Puddletown and Milborne
Sunday 11th November 2018
Jonah 3.1-5, 10; Mark 1.14-20
One hundred years ago today, the guns fell silent.
As we know there had been terrible destruction, people and nations had been ravaged, soldiers, sailors, aviators, civilians, adults, children, fighters, peacemakers, conscientious objectors, farmers, traders, teachers, clergy, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandparents, cousins, nieces, nephews had all lost their lives, either directly from the fighting or indirectly as a result.
Money was used up, Europe was tired, families were coping often with multiple bereavements, a generation of young men was decimated.
There was a victory for those on “our” side, but the joy of that was tinged with the knowledge of what had gone before. It was a rainbow situation – where the brightness of the sun and the darkness of the storm came together.
The years of the War were harsh for all concerned. It was supposed to be the war to end all wars, but well we know that that wasn’t the case. World War II started only 21 years later, and since then we have been involved in conflicts near and far: the Falklands, Iraq, Afghanistan, and peace-keeping duties elsewhere.
Currently members of the British Army are deployed in Cyprus, Germany, Kenya, Canada, Belize, the Falklands, Somalia, South Sudan, Gibraltar, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Baltic States, Brunei, Ukraine and Nigeria.
Royal Naval Forces are in UK Home waters, the South Atlantic, the Red Sea and Gulf, Arctic and North European waters, the Mediterranean and Black Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, and the Royal Air Force is on 15 missions in 4 continents and 22 countries.
But even in the darkest times, there was and is hope.
Charles Warr was in Ypres in 1915. He wrote this: “One day I wandered into the charred and crumbling ruins of the cathedral. The great stone-vaulted roof had been smashed in pieces. Walls were falling and strong pillars were bent and misshapen like giants in agony. The painted windows and priceless mural frescoes had wholly disappeared. The flagged floors of the nave and aisles were full of gaping holes and littered with debris. A shapeless mass of stones, plaster and lumber represented what had been the altar of God. The great organ in its gallery, mute and silent, stood rent and wounded.
“Then I saw a wonderful thing. I saw a little girl come in and kneel down to pray among the rubbish that littered the chancel steps. I was suddenly moved by an indescribable emotion. That child was the answer to all this madness, The rainbow in the cloud. Something was left in the world that shells could never destroy.”
There is always hope in the blackest of situations, if we only have eyes to look for it.
Hope has kept many people going through all sorts of horrendous situations.
Another voice from the First World War, this of Chaplain Charles Raven: “when death looked me in the face, my manhood withered and collapsed. For what seemed like hours I was in an agony of fear . . . and suddenly as if spoken in the very room, Jesus’s [His] words ‘for their sakes I consecrate myself’ and the fragrant splendour of His presence . . .
“for the next nine months He was never absent, and I never alone, and never save for an instant or two broken by fear. If He who was with me when I was blown up by a shell and gassed and sniped at, with ,e in hours of bombardment and the daily walk of death, was an illusion, then all that makes life worth living for me is illusion too.”
In the midst of all the horrors that humans throw at one another, the loving, ever-present God is there too, right at the heart of the suffering.
Why does God allow wars? Because we humans are not robots – we have been given autonomy. It is our choice whether we love or hate, choose life or death. Every war starts with human choices.
But there is always the possibility of starting again. The First World War devastated Europe, and yet 100 years on, there is peace between those nations who so bitterly fought against one another. It all happened again in the Second World War, but again once it came to an end, things were able to begin afresh, and countries previously at war became able to be friends again.
Whatever we think of Brexit and our current relationship with the people of Europe, it is remarkable that after such bitter hatred and distrust between nations in the World Wars, European countries have been able to work together, in many cases for common goals, since then.
I hope and pray that our future outside the EU will not jeopardise the greater good that has been created between nations no longer at war but working together for peaceful societies.
How do we make our remembrance meaningful? It cannot just be about looking backwards. We have a future ahead of us, for us and for our children and for our children’s children and so on. The world we create now will have a lasting impact on the future
There is much distrust between people in our world at present: America under Trump, Russia under Putin, many in this country towards Europe and many Europeans towards the country wanting to go it alone without them, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have problems, Israeli and Palestinian, tribal and other wars in a number of African nations and so on and so on.
Hatred and distrust, however, always lead to strife.
That is why Jesus taught us to love our enemies and to do good to those who hate us, because it can truly change the world.
The kingdom of God is the ultimate hope, the place where only love rules people’s hearts, where there is no hatred or bitterness or resentment or violence or selfishness or jealousy or sadness because all are united.
That hope is what has kept many firm in their faith in spite of the damage that human beings cause to one another.
Each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we say: thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. With God’s help, it is possible to build heaven on earth.
With God’s help we can become people who make a difference to this world.
We look back today at all those who lost their lives in War, who gave themselves so that others might have freedom.
We are their beneficiaries. Their legacy is immense.
What is our legacy going to be?
Will the world be better and more peaceful because we have lived?
Will the values by which we live make a difference to our world?
Will we help to heal the brokenness?
Will we help to overcome darkness with light, hatred with love, sadness with compassion?
Will we help to make tomorrow better than today?
Today we remember the great cost at which peace came. Many of us alive today never knew the horrors of the World Wars but we are still aware that across the world our soldiers, sailors and airmen and women give their lives to working for peace and that even today some of them lose their loves for that cause.
War hurts all those involved.
I was very struck last week listening to a Second World War veteran explaining that for him Remembrance is not just about remembering our own who died but also those of the enemy – they were somebody’s sons too, he said.
It isn’t easy to see the enemy as a friend, but Jesus never said it would be.
Let us listen to the children of today who want all wars to end, who want people to stop killing one another, who want to make the world a better place.
In their innocence they have it right. As we grow older and understand more about the ways of the world, it is easy to let hope die because we know how hard making that dream come true can be.
But that is no reason to give up, it makes it all the more important.
So, as we look back and remember, let us hold the present before God and pledge ourselves to keeping hold of the hope of a future without conflict and violence, a future where peace across the world is normal, where human beings trust one another, love one another and work for the good of the whole world.
May God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.