This year my wife Gaynor and myself were at one of our favourite churches, Tubestation in Polzeath (www.tubestation.org) for Remembrance Sunday. It is quite a few years since I have been called to preach on Remembrance Sunday.
The following sermon is one I preached on 10th November 2002 at Wennington Parish Church.
John 15:12 – 17
12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
It has been said that history repeats itself because its lessons are never learnt. Perhaps it would be appropriate to add that what lessons are learnt are not always remembered.
Maybe you have seen the film of JRR Tolkien’s book “The Lord of the Rings”, which is an epic struggle of good against evil. In the opening sequence of the film after an heroic battle in which the evil Sauron was defeated and the ring of power was not destroyed as it should have been, the narrator states “some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend; legend became myth…”
Most of the problems suffered by the people of Israel detailed in the Bible were brought on themselves because they forgot their history. They consistently forgot the amazing things that God had done for them in the past, as well as the instructions and warnings he had given them through the law and the prophets. Just look what their forgetfulness, their failure to remember God, lead to; the Northern Kingdom, Israel, was overrun by Assyria and disappeared for ever as they went into exile. The Southern Kingdom, Judah, was conquered by Babylon and its people sent into exile for 70 years.
With these thoughts in mind, it’s good to remember those who fought for our freedom in the great conflicts of the past. Not only those who gave their lives but also those who survived, sometimes living with the physical, mental or emotional scars of war for many years.
I realise that as each year passes there are fewer people alive who actually took part in the major conflicts we tend to remember. According to the Imperial War Museum there are now only 39 British combatants left alive from the First World War. So for many World War 1 is now part of history and the stories of the awful conditions in the trenches fade into myths and legends. Many of us alive today have no concept about how awful it was to be there, despite TV programmes such as “The Trench” and school excursions to visit the Flanders battlefields.
Sadly the conflicts did not end with the “war to end all wars” as World War 1 was styled. Since then we have seen many wars and armed conflicts and we are faced now with global terrorism following the events of 11th September last year. And there is also the possibility of war in Iraq again because the coalition leaders who fought Iraq some 12 years ago failed to remember the lesson of finishing the job they had started. They should have read the story of Saul in 1 Samuel 15.
In all of these conflicts, amongst all the horrors of war, the carnage and destruction there are acts of heroism and sacrifice mostly done by quite ordinary people. A distant relative of mine ran a machine tool company and yet for his deeds of bravery and heroism in World War 2 he earnt the Military Cross.
It is as Jesus said “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Old soldiers will tell you about the comradeship and friendship in the height of battle and that they fought for their friends survival more than fighting for the generals and politicians.
This was illustrated as we witnessed the unfolding events in New York last year and saw the heroism of the emergency services’ personnel as they risked their own lives to rescue those trapped in the World Trade Centre’s twin towers.
The fact that some one is willing to lay down his/or her life for their friends is amazing enough and maybe we would be willing to do that in certain circumstances.
There maybe those of us who have children or grandchildren or are just young at heart and have seen the animated film “Ice Age” in which a strange collection of animals including a mammoth, a sloth and a sabre tooth tiger, having rescued a baby boy attempt to return him to his tribe. At one point the tiger is about to fall down a cliff into a lava flow when the mammoth saves him at the last moment. When the tiger asks the mammoth why he put himself into danger to save him, the mammoth replies that that is what you do in a herd, you look after each other.
Perhaps we would even go as far enough as to put our life at risk for complete strangers. But what about our enemies? Would we be willing to die to save those who hate us? Those who perhaps seek our own destruction?
Just look what Paul wrote in Romans 5: 7 “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
If you have not made the decision to accept Jesus as your saviour and to do things God’s way, as opposed to your way, you are in rebellion against God; regardless of all the good deeds you do or how often you go to church. If you haven’t made that step of trusting in Jesus for your salvation, you are opposing God. Put simply you are doing what Frank Sinatra sang about “ I did it my way!”
Yet the truth is that Jesus died for us all. The moment we, as rebellious sinners. acknowledge that and tell him that we are sorry for how we have lived and that we now want him in our lives, we in effect change sides and are no longer God’s enemies but his friends. How wonderful!
Jesus called his disciples his friends. At that time, Rabbis or teachers would regard their disciples more as servants, particularly as the disciples would have chosen to follow a particular rabbi. Yet we are told in this passage from John’s gospel several reasons why Jesus regarded his disciples as friends:
- “You are my friends if you do what I command“
- “I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you“
- ”You did not choose me, but I chose you”
What was Jesus’ command to those whom he called his friends? Well v12 tells us “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
I think that is a very difficult command. Think about the bunch of men Jesus had chosen: Simon a terrorist, Matthew who collaborated with the hated Romans, Judas who would sell him for 30 pieces of silver, Peter who would deny him, and James and John who were keen to have the best places in the kingdom of heaven..
We tend to find it hard enough to like each other, but to love each other when there are so many things to dislike in each other and get annoyed with? Although I am sure we don’t have any terrorists in our fellowships, there maybe people who we won’t choose to be with. After all some who like traditional hymns just can’t cope with those who like those “happy clappy” modern worship songs. They in their turn can’t stomach those zombies who just sing those awful Victorian dirges. And so it goes on. Just remember in the Bible are examples of both exuberant praise and more reflective worship.
Perhaps it would be sensible to just have a definition of the type of love Jesus was talking about. Love is giving without measuring the cost or seeking personal advantage.
Can we love like that? It is difficult and it can be costly. After all it cost Jesus his life.
Jesus states that servants don’t know their master’s business – they are kept in the dark about what is really going on unless they need to know to do their jobs. However as friends of Jesus the disciples were told as much as Jesus knew they could understand and then once he had gone to heaven the Holy Spirit was sent to guide and inspire Jesus’ followers. Check out John 16: 13 & 14.
And thirdly, Jesus chose his disciples not the other way round. This was not the accepted tradition. Why did he choose them? John 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name“.
Remember that as Jesus’ disciples we have been chosen by him for a purpose, not just to be a holy huddle. We are chosen to go and bear fruit for Jesus.
This is something I believe will be unpacked in Judy’s sermon next week so I will not steal her thunder by majoring on this right now, but I will just say that as well as discipling others and bringing them to God, we should have the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Galatians 5: 22 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. These are not qualities that we can normally produce on our own, but come as we submit to Jesus and allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. If we are obedient and becoming more Christ like then God our Father will answer our prayers.
The object of discipleship is to become like Jesus and so we should follow his example of sacrificial love and remember “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
Perhaps in this country we will not be called to be martyred for our faith, but it happens in many places though out the world. I understand that in the last century on average 100,000 Christians a year died for their faith.
Of more challenge to us here and now is that maybe God is asking us to be prepared to give up or sacrifice something we value to help our fellow believers or indeed those who have not yet come to faith.
And so this Remembrance Sunday let us pray that not only do we remember those who fell in the wars that kept us free, but also we remember Jesus’ supreme sacrifice for us which shows just how much he loves each one of us: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
Prayer: Father God, this Remembrance Sunday help us to remember with thanks those who sacrificed there lives and their futures to safeguard our lives and futures. Also Dear Lord we thank you for your son Jesus who lay down his life for us his friends and commands us to love each other. We ask that through the power of your Holy Spirit you will help us to love each other. In Jesus name. Amen.