Today is, of course, Remembrance Sunday.
We may be caught between many different feelings: some may wear a red poppy to honour those who fought – especially those who didn’t return. Others may wear a white poppy to pledge themselves to peace. Some may want to look back and thank God that ‘our boys’ won and that this country remained free. Others may want the freedom to be proud of ‘our boys (and girls)’ who are fighting today without facing an accusation of racism. Some may want to remember the victory of self-sacrifice… and others want to be able to forget the horror of war.
Caught in the complexity of all these many feelings, it is tempting to focus on the reading we heard from Isaiah – looking forward to a time when God will create a new heaven and a new earth – with love and peace and prosperity for all people. This is a fantastic reading to remind us that life will not always be this hard and that in the end God will sort it out.
But the letter to the Thessalonians gives Paul’s warning to those who are prepared to wait for God to sort things out and so fritter their lives and their time away sitting around. ‘Do not be weary in doing what is right’ says Paul. Sometimes we cannot simply dream of peace – but have to be prepared to struggle with all the issues to work out what is the right thing to do.
And so we think about our Gospel reading, where we are caught between realism & hope.
This is a relentlessly difficult reading. Jesus says to his followers quite clearly – don’t get carried away by the splendour of the temple – the fine stones and ornaments. Don’t put your trust in your fine building – because it won’t last. In fact, the Temple was destroyed by the Roman army about 40 years later – but even if that hadn’t happened, it would be hardly be as good as new, 2,000 years on – buildings can’t last.
So if we can’t put our trust in buildings, in solid bricks & mortar, what can we trust? People?
Jesus says “Take care you are not misled. For many will come saying ‘ I am he’ and ‘the time has come’. Do not follow them”.
So however charismatic a leader, or whatever the claim they make for themselves, we mustn’t put our trust in other people, either.
No, Jesus says, when you’re really up against it, when you’re seized and persecuted and made to stand up in court to defend yourselves “I myself will give you such words and wisdom as no opponent can resist or refute”. God’s Spirit, given by Jesus, will be what saves us when we face the ultimate test.
We can’t and we shouldn’t trust buildings or people: but we can trust God – the power of God the Father, given by the Son through the Spirit: God is what we can always rely on.
That doesn’t let us off the hard wrestling of ‘what are we to do?’ – it doesn’t mean that we can sit back & hope God will sort it out. God’s spirit, the power of God, will come to help those who follow Jesus – but only when they are really up against it – arrested, imprisoned, and put in trial. Yet in the midst of that trial God will strengthen them and give them the right words to say.
This Remembrance Sunday as we face the question ‘in the face of suffering and warfare and conflict – what are we to do?’, then the Gospel doesn’t release us from that question, but perhaps it helps us to frame the question in a new way - ‘What would God have us do?’. What does it mean, today, to remember, to forgive, to give thanks, to pray for peace? How can we be open to the work of the Spirit in the way we treat other people, especially those with whom we disagree? How can we allow God’s Spirit to change us this Remembrance Sunday, so that we can be agents of peace and forgiveness in a world which longs for both.
God help us, God change us. Amen.