Welcome to the Knox Talks blog. Here you can find recent and past sermons relating scripture to a wide variety of topics. I would like to thank Shelley Rose for transcribing my notes into text for the blog.
What Do they Want?
When I was young, growing up in Quebec, Remembrance Day was complicated. The Vietnam War was on, lots of anti-war sentiment was being expressed and quite a lot of it was aimed personally at serving military personnel.
Everyone agreed that Hitler had needed stopping, so WWII was where our Remembrance was focused, but there wasn’t much respect shown for people who chose to volunteer for the military in the1960s and 70s.
Over the years, Remembrance became safely stored in the past. The 1939-45 period still had living veterans to remind us, WWI was far away, with only a handful of those vets left and Korea, and peacekeeping efforts had cost lives, but not in every Canadian town.
So for many of us kids there was a real contrast created: a romantic vision of stopping the Nazis, supported by our plastic toy soldiers and the other war toys that were popular in the 1960s, versus that angry response, condemning anything military as war-mongering and evil.
A lot has changed since then. Here at Knox we’ve had Remembrance Sundays when we’ve had photos of serving Canadians who had died in Afghanistan; fresh losses that wiped away any romantic notions and brought home the human cost with the images of real men and women, mostly young, leaving families behind.
This year we have a new war: the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. The news images show us bombed out cities and homes that aren’t very exotic at all except for the destruction. They could look like neighbourhoods here. The people look enough like us that we can’t insulate ourselves from the feelings: the horror, the fear; the thought of raising your children in that environment and the threats that nuclear weapons might be used re-kindles memories of the Cold War.
We can’t help asking: why is this happening? What do they want?
If you are asking about leaders, like Putin, the speculation and conversation could go on for hours covering topics of empire-building and even criminal cover-up. But if you ask about the people serving in the military, you might find your answer in our lesson from Micah with its image of swords being beaten into ploughshares.
Micah wrote 2700 years ago at the time when Assyria had conquered Israel and when Babylon was threatening Judah. He knew war very well; he knew the deep desire for peace; and he believed that it was through God that an international peace could be achieved.
The people we remember on this day wanted to get the job done and go home. They wanted to stop the tyrant, end the violence and go home to enjoy peace; to be with their families, their loved ones even if it meant coming home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. That would be an improvement over the fresh traumas waiting for them each day.
Our lesson from John brings a different perspective to remembrance. It talks about there being no greater love than when someone lays down their life for their friends.
This was written so we could understand the sacrifice of Jesus, but the words are general and apply across all humanity with the clear message that people will sacrifice themselves out of love.
We know that’s true: people who die in battle are often trying to protect someone else. Sometimes it’s for their buddies in their unit, fighting beside them, sometimes for their loved ones at home: I’m making sure that the invading troops stop here and never make it to the edge of my family’s town. It is a desperate love that gives people the courage to do this.
The context we are given here is the same big picture Jesus so often gave us: all of this should be seen in the light of love which means that one of the things we try to remember today is the love of the people who have died to protect us and the love of those who are again putting themselves in harms way in modern conflicts and crises.
What do they want? They want their loved ones to be safe; they want peace and freedom from tyranny; they want to come home.
Sure, there’s the occasional person who wants to be a hero, the movies used to be full of them, and there are those who are full of a sense of duty. In a lot of those cases, if you look closely, their sense of duty is also a sense of love because they love the people they are sworn to protect. Duty is a bit of a four-letter word these days but there are deeper, more positive feelings when we look closer.
And, of course, they want to be remembered, not necessarily in terms of glory and honour but as people who loved their families, friends and country enough to risk, and even sacrifice their lives.
It is part of our calling to remember them: to remember the lessons of sacrificial love that scripture talks about; to remember the deep wish for peace that they held so strongly that they died to obtain it.
In this time, and on this day, let us remember and let us pray that the peace they died for may be restored without costing the lives of too many more loving people.