November 8, 2020
Categorised in: Sermons
Our Scripture readings this afternoon certainly give us rich material for Remembrance Sunday. Gideon the general in charge of the Israelite army, against all the odds, reduces the size of his army by a hundred-fold, from over 30,000 to 300, and defeats the innumerable host of the Midianites without so much as a single injury. And Jesus affirms the solidarity in the heart of every soldier, that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
On this Remembrance Sunday we are, perhaps, much more conscious of the cost of the sacrifices made by our Armed Forces in the past, when every day on the television we are reminded of how many people died not in war, but of coronavirus. Each day, the tally goes up, especially now as we climb this second wave. Currently, we are not in the midst of war, but a different kind of battle, facing a different kind of enemy, but the grief of every life lost, whether through battle or disease, is hard to bear. Every death is worth remembering.
But it is a mistake, I believe, to use military language to describe our relationship with a force of nature. The virus is not a solider, armed with weapons and technology, seeking to destroy us, or take away our freedom. For good or ill, the virus is being true to its nature, however it was created or came into being. If there is anything the environmental crisis has taught us, it’s that nature is not our enemy… not something we can fight against.
The created world is something we have to learn to live with in greater harmony than we have in the past. As our horizons rapidly approach the first anniversary of this coronavirus spreading across the world, we are beginning to recognise it is something we are going to have to learn to live with, rather than defeat.
And, it’s a questionable interpretation of Scripture when we use John 15 to justify the sacrifice of soldiers for the sake of their friends, for king, queen or country. Jesus is not here referring to self-sacrifice on the battle-field, but to the laying down of his own life, for the sake of his friends, the disciples, and for all of humanity. Jesus is not some Army General, safely behind the lines barking orders to the infantry in the trenches of WW1 to go over the top to a certain death. Jesus is not in some senseless battle amongst barbed-wire in no-man’s land, fighting off the threat of territorial domination.
The sacrifice Jesus himself was willing give, forged a turning point in history. What Jesus is describing here is union between humanity and the divine. Through accepting Jesus as the person about whom the world turns, people of every race and culture have begun to find a deeper more significant connection that overcomes the divisiveness of language, nationality, culture and power that often leads to war.
There was nowhere I saw this more than when I lived in Amsterdam, a city that epitomises the globalisation that is a reality today of every major world city. I worshipped in a church that welcomed people of 40 different nationalities. Whilst our different cultures, ethnicities and languages certainly created tensions, it was the union, the mutual abiding in Christ, that was the foundation of our life together.
Having prayed together, broken bread together, shared food together, and loved one another, wept in grief and laughed in joy together, it is inconceivable that any of us could obey a patriotic and nationalistic call to arms to fight and kill one another. The gospel of Jesus Christ brings unity between cultures that overcomes national divisions.
So, for example, we pray with people around the world today that the divisions so evident within the USA may be overcome, and that ethnic tension around the world that leads to conflict would cease, through the actions of Jesus Christ.
This past year through the Black Lives Matter movements, countries such as the UK have been forced to recognise the dark days of our colonial history. We cannot escape the role politicians required our armed forces to play in building an empire of immense power and wealth. This often came at the disturbing cost of lives, of indigenous cultures, languages, ethnic groups and diversity.
We even used the soldiers of our conquered territories to fight our own battles, such as when the British deployed Indian sepoys in their conquest of what is now Myanmar. The seeds sown in our colonial pasts have nurtured endemic inequality and racist institutions, not least in the church.
So, on this Remembrance Sunday, I wonder what it would take for us to experience such greater love of Christ, that we are prepared to trust God like Gideon did. He didn’t need 30,000 if God was going to win the battle for him. Why do we surround ourselves with things that stop us trusting in God? Might we have even a tender connection with the divine so that we can trust Jesus for a future where diversity and unity do not have to compete with one another. Amen.