A young reporter approached an old man on his 100th birthday. “Happy birthday, Sir! Can I ask you one question? In all your years, what are you most proud of?” “Well,” said the man, “I don’t have a single enemy in the world.” Really?!” exclaimed the reporter, “That’s just incredible -how inspiring to us all!” ”Yep,” added the centenarian, “I’ve outlived every darn one of them!”
It is human nature to find fault in others and make an occasional enemy. Sadly each of us has acquired an enemy or two in our lives. Our nation too has enemies. Currently the greatest threat to the UK comes from Islamic terrorist groups. This aside though, who’s spying on whom? Issues of trust and justice dominate the headlines. Even our NATO ally, the US, could be spying on us! Tapping the phone calls of the PM and scrutinizing emails and text messages sent from our computers and smartphones.
Woefully, lives are still being lost to secure justice and freedom. It’s another Remembrance Sunday. We look at our bright red paper flowers, which have nothing to do with politics or religion, and remember all those who have lost their lives, all those who continue to lay their lives on the line in service to this country, helping make the world a better place to live in. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the campaign in Afghanistan for example, I believe our Armed Forces are doing just that – alleviating the pain and suffering of the citizens of that country, assisting a new democratic government, rather than an autocratic terrorist one ruling that place. Ensuring equality and justice. Girls are educated. Women can vote.
Interestingly, Barbara Walters, the American TV presenter, did a story on gender roles in Kabul several years before the Afghan conflict. She noted that women customarily walked ten paces behind their husbands. She recently returned to Kabul and observed that women still walk behind their husbands. Despite the overthrow of the oppressive Taliban regime, the women still seem happy to maintain the old custom. Ms. Walters approached one of the Afghani women and asked, “Why do you now seem happy with an old custom that you once tried so desperately to change?” The woman looked Ms. Walters straight in the eyes, and without hesitation said, “It’s better he’s goes in front. Land mines.” Moral of the story – no matter what language you speak or where you go – behind every man, there’s a smart woman!!
Throughout the Democratic world, United Nations approval is generally necessary before using military force. Although the majority of us would rather not go to war, occasionally it is necessary and legitimate. Winston Churchill said, “That having enemies can be a good thing. It means you’ve stood up for something in your life.” The Bible supports arguments both for and against conflict. However, peace is, ultimately, the dream of everyone. We must build on our imperfect present, remembering the sacrifices of the past. Remembering those who were, and are, willing to serve in uniform and stand on the battle lines to defend something that many of us may not fully comprehend. That is why we quietly contemplate at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
Remembrance Sunday is also a stark reminder that our world is deeply broken and divided because of human violence. It ought to be a beautiful place, one that should be cherished and enjoyed by all. However, it is spoilt by a few. People are suffering, through no fault of their own. Currently there is war and on-going atrocities in Sudan, Burma, The Congo and Syria. Brutalities targeting civilians brings to mind the distressing pictures of the innocent men, women and children who were victims of a recent chemical gas attack. What is man doing to man and why? Nearly a century after the end of the First World War many people are despairing that we will ever learn from the lessons of war and live in that vision of God’s Kingdom where peace, following the mutual decommissioning of weapons of mass destruction, is a global experience: “The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. People will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore.” (Is.2:4).
Yet, despite Jesus Christ bringing the Kingdom of Heaven closer to the earth, showing that there was an alternative way to live – war has happened – and is still happening and people are generally disappointed that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, has failed to live up to expectations. Christians, reverent agnostics, have their doubts and seem to have accepted that this world will never be different. Non-believers express cynicism with the Gospel. After all the Church has been around for over 2,000 years, yet the world is no better. If anything, it appears to be getting worse. Last century saw two major world wars, genocide in Rwanda and in supposedly ‘civilised’ Eastern Europe, airplanes flying into The World Trade Centre and the holocaust of over 6 million Jews – who incidentally were the first to feel that Jesus had let them down.
When He came, they believed He would be their anointed king – the promised Messiah of the line of David who would bring the rule of God on earth as well as the redemption of Jerusalem which would become the center of world government, providing the proper basis for peace: “Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord…and we will walk in his paths…For the Lord’s teaching will go out from Zion.” (Is.2:3). Rejected as Messiah though, Jesus was crucified. Even after the dawn of new hope on Easter Sunday, two weary disciples on the Road to Emmaus expressed disappointment to the stranger that suddenly accompanied them, “We had hoped that Jesus was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Lk.24:21).
Over 2,000 years on, we are still hoping for the same thing! Despite the list of benefits to mankind that have sprung from Christianity such as the abolition of slavery, the care of the sick and orphaned, the education of children, human rights, as well as the examples of individuals who have lived out a self-sacrificial calling in the name of Christ, showing love to fellow human beings with little or no concern for their own wellbeing, notwithstanding all this humanitarian progress – the Christian ideal is still found wanting. God’s promised peace isn’t in the world. It’s not a safer, happier or a better place to live in as war is always inevitable, not just because of evil people and totalitarian regimes, but because “the world around us is under the control of the devil…and he deceives the whole world” (1 Jn.5:19; Rev.12:9).
Yet, soldiers of Christ should arise, put their armour on and believe that tomorrow, or next month, or next year things will be different. In the life and teachings of Jesus, and from the vision of Isaiah, we see that God establishes peace in His world in an unconventional way. Jesus is no common disappointment. Embrace Isaiah’s vision. Don’t be tempted by the enemy into a relationship of hell, it’s not too late to acknowledge the Prince of Peace. Jesus taught His followers to pray every day that the kingdom of justice and joy on earth, as in heaven, will come. Clearly, this has not happened yet, but it will come and in such a visible way that on that day everyone will know that all authority has been given to Jesus in heaven and earth, that He is the King of kings and Lord of lords! And it won’t be only Jerusalem, or Israel that will be redeemed – but the entire creation! We may be several thousand miles away from the various conflicts that trouble our world but we cannot conveniently forget those who are suffering just because they are not on our doorstep. They are our neighbours and as followers of Jesus we are commanded to love our enemies, and look after our neighbours. When a soldier gives their life, or looses a limb for another they live this commandment out to its fullest expression as they set an example of absolute self-giving grace: “On earth as it is in heaven.”
This picture you may have seen; this soldier with an artificial leg, on his real leg he has a tattoo, with the words ‘one foot in the grave’. That’s true for all of us actually. With every passing second death draws closer and the Christian’s first line of defence against it is to be passionate, rather than insecure, about the resurrection. It’s the foundation of our faith – “if Christ has not been raised your faith is futile” (1 Cor.15:13-19). We need to still be challenging the world with this affirmation, especially in the face of secular objection. The Church with its resurrection message is not like hopeful sales person at the door offering an unlikely product to householders who have everything. We need to be more provocative, more encouraging…it is transformation – God is not God of the dead but of the living! (Mt.22:32). The people we meet need words that will turn them from spiritual death to eternal life. Like a soldier we are on God’s frontline, fighting the enemies of defeat, despair and depression – speaking words of life and health. These poppies are worn in honour to remember those who lost their lives. Our words, the Gospel of Christ, can help a hopeless person gain new life
Our second line of defence against the evils of this world, and the only weapon we need to use is prayer. It is very forceful and cannot be stopped. It does change things. Proverbs 16:7 – “When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” All we have to worry about is making sure our ways are pleasing to the Lord and He will do the rest.
Lastly, when we recall that our Lord made peace with everything in heaven and earth, by means of Christ’s blood on the cross, we will strive in His love for a better world to defeat the devil’s work, the evil of men and the noise of drones, bombs and guns. As Christians we can look forward with confidence to a resurrection future, trusting not in our own strength, but in the promise of our King and Saviour that “I have conquered the world” (Jn.16:33).
“Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane, but the church of Jesus constant will remain.”
Love in the Messiah. Blessed be the Word.
Compassionate God, from generation to generation, there have been and always will be, those who give their lives in the service of others; those who uphold the sense of freedom for the individual and of the nations. We thank you for their selfless duty and sometimes their sacrifice. Where the tears fall, may you bring your healing and comfort. Help us to be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another as you in Christ forgave us. Set us free from a past that we cannot change; open to us a future in which we can be changed; and grant us grace to grow more and more in your likeness, through Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, Saviour of the world. Amen.