Vicar’s Sermon – Remembrance Sunday 2021

My father and my brother both have beards. Now I do too. I gather it adds gravitas …though what that says about the last 30 years of being vicar I’m not sure. I’m told that I look like my dad. I confess I have always struggled to see family resemblances. There are some people who look at a picture of their latest niece or nephew and are confidently able to say ‘ooh, he’s got your eyes’ or ‘Look, she’s got her mum’s nose’. I’ve never ‘got that’. But, as the years have gone on it really does seem as I my dad’s genes will out. What’s the phrase: the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. Or ‘ we’re like peas from the same pod’? I have his sense of humour. … that’s a little worrying. And despite not having lived at home for 43 years I have dad’s mannerisms and turns of phrase. What with the addition of the beard I think I may well be turning into him

What about you? Who do you look like? And if you don’t look like your parents do you act like them?

I ask, because in amongst the words that we heard read to us from Jesus’ teaching we heard him say ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called children of God’.  In what way are those who are peace makers ‘God’s children’? My guess is that it is more to do with how a person acts rather than how they look but can you see that if peace making is what makes someone a child of God then that would suggest that peace making is something crucially important to Him – it’s part of his character, something  that we are encouraged to copy or emulate and to live out.

Being a peace maker isn’t easy. Being the person in the middle of an argument, trying to sort out a way forward can be a very uncomfortable experience.  On a day like today  (Remembrance Sunday) our thoughts might perhaps go to those who are peacemakers at a national or international level: diplomats, envoys, civil servants and bureaucrats – people we will never know but who work behind the scenes trying to reconcile people whose disagreements have turned to violence. These peacemakers rarely get a good press. Their work is misrepresented by everyone who has an opinion about the dispute in question…and yet their work saves lives: their work brings an end to fighting…or prevents it starting in the first place. We should pray for them, pay for peacemakers.

On a day like today (Remembrance Sunday) we remember that peace making comes at great cost.  All wars end with negotiated ceasefires and truces – space created for the peacemakers to begin to reconcile parties that would (and do) kill one another. There was no peace possible with the National Socialism of the second World War – not until it had been disarmed at great cost to the uniformed and civilian populations of the whole world …. that cost, in lives lost, is one of the things we remember today but we also remember that it is not enough to win a war, the peace must be won too.

The temptation in any conflict (whether between nations, or at work…or , at a domestic level, at home) is to the basic reactions of fight or flight. We avoid conflict – we run from it (yes, me too): or we engage with it too closely (holding it to ourselves by either pretending the grievance doesn’t matter or going into battle to ensure the other person gets their come-uppance). The peacemaker must hold a third position: they don’t compromise on what they think or who they are but respectfully hear out the others involved in a dispute to find common ground for a way forward. As we thank God for peace makers we thank God for marriage counsellors, probation officers, HR officers and Union Officials who mediate between people at odds. Peace at an international level can only prosper if we know how to make peace in our everyday lives: at home, at work, within our nation.

Being people of peace is hard…and yet this day, Remembrance Sunday, we (as a community) make a commitment consciously  to pursue peace. Peace is much more than the absence of war: far more than a sullen, uneasy truce…people, nations, even members of a single family just not speaking. Peace involves hearing out the person we fundamentally disagree with, plumbing the depths of any argument, getting out into the open things we would rather not hear before moving on with honesty, integrity and hope. Peace making takes courage. It may well involve huge emotional strain as we stay in touch with those it would be easiest to dismiss or demonise.

Christian people are called to show the family characteristics of their heavenly Father – to be peacemakers. Why? Because we know that reconciliation, (peace-making) is a Godlike characteristic. How do we know this? Because of the example of Jesus. Somehow he manages to hold together humanity with all its wonder but all its fallibility and the things of God. The symbol of this reconciliation between heaven and earth is the cross that adorns our churches and with which every disciple is signed at their baptism or christening. The cross rooted in the earth and reaching to heaven but also reaching out to embrace all comers with an energy that comes from unconditional love and forgiveness. At the cross Jesus gathers together people who fight, people who disagree, people who argue, people who need peace.  Broken on the cross Jesus reminds us of the cost of peace – this is what we do to him, this is what we do to one another – but God takes it and says ‘Forgive them…they don’t know what they are doing.’

As we remember those whose lives were given and taken away in world wars and conflicts past and present we honour them best by winning the peace they sought: committing ourselves again to work for  healing, well-being, respect, reconciliation, community, welcome, hospitality, love, joy, care and justice for every person here, across our country and throughout the world. Those we honour knew full well the value of peace and it is they who spur us on: for indeed  ‘Blessed are the peacemakers: they will be called ‘children of God.’’

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