Haggai 1: 15b â€“ 2: 9
Luke 20: 27 – 38
Delivered by Rev. Ron Coughlin
in the reading of the scripture, may your Word be heard;
in the meditations of our hearts, may your Word be known;
and in the faithfulness of our lives, may your Word be shown.
This morning, I want to share with you a story. This is a story which comes from a woman who was a young girl during the Second World War. Her name is Ann Weems and she is a poet who has written a book entitled Putting the Amazing back into Grace. While this is her story, I have edited her writings to suit this occasion. Listen to this childhood reflection of life during the war. While the situation is World War II, I think the story still applies to our situation today.
This is her story:
When the War came, hate came, too. It sat on our doorsteps and came into our living rooms and sang its seductive songs from our radios. The newsreels at the movies filled our heads with certain images of the enemy: German soldiers with their high-step marching, and later the Japanese in their fast-flying suicide planes, and Mussolini, who seemed to spend the war waving from his balcony. Enemy faces, evil and monstrous, watched us from billboards along highways and posters on the sides of buildings.
We all knew how wicked and horrible our enemies were, while the Allies were the good guys, courageous and true. You can imagine my surprise, then when our parents asked us to consider not singing the very catchy and popular patriotic war tune: â€œPraise the Lord, and Pass the Ammunition.â€ My father was a minister and said, â€œThink about the words you sing.â€ It had never occurred to me that war was a theological matter. I had forgotten how upset some of the people were when my father preached a sermon on peace just before the Second World War. I thought our whole family was as patriotic as could be.
My father stood in the doorway, extra gas ration coupons in his hand, as he explained to us again, before he drove away, that he would never use the extra coupons except to call on the sick or to drive to conduct a funeral. I knew he was going now on a trip he didnâ€™t want to make. He was going now to comfort a family whose son and brother had gone to war and was never ever coming home.
Sometimes I would hear the phone ring in the middle of the night, and I could hear my father call to my mother: â€œMissing in Actionâ€. Then he would call out a name, and stirring sounds would begin. As I heard the water splashing, the kettle whistling, the door closing, and the carâ€™s engine starting, I would repeat the name over and over and over into the silent darkness of my room. One night in the haziness of sleep, I overheard my mother and father talking and suddenly realized that they were talking about my father enlisting in the war. He said that he felt he was not making the same sacrifice that the other men were makingâ€¦ the men who went away to war. My mother said that she wanted to be brave, but that my father could hardly expect her to be brave when it came to losing him. That made us think our father was going away to war, and we would never see him again. I began to say my prayers two times each night and begged God not to let my Daddy go to war. Sometimes I cried, from the fear of it. My father said that there was nothing to fear, but fear itself. I said, â€œOh yes, there is!â€ There was the fear that my Daddy might go off to war.
My father decided to see the Navy Man in charge of chaplains. This Navy Man asked my father how he felt about going off to war. My father said he didnâ€™t believe war would ever solve the problems of the world, but felt he should take the same risk and responsibility that the men in his church took. He said he wasnâ€™t afraid to go to war, but he couldnâ€™t kill anybody and certainly couldnâ€™t hate the enemy. He wanted to do his part to help the men who had gone to war, the ones who might need him when they were scared or dying. He said heâ€™d hoped that he might make a good chaplain to the men who would be facing war and death. The Navy Man looked him right in the eye and asked if he realized that he, too, would be facing death. My father said it wasnâ€™t death he was afraid ofâ€¦ it was not doing the right thing, not being faithful.
After they talked, the Navy Man said that he thought the best thing my father could do for the men who went to war was to stay home and care for their families while they were away. The Navy Man told him that sometimes the hardest thing was to stay home. Even so, my father decided to take the medical test just in case the Navy might need him in a hurry. When he came home he said that the Navy told him he couldnâ€™t see well enough to hit the side of a barn, and so he couldnâ€™t join the Navy, but thank you anyway.
