The following sermon was preached on November 10, 2013
When I was a theologue, that’s what they called theological student back then, I was in a systematic theology class when some bright turkey asked, “if God is all-powerful, if God can do anything, can God make a stone so big that God can’t even lift it?”
That question was met with appropriate distain from the professor. So, when Jesus is asked, if a woman who has married seven brothers in turn, each of whom have died – in heaven, whose wife will she be?”
Jesus gives a response that might seem equally obscure. It’s as if he is simply musing about marriage, and God, and angels, and life, and death… without really answering the question. I guess Jesus is showing greater restraint than I could muster. I would have said that the Sadducees have proven an old adage wrong… there are stupid question. I think that the point Jesus is making is that we can argue about these things all we want, but the primary relationship we all have, we all need, is that relationship with God. Let that be our focus. Family is, in God’s realm, not a matter of blood.
I grew up in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia: that fact alone is of little significance or interest. And the fact that I was actually raised in the North End of Dartmouth hardly peaks ones interest any further. But, let me add that next to the North End of Dartmouth was Shannon Park and Wallis Heights. These two communities were built to house the families of enlisted sailors of our country’s navy. At the top of our street there were houses for the families of officers. I went to school with these boy and girls; I played sports with them, I hacked around with them when there was nothing else to do, they were my friends, they were my first crushes.
Their parents drove us places, refereed and umpired, coached and mentored.
Once and a while, I would show up at school and the classroom seemed half empty and I knew; a ship was leaving or coming home and some of my friends were at the dock saying good-bye or welcoming home their fathers.
Once and a while, the evening news included a story about a war, or a police action, or a military or naval action somewhere in the world and the question was; will Canada join? Believe it or not, in our playground, in the North End of Dartmouth, each and every time, this question was debated. My friends often fell silent – regardless of the merit of the action they knew what it meant to be a sailor or a soldier – when ordered – one obeys. Never, and I repeat never, did any of these children treat the matter lightly; never did they pump their fist or pretend that war is glorious. Never did they express any machismo or fake Hollywood grandstanding. They knew what each threat of war or police action really meant. I saw in their eyes, I heard in their voice, I knew, just by being with them that war means death. I knew that they, their mother and their fathers, more than anyone prayed for peace.
Several years ago, I sat with an Anglican priest and his wife who were stationed in St. John’s, Newfoundland during the Second World War. My mother was a child in St. John’s at the time and she remembers the blackouts, she remembers the sound of artillery fire between Allied ships patrolling outside the harbour and German u-boats. This priest spoke of the deep and abiding friendships they made during that time in St. John’s. They spoke of rationing food and metal. They spoke of parties. They spoke of pain and loss and death. And remarkably, they spoke of, and I quote, “what we need is a really good war.” They didn’t mean it of course. At least, I hope that they didn’t really mean it. I think what they wanted is for us to have a purpose; something to rally around, something that would bring us together. Surely, it doesn’t need to be a war.
War, after all, is a failure. It is a failure. Oh sure one could argue that some wars are just. Some wars are inevitable. Some wars are simply people defending themselves against an aggressor. Some wars are protecting our allies from an aggressor. My point isn’t that some wars aren’t just or inevitable; my point is that every war is a failure. Oh sure one could argue that some wars have winners, that one side has come out the victor. My point is that at the first declaration, before the first shot is fired, war is a failure. It is a failure because we have lost the peace. We have failed to be a peace. In this sense every war is a failure.
Some people wear white poppy’s on Remembrance Day – they say that the white is for peace, implying that the red poppy glorifies war. I don’t care if people wear white poppies but to say that red poppies glorify war is nonsense. Poppies are red because poppies are red. If they look like or remind us of blood – Good! They should remind us of blood and any other gore we can think of. They should remind us that war mean death. People die in war, soldiers, sailors and civilians. Mothers and fathers never see their son or daughter again. Spouses never see their husband or wife again. Children loose a parent. Friends loose friends. That’s simply the way it is. You can’t change that fact about war.
Remembrance Day is not about the glory of war. There is no glory. Remembrance Day is about the death, destruction and loss of war. Remembrance Day is a stark reminder that war is a failure, that we fail every soldier who has paid the supreme sacrifice; we fail every soldier who returns with physical and emotional scars. We fail every loved one who mourns. The phrase, “Lest we Forget,” literally means, “for fear that we forget.”
I stand at a cenotaph because I honour every soldier who died; every soldier who fought; every soldier who dons a uniform. I stand at a cenotaph because I honour every family that mourns; I stand at a cenotaph because peace is a worthwhile goal, because anything short of peace is a failure, because peace is what every soldier I know wants, because peace is what every child I knew from Shannon Park or Wallis Heights wanted.
If it is true and we need a purpose; something to rally around, something that would bring us together. Surely, let it not be a war, let it be peace. Let it be peace that brings us together. Let peace be our rallying cry. Let peace be our purpose. Let peace begin with me…