Prepared by Jeff for the service but Rev Richard took the service and preached so this was not used. However, it may be helpful to those reflecting upon Remembrance Sunday.
God blesses those people who make peace. They will be called his children! I am glad that we still have Remembrance Sunday. I think it is good for us as a Nation to recall the sacrifice of those who fought and died for the hope that there would be freedom and justice and peace. It was a good hope, and I am sure most of us know that the Great War, the 1st World War, was called “the War to end all wars”. But there was soon civil war in Spain, and then war in Ethiopia. And in just 21 years from the Armistice there was another global war – the World War 2. There have been only three years since 1945 when British Forces have not been fighting. The War to end all wars doesn’t seem to have been very effective.
When I was a boy, I used to loved history at school – but had trouble remembering all those dates and facts. War seemed to be a reality in all periods of history. And then later, as a soldier we had “War Studies” where we looked at the nature and causes of war, and the resolution of conflict. There were very many theories, including one which said that man was naturally aggressive, so wars were inevitable, that it was just the way things were.
We had the Cold War – it was expensive but it preserved a sort of peace. Since retiring from the Army in 1984 I have reflected on my past career. I remain proud of what we did. I believe that the British Forces can be proud of their peace keeping and humanitarian role. I do believe that if there has to be an Army, Navy and Air Force, then there should be Christian men and women serving there to shine the light of Christ to other servicemen and women in the middle of very difficult conditions.
War is not ‘natural’. The more time we spend studying the bible, Gods Word, the more convinced we can be that all we ever learned about the ‘naturalness’ of war was wrong. Yes, mankind often resorts to violence for whatever reasons, real or imagined – to gain territory, resources or whatever. But seen in the light of eternity, seen in the light of the teaching of Our Lord, it makes no sense at all. The only frame of reference within which we – you and I as people, as a nation and as part of a world order – can view things clearly, is in the framework of God and what he wants for us- not just we British – but all people.
What do I mean by that? Well, surely the world and its history are not the only component in which we exist and try to live. Heaven and earth are inner and outer aspects of a single reality. God is not just within us, but permeates everything. The TV and the shops are only too keen to warn us that we’re approaching Christmas, which reminds us that the incarnation is a vital component of this. Jesus Christ – the living Word of God is at the heart of it.
Looked at in this frame of reference, one can begin to see that we live in a flawed world where there is a domination system at work. Domination rules. In some cultures women are dominated by men, in others it is the ethnic minority which is oppressed by the majority and we have domination of the poor by the wealthy.
Economic domination flourishes, where profit subsumes sense or safety in food production – you have only to think about feeding human waste to animals because it is cheaper, and to heck with the consequences. We have environmental domination, and I could go on and on.
And there is one other thing about domination. In this world of Domination there is one great myth. It has been called the myth of redemptive violence – It enshrines the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, that might makes right. It is one of the oldest continuously repeated stories in the world.
This myth is so pervasive that our children are totally saturated with it without ever knowing that they are being indoctrinated. Our school history classes taught the naturalness of war. Cowboy and war films assume that the law can be reinstated at the end of a gun. Even the games that children play on computers involve splatting invaders, or slicing up adversaries who stand in their way. In this flawed world justice is always restored by force. We and our children are brainwashed by this insidious process.
It is not just individuals. On a National Scale we have countries seeking to solve problems by force – the myth of Redemptive Violence goes to the heart of customs and belief systems of the culture; in Nazi Germany they even used Christianity itself to mobilise people to take up arms. It was during a church meeting on Nuclear Disarmament a few years ago that the remark was heard – “we’re Christians all right, but we are Americans first”. Or again, after the first Gulf War, a religious leader appeared on national TV and said “We should thank God that so few people were killed” – yes – only 148 – on the side of the Allies – but 100,000 Iraqis were killed, and all of them were God’s children too).
The myth of redemptive violence seems to work in the short term – but never does in the long term. Think of all the current international problems. Cyprus is still a running sore. India and Pakistan are still fighting to each other, even after several wars. The partitioning of Ireland has not stopped the conflict. Sunnis kill Shia’s. There is Syria, Afghanistan – I could go on. What has been needed is the Good Friday approach.
We must break the myth – we must somehow get the world to see that God’s ways are not our ways – and our ways are not God’s ways. Might is not always right, and God is most certainly not on the side of the big battalions.
How can you and I change things? Well, we live in a time when it is popular to adopt a so-called third way. The first way is the domination system – with its myth of redemptive violence, and the second is the way of the doormat – total passivity, let it all roll over you, cross your fingers that you will come out ok.
This is not the way of the Christian. There do come times when it is right to fight for justice. Those we commemorate today were doing just that.
The third way is Jesus way – the Good Friday way. This is the way of assertive non violence. It is standing up to be counted, it is keeping to the teaching of Our Lord.
In the sermon on the mount we have a verse which was always translated as do not repay evil with evil, turn the other cheek. But I think that what it really means is – turn and face your oppressor and make him realise that you are a person, not some lower form of life. Show him the full face of your humanity. It also means “Don’t react violently against the one who is evil”.
There’s not time this morning to deal fully with the impact that our Lord’s teaching should have on the world order. But we can see it beginning to work itself out as groups of people form, seeking to break the domination system – Jubilee 2000 to make a start at a more equal society. Abolition 2000 to make a push for a nuclear free world – Pax Christi and so on. And today’s Modern Peace Alliance. Even those popular pop star led events like ‘Feed the World’ and the charities exist to make a difference – they shouldn’t be needed but for now they are. These movements begin with individuals – with you and me. We need to take the teaching of Christ on board – we must play our full part in bringing in the Kingdom of God – showing that peace, social justice and equality and what should be the natural God given order of things in our world.
But Jesus was a realist – Ghandi who also taught the third way, was a realist. Ghandi recognised that in an imperfect world we have to do what we can within the system to protect the innocent and maintain the peace. Even if, in an imperfect world, it ultimately involved force.
All I have said about the world of the powers which seek to dominate, and about the need to be peacefully assertive under Christ, cannot happen overnight, neither does it mean that I consider my 23 years in the army wasted ,or to have been wrong. I operated under the statement of Our Lord – God blesses those people who make peace. They will be called his children! I saw myself and my comrades as peacemakers – and so are all the fallen we commemorate today.
But we have to keep trying. We honour the fallen – who gave but did not waste their lives, which were precious to God and to their loved ones. We remember with gratitude the peace won for us in the war then and to this day. But let us not forget the sacrifice made on Calvary where the most precious blood was shed so that you and I can have peace with God.
It is important that we ensure our young people know their history and learn from it and don’t make the mistakes that we and our forbears made. They need to know about the sacrifice that was made by so many, often the same ages as our young ones today.
They valued the standards of peace and justice and fought under that banner. And in their sacrifice lies our peace and security today. But it is down to us to ensure that they did not die in vain – it is our continuing duty to break the continual spiral of domination which makes deaths necessary. We can show an example by sharing a common remembrance time with those we opposed in war in past times and work together with them for that peace which the world cannot give but the Holy Spirit can inspire among us.
It is our task, under God, to stand up and be counted for peace. We need to keep the Good Friday message in mind – that God’s logic is not mankind’s logic, and that one man on a cross can change the world – one man – with our help and we, with God’s help. Let us stand shoulder to shoulder with those who have gone before us – and pledge ourselves to work for peace using all the gifts and talents and faith that we have been given.