I knew my father felt bad, afraid he wasnâ€™t doing his part, afraid he wasnâ€™t doing the right thing, afraid he wasnâ€™t being faithful, so we tried to cheer him up when we told him that all the ladies and the children and older men who couldnâ€™t go to war were happy that my father would be there with us. So my father stayed home and the other men went away to war. Over and over and over again these men told my father â€œThank youâ€. So my father was doing his part for the war effort even though he thought he was not doing as much as the other men.
My mother had a victory garden, full of onions and radishes and green beans, and she was proud to tell us she was doing her part, too. She even got a job for the war effort. She would get up early and take a bus to the plant and was a manager until we got out of school. Then she would rush home and make us an after school snack.
Each Sunday, my older sister, Gladys, invited soldiers who attended our church services to come home and have dinner with us. My father said he was amazed that my mother could manage to feed so many, so often, with so small a piece of meat. We called her the casserole queen, but vowed weâ€™d never eat tuna again when the war was over. Our mother could even make Spam taste goodâ€¦sort of. She said it was the flavour of the onions and garlic that she grew in her victory garden. Besides, she said, garlic is good for what ails you.
We were patriotic children, too. We took the labels off each tin can, removed the bottom of the can, as well as the top, so that we could flatten the cans and the tin could be used in the war effort. My brother even learned how to knit, and knitted an orange sweater to keep someone warm, someone in the war. My mother was terribly proud of him for this, and I could imagine some poor soul far, far away, overseas, right in the middle of the war, bombs exploding around him, no food, no place to hide, but in the midst of all this, he was warm, because he was wearing a bright orange sweater that my brother had knitted.
We knew we were all patriotic, but some of those people who criticized my father, because he preached Peace, said he was a sissy and a communist. My father said just ignore them; they didnâ€™t know what they were talking about.
Every night we said our prayers and prayed that the people in our church who had gone to war would be safe. My father said what about the people in other churches and what about the people who didnâ€™t go to church. My father said that Jesus prayed for everybody, so I added â€œall the people from Canada who are fighting in the warâ€ to my prayers
My prayers were getting very long, and I thought surely there was nothing else I had to include, when my father said â€œWhat about the German children whose daddies are fighting in the war?â€ â€œThatâ€™s the enemyâ€, I answered. â€œGerman children?â€ he asked. Then my mother came in, and I was glad because I was very confused about the war and the enemies and Jesus, and people I should hate, and people I should love. She said that right now there were little German children saying their prayers to God, asking God to keep their daddies safe. I had no idea that the enemy prayed. Just like meâ€¦
So I added to my prayers â€œall the children of the whole wide worldâ€. It was not long after this that it occurred to me that I should also add their daddies and mommies and everybody who wanted to live in peace. My father heard my struggle and said that Jesus told us to pray for our enemies. I knew he was going to say that! In my heart I knew my Daddy wanted me to pray for our enemies, but I had visions of evil soldiers (the enemy), and visions of the good soldiers (the Allies), and I thought it would be unpatriotic to pray for the enemy. So I decided that I would just pray for â€œeverybody in the whole wide worldâ€. The trouble with that was it would shorten my prayers, and my mother would turn out the light a lot sooner, and Iâ€™d have to go to sleep too early to suit me.
My brother said that I ought to knit sweaters for the boys overseas. I suspected he still had some bright orange wool somewhere. I donâ€™t know why he thought that would solve my prayer problems.
Gladys read a story called â€œThe First Christmas Tree.â€ Of all things, the first Christmas tree wasâ€¦ guess where? Germany! I was skeptical until my brother told me it was true. He knew all sorts of things nobody else ever knew. When I started thinking about the German daddies and mommies and little children decorating the Christmas trees to celebrate the birth of Jesus, I knew for sure that our enemy loved Jesus. If we loved Jesus and the enemy loved Jesus, why were we killing each other?
