Summary: A Sermon for Remebrance Sunday - revised October 2001
A word of explanation about this one, as it`s very different from all my other stories.
In the United Kingdom, on the nearest Sunday to November 11th (the date of the end of the First World War), services are held in Churches, Cathedrals and at War Memorials, to remember all those who died in the wars of the 20th Century. What follows is one of my attempts to address that issue, especially in the light of the happenings of the 11th of September. The sermon arose out of a family experience.
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Some years ago Jill and I went to Normandy for our first French holiday. We took our two girls with us, and, during the holiday we visited a military cemetry. It was the first time we had seen one and it shook us to the core. Line after line of white grave stones, thousands and thousands of them, all beautifully cared for. But the ages on those stones! 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22..... "They were so YOUNG!", the girls exclaimed. For the first time they understood what had happened in a war that took place long before they were born.
1914, 1939, Korea, the Falklands, Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo, these wars have cost our country dearly, and many other countries too. They have cost us the lives mainly of young people, and we must never forget it. We must never forget that two whole generations of young men and women died in wars that were terrifying, two generations of 17, 18 and 19, 20, 21 and 22 year olds who died for their countries` sake and for freedom.
And I believe that there is something else we need to remember. Have you ever read the book by Hugh Trevor-Roper called "The Last Days of Hitler"? It`s an account of how that tyrant rose to power in Germany, and the events which lead to his death. I found it amazing that a man of such corruption and lunacy could come to power so easily, and prove so attractive to the German nation!
It was, of course, a time of breakdown and depresson, inflation out of control, unemployment rife, so that, when this man came with his message of resurgent nationalism and put men back into work, there was very little opposition, and what there was was cruelly put down. Most were quite apathetic about what was happening. Many were frightened by Hitler`s methods and dared not protest. But many believed that he was bringing new life and new purpose to a broken nation, and if the cost to be paid was the lives of a few Jews, so be it.
But, having given his nation back its pride, Hitler went on to kill 20 million people, deliberately. He regarded not just the Jews, but the Slavic and Russian peoples as sub-human, and set out to eliminate what he described as a cancer in the world, and, as his power and authority rose, and that absolute power corrupted it absolutely, his plan for the world`s future was revealed, "TOTAL VICTORY OR TOTAL DESTRUCTION!". Then, when his enemies stood against him, he turned this destructive principle against his own people, so that the last days of Hitler were spent leading his nation into national suicide, national suicide..... deliberately. They paid the price of their apathy with their own blood.
That is the story of Germany between 1933 and 1945.......................................
and we need to remember this lesson of history, that Hitler was not just an evil man, he was a man possessed with and by a power far greater than himself, a Satanic power determined to destroy all it touched. WE NEED TO REMEMBER THAT!
We need to remember it, for today we are still threatened by destructive forces. In Germany and Austria neo-Nazi nationalism are resurgent. Russia still hovers on the brink of dictatorship. Israel and Palestine is a powder-keg. And now America and the West are facing the power of a rampant megalomaniac who is trying to harness the allegiance of fundamentalists to spread terror.
Why am I saying all this? Because of my recent experiences of Remembrance Sunday. I always find it a difficult Sunday to handle. A few years ago we had ructions when a young Methodist Minister preached in one of my Churches about Mahatma Ghandi and said that we had never given passive resistance a chance. You can imagine that the Colonels in our congregation didn`t take very kindly to that!
There have been times when I wished Remembrance Sunday would go away, and the falling numbers of people attending it seemed to suggest that it was going to die anyway, as the older people who still wanted to remember became too frail to leave their houses, or died themselves. There are also times when I wish that it weren`t such an overtly RELIGIOUS OCCASION, and that some else apart from the Churches would take the responsibility for remembering, because it does make us look like warmongers, and the Jehovah`s Witnesses have plenty to say about that!