And begin living with joy.

  The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to Luke.

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.

Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,

and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”

(Luke 3:1-6)

                                       _________

Some time ago, the leaders of the Commonwealth countries were to meet in Nigeria. Our Mr. Chretien was among them.

Now the Queen as head of the Commonwealth, was there, probably to open the proceedings, and do some public relations work. She was scheduled to attend a traditional Nigerian marketplace.

Well, the security situation being what it was, at the time, the government of Nigeria couldn’t guarantee her safety in a marketplace, what with all the alleyways, and hidden recesses, and all, so it was decided to have a make-believe marketplace, with stalls set up in a sort of a movie set, with access strictly regulated, and actors – actors – playing the part of the usual stall-holders, and customers.

Her Majesty is no fool, so I bet she would have seen through the ruse, but lady that she is, would not have embarrassed anyone by noting it.

It’s ludicrous, isn’t it? But the phrase, from our reading today,  “ In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,  make straight in the desert, a highway for our God,” has its roots in a similar practice, in the countries of the east, centuries ago.

When the king decided to  make an inspection of a particular area, the people who would normally just throw their garbage out onto the dusty potholed road, would have to go out and clear up the mess, and fill in the holes, and make the way worthy of the king. He wouldn’t see the place as it really was.

Today we hear the message of John the Baptist calling upon people similarly,  to make themselves ready. Not for the coming of a king, but for the arrival of Jesus Christ.

And not by clearing up garbage, and fixing roads, but by cleaning up their lives.  He wants them to change.  To repent. To make a big  U turn in their lives.

And many did.

They came in their hundreds, and John baptised them in the River Jordan.

What brought them?

He really was a strange-looking  man, wearing clothing made of camel hair,  and with long unkempt hair and beard.  And his diet???    We are told he ate roots, berries, and locusts.

Locusts!

A radio station somewhere in the States a few years ago put out a recipe for bread made from locusts and crickets.  It was supposed to be very nutritious.  I wonder how many people would come forward if our communion bread were made that way.  

Now why did  people come to John? 

Maybe they were at a point in their lives when they recognised the need for change.

Maybe they had gone the other route, trying to find comfort in possessions, in living for themselves, and found that way of life to be empty.

It was a time in history when people were feeling alienated.  Jews chafed under the rule of the Romans. 

They felt lost, had no sense of belonging. And the religion of the day only offered thousands of rules.

So when they heard John’s message: “ Someone is coming who is greater than I. I am not fit to even untie the thong of his sandal.  He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit. Get ready, turn your life around. Repent, ” they responded.

We are probably living in the best time in history.  We in the industrialised world have comforts that our ancestors couldn’t even  dream of.  And yet the signs are, that people are no more content than their grandparents or great grand parents were.

There are more people in this world than there have ever been,  yet many of us suffer from loneliness.

We have had the benefit of pediatricians, guidance counselors,  child psychologists, and more, and yet kids leave home for uncertain life in the city.

What will it take to get today’s lost sheep to respond? 

And if you don’t see today’s people as lost sheep, look around, the next time you are in the mall. People surge by, glassy-eyed, this way and that, searching for that great bargain.

They are in thrall to the colour, and the lights, and the music, and the noise, and the urgency of it all. And we do it every year, don’t we? 

We are exactly like sheep!

We only have to hear a few verses of ‘Rudolph’ and we automatically reach for our wallets.

But, just as people in John’s day were ready to change their lives, I believe that people of today are ready too.

They just need to hear the call of Jesus.

The parents of a little girl sent her to church regularly every Sunday, but never came in with her. They would pull up in front of the church,  drop her off, and go out for Sunday breakfast. The father was an executive for a big chemical company, very ambitious, upwardly mobile .

They were well-known for their Saturday night parties, given not so much for entertainment or out of friendship, but as a part of the husband’s career advancement program. How someone might  help towards his goals, determined who was invited. The whole town knew about the things that went on at those parties.

But every Sunday morning, there was that little girl.

One Sunday the pastor looked out at his congregation and, as usual,  there she was.  He looked again, and realized that her mom and dad were sitting with her this Sunday.  They came forward after the service, and asked to join the church.  The pastor asked them what had prompted  this.

“Do you know about our parties?,” they asked. “Yeah, I’ve heard of your parties.”

