Call to worship
Hymn 715: Behold the mountain of the Lord
Hymn 528: Make me a channel of your peace
Reading: Luke 14: 25-33
Hymn 706: For the healing of the nations
Prayer of Dedication
Hymn 702: Lord in love and perfect witness
Welcome to our reflection for 13th November.
This will be our act of Remembrance.
A time when we remember our servicemen and the casualties of war.
A time when we ask ourselves if there is another way we can live our lives without the need for conflict.
But we will reflect on that after our prayer and reading for today.
I want to start off this sermon with a letter.
Written by Hanna Haddad, a 14 year old who was living through the war in Lebanon in 1984. She was living in a relative’s house because her house was unsafe and they had had to flee to a safer area.
But if truth be told, the same letter could be written today in South Sudan, Ukraine, Myanmar, Yemen or any of the war zones presently being fought in the world today.
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 have 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 of 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 use to be the time of sleeping and of waking up and of 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 until we reached Beirut.
We thought we had escaped, but the dark night caught up with us in all its madness. Am I living through a nightmare? Has time really stood still ever since the big clock was broken on the wall on 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 burning it after emptying it.
My anguish grew into hatred. Hatred for the strange takes many forms. For me it is like a boil. It took root within me and sowed the seeds of death in 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 the other young men who looted and burned my grandfather’s house.
Then in the midst of the sound of thundering guns, from the depth of my despair and pain, I finally understood, ‘If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not 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 that 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 on our lives, and not our dead
That letter showed me the tension that all wars have.
That we don’t face one war, but two.
The physical one that we need to survive.
And the emotional one that can be just as devastating, but can also carry on long after the war is finished.
Look at the war in Ukraine.
There is the physical war that the people have to live through. And it is just a battle for survival.
But in truth the greater war, the harder war, potentially the more destructive war, is the one going on in the hearts of the people;
the war between love and hate,
between wanting reconciliation and wanting retribution,
between wanting justice and peace, and wanting revenge.
Long after the war in Ukraine is finished, the hated and actions based on the hatred will carry one; continuing to create victims.
Let me share two personal conversations generations apart.
The first took place in Mallaig. I was doing a summer attachment there so we are talking over 30 years ago.
It was just an ordinary visit to an ordinary man.
And the news was on in the background. And something came up and it was about Israel and out of nowhere the most anti-Semitic venom came out of this gentle old man.
It just caught me unaware.
Should I say something, berate him, condemn him, correct him?
Then he said, ‘Sorry about that. But I hate the Jews.
I was part of the British army over there doing my national service when the Jews started to fight for a homeland. Our job was to keep the peace, we weren’t enemies of anyone.
But the Jews wanted a homeland and they saw us as the ones in the way.
They caught one of my mates on his own and crucified him. They just wanted to make it so awful for us that we left the country.
I hate them all.’
That is what war does.
It creates a garden where hate can grow.
That conversation took place 30-40 years after the event that inspired the hate. 30-40 years of letting hate grow. 30-40 years after the event and it was still claiming victims.
The other conversation took place about six weeks ago.
I had come down to the food bank that we have on Friday afternoon just to support them, and a war veteran was there and he asked if he could talk to the minister.
He was just struggling.
He was struggling because he had killed someone in the Iraq war.
He had gone over there knowing that we were the good guys and they were the bad guys. And at some point he was face to face with this combat troop from the other side.
Just the two of them, face to face.
And they were caught in a moment where time seemed to stand still, just the two of them facing each other and suddenly not knowing what to do.
And he was longing for the other guy just to take a few steps backwards and walk away, and he thought that was going to happen.
But maybe the other he got scared and thought the British soldier was going to shoot him.
So in fear he charged and the British guy instinctively fired his weapon and shot him dead.
Decades later that action still haunted him.
Decades later that soldier still saw the face of the other guy every time he closed his eyes.
We talked for a while; we agreed that it was a ‘him or me’ situation, that he acted instinctively without malice or hatred.
But none of that helped.
He hated what he had become; he had become another victim of the war.
I was trying to articulate what I thought he was feeling, and I asked him if he wished that it was he that had died and the other guy had lived.
To be honest he wasn’t sure.
Jesus never talked about war.
Which, when you think of the environment he lived in, is very strange.
He was in an occupied country and his people were held back by a vicious regime.
You would have thought he would have called for the people to rise up and claim their freedom.
You would have thought that he would have proclaimed himself king and raised an army to defeat the evil Romans.
But he never did.
The reading today is as close as he came to talking about war.
But his whole ministry was about a war we face.
The war that young Hanna was talking about in her letter at the start of this message.
The war in our hearts.
Are we in conflict with everyone else, demanding our rights, fighting for our corner, trying to survive?
Or will we be open to others, no matter how hard it is; open even to the pain they may cause us, because it is better to live with a heart of love that has pain, than to live with a heart of hatred.
Jesus lived an example of openness, of willingness to get hurt, as long as his heart was able to love.
And because of that the cross he died on, wasn’t a sign of hatred or anger, it wasn’t a place that people used to justify vengeance and revenge.
Instead a cross, his cross, became a sign of love, a place of hope, a chance for healing.
So what will it be?
As we look at the news and see the pain and suffering caused by war.
As we see the hurt and anger and fear that is surrounding us daily as we live with battles that politicians are fighting among themselves and finding we are the pawns caught between them...and that their decisions cause uncertainty and fear around us; their decisions often trying to pit us against each other...how are we going to respond?
Will we have hearts of anger; seeking revenge for what has been done to us and to others?
Or are we willing to keep our hearts open to the love of others?
Let us pray
Today we use a poppy to remember.
But what do we remember?
Maybe we are remembering people we have never met. Honouring people that gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we might have peace.
Maybe we remember that the horrors of war are so great that we never want to be there again.
We remember the fear many felt during war, not just in the trenches, but those who lived in cities that were bombed or shelled.
We remember when there was so much destruction.
We remember how nations fought nations, people fought people.
We remember others going hungry. Those that suffered because so much resource was going into maiming rather than healing, of destroying the infrastructure of other nations rather than building up the economy of our own.
We remember lies being told, and the truth being destroyed.
But mostly we try to remember the best in people:
the way people gave of themselves;
the way people loved others so much that they were willing to give their lives;
the way people fought for good and against what was wrong.
We remember the words of God who said:
everything is in my care;
nothing will be lost in the greater love that I have for you;
remember to keep giving of yourself;
everything ultimately is in my care, even the hairs of your head.
Keep loving like that,.
because that is the love with which I will keep loving you.
May we remember