COVENANT AND GRACE World War 1 - Global conflict and the Individual: the lawlessness and duplicity of war
Preacher: Canon Neil Thompson, Precentor
8 March 2015, 10:30 (THE THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT)Fight! fight!! fight!!! fight!!!! fight!!!!!
– that cry goes up across the land and the
world every day in playgrounds, schools, streets, fields, homes, pubs, clubs and indeed anywhere.
People lose their temper and lash out physically, violently and irrationally. And often, a brawl will draw a crowd, a crowd that delights in the raw emotion and the prospect of blood being drawn and spilt.
The Bible is full of it – and all of us without exception are perpetrators and victims of anger and violence.
The passage for our Old Testament reading is a seminal one in Jewish history: the giving of the Law of God to Moses on Mount Sinai and it is followed by Moses’ anger at the sight of the golden calf – an anger that boils over – and he breaks the stone tablets containing God’s law into pieces.
And Jesus too, loses it in today’s reading.
In the Temple he explodes violently at the Temple traders – pushing over their tables, pouring their coins out over the floor and driving them out with a whip which he has made.
This is a very different Jesus from the one we immediately picture – and if we were truthful spectators we would be shocked and cowed at such an explosive temper and violent outburst.
Yet that is part of our make up as human beings – and that is why we need to be aware of our emotional irrationality and ensure that it is integrated and made safe through the order and healing of God’s love and grace.
Our passions make life interesting but they do not make it easy.
However, neither Moses nor Jesus was criminal or immoral in their anger for it is only when it leads to hurt and harm in violence and assault that it is wrong. Jesus may have dented and broken a few pots and cages but nothing is reported of any casualties.
The pages of the Old Testament are full of God’s anger and wrath and it is graphically expressed in death, disease and vengeance through the history of the Jewish people.
It is our human interpretation that has portrayed God as an avenging warrior and it is challenged and transformed by the Christian revelation of God in the crucified Christ and as a servant master and king.
We need now though to return to our anger and the way that it so easily becomes violent and turns to bitterness, resentment and hatred.
These corrosive qualities are not only expressed in passionate fanaticism but also in the detachment and calculation of cruelty and torture.
So there is the danger and the constant threat; we know that people are not going to stop fighting.
Civilisation has perhaps found a real help in competitive sport which helps channel and release pent up aggression and rivalry.
And in a democracy, party politics is a classic example of how human difference is expressed through controlled hostility and battle albeit the war of words and ideas.
In this centenary of the First World War we can see how much the world has changed from the time of Moses and Jesus when wars were local and contained by simple weapons and limited communication.
And the First World War and its immediate consequences are a powerful and intrinsic part of the world’s political anguish today.
Technology and communication have turned killing and warfare into an ever present global threat.
If you look at the list of the wars being currently fought today printed in your service book you will see that they involve all the continents save Australasia/Oceania and Antarctica, so that 65 nations out of 196 are currently at war.
But in particular as we reflect on the legacy of the First World War this Lent, we have to focus on the Middle East which has dominated our news in recent years.
World War 1 saw the defeat and the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, a Sunni Islamic state formed in 1299 and lasting until 1922 when new states and political realities were formed out of it.
The result was the creation of Turkey and the artificially drawn lands of Syria, Iraq, Greater Lebanon, and Transjordan – territories divided between British and French zones of influence.
Also, towards the end of the War in 1917 the Balfour Declaration gave Britain’s support for the creation of a national home for the Jews and laid the foundations for the emergence of Israel.
Ethnic, religious, sectarian and tribal differences were more or less ignored and this sees the genesis of the troubles that continue to afflict us today.
The dying embers of one war so easily become the sparks of the next – and the next.
In these three Lenten sermons reflecting on the Great War, the concepts of trust, sacrifice and self-giving, and today, covenant and grace have been identified.
In a world of warfare and violence Christians see these qualities and powers as the gifts and charisms of God to bring healing and forgiveness, justice, understanding and peace.
