Isaiah 2: 1-5. John 14: 1-6, 25-27.
I have always been uncomfortable about Remembrance Sunday.
In the past I didn't really look at why I felt uncomfortable. I presumed it was because it celebrated World War 1 and World War 2 and having never fought in either of those wars I felt I couldn't make a judgement on the rightness or wrongness of either of those wars.
But with a few things that have happened in the last wee while I thought I would consider what about remembrance made me feel uncomfortable. The real source of why I felt the way I felt.
And that was inspired by a letter I read a few months back.
I can still hear the sound of thundering guns telling me that somewhere nearby people are dying.
Ever since we left the village I feel as though something has been shattered inside me. We have lost everything. Our house was burned. My books were torn to pieces. Our furniture was stolen. But what is more important is that the soft nights and the fresh mornings in the village are gone and with them I have lost my roots and become ’like grass blown by the wind’, as the psalmist put it.
Time is no longer the unending chain of hours and minutes, marked by the hands on the huge clock at the entrance to my grandfather’s house in the village. The big clock, with its rhythmic sound, that kept track of every heartbeat throughout the house, is broken. And time on it is standing still. For me, time used to be the time of sleeping and of waking up and working in the fields– the time of life. But now time has left me. It belongs to the one who stands behind the thundering gun. It is the time of death.
One night early in September our village was shelled and we fled. We hid in a cave near our small brook waiting for the mad night to subside. But the guns did not stop so we fled again through the valley.
We thought we had escaped, but the dark night caught up with us in all its madness. Am I living through this nightmare? Has time really stood still ever since the big clock was broken on the wall of my grandfather’s house in the village?
One day someone came and told us that our house in the village (my grandfather’s house), was looted and burned. The young men burned it after emptying it together. My anguish grew into hatred. Hatred is strange for it takes many forms. For me it is like a boil. It took root within me and sowed the seeds of death on my heart. It grew and spread like a boil with nothing but pus inside.
I woke up at the sound of the big guns and asked myself, 'How can a young man stand behind a gun and fire all those rockets around us? I thought of that young man and to me he acquired the face of that other young man who looted and burned my grandfather’s house.
Then, in the midst of the sound of thundering guns, from the depths of my despair and pain. I finally understood, 'If I speak with the tongues of men and angels and have no love,’ I am but sounding brass like the empty shell cases of the big guns. Love alone can bear the burden of the living for it bears all things. It bears this young man who is standing behind the gun, and the other young man who burned my grandfather’s house.
We carry our dead with us like open wounds. All of us have such wounds.
Life is different. Life is the realm of love which overcomes death. I pray that the living Lord may reign in our lives, and not in our dead.
Here’s the thing that really made me feel uncomfortable about that letter.
It could have been written at any time during the First World War.
And that war was so horrific that we started to commemorate the ending of that war, because we believed we had learnt our lesson. That that war was so awful that we would never be stupid enough to go through that again.
We would never waste the lives of our children and our parents, we would never destroy needlessly homes and schools and hospitals again. We would find another way to deal with conflict.
The thing is, that letter wasn't written during the First World War. And it dawned on me that that letter could have been written anywhere since then.
The Spanish Civil War
The Second World War in China as the Japanese invaded.
During the Balkan War
Mozambique's war of independence
The conflicts in Somalia, or Ethiopia, or Afghanistan
The first Gulf war or the second Gulf war
The present conflicts in Yemen, or Syria or Iraq.
As it turns out this letter was written by a 14 year old, Hanna Haddad, on February 2nd 1984 during the height of the Lebanese Civil War.
And that made me feel uncomfortable because it told me that as a species, human beings have not learnt their lesson. We haven’t learnt our lesson.
But then that wasn’t right.
Because if that was all there was to it then I could give a sermon on how we all need to work towards peace. All I would need to do was convince you all that we should work for peace instead of war.
But then that feeling of uncomfortable-ness appeared again.
Who was I trying to convince?
It is not as if I am trying to convince people that they should change their ways.
Who doesn't agree with working for peace?
There aren’t people out there who feel that war is a good thing.
There are members of this church who work in the military.
Some who are chaplains, some who are officers, some work as civilians.
If I was to ask any of them if they thought war was a good thing they would say no.
If I was to ask any of them if we should invade another country they would say no.
Nobody wants war, nobody wants conflict.
And then a sudden truth dawned on me, a scary truth.
Maybe we feel conflict and war is better than the alternative.
Look at Israel-Palestine.
If I was to ask any of the Palestine leadership if they wanted peace they would say yes. Why would they want such poverty on their people? Why would they want to live in such squalor?
If I asked the Israeli leadership if they wanted peace they would say yes. Why would they want the threat of bombing on their people?
So if both sides want peace then what is the problem?
How can the world sit by and let what happens happen, when both sides want peace?
Maybe the world sits by and lets it happen because deep down they see the solution that leads to peace...and they don't want to take it.
Because maybe the world sees that the real problem is that both sides can’t see a peace as long as the other exists.
The sad truth is that we could have peace in that land if every Palestine was wiped out and only the Jews were left.
The sad truth is we could have peace in that land if every Jew was wiped out and only the Palestinians were left.
Just now, the way humanity is, we can have peace if we wipe out a people. But if we want both people to exist, then for now, the best we can do is to have conflict...and hope that one day both sides will come to their senses.
If we could have forced a peace in that area, we would have.
But we haven’t worked out how to do it.
Maybe as humans we just aren't smart enough.
And that’s when I realised why I feel uncomfortable about Remembrance.
Because this isn't a problem THEY have.
This is a problem WE have.
Because all those previous battles, all those wars, they are just reflections of all the conflicts we have.
We may easily see that each one of those wars may seem pointless.
But how is that different from each of our conflicts; the petty hatred we have for someone, the fight outside the pub, the huff we force on others when we don’t get our way, all the conflicts within families, all the conflicts between neighbours, all the petty squabbles between children in the school, the rage when someone cuts across us with their car.
I watched two grown adults scream at each other in a hospital car park because one had gone into a car park space that the other one had been thinking about going into. Why?
Why was such a small thing like a car park space so important that they had to destroy each other’s day over it?
I have seen children and parents not talk to each other for decades because of some slight that one of them felt. Why?
What was so important that a grandparent could never see their grandchild? That a son would cut himself off from the support of his parents? That parents would withdraw themselves off from the love of their children?
It is easy to say that someone should do something about those wars, and blame the politicians and the generals. But we have conflicts in our lives. We have hatred in our hearts for people and it is like a boil full of pus and instead of dealing with it we hold onto it and nurture it; because we are right and they are wrong.
We have been wronged and they deserve punishment.
We will not feel at peace until they have suffered the way we have suffered.
The truth is we need someone bigger than ourselves to help us.
‘Peace is what I leave with you. It is my own peace such as the world cannot give.’
Those are the words of Christ.
Facing betrayal he didn't lash out.
Facing rejection he didn't attack.
Facing unjust death he didn’t seek vengeance.
What mattered to him wasn’t his rights or his dignity or his place or his status.
What mattered was peace in his heart. A peace that came from a belief that all would be well. A peace that came from living life with his Heavenly Father, and with Him they could get through anything that life could fling at them; conflict, uncertainty, insecurity, even death.
‘Peace is what I leave with you. It is my own peace such as the world cannot give.’
With that peace we can do whatever it takes to sort things out in our lives. Because we have the only thing that matters...love.
We don't need to be threatened by others...we can have compassion for them.
We don't need to be frightened of others...we can have hope for them.
We don't need to feel intimidated by others...we can respect them.
And that makes me uncomfortable.
Because that means Remembrance isn't about remembering a war and wondering how people could have been so stupid as to let it happen.
Remembrance is about me, about us, and remembering that we have a choice.
All the conflict in our life...we choose to keep it, or we choose to let it go.
We have no excuses.
Because if we want to let it go, then there is a God who can give us the strength and the love and compassion and the will...to deal with it. There is no reason that we HAVE to keep the conflict. If we have conflict it is because we choose to have conflict.
So...what will we do with that conflict?