Isa 10: 33- 11: 9;
John 14: 23-29
May I Speak in the name of the Son, to the glory of the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Being in and part of the life of this this lovely old church is very special to me. I have from a very early age had a love for history, and that is mainly due to the history teacher I had when I was at St Mary’s college. He was a very gentle man and he had the gift of bringing history to life. When he was speaking the whole class hung on his every word. In all the years he taught us I only saw him angry once. He was giving us a lesson about the battle of Waterloo. He described how Wellington had given the famous order, ‘Up, guards, and at ‘em’, and the British grenadiers, they having spent all day on the defensive, rose up from where they were crouching, and drove the French into the hands of the Prussians, who had arrived on the battlefield just at that moment. So deeply immersed were we in the tale that one spotty little individual at the back of the class could not contain his enthusiasm and shouted ‘Hurrah’. The teacher spun round, ‘Who said that?’ he asked angrily. It was the first and last time I ever saw him angry. The culprit owned up, but by then the anger had passed, and the teacher waved at him to sit down, and then apologised to the whole class for his outburst.
When the dust had settled and he had fully recovered his composure, our teacher explained his outburst. War, he said, is the end of civilisation and marks a return to barbarism. War, in his opinion, is the lowest state that humanity exists in, created by self-serving, ruthless, power crazed people or politicians. The ordinary people who have to do the fighting are those that largely pay the price. To say that ‘it is sweet and fitting thing to die for your country’ is mere propaganda, intended to produce willing cannon fodder. He hopped the current Suez crisis would be over before any of us became old enough to be involved.
Doubtless some of you will disagree with what the teacher said, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But in his defence listen to how the teacher had arrived at that opinion. He pointed to a desk in the second row. ‘The boy that used to sit there was killed in Korea at the battle of the Imjin River’. ‘He was a lad of great promise, and now he no more’. He then went and stood by another desk and told us that the boy who used to sit there was a brilliant athlete who competed at county level for the school; he had been called up and sent to Malaya where he was murdered by communist gorillas. What an abject waste of life. I can remember to this day the astonishment we felt as a class as we saw the tears begin to trickle down his face.
His was an extreme anti-war position. As I say, you may not agree with him, but hopefully you will sympathise with how he had arrived at his opinion. The opposite opinion is those who hunger for battle. They probably think of themselves as patriots, yet those who oppose them may not necessarily be unpatriotic. Probably most of us would feel comfortable somewhere in the middle of these two extreme positions.
That day in that classroom had a profound influence on me and I owe that teacher a great deal. He taught us never to hate anyone, because hatred destroys reason. Even the nations that had been our enemies, because, he said, when nations go to war neither are wholly innocent, unspeakable things are done when humanity descends to the depths of warfare. ‘Let those who are without sin cast the first stone’. All that can be done is to forgive and move on. He later told us that he wept whenever he heard the Remembrance Sunday words; ‘They shall grow not old’; he wondered what his ex-pupils might have achieved if they had been spared to live productive lives? Blessed are the peacemakers was his message to us.
That’s nearly all I want to tell you about my history teacher. But my hope is that on Remembrance Sunday, those who agree with him, and those that disagree, can meet and weep together at the terrible side effects of war. Whether you are a patriotic pacifist or a patriotic war monger or somewhere in the middle, there is no point in hating those who take the opposite opinion, because that merely perpetuates the tensions that create wars in the first place. Jesus calls us to reconciliation. Today lets all honour those who died as a result of war; pray for the wounded, maimed and bereaved; and support those who sincerely struggle to bring peace and justice on earth.
I leave the last word to Mr Tollerton. One day he told us an apocryphal story which I would like to tell you now. The story is of a Chinese emperor who vowed to his warlike advisors, to destroy all of his enemies within a year. Twelve months later his advisors complained that the enemies were all still alive. ‘But I have no enemies left now’, replied the emperor, because in the year I have made them all my friends’.
Wouldn’t that be a wonderful world to live in?