Friday, 9 November 2012

Remembrance Sunday 2012: every person matters



Today we protest

Remembrance is an act of protest against the fact that war turns men and women into statistics.

A couple of years ago, after one of the major military funerals that we held here, someone wrote challenging me that I was complicit in glorifying war. I wrote back and said that I had no issue with conducting a significant military funeral: for two reasons. The first is political. When the death of a service man or woman on active duty is taken for granted, or is treated as usual, or as just another statistic, then rulers will find it very easy to go to war. But when those deaths are marked as significant, then force will be used only as the very last resort.

The second is more important: Luke Southgate and Adam Drane matter. They mattered to their families; they mattered to their friends and comrades; they mattered to their community. And there was nothing about glorifying war. It was about people coming together and saying that the death of these two young men needed to be marked, because they mattered.

War has always stripped human beings of their personality. In the early days the tribes painted their faces - so that they would terrify their enemies. It also made them faceless. Later they wore helmets which protected their face, but also made them faceless. In later years, men became statistics, like toy soldiers, with numbers not names, who could be ordered over the trenches in their hundreds, thousands, even millions. Today, with remote controlled IED's and computer operated drones, war can be even more faceless: a computer game, waged with the press of a button. You will never know who killed you, and you will never know who you have killed.

Today, Remembrance Sunday, we protest.
We say 'No'.
War may strip men and women of their faces; war may turn men and women into statistics, but today we say that a person can never become a statistic.

Last week I was looking at the back of church through the book of remembrance to the Suffolk's in WW1. It contains 9000 names? And then I thought, 'No it does not. It contains the name of Private Sargant, of Lt Corporal Ward of Private Ruffle.'

Today we choose to remember not war, not statistics, but individual men and women. We remember John, Harry and Philip; we remember comrades, friends, former school mates, children, husbands, wives or partners, parents.

And today we protest - because we say that you cannot turn a person into a number; you cannot strip a person of their face - because each individual person really does matter.

And there are two reasons why they matter

1.    They are an eternal being.

God, the bible says, has put eternity in our hearts.

It is a great passage.

It speaks of how God has made all things and that there is a right place for all things.

There is even a place, in this fallen broken world, for war. I would argue that if there is ever a time for war it is not when national self-interest is put at risk; it is not when a particular life-style is threatened. If there is a time for a war, it is when nations or rulers or peoples forget that very simple little principle - that people matter. It is said that the Mongol hordes, when they invaded Russia, locked their captives into a room, built a ceiling which rested on them, and then held a party. While they danced on the floor above, men, women and children were crushed below. If there is ever a case for war, it is when rulers or states or peoples behave like that. It is when they herd people into boxes, stamp the side of the box with a label (whether that label is black, white, pink or blue, Jew, Christian, Hindu or Moslem) and then crush it.

You see the passage talks of how God has made everything beautiful in its time: in its right place. It's not talking about physical beauty. It's talking about a beauty that lasts, an eternal beauty. And when a human being begins to realise and to live as if the next person really really matters, that person becomes beautiful and you become beautiful.

You see, God has put eternity in our hearts.
If we are born, live and then die, we don't really matter. We might matter to several other people, for as long as they remember us. But if we are just born, live and die - then we are simply part of a biological, physical process that has no purpose and no meaning. The only guiding hand is survival of the fittest. And if you get crushed in the process of life, well what of it? You are no more significant than an ant. You are obviously weaker and probably deserved to be crushed.
My usual answer to the person who says, "God cannot exist because of suffering” is, "OK, take God out. Because if there is no God, there is no why, no answer, no purpose, no reason. It just happens. Welcome to a very bleak, a very dark and a very hopeless universe". And quite frankly, Atilla the Hun can dance on as many people as he wishes. 

But we are here to protest. To say that it is not like that; to say that those we remember do matter, that they matter eternally.

Death in this fallen broken world has its place (the passage talks about how there is 'a time to be born and a time to die'). But death in God's eternal world has no place.

And so, as the passage says, we don't understand. We live with death and yet we long for eternity; we live – and it is an act of faith - as if we were eternal, we live as if each person matters.
Why? Because God has put eternity in our hearts.


2. They matter because God sent his Son to die for them.

Today we remember the many who have died for their country.
A few weeks ago we had the Battle of Britain service here: we remembered the few who died for the many.

As Christians, each Sunday, we remember the one who died for all. But Jesus did not die for some blob called humanity. He died for each individual person: for Adam and Luke, for John, Harry and Philip, for you and you and you and me.

The most famous verse in the Bible says, 'For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life'.

How much do those we remember matter?

A few weeks ago I watched as one of my sons walked away from the car to get on the coach to go on a school trip to China. It was only for a few days, but as I watched him walk away, I realized that he was becoming independent. And part of me was proud and part of my heart was broken.
When someone you really love dies, far more than a part of your heart breaks. You die, in a different way, with them.

And those we remember matter so much that the eternal God, who is beyond all understanding, would rather be crucified than live without them. And if you or I or they turn our backs on Him and refuse to know him, to live as a friend of God or to receive his love - it is more painful to Him than death by crucifixion.

That is how much they matter. That is how much you matter.


And because God has put eternity in our hearts; and because Jesus died for each one of us, we matter, we really really matter.

Of course, with this there comes a responsibility.
Because we matter, there is a day of judgement.
Because our thoughts, words and actions matter, there will be a day when each one of us will stand in front of God, and we will need to give account for our lives.
Because we matter, we won’t be able to hide behind war paint, a helmet or a touchscreen. It will be face to face. You and God; me and God.

And how will we be judged?
That is for another day.

All that I will say now is that God is eternal and has put eternity in your heart. He has made you for himself: to be his child, to be his friend and to be his lover. He is eternal and - because of Jesus - if you call out to him, if you receive his free gift of forgiveness, of intimacy with God now and eternal life, you will be eternal.

Today we protest.
We say that people cannot be turned into statistics. We are not here to remember the estimated 160 million people who died in war in the C20th. We are here to remember Adam and Luke, John and Harry and Philip, who gave their lives in the service of their country. We are here to remember them because each person really does matter. 

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