November 9, 2014


Passage: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25, Matthew 25:1-13

Call to remembrance

As we come together on this remembrance Sunday we come with humility in our hearts and pause to reflect that the human condition has often led to wars in which nation rises up against nation. On this day, we reflect and remember those who served in two World Wars, the Korean War and the current struggle against Al Quaeda and ISIS. By remembering those who have served and given their lives, we do not honour war; rather we remember that some have been called to defend our freedoms and way of life and lost their life.

In “Wars and Genocides of the 20th Century,” Piero Scaruffi estimates that 160 million people died in wars during the 20th century alone. We remember our troops, especially those who died but also......the London woman who did not make it to the bomb shelter in time, the children playing in the park when Japanese planes flew overhead at Pearl Harbor, the bewildered Jews exterminated at Auschwitz, the child incinerated in Hiroshima and on and on....

However, in the Christian Church we respect two different approaches to the issue of war.   From the earliest time of the Christian Church, pacifism was seen as the only possible way to fulfill Jesus’ command ‘to love your enemy.’ In the fourth Century, Augustine gave voice to the so called ‘just war theory’ a carefully crafted position which always saw war as a difficult but last resort option. Our present situation of dealing with terrorism is a totally new experience and different approaches are required to combat it.

Bringing reality into our own day and our own country we are shocked by the murders of Canadian soldiers Patrick Vincent and Nathan Cirillo. We pray that God will comfort the families and heal the wounded. Our moderator added these significant words: “We also pray for the families of the attackers for they must be in great pain today. They too are God’s children, and thus our sisters and brothers. We remember before God any troubled young men and women in our country who may be tempted into a distorted world of violence and hatred. To them we say, “there is a better way.” He continues...

It is time for us in the church to be about our business - to follow Jesus.It is to repay no one evil for evil., but overcome evil with good., to relieve the needs of the poor, to stand with those who are oppressed and always to point to the hope that lies in the gospel. Doubtless we shall often fail in this task, but it is better to fail in following Jesus than to succeed in anything else”. = Stephen Farris

Today we remember those who have served and given their lives. Their verygraves cry out to us to find a better way! To give peace a chance. During this moment of silence, we invite you to remember.

Wise Choices - Give peace a chance

Josh. 24:1   Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God.   2 And Joshua said to all the people, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors-- Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor-- lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods.   3 Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.

14 "Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.   15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."   16 Then the people answered, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods;   17 for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed;   18 and the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God."   19 But Joshua said to the people, "You cannot serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.   20 If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good."   21 And the people said to Joshua, "No, we will serve the LORD!"   22 Then Joshua said to the people, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him." And they said, "We are witnesses."   23 He said, "Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel."   24 The people said to Joshua, "The LORD our God we will serve, and him we will obey."   25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.

Mt. 25:1   "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.   2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.   3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them;   4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.   5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.   6 But at midnight there was a shout, `Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.'   7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.   8 The foolish said to the wise, `Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.'   9 But the wise replied, `No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.'   10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.   11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, `Lord, lord, open to us.'  12 But he replied, `Truly I tell you, I do not know you.'   13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Today is remembrance Sunday. We gather in this place of worship to humbly acknowledge the courage, the sacrifice of those who went before, believing in the cause of justice and righteousness. However, the very enterprise of war itself reminds us all of how far short we fall as human beings, not measuring up to God's will for us and not achieving God's desire that we enter into abundant life. So the act of remembering allows us to reflect upon the past and its heroics as well as its failures.

There is a sense in which all of life is like that. Our own stories represent both times of great heroics and times of shortcomings. As Dietrich Bonhoffer once observed: “Nothing tests one’s faith more than belonging to a community of faith.” In this context, one has to interact with complainers, grumblers, and accusers. In community there are generous people, and miserly people, rude people and kind people, people who love justice and others who don’t care; people of great compassion and others of extreme apathy; we are all here and I want to remind you that these polarities are also found in our very own selves. At times I am generous and at other times not; at times overflowing with compassion and at other times apathetic. Thus we need to be careful when we criticize one another; the mirror may look very similar to one’s own image.

