Today is Remembrance Sunday. When I was a boy, it was easy to know who we were remembering. It was the Canadian sailors, soldiers and airmen who fought for their country during WWI, WWII and Korea. Like many things, that has evolved over the years. While we continue to honour the traditional veterans, we also have come to realize that there are other people who have sacrificed for their country. A few decades ago we put a great emphasis on peacekeepers. Although not often in active combat, peacekeepers certainly did their part to keep warring factions at bay. Now we have tens of thousands of young veterans from places like the Gulf War, Bosnia, Somolia, Haiti and Afghanistan. In fact, the term “veteran” is now defined by Veterans Affairs to include almost anyone who has ever served in the Canadian Forces.
Some people wonder about these changes. And so today, we are going to try to answer two questions. The first question is this: Who do we honour? The second question is: Why do we honour them? Those are two great questions that I’m going to try to address today in the time that we have.
WHO DO WE HONOUR?
So, who do we honour? I’m going to keep in simple here say that on Remembrance Day we primarily honour the Canadian Forces personnel who have served this country in any way at any time and have volunteered to put themselves in harms way in the pursuit of freedom and peace. We will remember all of the men and women who have proudly worn the uniform of this country. All have made their contribution and all deserve out thanks.
The Bible has a lot to say about military people although it only actually talks about soldiers. There’s a simple reason for that. It’s because there was no navy anywhere near Israel in biblical times and the air force, of course, had not yet been invented. That means that soldiers in the Bible represent all military people. And almost always, when the Bible speaks of soldiers, it speaks of them in a positive light, as people to be admired and looked up to. In fact, we’re going to discover this morning that the Bible says four important things about soldiers.
In Philippians 2:25 (NIV), we learn, first of all, that good soldiers look after the needs of others. Paul writes to the church in Philippi about the value of another Christian by the name of Epaphroditus. This is how Paul describes him. He describes him as, “my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs.” Paul values Epaphroditus because, like a good soldier, he is willing to give himself to look after the needs of others – in this case Paul. That what good soldiers do.
The second thing we learn is that soldiers must be willing to endure suffering and hardships. In 2 Timothy 2:3 (NIV), we read, “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” I love the way the Message paraphrase puts it. It reads, “When the going gets rough, take it on the chin with the rest of us, the way Jesus did.” Sometimes a soldier has to take it on the chin. Sometimes, they are called to endure suffering and hardship. Why would they do such a thing? Partly because it’s their job. That’s what they volunteered to do. But for Christian soldiers there’s another reason. It’s because that’s what Jesus did. He suffered hardships for others. He sacrificed himself for others. He took it on the chin when he took it to the cross. That’s what good soldiers do.
The next verse, 2 Timothy 2:4 (NIV) gives the third trait about soldiers. It teaches us that a soldier must be willing set aside personal gain for the good of others. 2 Timothy 2:4 (NIV) reads, “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” What do soldiers do? They keep focused on the task at hand. They understand their orders and do their best to carry them out. They could be doing other things. They could be looking after their own needs by getting entangled in civilian affairs but they don’t do that. They sacrifice personal gain in order to follow the orders of the commander. That’s what good soldiers do.
The last verse I want to look at right now is 1 Corinthians 9:7 (NIV) which says this: “Who serves as a soldier at his own expense?” It’s a rhetorical question and the answer is that, of course, soldiers don’t do that. They are not self-employed. They earn their pay by serving others. Jesus says something similar to the disciples just before he sends them out to share the Good News. He tells them in Luke 10:7 (NIV) that, “for the worker deserves his wages.” What he is trying to instill in his disciples is not a sense of entitlement. Rather what he is trying to teach them is that they need to serve others in such a way that they will more than earn everything that they are given. That’s the fourth thing a soldier does. They must earn what they receive. That doesn’t only mean their wages. It also means that they earn the respect and admiration of those who give them orders, those who receive their orders and those in the general public whom they serve. That’s what good soldiers do.
Look at those four things. A good soldier, first of all, looks after the needs of others. Second, they are willing endure suffering and hardship. Third, they set aside personal gain for the good of others. And fourth, they earn their keep and the respect of others by doing what they are called to do regardless of the cost. Put all of those things together and what we have is the description of what a good soldier should be like.
Those are the people we honour this week. When you look at someone who has served this country in uniform, I hope that’s who you see. Don’t get me wrong. I know that not all military people fit that description. There are always going to be a few bad apples in the barrel and I’ve met more than my share. But I hope that when you see any veteran, young or old, you give them the benefit of the doubt and ensure that your first assumption is that this person is probably someone who has done this country proud.
