Refuse to hate…sermon for Remembrance Sunday.

Burma Railway re-union

Words for Remembrance Sunday St John’s parish church Adel 2019.

“When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow we gave our today.”

A famous verse: used on many war memorials.

It captures something of the flavour of Remembrance Sunday – when we remember those lost in wars, especially the vast numbers of young men who died in two world wars.

Today we bring our remembering into church – where our readings remind us that death is not the end; that as St Paul wrote: ‘Christ, through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope.’ Faced with the deaths of countless young people – we need that hope.

Because when young people die it seems a life has been wasted. We need a way of feeling they didn’t die in vain. We need to know all that suffering and death was for something.

In 1918 there was perhaps a hope that remembering the horror might help us avoid war in the future. In 1945 there was the feeling that evil powers had been overcome – that the deaths at least had some purpose.

But what of today? With hindsight we question the slaughter of the First World War –and even some tactics used against Hitler’s Germany. Wars are still fought but we’re much more likely to ask why.

“When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow we gave our today?”

What does that say to us in 2019, beyond a feeling that we should honour the dead?

Well there aren’t many things more precious than the gift of life in a free country. If we want to honour those young people who believed they gave their lives in the cause of freedom – then that epitaph should make us think. How will we use that gift of ‘our tomorrow’?

In recent years numbers attending services like this have increased. Perhaps due to the centenary of the Great War…or because the number who can actually remember is dwindling. But I think there’s a danger that we stop remembering the horror, honouring the sacrifice…instead we look back longingly to a time when we were united, when being British seemed a ‘good thing’.

The sort of unity we get in times of war though, is being united against something. And because we’re human – we might start by uniting against fascism or the occupation of one country by another – but we so often end up united in hatred against a whole nation. Sadly there’s nothing quite like stirring up hatred against other people to unite humans.

When Mussolini sided with Hitler in 1940 – we united in hatred for all Italians. Ice-cream parlours were attacked and middle aged men who’d spent their lives selling ice cream to British children were imprisoned in camps.

During the First World War German soldiers were shown on posters as monsters – murdering babies. Yet the men at the front – those we remember today – often saw things differently. There were the Christmas truces of 1914, when soldiers stopped shooting and approached each other – finding young men missing home and loved ones, just like themselves.

And some of the most poignant poetry to come out of war talks of coming face to face with dead or dying ‘enemies’ and finding oneself in them.

There’s Wilfred Owen’s ‘Strange meeting’ with it’s haunting words: ‘I am the enemy you killed my friend’.

And the more prosaic – but equally moving ‘Only a Boche’ by Robert Service…

“The dying Boche on the stretcher there has a queer resemblance to me.

And confound him, too! He wears, like me, on his finger a wedding ring,
And around his neck, as around my own, by a greasy bit of string,
A locket hangs with a woman’s face, and I turn it about to see:
Just as I thought . . . on the other side the faces of children three;”

“When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow we gave our today.”

How can we use the precious gift of ‘our tomorrow’ in a way that honours those who did their duty and gave their lives whilst managing not to hate? Perhaps the challenge for us is to stand up for what we believe is right, to do our duty, to support our country…but refuse to hate.

To think seriously about how our country should be run, about how we will vote in the General election. To be willing to give our opinions, and to listen to others…but refuse to hate those who disagree.

To work hard to provide a good standard of living for ourselves and our families. To engage with the debate about how many migrants or refugees the country can support…but refuse to hate those who come hoping to provide for their families.

To live out our Christian faith and share it with those we meet. To find out about other faiths. And where we find beliefs difficult, to ask, to listen, to challenge…but refuse to hate or demonise those who follow a different path.

We’re here today because we are followers of Jesus, who spoke up fearlessly for truth – and even when this took him to the cross – refused to hate. Jesus, who truly gave his today for our future hope, told us to love even our enemies.

Today is a reminder that sometimes we face almost impossible moral decisions. Sometimes the evil being done drives good people, Christians, to think war is necessary.

But we do not have to hate. On Wednesday I will take the funeral of a 101 year-old gentleman, whose 6 years’ war service convinced him to respect every life and work for reconciliation.

The men and women remembered today came from many political groups, from every class and background, from every race and faith. They gave their lives in the hope that it gave us a better future.

Let’s use their gift of our tomorrows to fight for a society where disagreements are aired and wrongs challenged but where hatred has no place.

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