“Well, we had one last night. It got a bit loud, kind of rough, lots of drinking. And it woke up our daughter, who was asleep upstairs. She came down the stairs and was on about the third step. And she saw the eating and drinking and said, ‘Oh, can I do the blessing?   God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.  Goodnight everybody,’  and she went back up the stairs.”

“Funny. Things quieted down real fast.   People began to say, ‘It’s getting late, we really must be going, thanks for a great evening,’ and within two minutes the whole place was empty.”

“We  started to pick up the crumpled napkins and half-eaten sandwiches and spilled peanuts, and then we looked at each other.  And  said, “ What have we been thinking?   Where do we think we’re going?”

The words of that little girl opened the eyes of that couple to the changes they needed to make in their lives – to meet Jesus.

Preparing for God’s ways to take hold in our hearts is what Advent is about.  For that to happen, we may need to make some changes in direction.

It may have to do with giving less attention to being comfortable and  more attention to bringing comfort to others.

It might involve remembering someone who is lonely.  It might mean being sensitive to those who have suffered pain and loss and for whom Christmas will not be the same this year. 

It might involve spending time in scripture and in prayer so that God’s word can work in our hearts and lives.

It might mean giving attention to relationships that need healing:  making  a tough decision or taking a difficult action that you know you need to make. 

It might mean getting involved in righting a wrong in our world. 

As we do these things, we may find that God will begin to lead us out of the wilderness, and we begin to discover the comfort and peace and joy of knowing Jesus.

A man went to his doctor for  his annual physical.  After the exam, he waited a few minutes for the doctor’s report.  The doctor came in with his charts in his hand, and said, “ Well, there’s no reason why you can’t live a completely  normal life – as long as you don’t try to enjoy it.”

We’ve got him beat, because  life with Jesus is life to enjoy. 

Let’s examine our hearts and prepare the way of the Lord, in our lives.  Let’s be ready to receive him.

And begin living with joy.

Amen.

Don’t Let Go of It!

The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to Luke.

Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:25-36)

“When you see the leaves of a fig tree sprouting, then you know that summer is here. Likewise with these signs (strange things happening in the sky, and here on earth) you will know that God’s kingdom will soon be here.”

______________________________________________________________________________

Well, I have seen the signs that Jesus will soon be here.

The Santas in the malls, the Christmas songs being played on the muzak, the Christmas decorations, the lights going up on rooftops, and the beginnings of the shopping frenzy that heralds the coming of Jesus at Christmastime – the signs are all around us. 

I doubt though that a lot of those caught up in preparations for Christmas know or even care about the baby that began it all.

In fact, there is a move afoot to take Christ out of Christmas all together.  I guess they will then call it ‘Thingmas.’

Unfortunately, for some, Christ has never been in Christmas.  

The choir director of a church was looking for sheet music for that great hymn, “How Great Thou Art .‘  She went into a record store and asked the clerk, ”Do you carry any religious sheet music?” The clerk, who looked like a high school student, thought for a moment, and then said, “Look over there, some of the Christmas music might be religious.”

I’m beginning to think that Christmas is not so much to remind us of the coming of Jesus as to remind us that we have forgotten the Christmas message of the coming of Jesus.

In the reading from Luke’s Gospel above, Jesus is heard  telling his friends about the time when he will come to rule the world – the time when the natural order of things will be abolished and a new world will come about.

He tells them that there will be strange portents in the skies. There will be a roaring of the sea and tides so loud that nations will not know what to do.

He says that people will be so frightened that they will faint from fear of what is happening.  Every power, he says, will be shaken.

That doesn’t sound like Christmas, does it?

You might feel bad because you didn’t get the new ear buds you wanted, or the new computer. It might  be very hurtful that you got a small kitchen appliance rather than that ring you have been waiting for, for  years. That’s nothing to what we will feel like when that day comes.

It kind of makes you sober up for a minute, doesn’t it?

It kind of makes you pause a moment, there in the toy department of the Bay, or Toys R Us, and take stock for a minute.

When I was serving in the Air Force in Germany, I was on a base that supplied materiel to other bases.

There was at that time, a fear that the Soviet Union would attack the West, using nuclear weapons. There was a strategic defence that we weren’t  party to, but we, on our base,  knew our part in that defence. When the ‘alert’ went out, we were to head down to our storage areas, load up the trucks with all the supplies and head west – away from the trouble.

We would never know the day or time of a Soviet attack. So we were to be ready for the sound of the ‘alert’  at any time of the day or night.

The top people must have known something, though. They must have known we would never get attacked on a week-end, because half of the people weren’t there on a week-end.  

The week-end would have been the ideal time for an attack, wouldn’t it?  It would be the last thing on anyone’s mind – what with traveling, and being out celebrating, and just goofing off.

For similar reasons, I think the Christmas season, ironically, could be the time when God might just decide to send Jesus back and shake everybody up, real good.

 The last thing your mind has on it,  leading up to Christmas is Jesus, isn’t it?

What am I going to buy Aunt Betty?  What is my spouse going to get me? I hope he/she keeps the receipt, so I can take it back. And what about the kids?  They have so many toys, not to mention computers, and other electronics. They have so much it is hard to give them more. But we will.

And the parties. It is difficult to fit them all in. Celebrating. Celebrating. Celebrating.  

Celebrating what? I am not so sure.

Boy, if God decides to come back during Christmas he would catch most of us on the hop, as it were.

Or the hip-hop if – I can get the Karaoke machine working right.

It will be just like Jesus said. “ Don’t spend all your time thinking about eating and drinking, or worrying about life. If you do the final day will suddenly catch you like a trap. That day will surprise everyone on earth.”

I think we have to keep things in perspective. Keep our minds on what is important in this world and recognise what is merely a passing fancy, or fad.

Last year’s VCR is being thrown out for this year’s DVD player. Last year’s Pentium 4 computer is bring thrown out for this year’s Centrino. Last year’s 27 inch TV is being thrown out for this year’s 30 inch flat plasma TV.

So keep perspective. Keep in mind what’s really important.

Well, you might ask, after all that, “What is important? “

Relationship is important.

That is our relationship with others – spouse, kids, our neighbors, whether local, or further north or in countries overseas, and most important, our relationship with God.

Without a relationship with God, those other relationships can be like this year’s fad. Here today and gone tomorrow.

Deeper, longer-lasting, mutually-loving human relationships flow out of a better relationship with God.

You can’t say you love your neighbour unless you love God, first.

A man went to his priest and asked forgiveness for having been  unfaithful to his wife.

The priest rightly told him that forgiveness didn’t come so easily. If he were forgiven, just like that, he would just go out and do it again.

“No,” the priest said, “Your relationship with God is all wrong. And that leads to you having a bad relationship with your wife, and that leads to your adultery.”

“Fix up your relationship with God. Then you may stop doing those things that hurt him.  Fix up your relationship with your wife, and then you may stop doing the things that hurt her. 

“And when you have done that, you will be sure to be forgiven.

“You won’t hurt God if you love him and put him first, and likewise for your wife.”

How many times have we heard it said that Jesus told the experts in the law that the two laws that outshone all others were, one, to love God, and the other, to love your neighbour?

Put relationships right.

And it doesn’t cost money.

Buying bigger and more expensive gifts doesn’t make for bigger and better relationships.   Sometimes the big gifts are given out of guilt.

Honesty, integrity, transparency, putting the other first and yourself last  makes for better relationships, with both God and family.

Now, I know that putting yourself last is hard to do. Some people don’t even want to be second.

Leonard Bernstein was once asked which instrument was the hardest instrument to play. He replied, without hesitation, “Second fiddle. I can always get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm, or second French horn, or second flute, now that’s a problem. And yet if no-one plays second, we have no harmony.”

You see, everyone wants to be star. The children of President Roosevelt ,who was known to like being up front at everything, said,  ”Father always wanted to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.”

But you know, Jesus came from heaven to join a poor family, and to grow up and live as a poor man.   He forsook everything to be one of the marginalised:  to relate to those who needed love and acceptance. 

He put himself last. He came to serve, as he said, not to be served.

He came to tell us about the great love that God has for us His children. And he showed that love supremely in his life and death.

We do need to keep that front and foremost in our hearts. We do need to keep that perspective on life, and not get lost in the season’s excesses.

When you are pushing your way through the Wal- Mart crowds, or Holt Renfrew’s more sedate crush, or when you are standing in the return line on Boxing Day, keep that in mind. 

Don’t let go of it.

It’s your ticket to Paradise: the road to which is littered with discarded gifts, and yesterday’s fads,  cast off regrets and forgiven sins.

If that day does happen to come, suddenly, whether cosmically – for us all, or is a personal ending – take Jesus at his word, stand up straight and be brave, for you will soon be set free.

And there is a longer guarantee on that, than you can get at any store this Christmas.

“The sky and earth won’t last forever, but my words will,” Jesus said. 

And The Moment Passes

The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to John

Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”

Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?”

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:33-37)

                        —————————————

The Sanhedrin meet at daybreak to try,  and to condemn, Jesus. They want him dead. The Romans – as long as taxes are paid, and the people are peaceful – allow the Sanhedrin to administer religious and civil law, but they have kept the right to sentence someone to capital punishment for themselves.

So the Sanhedrin ask Pilate to condemn Jesus to death.

When he asked them what Jesus was guilty of, they were a bit taken aback. They couldn’t say he was guilty of blasphemy as that wasn’t a crime to Romans. Evasively, they  said, “We wouldn’t have brought him to you unless he were guilty.”

When Pilate persisted in asking what crime Jesus was guilty of,  they said Jesus had told people not to pay Roman taxes, and that he was setting himself up as king.

Pilate goes back inside and asks Jesus,” Are you the king of the Jews?”

And Jesus as he often did, answered the question with a question,

 “ Are you asking this on your own, or did someone tell you about me?”

Pilate says, “I am not a Jew. What have you done?”

If he needed it, here is reassurance for Pilate that Jesus hasn’t come to lead an insurrection against Roman rule. His kingdom is not of this world, he tells the Roman.

“So you are a king,” says Pilate.

And Jesus says, “You are saying I am a king. I was born into this world to tell about the truth. And everyone who belongs to the truth knows my voice.”

You might almost think there is a gentle invitation from Jesus here, for Pilate to hear the truth. Perhaps here, in the presence of the Son of God, he might  just find something that would change the trajectory of his life.

But he shakes off any thoughts that he may have had of engaging with this man, strangely calm, facing death,  who seems somehow, to be in control, and he shoots back, dismissively, “What is truth?”

You may have gone through something similar when you have been talking to someone and the conversation has come perilously close to talking about faith,  and the person you are with says, dismissively,  “Oh, no-one knows the truth,” or something like that.

And the moment passes.

The Roman Emperor is God, and everybody knows that. And Pilate knows a man can’t really call himself God, and men can’t make gods, but politically that’s how it is, and seeing the Emperor as God helps keep law and order in the empire. 

It helps keep things under control.

That fleeting moment when we might imagine Pilate getting into discussion with Jesus, a discussion that could change his life, and would have changed the course of history perhaps, is one that many people experience – a moment when they are almost tempted to expose their  lives to the real truth, but the risk may be too great, or they don’t want things to get out of control, and the moment passes.

And it may never reoccur.

For most of us, someone else made that important decision for us, when we were baptised. And we may have gone along with that decision by our parents, and have attended the church of our baptism ever since.

Or not!

But at some point we have had to make that decision for ourselves.

Find out the truth for ourselves. 

That moment may come during prayer, reading some inspirational book, or singing a particularly uplifting hymn, or in conversation with someone we respect, or in seeing a beautiful sunset.

But somehow, and at some time in our lives God will call us, and we can respond or not.

We can be like Pilate and turn aside, or we can listen to what He is saying to us.

Either way, the fact is that some day we will all know the truth.

John tells us in Revelation that ‘Everyone will see him, even those who stuck a sword through him.’

Those who have believed and those who have turned away. We will all know the truth on that day.

But those of who believe, know the truth already. Because believing is living, and living is serving, and in serving we know Christ. And in knowing Christ, we know the truth.

October 6 past, marked 485 years since a Christian was burned at the stake for bringing the truth of the Bible to ordinary people.  

A young, a highly educated man, fluent in several languages, including Greek and Hebrew, William Tyndale  was tutor to the children of Sir John Walsh at Little Sodbury Manor, in England.  During his free time, he would gaze out into the fields below the manor and observe the ploughmen diligently working in the fields.

The ploughmen represented the uneducated and superstitious people of England. No one really cared about the ploughmen. They were destined for a life of ignorance, imprisoned within their own village.

The scholars had their Latin Bible, and the Erasmus Greek New Testament had recently been completed, but these were of little use to a poor country farmer.

Redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ awaited the ploughman. But the message of salvation seemed foreign to their existence, and in fact it was, until that young man, William Tyndale, decided to compile the “Words of Life” in English—the language of the ploughman!

To bring them the truth.

The church didn’t want it, and Tyndale had to hide in Europe under an assumed name to complete his translation, but in 1526, Tyndale’s English New Testament began trickling into England.

The Scriptures, now called the “pirate edition,” were smaller than conventional books. This made it easier to smuggle them in bales of cotton and containers of wheat shipped into England.

As the “quiet” distribution of Tyndale’s New Testaments continued, it was inevitable that some would fall into the hands of the “enemy.”   Officials began buying up as many of the English New Testaments as possible. William Tyndale was publicly denounced and accused of printing over 3,000 errors within his translations. The confiscated Scriptures were then thrown into the fire.

But within a decade, Tyndale’s New Testament was widely distributed throughout England. His vision of the ploughman’s Bible had come to pass, but those caught with this “illegal” book faced severe punishment. The prisons were overflowing. Hundreds of New Testaments were destroyed, and believers were even publicly burned at the stake with Tyndale’s New Testament fastened around their necks.

And the persecutions were no longer targeted at the ploughboy. Every man, woman, or child, educated or not, was at risk if they dared possess Tyndale’s New Testament.

Ironically, some Church officials who had once been persecutors, became martyrs themselves, after they  found the truth in reading Tyndale’s work.

Thomas Moore arrested everyone he could lay his hands upon if he suspected them of holding the new views or possessing the so-called heretical books.

By the end of May, 1535, a man named Henry Phillips had made contact with Tyndale and gained his confidence. He said that Tyndale was “simple and inexpert in the wily subtleties of this world.” Before Tyndale knew what was taking place, Phillips set an ambush for his newfound friend and two English spies arrested him.

Tyndale knew his mission was quickly coming to an end. He had chosen this path and was well aware of the consequences. His translation of the Old Testament is believed to have been completed during his 18 months in prison. His final words, as he was to be burned at the stake, reveal the heart of a man who refused to put man’s laws before God’s law.

“Lord,” he said, “ Open the King of England’s eyes.”[1]

Open his eyes to the truth.

 A modern martyr to the truth was Zahra Kazemi.

Ms Kazemi an Iranian-born Canadian citizen, traveled back to her birth country using her Iranian passport, to take photographs of the possible demonstrations that were expected to take place in Tehran in July, 2003 – so that people would know the truth.

However, on June 23, 2003, she was arrested in front of the Evin prison where photography is prohibited.

Nineteen days later, she died in Iranian custody in Baghiyy atollah al-Azam Military Hospital. It is widely believed she was beaten to death.

After initial denials, Iranian government sources (including Mohammad Ali Abtahi, the Vice President of Legal Affairs and) later admitted that she had died of a fractured skull as a result of being hit in the head during interrogation.

Truth must be important if people are willing to die for it.

Truth must be important if people will kill to hide it.

Because the truth is something that sets the people free.

The Sanhedrin couldn’t countenance people being free.

The truth was right there in front of them, and Pilate, and they denied it.  

“Are you a king?”

Jesus said, “I was born into this world to tell about the truth. And everyone who belongs to the truth, knows my voice.”  

Amen.


[1] Tom White and Steve Cleary, “The Smuggler,” The Voice of the Martyrs, October, 1998, pp. 3-4

Or why are we here?

The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to John.


“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other. ( John 15:9-17)

                                     ————————

Over the past few years, sermons at Remembrance Day services seemed to avoid talk of war, its effects on those who were called to serve and those who served at home. What for me, growing up during ‘The War’ was ‘real’ didn’t fit with what the speakers addressed.

So when the opportunity came for me to speak at the Remembrance Day service, I was able to try to portray something actually about ” The War,”

Here are my thoughts, expressed at the 2019 Cenotaph service. 

                                  ——————————–

Some years ago, a lot of years ago, actually, I took my daughter who was about twelve years old at the time, to the UK .

I wanted her to see where I was born, where I was brought up, my school, the church where I had attended Sunday School, and so on.

We went to Dodworth, the village where I was born, and I showed her around.

The house in which I was born was no longer there. The land on which it and other cottages had stood was now a meadow.

A few stones lay in the grass, to remind us of what once had been,  I guess. 

An old man was passing by and I asked him, ” Is this where Seniors Row was some time ago?”

He asked, ” Why do you want to know?”

 I said, ” I have brought my daughter from Canada to see where I was born.”

