Sermon preached by The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman
Remembrance Sunday Year B 2009
I watched the Horizon programme on Black Holes earlier this week. It was a fascinating programme and was trying to make Black Holes understandable to everyone. And whilst it succeeded to some extent from what I can tell it seemed to leave many people still confused and non the wiser.
That’s not surprising because Black Holes are complicated and event the physicists were forced to admit that they didn’t fully understand them and couldn’t get the conventional laws of physics to work right at the centre.
And whilst our desire to make sense of things and simplify them is commendable, it doesn’t necessarily make complex things any less complex.
Today when we remember those who have given their lives in conflict for the Great War to the present day, we often try to make sense of war in our own minds, try to understand how we seem to get ourselves into such terrible situations as nations and individuals. Just in 2009 there have been 94 deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq, 12% of which were under 19; 72% were in the 20 – 29 age range (Source www.bbc.co.uk)
In that sense war is a bit like black holes. We can describe what causes war in simple terms but we know that there are many, many factors at work in any one conflict which makes it far more complex to interpret and understand than we would sometimes like.
In our readings today both Micah and Paul understood the complexities of war and the battle front. Micah had seen first hand what the mighty Assyrians could do to the Northern Kingdom of Israel and how they had threatened Jerusalem in the Southern Kingdom.
Paul himself lived in occupied territories and witnessed first hand the power of the mighty Roman army.
But Paul also understood peace and was able to contrast the peace which the Romans maintained with the peace which comes through God. And by understanding Paul’s perspective we can perhaps begin to understand why the world seems to want to continue to destroy itself through wars and violence.
Paul often begins and ends his letters by mentioning peace. A frequent opening is ‘Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…
The Romans also know about peace. Just as Paul was writing to the Romans and introducing his letter with his opening of grace and peace so a Roman writer (Calpurnius Sicolus) was writing ‘Amid untroubled peace the Golden Age springs to a second birth… …while he, a very God, shall rule the nations… …peace in her fullness shall come…’ Only Calpurnius Sicolus was writing about the Emperor Nero but using the same language as Paul and the early Christian community.
Indeed, many of the titles that we used for Christ, King of Kings, Prince of peace, were also used about the Emperor and the religion of the Romans played a key role in establishing (world) peace
But the means of achieving peace were very different.
For the Romans, the Emperor was the one to be worshipped, as a man and as a god, often as they went into battle. Roman inscriptions show that wars were fought on his behalf.
Religion and worship of the emperor came first, followed by violence and war, a victory was established and peace ensued, often maintained through oppression, fear and more violence. A four fold model of how peace will come on earth and one which seems to be the model for many of our current day unrest.
But Paul, often using the language of the occupying Roman forces has a very different model for peace.
As we read through the letters of Paul we see that one of the great themes that comes out is that of equality and justice. For example, in Galatians we read that to those baptised in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, all are one in Christ. (Gal 3 v 27 – 29).
As Christians we are all equal in the community of God. Philemon is asked to free Onesimus because all are equal in the great baptismal formula, not out of some sense of Christian generosity.
One of Paul’s other great themes is around the Father figure of God and the Father figure in the human household as head of the house (as they would be in the patriarchal society of the first century). He often describes fellow believers as brothers and sisters in Christ and uses other family imagery in his letters to the early church
Its as if he’s asking what does the average family household look like to the outsider, is there a fair distribution of the roles and responsibilities, the privileges and the duties?
For Paul, there can only be peace in the household (and God’s world) when there is a fair, just and equitable share of the benefits of the household. Those in authority for the household have the responsibility to ensure an equitable share.
Whatever the context, if there is not equality and justice, there may be a lull, but there will not be peace.
For Paul, violence plays no part in bringing about God’s peace. His model for peace is totally different to the worlds. Religion (and an acknowledgement of the Father) comes first, followed by non-violence and the establishment of justice and equality for all, and then will follow peace.
God’s model for peace is completely different to the world’s. Scripture teaches us that He does not want us to use Him as the rationale and justification for war. He wants us to put Him and others first as we seek after justice and equality, and when all have equality, then all will have peace.
A peace which doesn’t have to be maintained by force, fear or oppression.
That could be seen by some as simplistic, as of the black hole category. It may well be so. Some would argue that force is necessary to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of resources, to bring about and maintain justice. That may be so. But we need to look behind our words and rhetoric (at which the Romans too were so skilled) and understand our true motives and objectives.
As we remember those who have fallen and the many more who suffered and are still suffering, we do so with a sense of thankfulness and respect. But for many there is a sense of the great waste of human life, a phrase used by one of the veterans last night in the Remembrance Service.
Micah knew that without a restoration of God’s rule in the hearts of the nation and of individuals the vision of true world peace would never come about.
The way of the world was (and to many still seems to be) to go to war in God’s name, crush the opposition and declare peace. The way of God seems to be different. To quietly seek after justice and equality, treating everyone as equal in the sight of God and peace takes care of itself, with no waste or loss.
True peace comes not when nations and governments, armies and generals, have a winning strategy and more might, force and resources than the opposition. It comes not when we have better arguments that those we seek to overpower.
It comes when we as individuals put God and his justice and equality at the centre of our lives (and households) and do all we can to ensure God’s resources are shared among all people.