My father said now I knew why he couldnâ€™t hate the enemy. From then on, I thought of our enemies as people just like we were, sending their daddies and their brothers off to war and decorating their Christmas trees and wondering if they should include the enemy when they said their prayers and got tucked in at night. The enemy was just like we were, trapped in a war none of us wanted. But why would some people want war? My mother said it always came down to this: Power and Money.
How could that be, I said, if Jesus tells us â€œto love one anotherâ€? Everyone knows it, my father said, but doing it is another thing. My mother said it was very hard for her to love the people who hated my father, but that she prayed that God would give her the strength to try.
â€œWellâ€, I said, â€œI donâ€™t love the people who are mean to usâ€, remembering that only last Sunday my brother and I had talked about how much we did not like one of the women in the Church who had been mean to my brother. The only reason she had been mean to him was because she did not like my father because he preached about loving other people who were not like ourselves. We had to love her? Jesus says, â€œlove your enemiesâ€, my mother repeated.
Oh-Oh, this was much more complicated than I had realized. I didnâ€™t love that woman one bit! In fact my brother and I had seen her coming down the hall last Sunday and we ran the opposite way. I was laughing and scared all at once, as we ducked into the stairway and hid. It was so much fun. My father said we especially had to love the people we had the most trouble loving. The hardest thing, he said, was to forgive someone who didnâ€™t ask for forgiveness, but if we donâ€™t, the hate in our hearts festers like a boil. â€œWhat if we still hate somebody?â€ I asked my father. Well, he said, â€œThrow yourself on the grace of God.â€
That night I had to ask God to forgive me for hating the woman who was so mean to my brother, but I didnâ€™t really start loving her. The next Sunday during the Bible Quiz, I jumped up and gave the right answer. The Mean Lady said no, that was wrong, and told me to sit down. A boy sitting in front jumped up and gave the same answer, and she said â€œRight Bobby. Very goodâ€. The people sitting around me started looking at me and saying, â€œThatâ€™s what you said!â€ Afterwards one of the other teachers told the Mean Lady that I had been correct. I went home and told my mother and father that the Mean Lady hated me, too. My brother said she was probably a spy, and my father said, â€œNow, nowâ€, and my mother rolled her eyes.
At prayer meeting on Wednesday night, the Mean Lady came toward me and before I could get away, she grabbed my arm and said that she was sorry about not hearing my answer correctly and would I please forgive her. I said, â€œYesâ€, and then she told me she was getting a hearing aid and felt so bad about all the mistakes she had been making lately. She said she hoped I would like the chocolate cake she had baked for tonightâ€™s refreshments. She said the cake was a favourite of her grandsonâ€™s who had gone off to war. When I told my brother what she had said, he said maybe she wasnâ€™t so bad after all. So we forgave her because she asked us to and she made really good chocolate cake. We even felt sorry for her because we thought she was scared and sad about her grandson being in the war. My father said some people canâ€™t be very nice when theyâ€™re upset about something. It doesnâ€™t excuse them, he said, but it does explain them.
I asked my father, if I threw myself on the grace of God, would God forgive the meanness in me. He looked at me and I thought I saw a little tiny smile on his lips when he said, â€œI didnâ€™t know you had any meanness in you.â€ â€œYes, I didâ€, I said and told him how much my brother and I had hated the Mean Lady, but now she had said she was sorry and her grandson was in the war, and sheâ€™s deaf, and we had forgiven her, and she makes really good chocolate cake, and will God forgive us? â€œNo doubt about itâ€, my father said. My father said that we were learning about love and hate and what Jesus came to tell the world, and he thought we were doing a good job of it. Looking back I had no idea that today weâ€™d still be working on the same thing.
I never knitted an orange sweater to keep somebody warm during the war, but I did learn so many years ago that war never solved anything in the world or in the church, that Jesus said, â€œLove your enemiesâ€, that hate festers in your heart until it boils over and devours your soul, and that when you feel yourself overcome with hatred, itâ€™s time to throw yourself on the grace of God.