Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 12 November 2023.
• First Reading: Joshua 24: 1-3, 14-25 (Joshua renews the covenant of the people with God. The land promised by God to Abraham)
• Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18 (Reassurance in the face of death)
• Gospel: Matthew 25: 1-13 (Parable of the ten virgins. ‘Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour’)
Some of you will have read the Narnia stories by CS Lewis, an Oxford academic who specialized in English language and literature.
He also wrote a book called The Four Loves, and in it he discussed the different kinds of love: romantic love, the love of friends, love within the family, and then there is the totally unselfish and yet wholly self-giving love of God.
These are four expressions of commitment and of our sense of being. They say much about who we are and how our lives are directed. They show what things are the most important to us.
And in this sense it is interesting how in today’s lessons we start with the renewed commitment of the people of Israel to their faith in God and one God not only above all others but also to the exclusion of all others.
But today we are also remembering, and there are different kinds of remembering as well.
We can remember what we had for breakfast this morning. We can remember our first intimate personal encounter. We can relive the joys and humiliations that life has brought upon us.
In celebrating communion, we are re-living the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. That is another kind of remembering.
And today we are especially remembering those who died in 2 wars fought before almost all of us were born, and yet which have affected our society and its institutions.
We are remembering who they were and what they did for us, often without too much enthusiasm and yet led by a definite sense of duty.
And so as the world continues to tear itself apart in war, we remember those who went before us and we look again at our lives and how we value the sacrifices that were made for us.
But looking at Joshua, the central point was in being centered on God above and before all others things and interests. There must be no rivals to His place in the life of the nation. Not sport or entertainment, not any sense of grievance or resentment, not the attractions on show in other lands or cities.
Not politics or economics, not sport or entertainment. The experience of the children of Israel of God was unique and it held them together as nothing else ever could or would.
And God had made to them serious and solemn promises, concerning their lives together in the land and before Him.
And my God does not break His promises. Not to the Israelites ancient, ancient or modern, and not to me.
Their task was indeed to remember and to let that memory become part of who they were and where they were going.
But then in the gospel, Jesus tells the story of people waiting for Him to return.
His return is delayed and some lost that sense of promise. Maybe the return is figure of speech, not to be taken too seriously. Maybe it has to be re-interpreted in line with the fashions of the time. Maybe it is suitable for the simple-minded but not really for the culturally sophisticated people of modern society.
Yet His lesson is that there will be a return and that those who are ready for it will be rewarded while those who neglect it will be excluded.
As we come together this Remembrance Sunday, we are both remembering those who died in the great wars of the 20th century and in lesser wars since then and ongoing today.
But we are also taking care of what we remember and how we remember it.
It is not only the sacrifices of those who served our country. It is also the total, self-giving love of God in Jesus Christ in which we also find our who we are and where we are going.
As I say, there are different kinds of remembering.