Sermons for Remembrance Sunday 2015

Remembrance Sunday 2015  The 11.00am service  Micah 4:1-5 1 Cor 15:50-end
"I'll have that piece." I said, as I looked at the fried fish.
"What that piece?"
"Yes, that piece." I was choosing a nice bit – well I thought so.
"I don't understand why you want that piece." He said.
"Neither do I," I said "but that bit's got my name on it I reckon."
"Oh." He said.
I thought, "He must think I'm round the bend."
"Yes, it's not the best looking bit but I think it will be right for me."
"Oh." He said.
"And I'll have a pickled gherkin."
"Which one?" he asked sarcastically, pickle fork poised.
"Oh, it doesn't matter, any one will do."
"It's beyond me why you want that bit."
"I don't really know myself. It's the piece of cod which passes all understanding."  
Remembrance Sunday 2015 Evening
I wanted to think about peace.  What is it? Why does it seem to elude us so?  How can we work to promote it?
In my Chambers dictionary – I found a pound note inside the cover – peace comes after pea and before peach.  I could draw some images there but I won't. The definitions given are all negative; a state of quiet, freedom from disturbance, freedom from war, freedom from contention, ease of mind or conscience, and so on.  But sitting here, in this church building we must have a different idea.
Some of the biblical tradition, that coming from Greek influence, which is on the cerebral, intellectual, side would have it the same but in the Hebrew tradition, much more of the relational, it is quite different.  The Hebrew noun is Shalom, the Arabic Salaam, which we hear in Islamic greeting. The root meaning is 'totality' or 'whole' with overtones of well-being and harmony.  It is a rich word, redolent with hope and vision, expressing the perfect, hoped-for society.  It can be extended to others by a covenant, agreement, building relationship, allowing prosperity and abundance.
The prophet Micah caught the vision and gave us memorable words.  Micah reminds us that we live under God and that in that order we can find a good and lasting root for our relationships, especially international ones.  The minute we make our agreements three-cornered (including the creator and redeemer) they become possible.  Based on only a human wisdom and effort and they are doomed.  There is something here about a diversity of humanity, which is only going to work if it is allowed to be. When the weapons give way to the means of life, when we can sit under our own trees, when we respect the different. "…all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God…."  Who is a God of love, waiting for each and everyone to turn towards the peace they long for.
St. Paul writes to the young church in Corinth, a place of tremendous diversity, a city of the Greeks, destroyed, rebuilt and peopled by the Romans from their vast empire, a place of all sorts of ethnicity.  They seemed to ask Paul for a lot of advice on how to live together.  There is in this passage a hint of the exasperation of many a biblical writer.  Oh for heavens sake it will be like this! And here, God is not of time, time is of God.  Our ending is the beginning of our timelessness. Our timelessness is our peace because in it we will be complete in our relationship with the eternal.
They are hard words and not always comforting.  Today we remember people who have lost their lives in conflict.  The roots of the keeping of the day are in the armistice at the end of the First World War.  A few years ago Maureen and I stood in the hall of mirrors at Versailles where the Armistice was signed and which figured again in WW2.  I say stood but we were really being hustled along. Our excellent guide had no time to speak of the momentous times that room had seen.  We wanted to stand and stare, stare into space and appreciate the peace we have known in our lifetime and pray for those caught up in the conflicts of our own time.  But no, the relentless push of the tourist, including us, swept us along.  No peace, no drinking in of the timeless, no time to savour that moment when hostility ceased in that Great War and the leaders of the warring partners looked each other in the eye.  How soon that peace of absence was to fail.
We see it again today.  We fight over the world's resources, over territory and power and 'face' and the name of God. We discover that our society is more diverse than we thought and that poses us with some questions, which we are in danger of answering with answers reminiscent of the 1930s, we are fearful again of the different and fearful that our never constant identity will change.  Peace is fullness and accepting and valuing and challenging the unjust, working tirelessly for justice.  We worry about freedom of speech and need to remember that freedom is never free and speech a dangerous instrument to be used carefully.  Freedom is costly and remains only with assiduous and constant watching.
Today we are posed with some difficult matters.  What is happening in Europe and the Middle East and Africa? What does it all mean for small place England? How do we stop history repeating itself? Do we spend enough time in prayer for the world and its leaders, especially those whose hearts we would change?
© 2015 Frank Wright

Remembrance Sunday 2015 8.00am service

 The last twelve months have been eventful in the life of the world as is every twelve month.  Viewed through the medium of television and from the perspective of my armchair I can have many high-blown ideals and form lofty moral questions to add to the complications world issues present us with. It is a complicated matter, over simplified and somewhat sanitized by distance and difference and full of particular interests.  One of those which people of faith have to face, is the part played by religion.  Much of the world is gripped by the sort of belief which excludes people who do not quite conform to the norms laid down by those who are strong or rich.  It manifests itself in all the fundamentalisms we can think of, be they Christian, Muslim, Jewish or even political. Sometimes political and religious fundamentalisms fall together.  The religious vote in some parts of the world is strong.

 If Jesus did anything he challenged the fundamentalisms of his day and through the holy scriptures we have been left with, and the presence of Christ among us, he challenges us today. Jesus was faced with two, opposing parties in the established religion – not much changes.  He was questioned many times by one or other of them who tried to trick him into blasphemy so that they could do away with him and get on with their power games.  Not much changes.  But he is ahead of them of course. Many times he manages to silence the Sadducees and the Pharisees have a go at him.  On one occasion they ask him, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  Surely this glorified social worker will reply along the lines of those which govern personal behaviour and relationships and the ways they affect other people.  But no.  He reminds them of what they know already, the demands of their religion.  He quotes the Shema, the opening words of the 6th chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy – the second book of the law You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

 The Law does not stand on its own but as an agent for communal life.  Get it all into context, he says, begin with the love God gives to you that you might love it back to God and in so doing sweep up the world and embrace it. The Pharisees listening to Jesus would have been wearing the phylacteries as orthodox Jews do today:  little boxes with the sacred texts inside strapped to the wrist and head.  Buildings would wear them too fixed to the doorways.  This ancient book of law, which was found in a walled up cupboard when they were doing some reordering work in the Temple exhorts them to teach this love to their children, to recite it to themselves again and again that they do not forget it, wherever they are.  It is intended to get them beyond the fundamentals of their belief and into the heart of what it means to be a child of God.  The Pharisees, these great champions of the Law, were silenced.

 Jesus doesn’t leave it there; he summarizes the second part of the Ten Commandments too.  Love your neighbour as yourself. To know what that means we might read St. Paul, who writes a couple of letters to the Church in Corinth to a people struggling with it all; the issues of being a cosmopolitan society made up of vastly differing peoples trying to occupy the same space and vying for power against each other, where newcomers were not welcome.

 What has all this to do with Remembrance Sunday I hear you ask?  It has to do with the quality of our remembering. We remember in love; not just those who gave their lives for what they believed in but for everyone – the whole world in which God has caused us to be.

 Love calls people to immense sacrifice.  Love calls in many ways.  The call may be direct, to go to the service of another.  The call may wear the overcoat of career.  The possibility of active or combative service makes it love, hard love, hard to do and hard to understand.  It’s not accidental that we call life occupation vocational.

 Remembrance has a particular quality and it is that quality which brings us here today.  Remembrance is a word and a concept used at this table several times a week.  It is very different from remembering.  To remember is to recall.  To make an act of remembrance is to bring the past into the present that the present may be affected by it.  It tries to recapture those feelings and sights and sounds. That is what poppies are about – that we might put ourselves into those trenches, gaze over those ruined fields and those tenacious flowers born of ancient, buried seed, that mud, and feel that pain.  It is a pious hope of course but it is so worth the trying.  For if our remembrance is for anything it is to show us that the love the creator has given us is greater than any earthly power and cannot be destroyed. If our remembrance is for anything it is for remembering that there are few winners in war and if we can do something about the barriers which divide person from person we might just be able to move ahead together and build a greater world.

 The Jews of Jesus’ time were divided over what would happen at the very end.  The Pharisees said that all would rise again but the Sadducees said not.  As we know Jesus was very good at confounding their arguments.  Jesus drew the strands of all the arguments together in the life of God.  From the Jewish tradition comes the Christian idea that our ending is affected by the way we live.  We can be forgiven our sins but if we forget them we stand in grave danger of repeating them.  And if we have not faced the truth about ourselves facing God who knows all is a terrifying thought and will greatly affect the way we approach our own death.

 If we have not been too great, people will want to forget us.  No-one will say with love and kindness, “Do you remember old so-and-so?” Our faces will not come into peoples’ minds and give them new joy.  We will be dead forever.  But if we acquit ourselves well our names and faces will continue to be celebrated in the life of our community and therefore, in the life of God.

 Today especially we remember and thank God for those who gave all for the life of the world and the causes they believed to be just and right.  It would be naive to say that everyone who dies in war is totally committed to the cause, there is often little choice as to whether you do your bit or not.  But we remember them, cause them to live on.  We remember of course, in order not to forget.  Not to forget what leads to conflict and what its effects are.

 Remembering that Christ died for all people is central to our faith.  He died for those we come into conflict with as well as those we agree with; those who share our faith and those who do not, those who keep the law and those who do not.

© 2015 Frank Wright


Remembrance Sunday Sermon – Evening Holy Communion
While we were living in Cornwall I had the privilege of leading the Remembrance Sunday service on a number of occasions.  Our parish had two Churches in separate villages and so I took one service in one Church, whilst our priest took the other; and every time I sat down to write my address I always struggled to know what to say and this evening it has been no different.
My parents both served in the forces during the Second World War.  My mother served in the WRNS, eventually ending up in Australia and although she lived quite a glamorous life whilst in that country, I suspect the journey across the world, by troop ship, was extremely hazardous.
My father served in the RAF and during the war he spent most of his time as an aircraft rigger, until 1944 when he went to Canada to train as a pilot.  As far as I know he did not see any action.
Neither of my parents spoke of the war and I have to be honest and say that I never enquired.  But undoubtedly they must have had experiences of war – bombing, rationing, casualties and even death.  The family home was in Portsmouth, which saw much bomb damage.
My grandfather served in the Royal Navy during the First World War and my uncle served throughout the second, serving on a large battleship at the age of just 16.  Both came through the conflicts physically unscathed.
So no one died in my family as a result of war; therefore there are no family names on a memorial for me to visit and for me it could be said that Remembrance Sunday has no direct personal connection.
As for service in the armed forces; I have no experience of that apart from five years in my school’s Army Cadet Force and my knowledge of war has been garnered from an appetite for war anthologies, documentaries and other written material.
So I have always felt inadequate standing before a Church congregation when I have considered members of that congregation would have had experiences of war far more personal and far more relative.
Remembrance Sunday is the day on which words are insufficient to express the feelings in our hearts, as we keep the promise to remember all those men and women who gave their lives in order that we might be free.
Some of the hardest fighting of the Great War took place in the Flanders and Picardy regions of Belgium and Northern France.  The poppy was the only thing which grew in the aftermath of the complete devastation.
John McCrae, a doctor serving with the Canadian Armed Forces, was deeply inspired and moved by what he saw, and thus wrote his famous poem “In Flanders Fields”.....
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead.  Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
We all know that on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the First World War ended.  Civilians wanted to remember all those who had given their lives for peace and freedom.  And so an American lady, Moina Michael, wrote a poem in November 1918 entitled “We Shall Keep the Faith”, which I will read to you now.
Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet - to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.
We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valour led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.
And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honour of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We'll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.
Moina was inspired by John Mc Crae’s poem to begin selling poppies to friends in order to raise money for the ex-service community.  And thus the tradition of wearing a poppy began, so we will remember, but the poppy is more than that…..
The poppies we wear speak of grief, of honour and of commitment.
There is grief for the thousands who went into war like lambs to the slaughter.
There is grief for those left widowed and for the children left without one or both parents; and there is grief for ourselves whose minds are forever marked by the absence of those who have died.
We will remember them.
The grief we feel is tinged with a measure of pride as we honour those who served; who fought for what they thought to be right and good, who stood together and supported each other through the nightmare of war and conflict and who gave of their today that we might have a tomorrow.
We will remember them.
Finally, the poppies we wear are our small way of expressing our commitment to not only grieve and honour those we may have personally lost; but to do everything we can to ensure that no parent should ever receive the awful news of a child’s death; that no wife should be left a widow; and that no child should grow up without a parent as a result of war.
Unless our grieving for what happened in the past; and our honouring of those whom we love, but see no longer, opens our hearts to those whose lives continue to be torn apart by warfare today, all our remembering, in whatever form it takes, will be pointless and it will be soon undone by our human ability to easily forget that we promised that such conflict would ever happen again.
For those who believe in Jesus Christ, the last word on Remembrance Sunday is not death but life.  In the reading of our Lord’s holy word and around His holy table, we remember that a child was born for us and a Son was give to us.
Our Lord’s coming brings light to all those in darkness.  His birth gives freedom to all those who live under the fear of oppression.  His love turns hearts once intent on cruelty towards all that is true, honourable, just and pure.  His spirit is our Advocate and enables us to remember what we may have chosen to forget.  His presence will disarm all those who take up weapons with a peace that this world will never be able to give.
In grieving for those that have died; in honouring their memory and in our commitment to a peaceful future, we will remember Him.  Amen
© 2015 Martin Brown



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