Remember War, Make Peace

Isaiah 65.17-25 / James 3.13-18 / Luke 6.27-38

A Tale of Two Mothers

Two mothers tell their stories.

“I’m an Iraqi mother.

I was full of joy each time I had a child.

But I’ve wept so many tears for them.

I lost my first son when he was sent to fight against Iran.

He just never came back.

I lost my first daughter when we went to war over Kuwait.

She was with her school friends when there was an air raid.

The shelter was hit and she was never found.

I lost my second son just a few days ago.

He was killed defending Basra.

They say he fought bravely.

I’m a devout Muslim.

I ask Allah ‘Why? Why?’.

I hope no British or American mothers weep tears as I have done.

I wish them no ill.

I’m sure all mothers want their children to live in a peaceful world.”

“I’m a British mother.

It was such a joy when John was born.

Times were hard but somehow we managed.

John joined the Forces because he wanted plenty of activity and adventure.

I don’t think he ever thought about killing anyone, he wasn’t aggressive at all.

In fact, in Kosovo he mainly worked on reconstruction projects.

He really enjoyed that.

He went to Iraq determined to do his duty.

We got the letter from the MoD only two days ago.

It seems he was killed in some sort of accident.

We’ve always tried to be a Christian family, and I won’t stop going to church.

But I keep asking God to help me make some sense of it.

I think of what those Iraqi mothers must be going through.

I wish them no ill.

I’m sure all mothers want their children to live in a peaceful world.”

These stories are a meditation on war in Iraq but could refer to any two mothers, or indeed any two fathers, for any conflict, anywhere and at any time.

Remember War

This year sees the 80th anniversary of the beginning of World War II, and 100 years since the signing of the Versailles Treaty that brought World War I to its final end.

There have been many wars since then, of course, and conflicts continue now across the globe.

Many brave men and women continue to serve with courage and honour in dangerous situations, and on this Remembrance Sunday we rightly and truly remember and thank them all.

In World War II Britain and her allies fought against the threat of a right-wing extremism that threatened democracy and promoted so-called racial superiority and purity.

That threat was defeated by standing together and not allowing darkness to triumph over light.

Sadly, today we’re seeing a new rise in hatred and bigotry and right-wing extremists but again people are standing up and saying no.

Many people are willing to honour the sacrifices people made to defeat fascism by resisting hatred and division and instead working for the best of our British values – tolerance, justice and fairness.

These are values that members of our armed forces give their lives to defend, and as well as giving thanks for them we must honour their sacrifice by not letting their fight be in vain.

Yet freedom gained through war comes at a terrible cost, and we must remember that as well.

Parents lose children in wars they didn’t start, didn’t want and can’t do anything about.

People lose brothers and sisters, friends and lovers.

Wars destroy economies, wreck the environment, cause homelessness, force people to flee their countries, and destroy people’s faith in God, in goodness, in the hope that things can get better.

They cause mental and physical damage to those who fight in them and to those who are accidentally caught up in them.

Yet this is not how things are meant to be or what God wants for his world.

Make Peace

Our first reading, from Isaiah, gives a vision of a renewed Earth in which people are happy, peaceful, and have everything they need.

They live without fear or grief, and find satisfaction in honest work.

This is the world that God wants for us.

For as our second reading from James says, the wisdom that comes from above, that is from God, is peaceable and gentle.

It’s not easy to understand why, if God wants peace, we live in a war with war and violence.

But we know that God grieves with us when we grieve.

We know that he’s alongside the refugees, the injured, the scared, the grieving and the dying.

We know that he feels our pain and longs for the day when it will no longer exist.

We know that he’s working to bring that day about, sometimes in ways we can see, like when people go into dangerous situations and negotiate for an end to conflict, and sometimes in more hidden ways, like changing the hearts and minds of people carrying out violence.

And we’re called to play a part in that work of peace as well.

James urges us to act with wisdom and gentleness, creating peace in imitation of God.

And our gospel reading talks about the importance of not meeting evil with evil but instead overcoming evil with good.

We are to love, forgive and try to understand even those we consider enemies.

Yes, sometimes we have to act strongly and decisively to defend ourselves and others against evil, even if this means war, but so often we fight with one another for much less noble reasons.

We might not be able to solve big international issues but we can be peacemakers in our own places and among those we meet.

We can be an influence for peace, harmony and goodness in our own corner of the world and inspire others in turn, creating ripples that spread.

This might seem small and unimportant, unlikely to change the world, but, in the words of Margaret Mead,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.

A Veteran’s Tale

I’d like to finish with some words written by a veteran of World War II.

“So here we stand again. A year has passed.

Once more our sorrow turns to millions killed.

What have we learned?

What do you say to us, dear soldier

from your eternal silence?

Do you implore us to improve our killing efficiency,

to make bigger and better bombs,

condemning millions more to your sad fate?

Do you cheer us on in our blindness?

How many thousands have we added to your number, this past year?

No – I hear you plead now.

I hear you cry to us across the years:

‘Weep not for me but for those yet unborn.

Go! – save your own children from my fate.

Go! – thank me, by walking away today

to reject the futility, the waste, and the lie

that you have repeated over and over

even as you stand

for where do your billions go,

if not to ensure far more will know the hell I knew?

It is too late for me.

I have no voice but yours,

please – speak for me.

So, when you stand here again,

when this next year has passed,

come here in certainty

that you have taken some small step

along a different road …’”.

Amen.

Remembrance Sunday

Micah 4.1-5 / John 14.25-31

 

In 2009 the last 2 fighting British servicemen of World War 1 died.

Harry Patch, the last survivor of the trenches of the western front, was 111, while Henry Allingham, a founding member of the RAF, was 113.

They weren’t quite the last veteran survivors of that war, though – that title goes to Florence Green, who was a member of the Women’s Royal Air Force and died in 2012 at the age of 110 – the last First World War veteran from any country in the world.

With their deaths, along with the deaths of all the other servicemen and women who served in that conflict, World War I has passed from memory to history.

And it’s for this reason that Remembrance becomes more important every year.

As past conflicts fade into the history books, and those who fought in them pass away, we need to try even harder to remember what has gone before.

This is not in an attempt to glorify war or rejoice over defeated enemies or claim some special privilege or glory for our own country.

Rather it is important to remember for two reasons.

Firstly, to honour the sacrifice and courage of those who’ve fought and died for us.

To ensure that their sacrifices are recognised and honoured.

To renew our gratitude for all that the members of our Armed Forces have done and continue to do to keep us safe.

And secondly, we need to remember in the hope that by remembering we might find a way to lasting peace.

As the well-known saying goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it”.

We hear this saying a lot, so much so that it’s become almost a cliché, but it’s an important message to us in our uncertain times.

As nationalism, prejudice, division and hatred rise across the world, as democracy is tested by authoritarian leaders, we may hear echoes of the darkness that led to the Second World War – and we need people who will remember the horrors of that time and stand up for the progress that we’ve made in democracy, justice, human rights, tolerance, diversity and respect.

This is not an easy task, and it’s easy to be tempted to despair in the face of darkness, but we do have hope.

We have the hope of knowing that God has sent his Spirit to be with us always, as Jesus promised in our Gospel reading, to guide us, teach us, and help us find the right path.

And in God’s promise to be constantly with us we can also find some peace within our own hearts and lives – the peace that Jesus promised to give us, against all the odds and even when the world is raging around us.

And in this promise of peace we can find hope for the world.

For if we can claim this peace, hold on fast to it in faith and trust, then we will become people of peace, able to start breaking the cycle of revenge, suspicion and hatred that leads people into conflict.

Then we can begin bringing about the vision of peace given to us by Micah, beating swords into ploughshares and creating a world where people all over the world really can sit under their trees and not be afraid.

And in this we can truly honour the sacrifices and bravery shown by Harry Patch, Henry Alllingham, Florence Green, those who have gone from this village to war, and the millions of others who have fought and died for us by bring about the world they strived for – a world of peace for all.