Thursday, November 11, 2021

When will you listen? A sermon for Armistice (Remembrance) Day

Texts: Isaiah 48.17–19

Thus says the Lord,

   your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:

I am the Lord your God,

   who teaches you for your own good,

   who leads you in the way you should go.

O that you had paid attention to my commandments!

   Then your prosperity would have been like a river,

   and your success like the waves of the sea;

your offspring would have been like the sand,

   and your descendants like its grains;

their name would never be cut off

   or destroyed from before me.

Matthew 11.16–19

 ‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.”

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’


On this Armistice Day, we are treated to two short but powerful passages of Scripture.  

The first is the voice of God, speaking through Isaiah:  “I am the Lord, your God, who teaches you for your own good.  If only you had paid attention to my commandments!”  These are the words of a frustrated Deity…a God who we might imagine wringing his hands in frustration.  After all, through Abraham, Moses and all the great prophets he has done his very best to teach wisdom to his people.  Through commandments, laws, and volumes of wisdom he has taught them how to live – a way summed up by Jesus as ‘Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself’.  But over and over again, God’s people have turned a deaf ear to God’s wisdom – leading to a trail of blood, war, and godlessness throughout the history of the Nation.

This warning rings just as true for us today, as we contemplate the Wars of the last centuries.  We human beings seem to be pathologically incapable of solving our territorial disputes without going to war.  We seem locked into an endless cycle – a cycle of one or more wealthy nations grabbing all the good land and resources for themselves.  That leads to resentment on the part of other nations, who want that good land, or those resources, for themselves.  They create propaganda to inflame their populations, desensitising them to the humanity of those on the other side…and before you know where you are, Britishers are firing at the ‘Hun’, Nazis are annihilating Jews, Provos are firing at Catholics, Capitalists are firing at Communists, Christians and Muslims are firing at each other, despite both worshipping essentially the same God.

“I am the Lord, your God, who teaches you for your own good.  If only you had paid attention to my commandments!”  

Today, we honour the sacrifice of so many service men and women who have given their lives – as willing volunteers or as unwilling conscripts – in the meat-grinder of humanity’s wars.  This is not the place for a history lesson about the root causes of so many wars.  I will, in any case, leave the history to historians more qualified than me.  But it is the place for us to be reminded of the senseless futility of war, in comparison to the God-given alternative.

But we do not want to listen.  We are, as Jesus observed in our Gospel reading, like children in a playground.  We dance our little dances, and play our little games.  Our perspectives on the various propaganda we are fed is so narrow that we willingly lap it up.  Let’s blame the Nazis for the Second World War, not the Treaty of Versailles which created the economic conditions for their hate-filled rise.  Let’s blame the Muslims for the tensions of the Middle East which overflow our shores, not the powerful battles for control of their oil and resources over the last century.  Let’s criminalise the refugees for wanting to escape in little boats to the safety of our shores….not the systems of injustice, and the climate-shredding actions of the West which have fuelled their desperation.  

“O that you had paid attention to my commandments!’ says the Lord.  If only you would learn the power of sharing the earth’s resources, instead of hoarding them.  If only you learned the power of grace, over punitive sanctions.  If only you learned the power of forgiveness, over hatred and retribution.  If only you learned the power of peace over war.

O God, forgive us, for failing to heed your word and your wisdom, for generation after generation.  Break through, we pray, by the power of your Holy Spirit.  Teach us to turn our spears into pruning hooks, and our swords into ploughs.  We can’t do it on our own – as the Roll Call of Warriors on the Memorial outside this church testifies with such power.  We need your word.  We need your wisdom.  Help us…for we cannot help ourselves! Amen.

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