It is God’s life and law that enables us to live creative and fulfilling lives in this world and to know that we are called to be inheritors of eternity.
War is lawlessness and duplicity in the face of God and his abiding and eternal truth.
We know that under certain circumstances evil has to be resisted and eradicated by force of arms and so there is the concept of a ‘just war’ where certain conditions need to be satisfied before a war should be declared and prosecuted. They are:
- The war must be for a just cause.
- The war must be lawfully declared by a lawful authority.
- The intention behind the war must be good.
- All other ways of resolving the problem should have been tried first.
- There must be a reasonable chance of success.
- The means used must be in proportion to the end that the war seeks to achieve.
As Christians the covenant that we live out with God is one of grace, the unmerited power of God to forgive and remake each individual and society itself.
This is the power of the cross. Its violence is taken by Jesus and transfigured by love. The universality of our warring and destructive humanity is touched and healed by the pure unfailing power of God’s grace.
That violence is prefigured in the cleansing of the temple.
This violent and highly dangerous action has often been interpreted as a protest against the commercialisation of the sacred temple but Jesus’ anger may have had a different cause.
There was a ‘court of the Gentiles’ in the temple and beyond this no Gentile dared venture under threat and penalty of death.
So much for the passage in Isaiah that Jesus’ quotes in St Mark’s gospel:
My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations. But you have made it a den of robbers.
And the presence of the moneychangers may well not have been the commercialisation of a holy place but the practice that money had to be changed so that Gentile money was excluded.
Jesus is protesting that Israel had failed to fulfil her universal mission to humankind and thought that she could get away with preserving the mere externals of ceremonial and sacrificial worship.
Jesus sought a radically new direction to religious and all human life.
It is found in him; in the grace of unconditional suffering and redemptive love.
It is this that we must be faithful to in our politics, our laws and economics, our culture and our mindsets.
There is indeed a fight: the struggle to let God live in us and amongst us. It is the vision of peace and the end of war.
Let us pray:
the folly of the cross
mocks our human wisdom,
and the weakness of the crucified
puts worldly power to shame.
Banish from our hearts
every pretence of might and of knowledge,
that by the power flowing from Christ’s resurrection
your people may be raised up from the death of sin
and fashioned into a living temple of your glory.
Grant this through Christ, our liberator from sin,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
holy and mighty God for ever and ever.
WAR IN THE WORLD TODAYList of ongoing Conflicts
Updated on February 18 2015
(27 Countries and 175 between militias-guerrillas, separatist groups and anarchic groups involved)
Hot Spots: Central African Republic (civil war), Democrati Republic of Congo (war against rebel groups), Egypt (popular uprising against Government), Libya (war against Islamist militants), Mali (war against Tuareg and Islamist militants), Nigeria (war against Islamist militants), Somalia (war against Islamist militants), Sudan (war against rebel groups), South Sudan (civil war)
(16 Countries and 146 between militias-guerrillas, separatist groups and anarchic groups involved)
Hot Spots: Afghanistan (war against Islamist militants), Burma-Myanmar (war against rebel groups), Pakistan (war against Islamist militants), Philippines (war against Islamist militants), Thailand (coup d’état by army May 2014)
(9 Countries and 72 between militias-guerrillas, separatist groups and anarchic groups involved)
Hot Spots: Chechnya (war against Islamist militants), Dagestan (war against Islamist militants), Ukraine (Secession of self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic)
(8 Countries and 195 between militias-guerrillas, separatist groups and anarchic groups involved)
Hot Spots: Iraq (war against Islamic State Islamist militants), Israel (war against Islamist militants in Gaza Strip), Syria (civil war), Yemen (war against and between Islamist militants)
(5 Countries and 25 between drug cartels, militias-guerrillas, separatist groups and anarchic groups involved)
Hot Spots: Colombia (war against rebel groups), Mexico (war against narcotraffic groups)
Number of Countries involved in wars 65
Number Militias-guerrillas and separatist groups involved 614