He said, ”  You have come all the way from Canada to look at a bit of grass?”

I nodded, a bit sheepishly, and asked him if he had known my grandparents Dick and Lizzie Jones, and he had. Everybody in that  village knew everybody .

We went into the centre of the village, and there was a shoe store that was owned by  the father of one of my schoolmates, and I figured the schoolmate was probably the owner now. 

Opposite the shoe store stands the village Cenotaph.

We walked over to see it.

It isn’t very big. It is set in a circle, with stone steps upon which people would sometimes sit to wait for the bus into town.

Above the steps rises a stone edifice with a  cross atop.

And there in the stone is carved the names of those men and women from that village who had lost their lives serving their country in the first and second World Wars, and also later, in  the Korean War.

We looked down the names – there weren’t too many since this was a small village, but nevertheless it had contributed its share of heroes.

My daughter read the names from the Second World War portion, and started when she saw the name : Sergeant Richard Llewellen Jones.

“Dad” she shouted, ” Did you know him?”

“Yes, ” I said, “He was my uncle.”

She couldn’t believe it.

But now for her, the name on the Cenotaph was more that a name, it was of a real person.

I told her I remembered when I was a toddler, fast asleep, when my dad came into my room, woke me up and said,  ” Uncle Dick is here to see you.”

He carried me downstairs, and there was a man in uniform who smiled at me, and took me in his arms. He kissed me on my forehead, then after a while handed me back to my father, and gave  me a little bag of candies.

He was on leave from the army and had come to visit his brother – my dad – and other family, before leaving for North Africa.

That was some time in 1940 I believe.    I would have been two years and some months old.

He went back to his unit, and some time afterward, he was killed at Tobruk, when the truck he was driving up to the front, was hit by a shell.

His name, engraved there, among so many, represented a real person, and my daughter  had, through me, a real connection to that person, named on that cenotaph.

It wasn’t just a name now. It was someone real.

All those names are of real people, of course.

Men and some women, who had gone to war at the call of their country to help stem the advance of evil.

They didn’t come home.

They lie in some distant graveyard.

Of those who did come home, many carried wounds, physical and psychological.

My uncle died instantly in that shellburst.  His mate survived but lost both legs.

I was officiating at a funeral once in Burlington, and just across from where I was standing I saw a portion of the cemetery reserved for servicemen who had lost their lives in those two wars, and  in the Korean War.

Row upon row of white crosses, maybe a couple of hundred.

And I imagined a person standing where each cross stood.

A crowd. 

Fathers, sons, cousins, husbands, nephews, brothers, uncles, aunts, sisters, mothers, daughters.

And in Europe there are graveyards with thousands of such crosses.

Fathers. Sons, cousins, husbands, nephews, brothers, uncles, aunts, sisters, mothers, daughters.

And as I saw those crosses, and imagined  each person standing there, just as my daughter had realised that the names on that cenotaph were not just names, but real people, it came to me that we all need to see the names on the cenotaph as real vibrant living people.  

Even after all this time. A hundred years since the First War ended.

Not just names.

Or why are we here?

Today.

And more than that, but that we realise that what we have been gifted with by those who died, and those who returned, is a free country, a place where we can practice our faith, and where people are not discriminated against because of origin, or skin colour or any flimsy reason  and where we can work to get ahead, and look after each other, and love and be loved.

This day is to remember those real people who made our freedom, and our way of life possible.

Another people who had freedom, and the gifts that come with freedom, were the Israelites.

The people of Israel had been close to God. He had brought them out of slavery in Egypt.

He had brought them through many trials in the wilderness.

He had gifted them with a verdant land.

But after being there for some years, after working the land, after fending off intruders, and becoming rich, they began to forget how they had come to such an  inheritance.

To forget who had saved them!

Jesus was to remind them of what their God had done for them.

Of what others, their forebears, had sacrificed for them.

They needed to be reminded.

So that they may hold the gift of life and freedom in  reverence.

So they may not take what they had for granted.

Ever!

And today, we who are free too  by the grace of God, and the sacrifice of many, gather  to contemplate  freedom,   our ability to live as we wish,   free from oppression, free from fear,    free to love and to be loved in return –  and where that freedom came from. 

It came from those very real people, we remember and honour, this day.

More than names.

Real people.

Fathers, sons, cousins, husbands, nephews, brothers, uncles, aunts, sisters, mothers, daughters.

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Amen.