Homily - Remembrance Sunday

 

War is always brutal. War is sometimes necessary, or just, but by its very nature it brings havoc and horror. War, as we have just been reminded costs and shortens lives. There is nothing glamorous about war.

I often wonder what it must have been like during the war years to be a parish priest in a place such as this.

And, in all honesty I often wonder how reassuring words such as the ones we have heard from St. John’s Gospel really were to the families of those who lost sons, grandsons, fiancés, husbands, brothers, nephews and cousins.

No one brings up a child to die in war. Perhaps this is a message the world needs to constantly re-learn?

Such is the horror of war, and such is the magnitude of the sacrifice paid by the soldiers who lost their lives, a sacrifice also born by their loved ones, that is right that we remember them by name.

I also think it is appropriate that we give all who paid the ultimate price one last rank or title and, because there is equality in death, the title conferred should be common to all: FRIEND.

To willingly sacrifice one’s own life for the benefit of others, especially when there is no certainty of a beneficial outcome is the ultimate act of friendship. So today let us not just recall the names of those who lost their lives in war, but let us also say thank you, you were a true friend, now rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

 

Sermon: 3rd Sunday before Advent: Jonah 3, 1-5 &10, Hebrews 9, 24-end and Mark 1, 14-20

 

On Friday I was looking through the jobs page of the Church Times – don’t worry I am not looking for a job – but simply to see if I could find some material for this homily. And, I could! It seems that there are a lot of churches looking for leaders – inspiring leaders. READ ADVERTS

But not many churches are looking for followers. And, given that the first word that Jesus speaks to the apostles is ‘follow me,’ this is a bit strange. Maybe.

So here is a question: ‘which is harder leading or following?’

I think it is always harder to be a follower. The composer Leonard Bernstein was once asked ‘what is the most difficult instrument in the orchestra to play?’ Quick as a flash he replied ‘second fiddle.’  The problem with playing second fiddle is that it takes real humility.

We also have plenty of biblical evidence that people of faith find it difficult to be obedient followers: Jonah has to hear the Lord telling him to go to Nineveh for a ‘second time.’  James and John later in the Gospels get their mum to ask Jesus to elevate them to senior positions; one on the right hand of God and one on the left. Peter is to struggle with both John, the beloved disciple, and St. Paul. Following, playing second fiddle, it seems doesn’t for many folk come entirely naturally!

But as Christians it is undoubtedly the case that our first calling is to play second fiddle. Jesus, not us, is the head of the Church and, the Holy Spirit is our guide. Following, as Jonah was to learn, has comprises listening to the Word of God and then doing as he was told; listening, humility and obedience are the skills and virtues to be developed by the true follower of God. Do we listen, are we obedient?

One final thought: Jesus immediately after calling Andrew and Simon invites James and John to join his band of brothers. There is some suggestion that James and John were cousins to Andrew and Simon. In Luke’s Gospel we are told that they were business partners. We don’t know if their venture was successful, we don’t even know whether they got on. But we do know that they were all to be given a new identity as Disciples of Christ, or as ‘fishers of men.’ Andrew and Simon didn’t chose James and John; Jesus did. Sometimes in the life of the Church we simply have to accept that Jesus invites people to become followers who we might not intuitively warm to, and so we have to trust; trust that God knows what he is doing, that he sees things in other people that we fail to see. That his judgement is infinitely superior to ours.

So there you have it one skill – listening – and three virtues – humility, obedience and trust that are necessary for all who truly aspire to be a follower of Jesus. 

So here is my final question, or challenge: Are you prepared to play second fiddle? It’s an important question because if we can all answer in the affirmative then we will fulfil our shared vocation to become fishers of people.

Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

I thought I would spend a few minutes reflecting on two topics; reality and certainty.

Reality is in some ways easier to deal with. We are all here today because our feelings are very real. We know how we feel.

I think that the two bible passages – both well known and much loved passages – deal with reality and certainty, although such is the beauty of the language that these themes can get strangely lost.

Let’s start with the 23rd Psalm. The psalmist pulls no punches in suggesting that we are all going to walk through ‘the valley of the shadow of death.’ In fact the Psalm realistically depicts life as an accompanied progression into and beyond death, finishing as it does, with its great conclusion: ‘and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’

For people of faith this is part of the great certainty.

St. Paul in his most famous of anthems also offers is something which we can hold as an unfathomable truth.

‘Now faith, hope and love abide, and the greatest is of these is love.’

Many of you, I hope all of you, know this to be true. You know the power of love. You know that you have loved, and continue to love, those closest to you who you see no more. It is unfathomable because you can’t prove it, but you do know it. You know it because you have and continue to experience it.

And here is the really good news:

If the Psalmist is correct, you and I will continue to be enriched through the power of love, when we come to the place where we will dwell forever. If St. Paul is also correct we will know love even more fully than we do now. In fact we will abide in love forever. And because love exists in relationship with others we can dare to hope that we will be with those who have gone before us.

I frequently end my funeral homilies by saying I can offer only two certainties: that the person who has died loved you, and you loved them, and that it is this level of certainty that allows us to truly join in with the words of the Nunc Dimitus: ‘now let your servant depart in peace according to your word.’ And, the word that we are referring to is of course love.

Love is both real and certain.

Love is, and must always be, the last word.

 

Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown