notes from a small curate
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Being a Christian in a time of war
Good Shepherd 14/11/2004 (Remembrance Sunday Service)
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21.5-19
What does it mean to be a Christian in a time of war?
Jesus told us to expect wars: Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, he said.
And Jesus told us to expect conflict in our own lives: You will be betrayed, he said. You will be hated by all because of my name.
But Jesus told us that we shouldn't be scared of these things. Not a hair of your head will perish, he said. By your endurance you will gain your souls.
Today we remember those who endured at a time of war. By 'endured' I don't necessarily mean 'survived'. For today we remember those who died in the wars of 1914 and 1939. What I do mean by 'endured' is that these people were prepared to struggle, prepared to suffer, even to die, for what they felt was right.
What drove them was their enduring faith - whether in God, or their country, or their companions in arms;
What drove them was their enduring hope - that their actions would lead to a better world, a more peaceful world, a more just world;
What drove them was their enduring love - for God, or their country, their companions, those close to them back home.
And whether they lost their lives on the battlefield, have since passed on, or still survive today, their faith, hope and love endure.
Not all of these soldiers would have been Christians, of course. But nevertheless we may learn from them something about what it means to be a Christian in a time of war.
We need to ask that question because we are in a time of war today. Our country is deeply involved in a conflict in the Middle-East, a conflict quite different from the two world wars of the twentieth century, one which cannot easily be called a 'just war' because there is no recognisable enemy, no obvious threat, because innocent people on all sides are suffering - civilians, from Kenneth Bigley, whose family we hold in our hearts today, to the many occupants of Fallujah, unnamed in our newspapers, families just like ours, brutally uprooted from their homes in the ongoing conflict there.
In this time of war we might find it hard to see any signs of faith, hope and love. It is far easier to see the overwhelming signs of struggle, tragedy and suffering, so many people worried about their futures, including us in our comparative safety here.
If we look at what lies before us for ourselves and the world, it sometimes seems that death is more powerful than life, greed is more common than generosity and kindness and the idea of hope something that is hard to sustain.
Remembrance is an opportunity for us to learn again from those people who believed that evil could be overcome, and were prepared to put their lives on the line in the hope that that would happen.
Of course, you might think, their hope didn't help them: the consequence of their hope was that they died. But Thomas Merton said:
"Do not depend on the hope of results - concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself."
The truth about those we remember today, is that they worked for hope, the hope of a better world, and their memory offers hope to those who share their vision now. They were not idle, as some Christians in Thessalonica were idle; rather, they were good examples of the sort of behaviour Paul asked of his people there:
Brothers and sisters, he said,
do not be weary in doing what is right.
If we are keen to do what is right, we may want to turn to Jesus to try to learn new ways of building a better world.
We may want to listen to those who, since WW2, have worked for peaceful solutions to the world's conflicts; like former US President Jimmy Carter, who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize recently, saying, "We cannot build peaceful relationships by killing each other's children."
Or peace activist Daniel Berrigan who observes, as he puts it, "the total inability of violence to change anything for the better."
Christ is our peace - we meet in his name and share his peace. If we try applying that to the world's conflicts - and to our own local conflicts - then we honour the memory of those who died; we share their faith in humanity, their love for others, their hope for peace. More than that, we show that we are not weary in doing what is right.
Desmond Tutu has spent his life championing nonviolent ways of building a better South Africa. He famously said,
Goodness is stronger than evil,
love is stronger than hate,
light is stronger than darkness,
life is stronger than death,
victory is ours through him who loved us.
These are words which express, and honour, the hopeful vision of those we remember today. And challenge us to never be weary in doing what is right.
This sermon borrows some material from my talk on Remembrance at the Blue Coat School, 5 November 2003.