Easter 5 • 24 Apr 2016

Acts 11:1-18 Revelation 21:1-6 John 13:31-35

Rev. John Candy

We Remember with Love

As many will gather tomorrow, ANZAC Day 2016 at Memorials, at sea, on land, in many places at dawn and during the day, we will be called to remember the sacrifice of service men and women of every time, of every place, of every country.
Not just here in Australia or in the land of our brothers and sisters in Aotearoa- New Zealand, but throughout the world.
And as we do that, we are also called to remember the contrasts that surrounds us every day.

In death, we are born to new life.
Where there is hate, love can conquer.
Where there is despair, there is hope.
In the midst of our darkness, there is light.
ANZAC Day, of all the days of the year, is a good time to be reminded of that contrast.

It is around this time of year that we also get presented with the rhetoric of ANZAC Day.
Every year in April, we all get caught up in the romance, the nostalgia and pride of this day.
What I’m talking about are those images that are given to us year after year.
I’m talking about expressions like “the glorious dead.”
I’m talking about expressions like “lest we forget.”
I am talking about expressions like “they died for our freedom.”
And while all of those things are true, we are also called to remember the other side, the contrasts of those expressions.

Through their dedication, commitment, and sacrifice, over the centuries men and women have fought to bring freedom and justice to those in our world who are oppressed.
In doing so they strived to allow those who were oppressed to inherit peace in their land and allowing them and us to continue to live in the peace that we know and experience daily in Australia. Peacemaking is work we are called to carry out by our God and in doing so we will honour those who gave their lives to bring peace to others in our world.

One of these terms we use is “The Glorious Dead,” which we give to those brave men and women who fought and died for our countries in theatres of war, in all places, in all times.
As we remember our glorious dead at services tomorrow, I’d also like us not forget the glorious dead on the other side of that front line.
The young men and woman, much like ours, who went to war.
Not in hopes of killing other people, not in hopes of ravaging and destroying cities, but in the spirit of adventure, informed by their love of their country.

These people were just like my grandfather, my uncles and my great grandmother’s brothers who boarded those ships in pursuit of what we would call in my youth, their OE or overseas experience.
Let us remember that they are us and we are them.
No matter the flag on their shoulder, no matter the colour of their uniform.
So we remember them and we do this as we affirm our conviction and belief that in times of war and conflict, our God is present and cares for us.
At this time when we remember the grief and loss that comes out of war God remains present with us.

And yet we grieve that all this achieved very little except to leave a massive wound in the common life of the nations which took part and to set the scene for future conflicts and more suffering.
We mourn Australia’s attachment to empire which drew us into a conflict which had nothing to do with us.
We mourn that this was not the first time.
We do not forget the wars fought against the first peoples in this land.
We lament that we still send young men and women off to kill and be killed and to return home damaged, in conflicts which make bad situations worse.

Is this darkness part of us?
Is war and conflict in our DNA?
Is change possible? Is repentance possible?
We must begin with ourselves, with the faith community. We confess that over the centuries the faith community has endorsed and encouraged war and conflict.
We have fought our own deadly wars.
In 1915 church leaders encouraged young men to go and fight, and endorsed the war as a crusade of righteousness. No doubt German and Austrian church leaders spoke to their flocks in the same way.
The churches supported the widely held belief that war was good, that conflict purified the nation and the people who fought in it.
The faith communities and their leaders are strangely silent in the face of to-day’s conflicts.

We confess that conflicts and rivalries within our own fellowships are normal.
We do not forget those who resisted war and accepted cruel treatment.
We remember the young women, who went to nurse men with horrible wounds, share their privations and be with them in their last hours.
But, whatever our ethnic, religious, or political background may be, the fact is our God cares for each of us, especially in times of loss, heartbreak, and tragedy.

Scripture lets us know that God is the source of all comfort, the one who comforts us in our troubles, in our distress, and in our grief.
No matter how hard we try, words simply cannot express the horror, the shock, and the pain of loss that comes through war.
A loss that cannot ever be replaced, but I believe that if our military brothers and sisters, could have said one last thing to us, it would be for us to stand tall, to be strong and courageous, to not falter and to have hope.

Men and women have over the years given courageously, sacrificially and unselfishly when their country called upon them to fight her wars.
These were men and women who were and still today are those dedicated to ideals and exhibit a strong commitment. We will even today find such people to serve in our military overseas where we’ve always found them.
They are the product of our free society.
They make a commitment to the military— make it freely, because the birthright we share as Australians they believe is worth defending.
These men and women have indeed been peacemakers like many others before them who took up arms to defend all they believe in and have faith in.

Blessed are the Peacemakers… for they shall be called the children of God.
Peacemakers who joined the military and still join the military are simple citizens who decided for whatever reason to be of service to their neighbours.
It must be said that these men and women committed themselves to their duty and they gave all they had so that peace might have a chance in another part of this world.
I would say that each of them in their own way at different times enjoyed what they did, took pride in their labour, and loved those around them.

As long as I can remember Anzac day has been an opportunity to reflect on the overall impact of war.
I remember the members of my family who served in the armed forces. But I also think of the families who lost loved ones, for those who had to wait at home hoping for the best.
I think of the places where war destroyed communities and took innocent life.
And in recent years many people have honoured the lives of conscientious objectors who even here in Australia faced great amounts of persecution for standing up for their beliefs.
For me all of these ideas are summarised in the words, lest we forget.

Yet when we return to our scripture readings for this morning, we find that we are to love God by loving others. We don’t love only those who have been correct in all their actions.
God’s grace is available to all persons.
The ministry and mission of the church aren’t based on reaching out to only the right kind of people.
The instructions given to Peter during his vision, and given through him to the Jerusalem Council, gave proof of the openness of the Christian life.
The followers of Christ were not limited by ancient traditions but instructed to reach out to all persons who are made as creatures of God.

In our gospel reading, Jesus has urgent messages for his Apostles, and for us; things that he wants to tell us before he goes away.
"I am with you only a little longer," he says, and "you will look for me, "but where I am going you cannot come."
And because the Apostles could not at that time follow where he was going, he gives them a new commandment: that they should love one another.

Now what makes this a new commandment?
It is certainly not the first time in Holy Scripture that we are told to love one another.
We are to love, not just with natural, human love, but in a way that reflects divine love.
And this commandment is so important, Jesus says, that it is the hallmark of being a Christian:
"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Jesus' commandment is that we must love one another.
We are promised that we will find him in the love that we share.
We will find him whenever the love of our brothers and sisters becomes a sign of God's love for us.

Most of us first experienced love in the arms of our parents. The effect of a parent's love on the growing child cannot be overestimated.
Any priest or minister or rabbi can tell you that an adult who has experienced unconditional love as a child finds it much easier, even as an adult, to believe in and accept God's love.
It is the adult who did not receive this kind of love who winds up in the clergy person's office saying, "God couldn't love ME, or, "God couldn't forgive ME."
Or perhaps they never visit the clergyperson at all, but just go through life feeling unloved and unworthy.

If we grew up in a loving environment, then we are fortunate.
If we didn't receive the kind of love we needed when were young, it is never too late.
God's love is always available.
God does indeed say to us, "I'll love you forever, for always--my child you will be."
And God calls us to be instruments of God's love for our brothers and sisters.
So on the eve of this year’s ANZAC Day remembrance I want to remind us and emphasise that we as Christs body are called to be instruments of God's love for our brothers and sisters.
This love must remain despite war and violence and in some ways because of it.
33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’
34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”