Remembrance Services in recent years seem to be especially poignant because we have lost most of our living connections to the First World War, and ,indeed, sadly now, increasingly, the Second World War. We are also currently celebrating 100th anniversaries of major battles and therefore major losses of life with appalling frequency. Fortunately, we have remarkably good records of the atrocities of both World Wars and subsequent armed conflicts, though I’m not so sure that we are any wiser for the hearing of the horrors of their warnings
One of the centenaries that passed on Friday was that of Passchendaele. During that terrible battle, which became famous, not for the territory won but for the awful mud which mired so many, and sadly also for the over 500 000 young lives lost. Another two significant centenaries that passed this last week which have affected us all and continue to affect the lives of many millions throughout the world, either because of the terrible loss of loved ones, the suppression of freedom or the devastation of heritage and national stability, are the Russian Revolution, which began on November 7th 1917 and the Balfour declaration establishing a National home for the Jewish People – ‘it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’. Well sadly we know what has happened there. .
I expect many of us remember the Cold War and the terrible escalation of nuclear weapons, the suspicion that grew up between the countries of the West and the East, the brinksmanship and the fear it engendered were very real, not just in our own country, but particularly in West Germany and of course in the Eastern bloc.
I visited several countries in the Eastern bloc, during the course of my work, and met Christian families who had suffered hardship because of their faith under the communist regimes. They were not free to express their faith and they were penalised because of their faith in Jesus Christ. They were not able to travel freely, nor could they get good jobs. They were often harassed by the police. We can see this is still the terrible reality for Christians today living in countries like North Korea, and to a considerable extent China, countries operating as socialist secularist states.
Alister and I have just been in the Caucasus and the people there are still experiencing the after effects of 70 years of Soviet domination – and this is over a quarter of a century after the fall of the Soviet Union. Apart from anything else, the Soviet insistence on a totally secular state has meant there is little lasting religious inheritance to be handed on from one generation to another.
This lasting religious inheritance or sensibility is something which shapes a people and I fear it something that we are also losing in our own nation; not because of the insistence of the state, but because we are simply not handing it on to our own children.
Throughout the Old Testament there is a constant pattern of things going wrong in Israel, the culture and identity – the very feel of the nation, keeps falling apart and people find themselves asking ‘what’s gone wrong?’ Every now and then a prophet pops his head above the parapet and calls his people back to God – this is the remedy for our nation’s malaise, he says, and that’s what Micah does in the single verse we heard in our first reading. Micah’s simple call to his people is this:
What does God require of his people?
To do justice
Walk humbly with God
That sounds pretty straightforward doesn’t it? But we do find it so hard don’t we!
So many of our disagreements, be they in the family, neighbourhood, or if they sadly escalate to become violent wars, begin because of a perceived injustice that has occurred that has to be avenged. Unfortunately, when humans do this, things don’t always turn out too well and when disagreements are not handled well, as they seem not to be, we see them ratchetting up, all too often very publically – and these days via social media.
But God calls us to be those who love justice and to seek to bring it about peacefully, rather than by imposing it. Jesus called his disciples to be peacemakers. Peace-making takes time and patience. It can’t be done via social media but requires mediation and understanding. Deal makers aren’t peacemakers, nor are wall builders peacemakers.
We are called to be those who show mercy rather than be those who expect pthers to make the first move. It’s tempting to say; ‘well I won’t say sorry until she/he says sorry’ because that way leads to resentment and stalemate. Jesus said blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy… Those who show mercy are usually the strong who give the weak a second chance and an opportunity – and the means – to do better next time.
Christians are those who do justice and show mercy because they have been shown mercy by God who did not need to show mercy, but chose to. He loved his weak and sinful warring and wayward world so much, that he gave his only Son to save us. That famous verse: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Although frequently quoted in the context of soldiers and war, it was never intended for that purpose: Jesus said it of himself, when describing his own work. He is explaining to his disciples why he came to live as a man and why he was willing to give his own life as a sacrifice for all people everywhere.
He is our role model. In Christ, God took the initiative. He didn’t wait for humanity to suddenly start acting with justice – he knew that would never happen – he didn’t wait for us to become merciful to one another, again, he would have been waiting for ever. He has shown his love – far greater than we can ever ask or imagine – in sending Jesus, becoming one of us, so each of us, by admitting our need we can find peace with God and experience his love, mercy and Justice, that way we can begin to walk humbly with God and one another. That way there is hope for our world.