Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
We live in a particularly warlike and war-mongering society. There are electoral battles; there are wars against poverty, drugs, cancer, and pedophilia. There are campaigns in support of or against policy propositions or referendum questions. Almost every difference of opinion on almost every issue of public interest is expressed in military terms.
The ways of peace do not seem to come readily to an apparently peace-loving society, and the preference is for confrontation and conquest: especially in the public realm.
It applies to sport, politics, radio or television discussions, and it is there in questions of town and country, south and north, Scotland and England, and of course social class. It is there in law, education, land use and development, energy and the environment, and in almost all aspects of our welfare state.
Somehow we elevate any difference of opinion and priorities into the language of struggle, war, victory and defeat. Winner takes all, like any occupying force, and then administers his or her own brand of justice.
When however it comes to real armed conflict, it all becomes rather muted. Military campaigns are initiated in Iraq and Afghanistan without really knowing what aims are to be pursued, and then how the peace is to be maintained and built upon. The efforts and sacrifices of the armed services are dissipated by indecision, lack of commitment or vision, and loss of the nerve and desire at the highest levels to make the peace meaningful.
And so our Remembrance observation today is tinged with doubt as the conflicts of recent years are set against the aims, motives and passions that prevailed a hundred years ago.
But perhaps it is our vision of peace that is also deficient. If peace is the dictatorship of the temporarily victorious, whether on the battlefield or in the polls, then it is shallow and will be dissipated easily and quickly.
In the Book of Job, Job is in the midst of unspeakable suffering having lost his family and home and possessions. He is goaded by his wife to despair, and by his “comforters” to confess to a lie.
And yet he hangs on to something within the deepest part of his soul in which he known in all truth that God is a just God, and that in one way or another he will be vindicated.
Job refuses to believe that it is all a matter of random happenstance or arbitrariness and that eventually he will be given the release that he craves.
This is a faith that refuses to let go, no matter what the provocation. It is far more that wishful thinking or pious imagination and it is rooted and grounded in a personal faith in a personal God who cares and saves.
For Paul also, the hope and the vision is of far more than surviving the coming week and managing the household budget as best one can.
Paul looks for a Kingdom where peace is stripped of fraud, of deception and the spin of publicity. He acknowledges that before that can happen there will be many conflicts leading to one led by a character of unprecedented persuasiveness and plausibility, who adopts all the fashionable poses and clichés, and is seen to support and be supported by all the most glamorous causes.
He looks beyond a period when the truth is perverted into falsehood, and where beauty is replaced by crudity and ugliness. Yet in this very scene he urgently calls on the Christian church to hold fast to its faith, and never to lose heart.
Jesus also presents a vision of the life of the Resurrection kingdom.
In this, it is life that is the prevailing principle: life created by God and sustained by Him. Life as He always intended it to be, shorn of guilt and fear, of appetite and the need to dominate.
God is the God of the living – and life is still the prevailing reality even when the bodies of our present life have completed their tasks in accommodating our souls and spirits.
Since there is no more death, there is no need to reproduce; accordingly all relationships are cleansed, purified and released from sorrow and regret.
It is also a place of emotional justice where God will wipe away the tears from our eyes with utter care, love and tenderness.
For Jesus to say that there is to be no marriage in heaven is to show that there is no ownership or control of our bodies and souls, except under the direct and intimate love of God.
As we reflect on the issues of war and peace, love and aggression, let us lay aside shallow promises which can never be delivered, and the superficial aims which dissipate like mist.
Let us rather think about the things that God has already achieved in Jesus Christ and the cost that bore upon Him in doing so.
Let us also honour the peace and order, the security and rule of law for which so many died, and lay aside within each of us that desire to control, to dominate, to win at all costs, to have the last word and to relish in the humiliation of another.