Remembrance Sunday John 15:9-17
About thirty to thirty-five years ago during at interregnum I was asked by an Army Officer from the local barracks to take a church service in my church to mark the “36th anniversary of the siege of Tobruk”, as the vicar of the mother church, which our church was the daughter church of had refused to do so.
A few weeks after the service I was informed that Fr. Ken the vicar of the mother church who would not even take a service for Remembrance Sunday was no coward or conscientious objector as everyone had thought.
He was in fact a very brave man who had been awarded a very high medal for bravery during the war and the fact was, he could not bear to remember what he had gone through during that time, he had in fact wiped it out of his memory.
A few years later I was able to go round the Star and Garter Home on Richmond Hill which is run by the British Legion to meet the ex-service men some of whom had lost some of their limbs in action.
Fr Ken may have been one of the lucky ones by coming back alive and with all his limbs intact, but he had laid down his live for others like thousands have done and still do today.
Jesus said “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”.
The Cross is clearly in view, when Jesus said to His Disciples that laying down your life for your friends is the highest form of love that a person can give. and Jesus did a little while later lay down His live for us all, at Calvary.
Jesus also tells us that, “You of course are my friends” Yes, Jesus calls all of us His friends and as Christians we are, and He is also our friend to.
During the First World War this text was used time and time again, in sermons and lectures, sometimes set to music and sung by great choirs, but with a single aim of recruiting more soldiers, “You young man must go off to the front line, do what you are told and if necessary die for your country” and the young men went off in their thousands.
It is often said that God honours the self-sacrifice and dedication of those who sincerely and devoutly believed they were doing their duty.
However it is also said that God judges those who use texts like this as a convenient trick to put moral pressure on other people, when what they really needed was a bit of moral pressure on themselves to ask themselves;
“Why are we doing this at all, if we must have a war is this really the best way of fighting it. Are these sacrifices the best way both of winning the war and of preparing ourselves for the world that we will need to rebuild after it is all over.”
Right is on our side and so God must be, has often been given for the reason for going to war, and has been a major problem ever since Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the forth century.
As the world has become less and less Christian in terms of its life style, its leaders seem to have made more and more of being identified with God.
So that both sides in the major world wars of the last century were staffed it seams as by Christian chaplains praying for victory, this view point sits uneasily alongside today’s Gospel reading, where the talk is of love, not war.
In a world of danger and wickedness, it will not do for everyone to pretend there are no hard decisions to make, when one of the great dangers, and great wickedness, of this world is the very common belief that fighting is a fine thing, that war is a useful way of settling disputes and that to put it bluntly, military mighty has to be right.
One of the reasons human civilization has struggled to promote justice is the recognition that things are not that easy, and that justice can have a negative function in clearing the decks and leaving the world for people to be able to love one another.
You can not legislate for love, but God, through Jesus Christ, can command you to love one another, discovering the difference between what law can and cannot achieve and what God can and does achieve is one the great acts of being human, and being a Christian.
Jesus told us that we are to love one another as He loves us; because He did the greatest thing that love can do He laid down His live on the Cross for us all.
Jesus has come to make us more human, not less, He has come to give us freedom and joy, not slavery and a semi-human existence, He has come so that we can bear fruit that will last and last.
Whether in terms of many or a single life, that has changed because we love somebody as Jesus loved us, or in a single decision that we had to take, or a single task we had to perform, through which though we could not see it at the time, the world became a different place. Love makes both lover and the beloved more truly human.
It is a personal relationship of love and loyalty to the one who has loved us more then we can imagine, and the test of that love and loyalty remains the simple profound, dangerous and a difficult command, love one another. If we all could love one another like Jesus asks to, we would not have need for war.
“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”.