Saturday, 7 November 2015

Homily for Remembrance Sunday

 (Jonah 3.1-5,10; Hebrews 9.24-28; Mark 1.14-20)

The Gospel reading today gives us the call of Jesus to his first disciples: “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” The modern translation doesn’t have quite the resonance of the older version, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” But they’re saying the same thing. The urgency of the cause - recognizing that the Kingdom of God has come near - and the need for people who will proclaim it, even if it means leaving their livelihood, home and family.

Reading these words in preparation for Remembrance Day I have found myself reflecting on another rallying cry - Lord Kitchener’s, “Your country needs you!” The original in fact was “Your King and Country need You - Enlist Now.” Kitchener then appeared with the words we remember on the front of a magazine, “London Opinion,” at the beginning of September 1914. The famous poster of the Edwardian Field Marshal actually carried the words, “Your country wants you.” Just how to motivate recruits for war was a matter of critical importance for the generals of the time. Patriotism, bonds of friendship (joining up together with your workmates) and a sense of hating the enemy all played their part.

Whatever the motivation of those who fought, today we remember the victims of war. Inevitably we look back to the time of Kitchener and the First World War which saw a greater loss of life for our nation than any other conflict in which we have been involved. Just look at the names on our War Memorials. Too many for the Second World War with its clearer moral purpose. Still more again for the First Great War - and still we agonise over the motivations and morality of that conflict. We look back and honour the courage which took people from work, home and family as they sought to serve their country. But we do more than simply harken back to a history played out a century ago… We recognise the dreadful impact of war on the lives of millions to this day.

Last week I watched the film “American Sniper.” It may seem almost flippant to talk about a movie as we come together and remember the reality of war. But that is what the film attempts to explore. If you haven’t heard of it, you should know that it made more at the box office last year than any other film - and in fact it has grossed more than any other war film in history. We need to pay it attention if only because it drew so many people who paid to go and see it. And then there are the issues it raises… If many of us here think of Remembrance in terms of the First and Second World Wars, it’s a reminder that those conflicts go on - brutally - and they leave their scars not only on the battlefield but in the lives of loved ones left at home and those who finally return.

The film is the story of Chris Kyle, a marksman with the US Navy Seals, who undertook four tours of duty in Iraq. He wanted to serve his country and signed up after the 9/11 attacks. In the course of his military service he was credited with more “kills” than any other member of the American Forces - 160 officially recognized, probably many more than 200. I wasn’t sure I wanted to see the film, afraid that it would glorify the killing. And it was a sniper who killed my great-uncle in the First World War. But there is an arguable moral purpose as to what Kyle was doing: not merely picking off the enemy but seeking to protect those with whom he served. But at a cost - the first people he targets are a young mother who approaches his unit with a rocket propelled grenade launcher and then the child who picks it up after she falls.

It’s a devastating story which takes its toll both on Kyle and his family until he is unclear as to who he is and what he is doing. Eventually he is discharged, he needs psychiatric help, he tries to re-build his life and he seeks to help other veterans too. Until finally one of those veterans, suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, kills Kyle and a friend at a shooting range.

It’s a true story. It doesn’t seek to make an argument. It doesn’t challenge the decisions of nations which take them to war for what they consider the right reasons. But it tells us of the cost.

It’s the cost we remember today. “Your country needs you!” became the rallying cry to recruit so many to the national cause. We may want to challenge our leaders as they deliberate on matters of war and peace. But we can only feel for those who seek to serve - and for the victims: the dead, those who bear wounds both physical and unseen, their families. And as we ask the question “why?” we remember those who suffer in the world’s battle zones today, and those who flee them.

“The Kingdom of God has come near… believe the good news,” says Jesus. But how can we make it a reality? That’s Jonah’s question - who resists the call of God to preach to the people of Nineveh, that city of Iraq still in the news. Yet when he finally goes to them it makes a difference - we’re told they repent and turn from their evil ways. We cannot give up on our resolve that this world should be a better place, that there should be moral purpose, justice and peace for all.

Jesus sees Simon and Andrew casting their nets, and calls to them - and they follow. Further on he calls to James and John, the sons of Zebedee. The Gospel tells us that they were in their boat, “mending the nets.” I’m struck by this observation. The call to us as Christians - as disciples of Jesus - as people who work for a better world - is not merely to cast the net, to be at the sharp edge of things; it’s also to have patience, to be net-menders. And that way we may honour those who have gone before us in their task.

No comments: