Remembrance Sermon, St John’s, November 13, 2016, 9.30am (non Communion).
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Warning against Idleness
6 Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. 7For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labour we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you.9This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
The Destruction of the Temple Foretold
5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’
Signs and Persecutions
7 They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ 8And he said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them.
9 ‘When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.’10Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
12 ‘But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defence in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.
2016 has been a year of tumultuous political upheaval in the UK and the US.
Somehow with the dawn of the Internet and 24 hour news channels, it’s easy to be drawn into daily anguish about a political system that can be turned on its head overnight after a surprise vote to leave the EU, or an upset that puts someone as controversial as Donald Trump in the White House, with no previous political experience.
Church leaders reported some anguish amongst church members on the Sunday after the Brexit vote back in June, whether it was a sense of betrayal over being misled by politicians, heightened daily fear for non-UK Nationals, or being harassed for voting in a way that was portrayed by the liberal Elite as isolationist, even xenophobic. For some, our decision to leave the EU is framed principally as a failure to maintain our loyalty to a united Europe that has kept the peace for 70 plus years since the end of the Second World War. What will happen to our old alliances if we find ourselves out in the political cold, is a lurking fear in many minds.
Across the Pond, psychotherapists in New York have reported a rise in Trump related anxiety issues amongst their clients. Some have even used apocalyptic language to describe their fears by referring to the spectre of climate change, with the New York Times suggesting that a Donald Trump presidency could put climate change ‘on course for the danger zone’ (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/11/us/politics/donald-trump-climate-change.html?_r=0). We are all a bit more touchy thanks to the Internet and constant exposure to comment about comment about comment on our current affairs.
I have spoken to several people, and noticed the tendency in myself, to be way too informed, to touch that news app. a bit too much throughout the day, to let that disturbing headline shout at you in the newsagent’s queue. Being hourly in touch with such news can even disturb your sleep, as particularly younger people are worry about the way their world is going. It can rob us of our peace.
There was a highly developed sense of the apocalyptic around in Jesus’ day. It explains why so much of the latter part of the gospels deals with what Jesus says will happen at the end of the world. Nobody questioned that the end of this would be a time of unparalleled stress – it was normal for First Century observant Jews to talk about these things.
For us, approaching Advent, it needs to form part of our belief too, because God holds the affairs of humankind in his overall framework and nothing can therefore truly be said to be out of control, though it may feel that way to us. So I’d like this morning to help us be realistic about the world and its conflicts, but also to hear Jesus’s words to stand up for him in this world, and to endure.
Jesus was realistic about conflict and war. ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom’ he says. Elsewhere, in Mark and Matthew, we have the haunting phrase from the KJV: ‘wars and rumours of wars’. Jesus doesn’t ignore the stark reality of war, but he says it doesn’t in itself signal the end of the world. War instead is listed as part of the birth pangs of the age to come – not literally the end of the world, but, as it were, certainly en route. The inevitability of war and conflict is illustrated by a look at a map of the world in which major or minor conflicts are listed according to how many violent deaths have occurred as a result of them in the past year. At the top of the list with 10,000 deaths or more per year are conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq; conflict resulting from the Boko Haram insurgency, and of course, the Syrian Civil War, which dominates our news. Then comes conflict in Somalia, Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan, Pakistan, the Mexican drug war, and Civil Wars in the Yemen, the Libya Civil and South Sudan, with each of these conflicts claiming up to 10,000 violent deaths each, in the last year. All in all, in the list there are a total of 55 armed conflicts which are current, claiming lives and maiming for life others who suffer injuries as a result, with, of course, mental injuries being the dark hidden reality for many veterans. And today we see vast numbers of refugees consequently fleeing the effects of war across the world, seeking a better life in countries such as ours where peace is a blessed daily reality. And I suspect what the vast majority of these refugees and migrants want is not be corralled into camps and detention centres, not to be demonised by people who fear the stranger, but to ‘live quietly and earn their own living’, to quote Paul in the Epistle we had.
With regard to the world and war, the picture Jesus paints for his first century Jewish listeners, is not a pretty one, but it is realistic – humankind finds peace hard to come by. Domination and greed we find easier. And for us who live in peaceful neighbourhoods, it’s all too easy to ignore what does not directly affect us. But ignoring what doesn’t directly affect us is something that the ruling political class have discovered, to their chagrin, only raises huge problems in the long term. Sooner or later, there is a bloody, or non-bloody, political revolution.
But in case we feel overwhelmed by what is happening in the world, Jesus calls his followers to endure. Enduring is a key word for the disciple – we have to continually live out our calling to follow Jesus even when the world seems to be in turmoil, or even when our own lives feel as though they’re in turmoil. The bible is full of highly unsuitable leaders making terrible decisions that affect 1000s of innocent people. And it also hopefully points to a Daniel, a Moses, a Mary, who said yes to God’s call and whose faithful witness changed the course of human history. This is what Jesus calls us to today: to endure – to stick at following him, even when life feels overwhelming. And as we reflect on wars and rumours of wars, we thank God for those whose ultimate sacrifice bought for so many the peace we enjoy in our country today.
We pray for grace, wisdom and direction as we live through these uncertain times, holding onto the certainty of God’s ultimate kingdom and reign amongst us. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.