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Remembering War, Remembering Gospel

Pentecost +23, Common Lectionary year A

Psalm 78: 1-8

©2020 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

Intro to Scripture

I’ve said this before on the Sunday
that falls closest to Remembrance Day;
that I feel ill equipped to speak,
because I am part of the “privileged” generation
for whom “War”
has been long ago, or far away.
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, Vimy, the Somme.
And as for my own adult life,
it has been lived in locations far removed
from the global conflicts of the 21st century.

So when the Psalmist pleads with us
to tell the generations at our knees,
and those yet unborn,
these dark tales of our ancestors’
history, the heroic feats and fidelity,
and the foolish, wayward forgetfulness
and violence,
I have nothing first hand or of value to say.

Back in 2014, some of you gifted me
with your treasured remembrances
of both world wars, other wars you
or your family members experienced,
to be shared as part of a fall worship series we were doing
called “the Gospel according to Everyone.”

I can’t believe it was six years ago,
because those remembrances are now etched on my heart.
Through your remembrances,
you’ve taught me that my privileged pacifism
must be educated, not ignorant.
It must be a peace-child
born out of war’s anguish,
war’s dark sayings….
lest, as the Psalmist Asaph sang,
“we should become like our ancestors,
a stubborn and rebellious generation
whose hearts wander, forgetful,
far from the heart of God.”

Asaph tells us to remember,
to teach “the dark sayings from of old”
not just fairy stories.
He demands that we do not
re-write the past to erase our wrong-doing,
to erase the victim,
to minimize the terror,
a lesson, it seems,
we have persistently failed to learn,
as we finally come to a season of
reckoning with our white-washing
erasure of the dark secrets of our
supremacist past.

That’s tough teaching,
it’s actually the opposite
of what Crosby, Stills and Nash
proposed, when they sang
“you, of tender years,
can’t know the fears that your elders grew by.”

This psalm, all 72 verses of it,
makes sure, that we do tell our children
the fears, the failings, the faults, all of it,
for without, its wisdom rightly says,
we’re doomed to fall into similar folly,
over and over and over again.

This year, when outright racism and facism
have been given oxygen,
by the rantings and tacit complicit silences
of those who should know better,
the task of remembrance of all
our generations’ dark as well as heroic tales,
seems all the more vitally important.

We must remember war that upended lives
in Russia, Poland, Germany, England, the Philippines,
Japan, Canada, France, Korea, the Falklands, the Gulf.
We must teach our children well the names of places,
where great uncles, and ancestors three
and four generations ago with names;
Victor, Theo, Dory, Adelina, Gordon,
bled their life into:
Arras, Cambrai, Vimy Ridge, Stalingrad,
Vladivostok, the Somme,
Juno Beach, Berlin, Auschwitz, Dieppe,
Bataan, Mindoro, Cairo, Coventry, Luzon, Manila.

We must teach our children well,
that bakers, and accountants, and secretaries,
aunts and nieces, uncles and nephews,
signed up or were conscripted
as to become soldiers, seamen, pilots,
chaplains, physicians, nurses, home guards,
munitions factory workers, land girls, codebreakers.

We must teach our children well
that the wars of the 21st century
kill more civilians than ever,
with drone attacks and cluster bombs,
and chemical weapons.
We must teach our children well
that the toxic fallout of weaponry
scars land and river and air, kills wildlife.
That survivors of war still shiver
at the unforgettable smell of a gasmask,
can still taste the metal of
blood diluted rice fields.
Now that that generation has died out completely,
taking their silent horror with them,
we, our privileged generation,
are left to pass on to our children
the meaning of names on stone,
of poppies on a breast,
of brick chimneys left to scrape the skyline
with the word “Remember.”

But this is not all we are to remember
and pass on to our children,
Justin, Leo, Zoe, Michael,
David, Vivian, Alice, Sophie, Maia, Alex,
and to those yet unborn.

We are also to teach our children well
to look for the light,
peeping as if through a blackout curtain,
the light that draws poppies from the mud of Flanders fields,
the light that shines in darkness. Gospel light.
For, as Asaph sang,
“The steadfastness of God
is seen in every generation.”
We must teach our children of the works of God
in the actions of humanity;
of Christmas worship in the ruins of a bombed out church;
of strangers donating ration coupons
so a widow could make a wedding dress for her daughter;
of tiny acts of kindness from a guard in a POW camp;
of care packages, food drops, children knitting socks for soldiers;
of survivors carrying lockets, letters and mementoes
back to the families of fallen comrades;
of love surviving years of absence,
crossing barriers and boundaries;
of joy, laughter, play, resilience, ingenuity,
and a keener sense of sacredness of life,
of courage, and resilience
and rising above through art, and song, and friendship.
And of the conviction growing stronger through it all,
that life is about more than war,
that the future is worth believing
in with all we’ve got,
because God is in that future,
keeping true to the Dream,
even when we forget.

With thanks, these six years later,
to the 23 Gospellers of Cedar Park United,
who entrusted me with the wartime chapters
from the stories of their generations,
we are heirs to a sturdy Gospel
forged amid the horror of war;
that we must carry into the generations
who must protect the peace and freedom
they fought and died for;
a Gospel of Life, that defeats death,
a Gospel of Hope, that defeats despair,
a Gospel of Compassion that heals
fecklessness and selfishness,
a Gospel of Love that outlasts hatred and greed,
a Gospel of holy and human Fidelity, and Resilience,
a Gospel of God lived in human commitment
of our ancestors to 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 the sake of the world God so loves.

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