My sermon at today's service at St Bartholomew's Church in Corsham. PDF version attached.
at St Bartholomew, Corsham, on Remembrance Sunday 14th November 2010
by Revd Richard Hovey
Readings 2 Kings 6:8-23 Matthew 8:5-13
[Opening Prayer: Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love, for Jesus’ sake. Amen]
Thank you for being here today for this important moment.
We come with a shared purpose. Yet we are drawn here by a range of experiences and emotions.
As we gather today we do not want to glorify war, yet in our love for God we do want to celebrate. We want to celebrate courage people’s willingness to put others’ needs before their own and the defence of liberty
There is a similar paradox in Jesus’ teaching. On the one hand he promises more “wars and rumours of wars.” On the other hand he commends peacemakers
We could hear that as being lined up for failure.
Or we could hear this apparent contradiction as a task, our mission from God. If there are wars, there need to be those who fight for peace. If there will be more wars, or even if there seems to be growing disharmony in civil and domestic relationships, then we need more peacemaking.
It is not a sign of failure, it is a call.
We have a shared purpose.
Have you heard about Joe?
The story is told of Joe going along to Sunday School as he does every week. As the teacher starts to ask a question, his hand shoots up and he shouts, “Jesus!”
“Joe,” she asks, “how did you know the answer before I’d even asked the question?”
The joke, or the assumption, is that in Church life whatever the question, the answer is Jesus!
After all, that’s why God became Jesus and lives among us: so that we can meet God and get to know him, to show that God is not an absent creator.
He involves himself in our daily lives;
Sometimes this is the place we are at, the answer is Jesus.
Sometimes we would like it to be true: it’s what we aspire to.
Sometimes it seems unreal in the midst of our experience.
It’s not easy being a believer. God didn’t say that in this life it would be. We might say that conflict is part of human nature. Jesus know wars will happen: he asks us to be peacemakers.
Sometimes in the midst of strife we want to blame God. “Where is God?” we easily say.
Others want to write “Does God exist?” They imagine that God neither created what we see nor is with us now.
It is good to address this distress to God.
It is important also to ask the right questions. (It’s what I help people do in my day job as spiritual director and as an executive coach.)
Those two question are all about what we think about God. A more important question is what God thinks about us.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons why the story about the soldier that we heard in the reading just now – the Centurion – has stood the test of time.
Jesus thought highly of him. He said, “Truly I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
What is it that impresses Jesus about him?
The soldier is obviously someone who believes in God. We might say that he easily believes in God as creator. He sees that the universe and the relationships within it are ordered and not random.
He says, “I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.” He sees around him structure and order and sees that authority relationships are cosmic and flow from God’s position as creator. Finally, and most importantly, he recognises who Jesus is, and he is willing to ask for his help.
Jesus commends his example, and it’s relevant for us too.
This Centurion is not a distant and irrelevant figure. He is close to us. He shares our experience of life and of conflict.
Maybe at times he was stationed just up the road, in Chippenham or Cirencester. If he’d lived just a few years later he could have been on Hadrian’s Wall defending our Roman country and Empire from warlike tribes!
God wants to be involved. Ask him! This is a good example for us to follow.
Another thing I notice about this Centurion is that, as he asks Jesus for help, he is grieving, We can relate to that.
However, and this amazes me, if I were going to go to these lengths to seek healing for someone I loved it would most likely be a close family member.
He is doing this for his servant who is on the point of death. This isn’t his only child we’re talking about. He’s going to these lengths for a subordinate, for a member of staff, or for a slave.
Our first reading, from the Old Testament, is also an example of asking God for help – this time in war.
The reading is about God rescuing the people of Israel from an attack by the army of the King of Aram (which is modern day Syria).
It’s an amazing story. (Miracles should be amazing!)
The eyes of the servant of Elisha the prophet are opened. So he sees the hills full of God’s protective presence in the shape of horses and chariots of fire all round Elisha.
I enjoy picturing this awesome angelic presence.
The result of God’s help is that no fighting takes place, and the humbled enemy return home.
In the Old Testament particularly, when people ask God for things face to face, or when they ask more remotely (which we call prayer) they often ask him to remember – to remember promises that he has made.
The Bible is full of God’s promises, and it’s good to connect with them. For God, remembering is not just something that happens in the mind. For God, remembering is about action, often about recreating something that has been lost. Most often people are pleading with him to remember his relationship with them, and how that should be about care and protection.
Today, we come together to remember. So a good question today, a good challenge to each of us is: “What will be the action that flows from our remembering? What will we do differently?”
This is not just about our own action. If God gives us a task, such as peacemaking, he doesn’t then retreat and leave us to get on with it. He wants to be involved, to help.
At times this seems to be a struggle. We don’t always see what God is doing. We are puzzled at why it is that we need to ask God, when the Bible says he knows what we need.
However that’s the way he’s set things up; those are the orders. We have to do the right job in the right way. Part of the right way to do our task, whatever it is, is to pray.
So we make a good move to meet together today to pray. Prayer is an action. It is a start to that involvement.
This Old Testament victory took place about 3000 years ago
The Centurion experiences his servant’s healing about 2000 years ago.
God hasn’t changed.
More recently we know our personal experiences of God’s action in your life.
Seventy years ago – well, we remember the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain this Autumn.
On the one hand we grieve the loss of many lives in war.
However also in 1940 French beaches were the scene of that evacuation of over 335,000 people from Dunkirk which was described in Parliament afterwards as a miracle in answer to the National Day of Prayer.
This was because Sir Winston Churchill and others expected only 30,000 to be saved, not 335,000.
It’s interesting, that mention of a National Day of Prayer. It’s not something they just to in the USA, or in Saudi Arabia.
When Sir Winston Churchill reported to the House of Commons on the 4th June 1940, after that answer to prayer when ten times as many people as expected had been rescued from French beaches, he finished with a tribute to the Royal Air Force. On this anniversary of the Battle of Britain I can think now of no better words to say in tribute to the courage and bravery of men and women of all our services – then and now. They seek to do the work they have been called to in the most dangerous situations.
Churchill speaks of the heroism of youth. This is an age where it is too easy to be cynical of youth instead of responsible, It is good to remember that very many of those people who risk their lives daily in the conflicts of today are young people.
“May it not also be that the cause of civilisation itself will be defended by the skill and devotion of a few thousand airmen?
There never had been, I suppose, in all the world, in all the history of war, such an opportunity for youth.
The Knights of the Round Table, the Crusaders, all fall back into a prosaic past: not only distant but prosaic; but these young men, going forth every morn to guard their native land and all that we stand for, holding in their hands these instruments of colossal and shattering power, of whom it may be said that When every morning brought a noble chance And every chance brought out a noble knight, deserve our gratitude,
as do all of the brave men who, in so many ways and on so many occasions, are ready, and continue ready, to give life and all for their native land.”
In all of this, the thing that is most awesome to me about God is that – having created all that we see – he doesn’t stand aloof.
He involves himself with and in the people he has made. This is what Jesus demonstrates, and what is unique about Jesus.
He is God with us, his creatures. He is with us in the joy of mountaintop experiences. He is with us in the mud and heartbreak of our trenches.
Let us remember. Let us act.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.