It is 90 years since the end of the First World War. We are here at the 11th hour of the Sunday closest to the 11th day of the 11th month, when all those years ago the guns fell silent for the last time in the War that was meant to end all wars; the war that was supposed to change the world because it had been so costly that we could never allow it to happen again. But of course it didn’t and just a few years later the Second World War began. So many wars. So much death and destruction.
But the memories fade with the passing of those who witnessed those terrible times. We seem not to learn.
There are only a very few men who served in the British Forces in The Great War still alive. The youngest is 106 years old. Their comrades have long since passed and they will soon follow and there will be no one left to tell us how it really was on the fields of Passchendaele where a million men died and 2 million were injured.
It seems a strange contradiction, to fight for peace. I’m sure that applying violence to resolve a problem is not what we are called to do but yet there seems little option sometimes. Throughout the Old Testament the Israelites called on God in times of war. They carried the Ark of the Covenant before them into battle. It seems that things may have changed little as leaders from around the world claim God for their side.
God is not on one side. God is not on both sides. It seems to me that God stands in the middle of our conflicts pleading for us to find a better way, pointing to the path of peace, despite our best efforts to ignore it. It never seems strange to me that the most ardent advocates of peace are those who have seen war. Listen to these thoughts:
‘I’m only an old man now – my hair is grey, my face lined and my back bent. Only an old man. But I’ve got memories. I remember the wars. I remember how we fought to rid the earth of evil, to make the world a better place. I remember the blackouts and rationing, newspapers filled with battles lost and won, ships sunk and planes missing. Countless millions dead, dying on foreign fields and in strange waters.
And yet – there was a dream. After the war things would be different – things would be better. We won. The war, as all wars must eventually do, ended. We won, and now, looking back, I wonder?
Did we lose that for which we fought? Were we simply swept along powerless on the tide of history? Did we try to control events, shape them for a better, finer world? Or did we only swim with the ebbing tide of dying visions?
And you, young with the strength of youth, will you also be swept along? Controlled by self-centred dreams and selfish visions? You have all the things we did not, leisure, money, affluence. Too late for me, and perhaps too dangerous for you.
But we had a dream, a burning, shinning vision. We would remake the world, a world with peace and harmony, a world of respect and love, a world of truth and righteousness. But it was only a dream.
Now, I confess, I do not like this world. Perhaps my generation failed you. We did not make this world, and yet, we built it. Forget, if you will, our suffering and disappointments. But please, please an old man. Take up our dream, our feeble vision. Make it a shining beacon in a world without hope. And take up hope, not in princes or armies; not in political systems and leaders but in the God of hope.’
Wars are begun by people without hope. Fear dominates people without hope. Life is not worth living without hope.
This world has too much war and too much fear and not nearly enough hope.
Our faith is founded on hope. Hope because there is a better way. Hope because Jesus showed us that way. Hope because good men and women stand against injustice and oppression wherever it is found.
Hope is what got America’s first black President elected. The hope that people change, the hope that past injustices can be overcome and the hope that the future can be better.
Obama’s campaign was built on hope. It inspired people to donate, to get out and knock doors, to talk to their friends, to stand in line for hours to vote. When was the last time you felt inspired to be that involved in anything?
The church should be a place that gathers people, that nourishes people and inspires people to go out into the world with hope.
Change comes in all kinds of guises and in all kinds of places but it only ever comes in one way. People make change. People make change.
People gather around an idea, around a vision, around hope, and they make change.
Ghandi said ‘You must become the change you want to see in the world.’ And he was right. Change involves commitment. Change involves passion. Change involves service and change involves sacrifice.
What is your passion? What is your hope?
Is your hope to see a world at peace? Is your hope to see a world of justice? Is your hope to see a world where all are equal and all are valued?
How will you make that happen? How will you be the change you want to see in the world?
Today is a day of tension for many Christians. We find violence to be the wrong way to solve our problems and yet we realise that sometimes in our past evil was only defeated by force. Evil was defeated by ordinary people who stood up and made a difference.
So today we honour them. We still our minds and we remember our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbours. Those ordinary people who did that most extraordinary thing, they gave up their lives, not just for a friend but for people they had never met. For hope.
We remember them. We remember their fear, their grief and their hope. We remember and we dare to dream that our world can be a better place. We dare to dream that an old man’s feeble vision of a world of hope, a world built in the God of hope, could be more than a dream. This world is ours. It is of our own making. Whose image have we built it in? Our own, or have we built it in the image of the God of hope?
It’s never too late to step out on the path of peace, never to late to build cities of hope, never to late to take up an old man’s dream, that feeble vision and let it shine like a beacon for all the world to see. Hope.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them. We will remember their hope and we will take up their hope and build a better world.