Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Remembrance Sunday Sermon 10/11/13

Remembrance Sunday  10/11/13

Today is many things.  To some it is a day of mourning, to others a day of celebrating our freedom, and to some it is a day to reflect on the heroism and bravery of British and Empire soldiers past and present.

Because it is a day of many meanings I have a number of thoughts to share with you.

Firstly, any time of remembrance, even one of mourning such as a funeral, should begin, or at least include, thanksgiving.  Today we give thanks to God Almighty for the victory we have received at His gracious hands and by His mighty arm.  Great Britain has been blessed with victory more than any other nation in all of history.  The history of the British military is one of legendary proportions and global reach such as had never before been seen or ever after till this day been known.

When Napoleon tried to subject Europe under his self-messianic dictatorship, Britain formed that thin red line in the sand of Egypt through to the grass of Waterloo.  By British soldiers and ships He was twice defeated and his dangerous empire left in ruins. 

When the German Emperor Wilhelm II start World War I, hell bent on conquering Europe, we went to the aid of our allies, we sacrificed our men on Flanders’s Fields for their freedom.  And by God’s grace we were victorious.

When Hitler, one of the darkest and most evil, most vile of men, sought to bring the world under his darkness and hatred; When Hitler invaded Poland, crushed France and left Europe on its knees, defenceless before him, when he killed millions of Jews and Romani; When he had the ill and infirm, the sick and disabled, rounded up and killed – Britain did not stand idly by.  When Hitler sought our allegiance and our hand, even in the face of near certain defeat we spat in his face.  We defended our land from the bombs and the planes, we fought in the lands where our fathers had died in the trenches.   We stood for freedom, freedom written in the blood of our heroes.  Imagine if Hitler had won – how evil our nation would be, how evil the world would have become!  But against all odds, by God’s guiding hand victory was won for justice, equality, freedom.

When Korea was torn apart in the 'forgotten war' and the North invaded the South to try an impose communism, over 14,000 British soldiers were sent to fight in a country they knew nothing of.  Over a thousand never returned.  But God gave a victory against seeming impossible odds.

When the Argentineans invaded the Falkland’s we would not stand for the insult, for the destruction of freedoms, and we travelled half way across the world with only a tiny force to take on a whole nation.  And by God’s hand we fought, we lay flat their entire military, air, land, and sea, to such an extent they have still not recovered.  And the Falkland’s were once again free.

Or think now of the wars that rage, the war we fight against terror, against an enemy far more insidious and silent – silent till the trigger is pushed and the bombs explode.  The war we wage to be set free from the fear of our enemies.  Think of the soldiers barely out of school who died in the fiery hell of the Iraqi desert and Afghani mountains.  But victory will be ours.

Today is indeed a day to reflect on all I have just said, on the evil that could have been, and it is a day to praise God the King that He could not allow it to pass.

But today is also a day to mourn the loss of our fathers and our mothers, our sons and our daughters, our brothers and our sisters, our family and our friends.  Those whose light has been snuffed out by evil whilst fighting against the encroaching darkness.  It is a time to remember the pain of a whole nation where in World War I alone only 53 parishes knew not death in all of England, Scotland, Wales, and the entirety of Ireland put together. 

Yet what was the point of their deaths and sacrifice if nothing is changed?

Today is a day to remember the evil of humanity, the evil and darkness in all of us, in each and every one of us.  The Germans who shoved Jews into gas chambers were no different to you or me, they were normal people told to do a job, given permission and set free to do what in the depths of their hearts, and ours, is to be found – evil, darkness, depravity, and sin.  The lust for power, the greed for more, the hatred and anger against others, the smut and the passion for physical gratification that is in each of us is the source of the world’s evil.  When a man wrote to The Times newspaper asking “what is wrong with the world” one man recognised the truth of it, and replied “Dear Sir, I am. Yours G.K. Chesterton.”  Chesterton was not a Hitler, he never killed a man or raped a woman, but he saw clearly the truth of it – in his heart, in his secret thoughts, he was no different than the worst.   Today is a day to recognise this sin in us and throw ourselves on the mercy of Jesus Christ, on the mercy and pity and love of God, who will come again and judge the living and the dead, who will come again and judge you and me.

In 1882 the German Philosopher Nietzsche boldly declared “God is dead... And we have killed Him!”  He said it as a boast, he took pride in it as if it were some great achievement of mankind to be rid of true religion – that is to say Christianity the only true religion and the only way to heaven.  He and so many others saw the success and the power of man and machine, of innovation and science. They asked “Why do we need God? Can we not explain everything in this universe? Can we not heal our own sick? Can we not give sight to the blind and make the leper whole? Can we not cure the insane?  What need is there of God in a Golden Age of atheism and science?” 

What need is there of God in a Golden Age of atheism and science? Indeed!

More have died at human hands in the past one hundred years than all the centuries before combined.  Famed atheists Jospeh Stalin and Pol Pot killed more of their own people in forty years than all the Christian crusades and inquisitions of history put together. Never has poverty been so easily solved and yet forced to remain because of selfish greed. Never has the gap between the super-rich and super-poor been so great.  Never have depression and anxiety afflicted so many – in the past ten years the amount of anti-depressants prescribed has more than doubled, 46 million people are on anti-depressants in the UK, in Wales one in five people are prescribed drugs to help battle depression. One in Five!! Here in Cleveland one in six adults is on such medication. Today there are more slaves in the sex industry than there were slaves in total at the time of William Wilberforce.  An estimated 27 million people are slaves of some form today.  As I speak over 2 million girls under the age of 16 are being exploited as sex slaves against their will. 

