St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity, 2014

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 “Jesus, Wilfred and Poppies...”
I speak in the name of Jesus the Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.
Dulce Et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.
 
GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
 
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
 
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Wilfred Owen
Thought to have been written between 8 October 1917  and March, 1918
Each year in November, the United Kingdom and many other countries around the world, remember the men and women who gave their lives in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts. The 11th of November is known as Armistice Day, Remembrance Day or Poppy Day. This year takes on added significance as it is the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.
 
During the First World War, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the guns of the Western Front fell silent after more than four years of continuous warfare. 
 
This is a special time that, as Christians we need to honour and respect, for many of our brothers and sisters perished in the Great War. Indeed, some of those very souls who we are remembering day once sat in the very pews that you yourself find yourself sitting in this morning. 
 
It is perhaps most poignant that in today’s Epistle reading from the Book of Ephesians, Paul reminds us  to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. All Christians are called to put on spiritual armour against the enemies of our souls. This Christian armour is made to be worn, and there is no putting off our armour till we have done our warfare, and finished our course.
 
Unfortunately, sometimes we are called as Christians to put on our spiritual and physical armour for the warfare becomes both spiritual and physical...

Perhaps we need to be reminded of some the brutal statistics of World War One. 
The total number of casualties in WW 1, both military and civilian was about 37 million souls: made up of 16 million deaths and 21 million wounded. The total number of deaths includes about 9.7 million military personnel and about 6.8 million civilians.
These are people like you and I.
They died for our freedom.

For ultimately, as Christians we are called by Christ to live and act in the real world so that we can bear the witness of His Cross to all. This may mean, occasionally choosing to bear arms and to fight the good fight so that evil will not prevail and peace and justice will. 
In the same way that Christ was called by His Father to lay down His life for us, so too were so many of our brothers and sisters called to lay down their lives for the sake of our freedom one hundred years ago.
It is indeed a pity that war needs to happen at all.

Sadly, it would seem that war is one of the very core attributes of humankind, and it is most unlikely that our physical world will ever be completely at peace...

Which reminded me of a most unlikely but true story...
On December the 25th, 1914, five months into World War 1, British and German troops on the Western Front stopped fighting in a spontaneous ceasefire; soldiers from opposing nations actually put their weapons aside to enjoy singing carols and even a game of soccer together. Some of the soldiers sent gifts to each other across the trenches, and the brave ventured out into no-man’s land in order to retrieve and bury the dead.

It was then the soldiers from both sides discovered that in fact those on the other side were not barbarians; they were ordinary men just like us.

The truces ended the following day and I quote:
The truces ended that night or the following morning. A British captain wrote of how the Royal Welch Fusiliers resumed the war: “At 8.30 I fired three shots in the air and put up a flag with ‘Merry Christmas’ on it, and I climbed on the parapet. He [the Germans] put up a sheet with ‘Thank you’ on it, and the German Captain appeared on the parapet. We both bowed and saluted and got down into our respective trenches, and he fired two shots in the air, and the War was on again.”
 
Wow!
What happened here?
This is a remarkable but true story.

Do you see what happens in the real world around us when men focus on Jesus Christ?
Suddenly, football not death was the order of the day.
Suddenly, chocolates not bullets were the order of the day.
Suddenly, carols not the agonising cries of death were the order of the day.
Peace reigned. Even if it was only for a few hours... All because soldiers put Christ first... and suddenly peace prevailed.
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace”

This is powerful. We have a lot to learn from this incident for it shows us the power of the Holy Spirit is able to overcome even the most futile of situations...

It is indeed sad that so many people have died in conflict since this Christmas Eve on December 1914... And I will advocate that many more people will continue to die in this world of ours until we all focus upon the face of Jesus... for He alone is the salvation of the world.

Perhaps we all have a lesson to learn from this story on Remembrance Sunday.
We too, are called to remain focussed on Jesus in our daily lives in all that we say and do. 
We too are called to keep on wearing our spiritual armour every day so that we can be protected by the Holy Spirit.
We too, are called to take up the physical fight if necessary in order to protect and honour our freedom in democracy, Jesus and life. 
Many, many people died so that we might have the freedom to worship here together this morning.
Do we perhaps occasionally lose focus of the face of Jesus in our daily lives?
May you have a blessed week ahead as you strive to remain focussed on the face of Jesus in all that you say and do.
Amen. 
 
 

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