world moving so we decided that country’s dictator had to go. And what are we doing in Afghanistan? I still don’t understand it. The dishonesty and stupidity behind it all beggars belief! Soldiers without proper uniform.
A shortage of helicopters and equipment and still a corrupt government has led to uneccesary casualties of war. How many more soldiers have to swelter and die in Helmand Province in order to prop up a puppet government in Kabul? How much longer until we realise that the Taliban warlords will never be defeated? I’m not normally this political in the pulpit, but I hate seeing teenage soldiers coming home in coffins and I recognise, just as you do, the tragedy of war. I know there are good reasons why we can’t leave Afghanistan. Sometimes it’s necessary for us to police parts of the world. Especially where democracy and human rights are threatened and exploited. Also, sometimes the soldiers and the peacemakers are one.The compassion and bravery of individual soldiers is protecting the population and improving the country’s infrastructure as war rages around them. Remembrance Sunday reminds us of the extreme danger our armed forces face and the commitment we make as a nation so that love and life, justice and peace may flourish.
That’s why today, whatever our political views, we don’t glorify war. It’s a terrible thing, but we advocate it where neccessary and speak out against it where neccessary.
Jesus was, after all, both a warrior and a pacifist. On one ocassion He tells His disciples: “If you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” On another: “Suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not sit down first and consider whether he is able with 10,000 men to oppose the one coming against him with 20,000? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.” It’s extremely practical teaching. There’s a time for war and a time for peace. In a world filled with evil people, sometimes war is necessary to prevent even greater evil. If the Royal Air Force had not fought against the German Luftwaffe, Britain would have been defeated, Hitler would have invaded and thousands more would have died.
However, despite the fact that some wars can be justified, the root cause is nothing to do with foreign policy, or religious crusades but is ALWAYS the result of human sin which can never be sanctioned. Human beings are quick to lie, to become angry and to hurt and kill because of the depravity of the human heart, which is “deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jer.17:9). In this conditon we’re unacetpable before God. Under the power of sin we will leave ruin and destruction wherever we go, for without reverence for God we can never know true peace. However, it is this horrific problem that God came to solve in the person of Jesus Christ – who on the cross endured to the full the pain and suffering that sin causes. His willingness to do this was so that everyone could have a relationship with God.
When the soil had settled after the fighting of the First World War, thousands of poppies grew on the battlefields. Because they are red like blood, these little flowers remind us of the bigger picture, of the sacrifices made. Likewise the cross reminds us of God’s bigger picture. Jesus Christ was sacrificed on our behalf. He was so perfect that every drop of His blood paid the penalty for our sin. He faced God’s justice and separation so that we never have to. In the Bible’s words: “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Pet.3:18). No wars will ever stop us singing of the hopeful assurance of salvation. The plain truth is that the world will never know peace without the Prince of Peace. Therefore, Christians don’t need to feel awkward about strife and warfare. The peace offered by the world is fickle, it’s so easily destroyed. We don’t desire war, but accept it as one of the many evils of this world. Of wars and rumours of war, “do not be alarmed, such things must happen,” Jesus said.
But one day things will be so different! Under Christ’s nature of love, forgiveness and reconciliation people of all nations will live together: “All the nations will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. All wars will stop, and military training will come to an end. Everyone will live quietly in their own homes in peace and prosperity, for there will be nothing to fear.” (Is.2:4; Mic.4:3-4). As we anticipate the words of the prophets this Remembrance Sunday may we fully appreciate the struggle and sacrifice of those who have died in conflict to secure our freedom. May we witness God’s grace to this hurting world, knowing that our salvation from sin was only secured by the Father giving the Son in our place. And may we eagerly anticipate that future day when mankind shall live together in peace and share all they have when the world becomes a better and a happier place.
Peace be with you through Jesus Christ our Lord.