If the past one hundred years has been an experiment of what a world is like where “God is Dead” then it was an error in conception and a disaster in execution.  And the world knows it.

Christianity worldwide is growing faster than ever.  Christianity in Britain is now growing and not dying.  Why?  Why would people who have the glories of science and the joy of total autonomy turn to Christ?  Because a godless world can never satisfy those who were made in the image of God Himself. 

And this is why Remembrance Sunday so resonates within our hearts.  This is why this day plays the strings of our hearts more than any other.

C.S. Lewis (or Tolkien, I forget which!) once said that all great stories are merely a retelling of the one true story of God and His saving love.  When we read of good triumphing over evil – either on a national scale like World Wars or on a personal level like overcoming addiction – it is so powerful because we know deep down, spiritually, it is what we long for in our own lives.  We long for victorious living, we long to be saved from all that is wrong around us, and especially - if we are truthful – all that is wrong within us.

It is no accident that superhero movies are so successful.  It is no accident that in them there is almost always a moment of humiliating defeat or a time of weakness and humility that the hero must go through to save the world or win the girl.

It is no accident that often the heroes are so... ordinary.  Think of Harry Potter, a boy who had no great physical strength, who lived in poverty under the stairs in a dysfunctional family.  Think of Peter Parker – Spiderman for those of you wondering who I am speaking about – a boy who was orphaned by the death or leaving of his parents and who grew up with his aunt and uncle in no fantastic wealth, a boy bullied at school.  Think of Bilbo or Frodo Baggins, Hobbits of small stature, not warriors, great only at eating and smoking and gardening.  Hobbits who are the least of all the peoples of Middle Earth and yet save the world from the greatest of evils.  Think of Luke Skywalker, a no-body growing up parentless in a desert as a moisture farmer – some country bumpkin who knows next to nothing of the universe or the Empire he is soon to bring to its knees.      All these heroes fight the impossible from a place of weakness, they are all so normal, so relatable, to frail.

These are so successful, so memorable, because they are but a pale shadow of Jesus Christ.

There was a bridge near Dunkirk in 1940 stained with British blood.  As their friends were evacuated some soldiers stood their ground, made their last stand to stop the Nazis from getting through.  They fought till there were no more grenades, no more bullets, they died with knives in their hands and bayonets in their rifles.  That day they sacrificed themselves and saved the lives of many of their friends and family, their brothers in both blood and arms.  It was a modern day 300 and we must never, ever, forget them.

But on a hill outside Jerusalem, just under 2000 years ago, a greater sacrifice was made, a greater victory won, a greater freedom purchased by the blood of God.

What made this unique was that Jesus didn’t die for His friends as our brave soldiers did at Dunkirk. He didn’t even die for His family.  He died, willingly, for His enemies.  Listen to What Saint Paul in Romans 5 tells us of that fateful day:

For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. 
For rarely will someone die for a just person—though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! Much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by His blood, we will be saved through Him from wrath. 10 For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life!

We are helpless sinners, lost in our sin, at war with God – doomed to the coming judgement. We are evil - whether deep down inside or plain for all to see.  We turn against God day and night; we are under the righteous wrath and anger of God.  We deserve to die in penalty for our sins and wickedness, and we have no right to any future but eternity in hell, an eternity in torment, burning fire, and choking darkness.  We deserve the worst internment camp, the worst Prisoner of War Camp imaginable.  We are not just sinners we are active enemies of heaven and all that is perfectly Holy and Good. 

Yet “while we were helpless” “while we were still sinners” “while we were enemies” Christ Jesus died to reconcile us to God.  By His blood and His blood alone can we be saved from the righteous wrath of God.  For those who believe in Jesus as Lord, God, and Saviour – for them Christ Jesus took all our sin on Himself, He became helpless and put Himself in our place, in the shoes of an enemy of God – and He took our punishment, our just deserts, our judgement and our penalty.  And He died in agony in our place, sacrificed up for us that we might be set free from sin, from our evil nature, and from Devil himself.

Be reconciled to God today, this minute, this moment.  Remember the freedom that was bought for you by British soldiers that you may choose Christ as your King and not fear death and punishment from the state or others.  Throw yourself at the foot of the old rugged cross where Jesus wept and bled and died.  Throw yourself on the mercy of God almighty, repent of your sin, acknowledge the evil within you and cast it upon Him, open your heart to the Holy Spirit that He may fill you with joys unspeakable and hope unstoppable!

In Oxford there is a street that I dare say is my favourite in all the nation – St. Giles.  On one end is found the war memorial for Oxford, a cross rising up out of the ground as a monument to the heroic dead of war.  A monument to celebrate the freedom we have from tyranny of evil empires and rulers. 

At the other end of the street rises up something like the ornate spire of a cathedral, it is a monument to the deaths of three men who were burned at the stake just down the road.  Those men were Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer – the Oxford Martyrs.  They died defending the true faith from superstition and heresy, they died that we might know the freely given love of God, they died that we might know mercy and hope, that we can know that it is not what we do that saves us but what Jesus did on the Cross.  They died for the true religion, the Protestant, Reformed, faith. 

Here in that one street we have two great blessings – freedom from evil on the one hand and freedom to God on the other.  Take up the call and do not squander their gifts to you this day, make a new start in Christ Jesus – rejoicing that you can do so without fear.  And then, through faith in Jesus, one day you will meet Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer, and many of those who died in the World Wars and you may thank them as you all feast at the greatest banquet the universe has ever known.


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