Remembrance Sunday

A sermon preached at St George's by the Rev'd Ivo Morshead, 11 November 2012

Jonah 5 v 1-5, 10. Hebrews 9, 24-28. Mark 1 14-20

Make me a channel of your peace. The words of the first line of each verse of the gradual hymn we have just sung.

The hymn between the reading of the New Testament lesson and the reading of the Gospel  is known as the gradual. The word is derived from the Latin for step, gradus. By tradition it was read from the second step from the top in the sanctuary, today we step down from the sanctuary and use all the steps  to bring the word of God in the form of the story of Jesus coming among his people as told by the writers of the four Gospels. We heard how Jesus entered Galilee to proclaim the good news of God. The people of that time looked and hoped for the intervention of God to save them from Roman rule and persecution but realised that for this  to happen, again as we heard read, it was necessary to 'repent and believe in the Good News' (v15). Followed by the command 'follow me'. We heard the immediate response of the first 4 of the 12 apostles who at once gave up everything and followed him. On this Remembrance Sunday we recall especially those who in a different context were called upon to sacrifice their lives in the cause of peace through two world wars and who continue so to do whenever called upon in the service of their country and in the cause of peace.

In the context of such sacrifice both of the lessons this morning preceding the gospel relate to this subject of sacrifice. The first occasion was the sacrifice of Jonah who offered his life to save the sailors from the effect of the storm that was about to sink the ship on which Jonah travelled at the Lord’s command to deal with the disobedient people of Nineveh. Overboard he went without any prior knowledge of the whale that would ultimately bring him safely to shore . His sacrifice saved the sailors. Such sacrifice in a different context is shown to us in the Letter to the Hebrews where the writer sets out the contrast between the temple priests offering of sacrifices in the Temple to the supreme sacrifice of the Son of God who gave his life to save us from our sins. As it is clearly set out  in Hebrews 9 'Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands..nor was it to offer himself again and again with blood that is not his own ...but as it is he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself'.

Today on this Remembrance Sunday amongst other things we give thanks for the sacrifice of the millions who sacrificed their lives in two world wars. Sadly the world is still in a state of flux but none the less without their sacrifice we would not be as we are now, living in freedom. The poppies that we shall soon set on the memorial, that memorial containing the names of those from this parish, are symbols of our thanks and tokens of our resolve to work for peace and to prevent any such need for sacrifice to be necessary again.

I was born  in 1927 and there are several here this morning who are older, wiser and more experienced of what suffering lay behind the deaths of those whose lives were sacrificed. I was just coming up to 18 when I volunteered for the army in 1944. I never saw active service but I did experience physical fear. The war-time training and no doubt present day training was and is designed to give a glimpse of reality and test ability to overcome fear. It is this word FEAR that is common to us all and in its extreme consistency was inflicted on all whose lives are represented in those poppies which we wear. The Bible is descriptive often of such fear not least in the story leading up to Jonah’s self sacrifice in going overboard, in verse 4 of chapter 1 'such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up'. The story goes on 'then the mariners were afraid and each cried to his God'. There is a wonderful description of such experience in the psalms. Psalm 107 'By the waves of the sea they were carried up to the heavens and down again to the deep, their souls melted away in their peril'. Such affliction of fear must be in our remembrance and  thanks for those who died for peace. Such thought can lead us to the real religious meaning of fear.

In the Bible the phrase ‘the fear of the Lord’ is paramount over the use of the word connoting physical or moral fear. We need to engender in ourselves that same fear of the Lord in the same way as we fear losing the  love of family or friend through action or negligence. It is not in the sense of punishment but of diminishment. The Dictionary of the Bible defines ‘Fear of the Lord’  as; the response of man the creature, to God the Creator, who is also God of righteousness and of  judgement and the life of obedience and faithfulness which flows from that response and gives expression to it. Such expression we find ably expressed in the Acts of the Apostles (9 v 31) 'Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria had Peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.'

As we reflect on this phrase fear of the Lord and assess our response, may our prayer on this Remembrance Sunday be echoed in the repeated words of the gradual hymn 'Make me a channel of your peace', as we live this in our Christian lives 'Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit'.
Holland Park Benefice