Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 11 November 2018.
One of the things about commitment is that we never know where it may lead us. It can be undertaken with a certain amount of forethought and preparation, but we are not fortune-tellers and we cannot make predictions.
This applies to any kind of commitment – whether it is in marriage or ordination, or taking up a job.
But it applies even more to those civilians who take up arms. Some may do so as a career – and our country is defended by a volunteer force and not a conscripted one.
But a crisis which destabilizes international relations and security can indeed lead to the mobilization of forces and their deployment to what for many is an unknown destination, even if the aims of their commitment are known and accepted.
And so today we remember those who took up arms over the last 100 years. We are thinking especially about those who went to war in 1914 and never returned or saw the armistice of 11 November 1918.
But there were those who served in 1939-1945 and in the various wars, insurrections and insurgencies since then. There are also those who today bear the scars of battles in Northern Ireland and in this century and whose lives will never be the same again.
But today’s lessons are also about people who heard a call and responded to it. In Jonah, the reluctant prophet accepted his charge and went and witnessed to Nineveh – with a success that astonished him.
He had sought an escape from this burden and yet the providence of God redirected his path until he was willing to discharge it. It may have been against his inclinations and yet when done in obedience it was still honoured by God.
Then there was the call of Jesus to Peter and Andrew, and to James and John, all called away from their living as fishermen into a vision that they could never have imagined or anticipated. But they still heard the call and they answered it. One wonders how many Jesus called but who refused Him: people in whom he saw the potential but were not willing to follow Him.
In terms of Mark’s story, Jesus was already preaching the Kingdom of God and calling people to faith and repentance. The future disciples already knew of Jesus and His message – and to that end this was not a wholly unknown quantity. But even then they had no way of knowing how it would end. Theirs too was an open engagement with terms and conditions set wholly be Jesus.
But in the Epistle it is Jesus Himself who is the focus. It is He who had received His Father’s will and who had been obedient to that call which would lead Him not only to an artisan’s life in Galilee but to His ministry and its temptations to avoid the cross.
But Jesus made a point of not avoiding that cross but set Himself on a determined path to meeting it.
In this sense Jesus was doing what no volunteer or conscript was called on to do – it was to make His path to the cross from the very outset. This is what His temptations after His baptism had been about evading – but it is the sense of duty and of love which kept His feet to His path.
As we honour those who lost their lives in battle, whether on land or at sea or in the air, or indeed as civilians in our own land, we may ask why this should be so and whether war could and so should have been avoided.
As we look at Jesus, He may in times of tiredness and discouragement have wondered something similar. But in His case the answer was simpler: if it were not for our sin, He would not have been asked to offer Himself in the first place.
It is a point worth pondering.