The nice thing about Windsor and Essex County is that I think that people here really get it. As a Chaplain, I got to travel a lot and I got to talk to a lot of Canadian Forces personnel who lived in many parts of this country. And nowhere, apart from a city that has a military base, do Canadian Forces members get the kind of respect and admiration that they get here. I can’t tell you how many times I wore my uniform into a store on my way home from the armoury or into a gas bar and received an extra smile and a better level of service than I would in civilian dress. It’s true. Some shop owners will even offered discounts just because I was in uniform. It was their way of saying thanks and it was always very much appreciated.
Today, we take a few moments to honour those who sacrificed for all of us whether they were in recent conflicts or the wars of long ago, whether they served in the army, navy or airforce, whether they served overseas or at home. We honour those who have worn the uniform of this country and volunteered to put themselves in harm’s way in the defense of freedom and peace. That’s who we honour.
WHY DO WE HONOUR THEM?
The next question is this: Why do we honour them? I want to go back to the four ways that the Bible describes soldiers. It says that they, first, look after the needs of others. Second, they are willing endure suffering and hardship. Third, they set aside personal gain for the good of others. And fourth, they earn their keep and the respect of others by doing what they are called to do regardless of what it might cost them.
What we see in this description is a person who is willing to give all they have and all they are for others. There’s a word that brings all of these traits into focus and that word is ‘sacrifice’. Good soldiers are willing to give to the point of sacrifice. Good soldiers are willing to sacrifice everything that they have for those they have volunteered to defend and support.
Throughout the generations, good military people have sacrificed themselves. They have given themselves to the point of death in order to fulfill their mission and work towards a cause that they believe in. It is a humbling experience to walk through the graveyards of Europe and see the thousands upon thousands of graves lined up neatly, each inscribed with as much detail as can be known about the person whose remains are buried there. On many of the headstones in WWI cemeteries there are precious few details. More than half the graves are unidentified and the vast majority of soldiers have no known resting places.
The WWII cemeteries are very different. Most of those graves are identified but to see the number of sacrifices is almost mind numbing. Ruth and I visited cemeteries in 2006 when we toured France and Belgium. We never got used to the silent awe that enveloped each sacred place. They contained the graves of men from all across Canada and, while some of them were middle aged, most of them were eighteen to twenty-five.
We don’t bury our dead overseas anymore. That’s mainly because we don’t have to. We put them on planes and bring them back to Canada where they are buried near their homes where family and friends can visit and remember. The sacrifice of these veterans are not as prominently displayed en masse but they dot the land in hundreds of communities.
When we think about sacrifice, that’s often what we think about. We think about those who gave their lives. Right behind them are the ones who came back home alive though wounded. They are the ones with missing arms and shattered legs. They are people like Mike Barnewall of Kingsville who lost his leg below the knee in Afghanistan. They are people like Bill Kerr whom I knew in Sudbury when we were together in the Irish Regiment. Bill is the only triple amputee from Afghanistan having lost both legs and his left arm. For every soldier who is fatally wounded there are many more who must live for the rest of their lives with the physical evidence of their sacrifice.
Then there is the last group, those who survived and have no apparent physical injuries. Those are the ones whose sacrifice was not of the body but of the mind. There are lots of those and they live with their injuries every day just as certainly as do those with physical injuries. They live with the sights, the sounds, the touches that won’t go away, that intrude upon their thoughts and invade their sleep especially at this time of year when so many memories come back as we remember.
We honour all of these people and more because of their sacrifice, because of their willingness to put themselves in harm’s way for us all.
THE VALUE OF FAITH
The sacrifices of war a both physical and emotional. They are also spiritual. Early on my own struggle with my own operational stress injury, I used to attend a support group. I was surprised by how few of those people had any sense of faith. In fact, I would say that many were actually hostile to religion of any sort. I never blamed them for that. There was a sense that the church – if they had ever attended – had let them down, that their faith – if it had ever really existed – had let them down and that even God had let them down. Interestingly, it was okay to have me around as their Padre but that’s only because they didn’t openly identify me with the Church as much as they saw me as part of the military. That was our connection. It was an interesting dichotomy that while they wanted me to be there, they didn’t want what I represented for most people and they certainly didn’t think that Jesus had anything of any substance to offer them.
I have to admit that that surprised me because, more than anything else in my life, it has been my faith that has pulled me through the tough times. During the times when I felt most hopeless, I knew that God was still there. During the times when I wasn’t sure about my own physical or mental health, I knew that I was spiritually connected to a power far greater than myself. And in those dark, dark moments when I felt like I was being swallowed in the pit of despair, I felt the hand of Jesus down there in the pit with me and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was not alone. I can’t imagine living without that assurance of faith and yet I know that there are those who struggle through life without it. Frankly, I don’t know how they do it.
It’s interesting that the Bible records only one thing that Jesus said about soldiers. It is found in Luke 7:9. In this story, a Roman army officer has a much loved but very sick servant who is near death. Being a Roman he does not want to insult Jesus by approaching him himself so he sends some of the Jewish leaders from his community. This is the message those Jewish leaders share with Jesus: “My servant is sick and I know that you can heal him if you want because you have the authority and the power to do so.”
