Sermon preached at unspecified location, 12 November 1989
It is a bit of a shock when you announce quite smugly that you don’t have any enemies, to be told, “well, you haven’t fought any worthwhile battles, then!” The fact that there are conflicts is only a way of confirming that we are alive. There are too many people, however, who are prepared to go on being half-dead. Taking no real interest in affairs around, allowing others to ride rough-shod and to allow injustice to go unchallenged. This is true not only of the minor skirmishes of daily living that we all face at times, but also of the international conflicts with which world history is patterned.
An American President once remarked, “if you don’t like the heat, stay out of the kitchen!” If you stay out of the kitchen, people go hungry.
This is not the place to side with hawks or doves, to discuss the idea of a Just War or to promote the cause of Pacifism. I want to share with you a challenging picture of Christ himself. Sidney Carter, the rebel hymn writer, expresses this picture in an intriguing manner:
I am the danger that you crucify
Bury or burn me, but I will not die
I am the danger that you’re sure to meet
When walking to Emmaus; and though sweet
The name of Jesus may be to you
I am both Jesus and not Jesus too.
I am the danger coming from the East
Now tame and welcome at your Christian feast
I am the danger coming from the West
I am the wild and unexpected guest
I am the Life inside you; lean on me
And say goodbye to your security.
And do not look for safety in the sky
Can you be braver (do you think) than I?
Everyone is familiar with Jesus the preacher, Jesus the healer, Jesus the friend of sinners, the man for others – all that is attractive and easy to appreciate. We are in danger, however, of perceiving a Jesus who is less than godly, so to this gallery of pictures we must add: Jesus the Warrior.
In St Matthew’s Gospel, he said:
“I come not to bring peace, but a sword.”
Why a sword, though? Let’s add to this statement his words in St John:
“I am come that they might have life, and life in abundance”
and it is the sword of his justice and his truth. It is his sword that cuts out and severs anything which is less than that abundant, full and real life which is the only life worth having. That’s bound to be divisive.
A refusal to be whole and real and open is what Sin is about. It is a refusal to extend Love. Sin hoards love, watches it wizen like a gourd, but you cannot imprison the Truth of the Lord. When Love is hoarded then wars begin.
When Love is extended then healing begins and the seeds of peace are sown. There is so much waffle about Love. Love is not a feeling, it’s an action. Love hurts. Love costs. Some are prepared to pay the price of the supreme sacrifice, because Love must include truth and justice.
“Greater love has no man, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
That is a familiar and right Biblical passage to be quoted on Remembrance Sunday, but do not let its familiarity blind you to the implications it has upon our daily living.
Laying down your life for others means being available, open, giving and vulnerable. Openness such as this may allow others to come flooding in. Giving like this may drain you dry. Being vulnerable like this carries the chance of scars. Love is a risky business, and we join the conflict in its Name.
You can crucify that danger, or at least you can try. Wars are started to keep that crucifixion going. “You can stifle any freedom while you polish some award, but you cannot abolish the Word of the Lord.”
The great Christian truth is that crucifixion is not the end, for the resurrection of the power of Love persists. Through the great victory of Jesus the human race itself is changed. However slow the human race may be in accepting that fact makes no difference in the end. You have only to look around to see the signs of resurrection breaking out. I suppose most recently in the huge changes taking place in eastern Europe. There the walls come tumbling down. It’s exciting and challenging and not entirely comfortable. But then, Love is a dangerous business and it’s always a risk.
And Remembrance Sunday reminds us of just how risky it is.