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Gospel According to Everyone: Memories of War.

Pentecost 22, Common Lectionary Year A   

Psalm 78:1-8

©2014 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

This sermon was accompanied by a powerpoint slideshow of images from the Canadian Archives, the British War Museum, and images publicly available via Wikipedia/Wikimedia commons.

Friends, I stand here with notes in front of me,
and still I don’t quite know where to begin.
Because in all honesty, I have nothing of value to say
on this or any Remembrance Sunday.

I am part of the “privileged” generation
for whom “War” is little more than an abstract concept.
I was born in the 1960s, in England.
Too young for Korea,
too far removed from America’s war in Vietnam.
My own parents were children during World War II,
and their parents were part of the stoic
“keep calm and carry on” generation
who said little about war, and next to nothing
about the brothers and uncles who didn’t come back from
Passchendaele, Ypres .

So when the Psalmist pleads with us to tell the generations at our knees, and those yet unborn,
the stories of our ancestors,
the stories of God’s presence,
guidance in times of horror,
I have nothing first hand to say.

But I am not empty handed.
I have in front of me, and written on my heart,
the stories so many of you
have taken time to share with me
in the past few weeks:
letters, emails, conversations in my study,
in the corridors of this church, at the store.

I stumble though, because
I cannot begin to convey my gratitude,
and the feeling of grace, privilege and awe
that you all would entrust these precious
memories to me in the hope that
I might be able to find Gospel in them,
and use them to make this Remembrance Sunday
ours, close to this home
and these hearts.

Thank you to Elaine, Sami, Renate, Hans, June,
Marne, Beth, Ernie, Sam, Lynn,
Carmen, Elizabeth, Cathie, Diane,
Vincent, Jennifer, Marg, Joan, Hannah,
John, and a few others who don’t want to be named.

These people shared memories from all sides of the last century’s conflicts:
Russia, Poland, Germany, England, the Philippines,
Japan, Canada, France, Korea, the Falklands, the Gulf.

Names of places, hitherto known only through the impersonal lens
of history books and documentaries, like
Arras, Cambrai, Vimy Ridge, Stalingrad, Vladivostok, the Somme,
Juno Beach, Berlin Auschwitz, Logow,Dieppe, Bataan, Mindoro, Cairo, Coventry, Luzon, Manila,
now have names, faces and your personal memories attached to them:
our brothers, fathers, uncles, mothers, sisters, aunts:
Victor, Theo, Dory, Gordon, Adelina,
Bruce, Callum, Norman, Else ,Michael, André,
John, Stella, Maximilian, Douglas, Raymond,

Our generations,
who were soldiers, seamen, airmen, chaplains, physicians, nurses, home guards,
women working in factories
or in War Services committees
while the men were off at the front.
Mothers who endured the unspeakable to protect and save their children,
teenagers who lived and loved and lost too many of their friends to war,
children left to parent younger siblings.
Your memories of haphazard or non-existent schooling,
of the unforgettable smell of a gasmask,
the indelible memory of the sound of Ak- Ak guns and buzz-bombs,
of nights spent in air-raid shelters, cold barns,
roofless, waterless, houses.

Our generations include servicemen fathers who came home to children who didn’t know them,
many with silenced memories of unnameable atrocities,
many broken in body, mind, spirit, and the burden of survival.

I would not be able to fathom, nor tell,
if you hadn’t shared with me your memories of displacement
and separation through evacuation,
fleeing through the winter ahead of advancing troops,
of being interned because of race or surname;
of being packed by the hundreds into tiny boats
to cross Atlantic or Pacific in the search for safety, and a chance to live.

If this were all I were to tell
of the stories that have been shared with me,
I dare say we would all leave this place
harrowed and cowed,
disconsolate at the horrible impact of war,
hatred, fear, conflicting ideologies.
We would despair, rightly,
at the human capacity to hurt and destroy.

But that would make me a poor steward of your stories.
For in each and every one of them,
there is more to be told.

Like pinpricks of light peeping through a blackout curtain,
Gospel shines out from these memories of war.

If I am to be true to this Gospel,
I must tell you of
Christmas worship in the ruins of a bombed out church, the sense of eternity and hope in the midst of destruction;
Strangers donating ration coupons so a widow could make a wedding dress for her daughter;
Tiny acts of kindness or compassion
from a guard in a POW camp.
Sending care packages to family back in Europe, sharing secretly hoarded rice in the Philippines;
Chaplains and survivors taking time to visit with the families of fallen comrades;
Young people falling in love, birthing babies and hope for a better future;
Fidelity in all its forms leaps out of each of these stories;
“Resilience,” so many times in these stories; coping, carrying on, quelling fear in order to protect, discovering strengths no one knew they had,
Creating normalcy, and faith and love amid the ruins;
The irrepressible sound of laughter,
song, music, love, optimism.
As one of you wrote,
“Living with the threat of death,
life became more precious, valued,”
the desire to live it honestly and fully all the more strong.

Today’s Psalmist sings:
“We will tell the generations,
stories we heard from our fathers,
counsel we learned at our mother’s knee,
of the wonders that God has done among us…”
For 72 verses, the psalmist sings the history
of the people of Israel –
the highs, the victories, the lows, the horrors, the disasters,
all the while repeating this refrain:
That hidden in all human history,
and especially its failures,
is God – faithful, compassionate,
Giver of hope, of love, and life.
The Source and sustainer of human strength,
and of resilience.

With thanks to the 23 Gospellers of Cedar Park,
who entrusted me with the wartimes chapters
from the stories of their generations,
we are heirs to a sturdy Gospel
forged amid the horror of war;
a Gospel of Life, that defeats death,
a Gospel of Hope, that defeats despair,
a Gospel of Love that outlasts hatred, fear, greed
a Gospel of holy and human Fidelity, and Resilience.
a Gospel of God lived in human commitment
of our ancestors to a bequeath a better life for us.

This is the Gospel of God in Cedar Park
we will remember;
and will tell the children at our knees
and those yet unborn, so that they in turn
can live this Gospel, and pass it on to their children.
For their sake, and ours, and for God’s sake.
Amen.

 

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