Jesus’ response to the officer’s request is really quite surprising. In Luke 7:9 (NIV) he says, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Think about that. Of all of the people whom Jesus met in Israel. Of all the Jews and all the Samaritans and everyone who have come to be him to be healed, delivered or just to hear what he has to say. Of all of those thousands upon thousands of people, this Roman army officer is the one who has the most faith. And because of that, his servant is healed.
I guess my question to the Church might be something like this: How can we as the Church of Jesus Christ better represent his Gospel to the military members who need to hear it. How can we honour their sacrifice, the physical, emotional and spiritual wounds that they must live with every day? How do we reach out to them with the love of Jesus that is so desperately needed in their lives? Now don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of faithful people in the Canadian Forces. There are a lot of people who are committed to Jesus and take their faith very seriously. But there are so many who need that faith.
More than anything else, I want their experience here next week to be a positive one and to that end, I want you to do something. I want you to pray. I want you to pray that God will move their hearts and open their eyes so that the Holy Spirit may plant within them the seeds of faith that they so desperately need. Let’s honour their sacrifice. Let’s let them know that we care. Let’s provide an opportunity for Jesus to let them know that he cares as well. After all, of all people, Jesus knows what they go though. Hebrews 9:28 (NIV) says this: “… so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” Jesus himself exemplified the traits of a good soldier. He looked after the needs of others. He was willing to endure suffering and hardship. He set aside personal gain for the good of others. And finally, on the cross, he earned his keep and the respect of others by doing what he was called to do regardless of what it cost him.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of Peace, in the quiet we come to you asking for your blessing and grace. This world is a wonderful creation of your making. We see around us beauty that defies description. We are blessed with possessions beyond our needs.
We thank you for our freedom. We come and go as we please. We walk the streets in safety, unafraid of snipers and land mines. We go where we want to go and do what we want to do. Much of your world, however, is bound by chains. Many of your children are imprisoned by structures and attitudes that keep them from being all that you made them to be. Many are unable to speak out for fear that they will be punished for their words and actions. Break the chains that bind them, O God, that they may live lives of joy and happiness. Write your Good News upon their minds and hearts and enable them, with the necessary help, to complete their struggle for freedom.
We thank, God, for the many people who have fought to secure all that we have. We remember, this day, the many sailors, airmen and soldiers who put their lives on the line for the cause of freedom and justice. We mourn the millions who died to put an end to tyranny. Help us to appreciate their sacrifices so that we may learn how to avoid needless pain and suffering.
We remember all those who have been sick this week but especially those who have been sick at home or in hospital: Carol, Mark, Rachel, Richard and Angela come to mind. Bless them and all of us with your Healing Spirit that we have life in the fullest.
In all things, God, remind us of Jesus, who, in his life, showed us how to life, in his death, paid the price of our sins and, in his resurrection, gave us the gift of eternal life. It is in his Holy Name that we pray. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
November 7, 2021 / Pentecost 24 / Proper 27 / Remembrance Sunday
Ruth 3:1‑5, 4:13‑17; Psalm 127; Mark 12:38‑44; Hebrews 9:24‑28
CALL TO WORSHIP
We have come to the house of the Lord;
it is a house built upon the foundations of love and justice.
Let salvation ring from the rafters;
as we praise our great and compassionate God.
We come to you, O God, as the one who is the Maker of all heaven and earth. Your majesty abounds in the world and in our lives. Your strength lifts us up above our problems and anxieties and sets us down in safe places. We need you now. We need you to open our hearts to the wonder of your love. We need you to point out the areas in our lives where we need to find healing and growth. Come to us in our act of remembering and celebration. Speak to us in tender words of love and faithfulness. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Merciful God, thank you that you have shown us how to extend kindness to others, even when they may wrong us. Because of you and the work you have done, we can be free from feeling compelled to respond in vengeance. Instead, with your help, we are able to pray for others when they do hurtful things, which will cause a greater change in their lives than our angry response would have done before. Help us today to be thankful for this and all you have done to bring peace and harmony into the world. We come to you with our personal prayers of confessions …
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Thanks be to God who gives us life in Jesus Christ. He broke the chains of sin and death. He gave us the gift of salvation and eternal life. We claim those gifts when we give our hearts to Jesus, confessing our sins and receiving the forgiveness that only he can offer.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
We thank you, Father God, that you have counted us worthy to receive blessings and gifts and talents. Out of the great abundance that we enjoy, we bring back our tithes for your work in the Church. Keep us mindful, however, that these gifts represent all that you, in your generousity, have given to us. Give us the courage to use all that we have for your holy purpose. Amen.
Having praised and prayed, having heard and seen, having read and remembered, we prepare to leave to go back into the world. Through the wisdom of God, we are called to go forth with grateful hearts to walk the road of faith to wherever it may lead, knowing that we are never alone through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord.