Published by Robert Lawrance on Sun, 13 Nov 2016 18:01

Sermon on Remembrance Sunday 2016


Remembrance Sunday comes in the Autumn as the leaves fall, an appropriate time to commend
the fallen. The shorter days, with cold, dank light somehow matches the
mood, rain mimics tears. The liturgical
season is known as The Kingdom Season, our readings and liturgy invite us to
think of the character of the Kingdom of heaven, both with us now and somehow
yet still to come.... it's an in-between time of paradoxical character, and
(like the world in which we live) it's shifting and uneasy.
Today's scriptures
are a case in point... the gospel prediction of the destruction of the temple
in Jerusalem (which actually happened in 70AD, obliterated by the Romans), the
promise of wars and rumours of wars, nations rising against nations,
earthquakes and famines, persecutions and betrayals, even war within families...
it sounds very familiar. Millenarian thinkers
have supposed that these presage the end of time, for example our OT reading
Malachi "the day is coming when all the
arrogant and all the evildoers will be stubble, the day that comes shall burn
them up, says the Lord " (4:1) - if only.... but the truth is that they seem to be a constant
context for every generation, and there is something both reassuring and disturbing
about this, reassuring because it means that whatever the troubles of our own
time, something of us will survive and things will change, disturbing because
it feels that we are in a constant cycle of fearfulness and violence,
punctuated only by brief periods of peace and social consensus...
Some have
identified the election of Donald Trump and Brexit as signs of an end to the
post-war consensus... Was the cold war era, in which we most of us have grown
up and by which our world view has been shaped, a time of peace or war? This church was built in 1953, when the Republican
Eisenhower replaced 20 years of Democrat rule in US, and Khrushchev succeeded
Stalin in the Soviet Union. The year
marked the end of the Korean War after a military stalemate, but it marked the
beginning in earnest of the arms race we came to call Mutually Assured Destruction
(MAD for short) which was not a comfortable existence! Since the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9th
November 1989 there has been the hope of new liberal market-led consensus, but whilst
we enjoy peace and our woes have only been economic, whereas in Afghanistan and
the Gulf, Syria and so many other places peace is not the gift of this generation,
and British lives have been lost in those wars and we remember them too
today. And then there is the challenge
of pollution and consumption to the planet.
Scarcer resources in the future will probably bring more conflict unless
we find a way of living better.
In a recent
article the American pacifist theologian Stanley wrote about resentment as a
motor of conflict
Mr Trump has given voice to a widespread discontent in
our culture," He mentions
racism and fear of terrorism but goes
on to describe "an even deeper
pathology — namely, the profound sense of unease that many Americans have about
their lives. That unease often takes the form of resentment against elites,
but, even more troublingly, it also funds the prejudice against minority groups
and immigrants." Hauerwas continues:
Resentment is another word for the unease that seems
to grip good middle-class — mostly white — people who have worked hard all
their lives and yet find that they are no better off than when they started.
They deeply resent what they interpret as the special treatment that some
receive in an effort to right the wrongs of the past. All this is happening at the same time as the
Church — at least, the mainstream Church — is struggling against a culture of
consumption. Americans find that they have no good reason for going to church.
The statistical decline of Christians has led some church leaders to think that
our primary job is to find ways to increase church membership. At a time when
Christians are seeking to say something confident and useful about “church
growth”, what we communicate is superficial and simplistic. You do not need to
come to church to be told that you need to be nice. Hauerwas concludes:
If any people should know what it means to envision a
good life, surely Christians should. And yet I do not think that we have
emphasised enough why it is so important to live well, and, perhaps even more
significantly, what living well looks like. (CT 4/11/16)
What does
living well look like? St Paul wrote to the Thessalonians "Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is
right" (3:13). Recently someone gave me book of parsons quotations,
including one by a man called Donald Hankey written in 1916:
I asked a RC padre at the front once, what he would do
if it was proved to him that there was no God. He replied that it would make no
difference to his work at all. He would continue comforting the sick and bereaved,
and giving the dying the assurance that there was one who loved them and that
their living had not been in vain (Student in Arms, 1916).
Donald
Hankley was born in 1884, the son of a man who had made his money as sheep
farmer in Australia before returning to England to raise a family. Hankey was commissioned in the Royal Garrison
Artillery age 17 but illness on station in Mauritius meant he was cashiered
out. Pondering his future he worked in slums,
crammed an education, went to study at Oxford and returned to the slum parishes
which also studying for the priesthood.. Unable to feel himself worthy he
dressed as a labourer and travelled steerage class to Australia, earning his
keep through labour, before returning to England in 1914 just short of his 30th
birthday and enlisted as what was called "Kitchener's Mob" a
gentleman ranker... quickly promoted to sergeant he gave up his stripes to move
company because he was so disgusted by cruel and incompetent officers. He was wounded in 1915, recovered, commissioned
into a new regiment and returned to France.
He died on 12th October 1916, just over 100 years ago today. He
wrote
The church is irrelevant if it focuses on the creeds. It only makes sense if it lifts people to God
and the immortality of their souls. Therefore
to be relevant it must be humble. One
humble life is far more than any amount of "cinema and buns" By cinema and buns he meant the things
churches do to entice and entertain people....
This
realization was forged in the dug outs of trenches, not in our comfortable
existence. It is said, there are no
atheists on a battlefield, I wonder whether that is true. Sometime I wonder whether everyone is an
atheist on a battlefield, because surely any moral scruple is suspended when
the blood lust rises. But I am struck that Jesus Christ found more faith in a soldier
than anywhere else in all Israel. Soldiers
know about team work, diligence, and duty.
A recent book by a theologian called Luke Bretherton which I've been
pondering cites Individualism, Bureaucracy and Liberalism (where liberalism is
a spirit of 'anything goes') have corroded shared moral systems to the current
pick and mix morality, .... and this leads to conflict.
He writes Human flourishing
requires a certain kind of society, one whose common good takes account of
human vulnerability and interdependence. " (p.25)
He goes on
to argue that in a world of parallel virtues, tolerance is a parody of Christian
faith. Instead he argues we should practise
hospitality, the over generous grace of God constantly open to the new insights
of the Holy Spirit, rather than allow ourselves to be locked in tradition.
but this
requires a real engagement.... getting inside the lives of others , a proper
humility....
At the PCC
last week we affirmed the five marks of mission, two of which are proclaiming
the good news and baptising and nurturing newcomers, and the other three are intrinsically
hospitable where hospitality means putting yourself into the lives of other
people: pastoral care, transforming unjust structures, care for creation...
And here's
a thing, baptism, the ritual by which we become Christians, is immersion in water....
an act of humility... entering into the other... as today we enter into the commemoration
of those who have died in war, we remember that this is the pattern exhibited
by God in Jesus Christ who became one of us, entered our weakness, and set that
as the pattern for us all to live by. That is hospitality, and that will be living
well.

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