I wish to share some remembrance stories with you. When Annemarie grew up in a one room school house in rural southern Manitoba, she felt very uncomfortable each Remembrance Day. Since her background was Mennonite, an historic peace church, the teacher always made her feel that her people were second class citizens. Because they were conscientious objectors, instead of bearing arms. they performed alternate service My father on the other hand from the same tradition, decided to teach cadets airplane recognition during the war. As a result he would have to wear a uniform Saturday mornings. Since he wore a uniform, he was refused communion by his own church. Thus we left the Mennonite fold, and my first church school experience was in the United Church.

Even when they were in Russia and had to flee following the Bolshevik Revolution, some Mennonites decided to protect their villages in Russia by taking up arms and forming a Self Defence League. Otherwise there communities were at the mercy of the bandits. But it created huge controversy within the community, for they wanted to honour their strong religious orientation to pacifism.

A war vet from W.W.II became a close friend. He and his wife had no children of their own and they sort of adopted ours. Although his wife was very active and became my secretary and then an elder in the congregation, he remained an adherent. As I got to know him better, the story finally came out. Profound doubts had arisen within him from the time of WW II. He was in the Merchant Marine and had been torpedoed by a German U boat in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Deep within the bowels of the ship, he could see a faint light and struggled to the surface even though he could not swim. Covered with oil from head to toe his captain did not recognize him. However he was quickly cleaned up and they were rescued. Was there a loving God who would permit such wars to go on? After several years, Alf finally joined the Church. Rather than blame God for allowing wars, he came to see that war itself was evidence of human depravity and humanity stood in need of God's redemption. This has always been true.

When Moses gave his last will and testament he challenged the people with these words: Deut. 30:15   See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.   16 If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,   20 loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Following the death of Moses, it was the responsibility of Joshua to lead the people into the promised land. God promises: Josh. 1:5 As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.   9 I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."

As Joshua nears the end of his life with the people safely ensconced in the promised land, he calls the people to remembrance. "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors-- Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor-- lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods.   3 Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. 14 "Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. Along the way they had much to learn about their God. From the time they crossed the river and came up against the fortified city of Jericho to the end of Joshua’s life, God was with them on their journey. This time not merely as a guide and protector through the wilderness, but also as one who fought their battles for them.

What does this have to do with Remembrance Sunday? As Christians, whenever we gather at communion we are to eat and drink in remembrance of Jesus' death and resurrection. But the ancient Hebrew people also had to remember. By the end of Joshua’s time, the people had entered into a period of relative peace. They were now in the land, and could anticipate prosperity to begin. Yet Joshua knew their hearts. Their history was one which indicated that old patterns would continue with them and they would soon forget their God. In order to combat these natural tendencies, Joshua urges them to remember that:

1) it was the Lord who brought them up out of the land of Egypt

2) they are to continue in the service of their God by obeying and following his precepts and commandments; not to be seduced by the gods of the Canaanites.

3) to commit themselves to the one true God. Joshua reminds them that this a serious choice. God will not look lightly upon their saying one thing and doing another.

To Joshua's challenge: "incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel," the people respond: "The LORD our God we will serve, and him we will obey." As the covenant is enacted, a stone is placed as a witness against them, a stone which heard the great protestation of loyalty to God, for the covenant is always enacted before a witness.

