Rev Dr John McCulloch
St Andrews Jerusalem & Tiberias, Sunday 11th of November 2018
Deuteronomy 4:9-14 & St John 15: 9-17
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable to you o Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Remembering, in a world that has not learnt the ways of peace
100 years ago today, the most deadly conflict in human history came to an end.
As we remember those who died and lost loved ones, it is important that we understand the scale of the tragedy. The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was more than 38 million: there were over 17 million deaths and 20 million wounded.
I am going to read 2 diary extracts from a British soldier called James, who spent WWI in the trenches on the Western Front.
Dear diary, 1st July 1916, written on the western front
It is July 1st, 1916, the start of the Battle of the Somme, we had to go out of the trenches and walk into No-Man’s-Land. We are going to get out of the trenches and charge to the enemies, just like our commanders ordered us to do. We can’t do anything about it. 60 000 died today.
There is the constant smell of death. The constant feeling of getting bombed. It was a really horrible sight, seeing so many men die in just a few seconds.
And some years later, James’ diary entry for the 11th of November 1918 (100 years ago exactly today) he writes:
Dear diary, November 11th
IT’S OVER!!! The war is officially finished. I’m so happy. Words can’t describe how lucky I am. It has been a dangerous journey over the years but a lot has happened.
We are all going home! You know what the best part is? It’s the war to end ALL wars! No more bombing or sleepless nights for the rest of my days. Farewell trenches.
As we know all too well, James’ (and many others) prediction that WWI would be a war to end all wars was wrong, and the 20th century turned out to be the bloodiest century in the history of humankind.
We live in a world that has not learnt the ways of peace.
We live in a world where God’s kingdom of justice, peace and love has never been under such threat by the dehumanising forces of war, structural economic injustice and catastrophic climate change. And today, as we remember and reflect not only on those servicemen and women who died in the terrors of WWI and other conflicts; but all those who have died and suffered, and who continue to die and suffer today as a consequence of war; we do so longing for God’s reign of justice and peace to be established here on earth.
In our Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy 4, the children of Israel are standing at the foot of Mount Horeb whilst the mountain burns with fire, described in verse 10 as ‘wrapped in darkness, cloud, and gloom’.
Sometimes, as we look out onto our world, it can appear as if it is wrapped in darkness & gloom. And yet, it is from that mountain where God speaks. In verse 12 we read ‘Then the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form there, only a voice’.
The Israelites lived at a time when most of the religions of the day worshiped visible gods of stone and gold; Gods that could be seen and touched. But Yawheh is different, he cannot be seen, but He speaks out from amidst the fire and clouds.
There is no form, only a voice.
It takes faith to believe in a God who cannot be seen.
It takes faith to believe in God when we live in a world ravaged by war, despair and injustice.
It must have been difficult for James and all the other soldiers dying in the trenches to hold on to hope.
It takes faith to believe that God is still at work, even at times of great darkness.
And yet he is.
His voice still speaks.
He still calls.
He calls you, he calls me.
Calling us from fear to trust, calling us from despair to hope, calling us from war to peace, calling us from hatred to love, calling us to embody compassion and grace in a world scarred by violence and injustice.
In our gospel reading from John 15:9 we are urged to abide in his love. And in verse 13 we read ‘greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends’.
The God who speaks from within the clouds of despair will not remain forever in the heavens, but is the God who would come into our word of suffering in human form. He is the God who took on the frailty of human flesh, who walked this land bringing healing and compassion wherever he went. He is the one who understands human suffering down through the ages, for he did not exempt himself from it.
And when he was crucified, he reached out in loving forgiveness to his torturers, stretching out his arms to his enemies, refusing to repay evil with evil.
In this way he breaks the cycles of revenge and violence, and teaches us a better way.
Pope Francis says:
Love is the greatest power for the transformation of reality because it pulls down the walls of selfishness and fills the ditches that keep us apart
The God who speaks in the cloud, still speaks to us today.
And he calls us to be his hands and feet in our hurting world, and to lay our lives down in the service of others; for greater love has no man, than to lay his life down for a friend.
May it be in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.