This Sunday we remember those who have served in war. We honour their sacrifice and we ask what does it mean as a Christian to support our soliders? How should we respond to issues of war and conflict.
Text: John 15: 12-17
Last week Logan, Ethan and I went out and raked the leaves. It’s not so much that we raked the leaves, as we put them into a big pile to be jumped on and rolled around in. It was good fun and at least the leaves in the yard are in a pile, instead of scattered around the yard.
I imagine that many of you have similar memories and that over the past few days you’ve spent some time raking leaves and cleaning up your gardens as winter approaches. When we think about trees and the cycle they go through from season to season I am often amazed at both the complexity of the process and the simplicity.
In Fall, the tree protects itself by drawing in nutrients from the leaf and abandoning the leaf to the winds. This allows the tree to survive the cold of winter and as the weather turns warmer new leaves are formed.
Our scripture reading from Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time for all things. That life is not a static thing, from moment to moment things are changing, living and dying. That throughout our lives there is a time for every matter under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time for war and a time for peace. These are just some of the themes that are brought out in our reading. We focus on them today, because today we remember the sacrifice of men and women who fought in conflict and died. To be sure not all of them died, but I don’t believe you can venture into the horrors of war and not have a part of you die. I believe it changes you and something new is born.
During the children’s time I shared a little about Rev. Maj. John Foote. He received our countries highest military honour, not because he killed, but because he healed. He spent countless hours on a beach surrounded by dead and dying men and he didn’t fight back. He brought aid and comfort to those around him.
Today we have honoured those who laid down their lives for us. In two World Wars, Iraq, Afghanistan and countless other conflicts. Leaves which have fallen, shed not by their nation, but laid down in sacrifice for friends and for a cause they believed in. We give thanks for what they have done on our behalf and we thank God for them.
As followers of Christ we are challenged by the concept of war and the need for violence and bloodshed to reach an objective. We recognize that historically this was not always the case and in some instances we shudder at the violence which was used in Christ’s name.
Today I am wearing a stole which belonged to Honourary Lt-Col. John A Munro. I don’t know much about Munro, other than that he was awarded the Military Cross and that we have some of his items here at the church. A field communion set, a Bible and a book on first aid. However, on this stole are imprinted the words “In this Sign Conquer” which until 2006 was the motto of the Royal Canadian Chaplain Service. In 2006 the motto was changed to “Called to Serve”. I wear this stole today, to remind us of our historic past and to honour the memory of those who served.
The motto “In This Sign Conquer” says something about our thoughts on war. It harkens back to the Roman Empire when on the battlefield Emperor Constantine saw the Chi Rho symbol in the sky with those very words surrounding it. During my final year of seminary, I did some research on “The Presbyterian Response to World War II.” It was fascinating to look back at historical records, official correspondence and committee minutes surrounding the issue of the war, concerns of the Presbyterian Church, the state of individual congregations and of course those ministers who elected to serve as chaplains.
I would argue that the language we use and our thoughts on war have shifted. Today we have concern for the members of the Canadian Forces, as we did then. We ask questions, as we did then, is this conflict we are entering a fight we should fight? Is it our concern? If it is our concern, is military action the appropriate response? Have we exhausted diplomacy? Is diplomacy an option?
None of these questions have a straight black or white answer, there are far too many shades of grey. But in the face of the continuing civil war in Syria and the continued threat of ISIS and countless other areas of concern and conflict what are we as a Christian community to do? We honour those who have fought for our freedoms, but we often find ourselves confused because Jesus is the one whom we call the Prince of Peace. How do we reconcile these two things?
Today, we honour those who fought and died. Today we honour those who fought and lived. We honour and thank them for doing something that most of us will never have to do. We also look to Jesus, the author of our faith, and we consider the words he imparted on us and the life he lived. We recognize that Jesus died a violent death.
Jesus was in many ways the first leaf, he fell that we might know eternal life and the forgiveness of God. It is a terrible truth that the Prince of Peace, the one who called us to love our neighbours died to violence. Jesus lived out the promise of his words, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Jesus spoke these words to the disciples, yet he is the one who laid his life down. He knew the road he was on. Jesus knew that for himself it would soon be a time for dying, so that we might have the opportunity to live in the fullness of God’s grace, love and mercy.
Friends, we acknowledge the regrettable need for war. That in God’s good creation there are those who simply refuse to love or live in harmony with their neighbours. We give thanks to those who have served and continue to serve in our armed forces. For the sacrifice that they make in body, mind and soul. For those who laid down their life for friend, for country and for people they would never meet. People like you and me.
But Jesus does not stop with words about laying down one’s life. He concludes his charge with words for those who remain, “to go and bear good fruit.” To work for peace, to seek harmony and to love one another. In doing so we honour the memory of those who died for freedom. We honour their sacrifice. We thank them for their valour. And we look to Christ and his death on the cross and we say “Enough!” No more, the price has been paid why do we continue in such violent ways? How long must we continue to sacrifice the bodies of our young men and women?
When will we as a community of faith, that follows in the way of Christ, when will we as people of this nation, as people living on this planet, when will we be able to say to those whom we honour, “We have kept the faith, we have vanquished the foe, death is no more!”
At the going down of the sun and in the morning we honour those who served. As a Christian community we do that best while living in the commands of Jesus Christ, who said “love one another.” Amen.