Unfortunately the unfolding story of the people of Israel, often is like the unfolding history of the church - a people who make a good start and then forget what is important. By the time of the great prophets, the people had seriously drifted from their God, and God would use political enemies to bring them to their senses. An alternative reading for the day comes from the prophet Amos. Am. 5:18   Alas for you who desire the day of the LORD! Why do you want the day of the LORD? It is darkness, not light;   19 as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear;" There was a vain hope that because God was with them, God would overlook their lack of concern for justice. However God is not fooled. "Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.   24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

At the turn of the 20th century, optimism reigned supreme. The world was seen as getting better - the social gospel was in the ascendancy in which the kingdom of God was to be ushered in. Prosperity and peace were the order of the day. Britain ruled the waves, and the colonial empire was seen as its birthright. Who could have predicted that the 20th Century would witness two devastating wars which impacted life on several continents? Who would have thought that genocide and ethnic cleansing would still be seen as policies to be espoused as the end of the century?

Humanity has made tremendous strides in the last century whether it be placing men on the moon, the International space station orbiting the earth, women finally emerging in their rightful place;[altho incidents like Gion Ghomeshi and the House of Commons this week remind us we have a ways to go], the mapping of the human genome, marvelous advances in health sciences. With the advent of computer technology, there seems to be no limit to what can be accomplished. Indeed, the information revolution is easily as significant a development as the industrial revolution at the beginning of the 18th century. But we still cannot solve the fundamental issues around war and peace. We still do not give peace a chance.

Like the people standing before Joshua, we are called to make choices. Which are the gods within our culture that remain attractive to us? I am not speaking of the multiplicity of religious options confronting us in a multi- faith age. Rather, what holds our allegiance without our even knowing? How have we slowly become servants to a global economy where increasingly decisions are being made by governments around the world based on what is good for the economy, (the ruling elite often) rather than what is good for the citizenry of the nation. In order to pay down debt, developing nations often have to go to cash crops such as coffee, to service their debt while many of their own people starve. Joshua called upon the people to remember their freedom from bondage which was accomplished by their God who brought them out of Egypt.

Yet, the choice of YHWH does not allow me only to pray for fellow Christians. If YHWH is God of all, then my choice of YHWH bids me pray for all who call on the name of God, whether that God be called YHWH or Allah or Vishnu. If I cannot so pray, than I have not chosen YHWH, but rather a tribal God of Christians only, or, worse yet, merely some American Christian godlet, who is finally no god at all. Yes, even those who claim no God at all must equally be subjects of my concern and prayer. As you can see, the choice of YHWH is a radical choice indeed! Thus, be careful how you answer the demand of Joshua, as he asks us all to choose today whom we will serve. That choice has the most serious consequences for how we live, whom we love, how we act. The Bible can provide crucial insight for our modern lives, as this brief look at the choice of YHWH makes all too clear.” - John Holbert

Walter Brueggemann “Joshua attests to his community that he and his household have chosen covenantal life with YHWH, the God who has given both the land and the commandments of Sinai. But he fully recognizes that other choices are available, other gods and other ways of life. And a decision must be made! Israel, and the church, must decide again and again about identity, about defining passions and loyalties. And beyond religious community, the civic community continually needs to decide again what kind of society it intends to be.”

This decision may be made in a formal ceremonial way, thus we have frequently reiterated patriotic occasions. like the observance of Remembrance Day and the wearing of a poppy. But more powerfully, these decisions are made by public action, by policy formation, by budget priorities, and by the shape and nature of the infrastructure of the community.

The either/or that Joshua presents has immediate practical social consequences. A decision for YHWH entails socio-economic justice. A decision for the "other gods" leads inevitably to socio-economic exploitation, the accumulation of wealth at the expense of neighbours. Such a "religion" without commitment to social justice will eventuate in communities of economic failure,

On this Remembrance Sunday, it is important to remember that this kingdom of God has a great vision in which the lion and the lamb lie together; in which nations learn war no more; and instead of discussing missile defence shields, that discussion centers upon turning weapons of destruction into tools for production. [swords into ploughshares].

The consistent refrain of so many veterans who have served in the various wars of the last century is: 'do not go there.' Remember this day the many who have given their lives. Remember this day the God we are called to serve. Remember this day the call of Christ for us to be peacemakers! These are wise choices which lead to life. Give peace a chance.