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Canon Roy Arnold
This is not the sermon I was going to write, but the postman arrived when I had just started writing that one, and what he delivered waylaid me. It was our latest Tesco club card statement which arrived and looking at it I realised (to quote George Orwell) that Big Brother had been truly watching me; because all the money-off coupons exactly matched our recent purchases, all entered into the Tesco computer. I suppose they even have my shoe size.
No surprise there I suppose. But then I got to thinking that if Tesco know so much about me, it is frightening to think what God or my recording angel must know about me. And about you. About our going out and our coming in; about when we sit down or get up, and what we are going to say even before we speak. Our good points, and our sins likewise. When we fail to do right, or when we are pleasing to God. And I thought about Jesus as our judge at the end of time with all this evidence to hand.
This is one of the major themes of this season of Advent – Jesus as our judge – so what will Jesus think about us? I believe he will search for our good points as well as the bad.
But what about our bad points? All the more reason why we should be totally grateful that Our Lord is letting us (and the rest of humanity) play extra time to get things right and on target before that dreadful day of judgement.
This patience of Jesus is a main theme of our epistle this morning. The early Christians thought the return of Jesus would be straight away, but 2000 years on we are still waiting. One disadvantage, however, of this extra time is that we can so easily forget to number our days and apply our hearts unto wisdom, but as John the Baptist taught in our gospel for today – it will be wise of us to prepare a way for the Lord. By telling God of our sorrow for our sins, and then trying not to make the same mistakes over and over again. Which is why we, as Christians must try to imitate Christ.
By all means let us remember and welcome the baby born on Christmas Day, but not forgetting it is what we do with the present and the future which really counts – the race which set before us.
The race that is set before us, unless, that is, like the Goons’ song, we are walking backwards to Christmas, which we can never actually do. Our journey carries us onwards, so…
not in that poor lowly stable with the oxen standing by we shall see Him,
but in heaven set at God’s right hand on high.
Where like stars his children crowned, all in white shall stand around.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way – with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge – God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
But in those days, following that distress,
‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’
A few holiday snaps from Veronica and Dave’s recent trip to Venice…
The Devil’s Bridge at Torcello, and some more godly symbols on houses nearby.
I would like to thank Veronica for letting me speak to you today on this Remembrance Sunday; it also gives me an opportunity to thank all of you for making me feel so welcome since I moved to Bollington. My dear wife Jean has told some of her friends that I “will bore the pants off you”! Perhaps that is better than being told that “I will bore you all to death”! So I will be brief.
Now Remembrance Day awakens different memories and feelings in all of us. As a school boy some 75 years ago I had no idea what war entailed, and as no family members had been killed in the First World War I couldn’t think of anyone to remember. On looking at some notes I made in 1995, I could say then that no one under the age of fifty would have remembered the country at total war. At that time some believed that with the end of the cold war, all threats of war had been removed and that a day for Remembrance no longer served any useful purpose; saying that it glorified war and anyway, it was all too long ago.
People would not say that today. Not only has television brought home the horrors of all the recent wars, but there has also been much publicity about the centenary of the start of the First World War in all the media.
Now Remembrance Day is a time set aside when we remember the dead of the 1914 and all subsequent wars, but, as I will explain later, I believe it should be much more than just that.
What does remembrance mean to us?
The dictionary says that remembrance is “the power or the process, of reproducing or recalling what we have learnt.”
What have we learnt?
That war is wrong, that war is bloody, that war is wasteful and that war should be avoided, not at all costs, but certainly whenever possible. As I believe Churchill once said Jaw, Jaw, is always better than War, War.
Did you know that since the end of the 2nd world war in 1945, there has only been one year when no British soldier has been killed on active service?
Recently our troops have been withdrawn from Afghanistan. When asked about their service out there, they did not glorify war; they had a simple pride in what they had done and they remembered their colleagues who did not come back, as well as those who had returned with appalling injuries.
I don’t believe in jingoistic nationalism which says that we must die for our country right or wrong, but I do believe that we have a duty to protect ourselves and our country from evil, both from within and from without.
Peace is not something that just happens; we must strive and work for peace, just as much today, as our forefathers have always had to in the past. We must remember that we too have a duty to oppose evil and that it may be necessary for us, either individually, or as a nation, to stand and fight against the evil we see all around us.
I am old enough to remember the last war, and I am also proud to have served in the Royal Air Force and seen active service around the world. It was round about Remembrance day in 1966, when I was tasked to fly my helicopter to a forward hill fort in Borneo to pick up a casualty, a young Royal Marine Lieutenant. Only he died just before we got there, nothing could have saved him, he bled to death, he just bled to death! What a waste. A few weeks later, confrontation was over, and the border of Borneo was intact.
Christ opposes all evil. He was always talking about the evil he saw about him, not to condemn those who were doing evil, but to get them to change their ways.
Yes, as well as remembering those who gave their lives, on the land or sea or in the air, we also have to remember the sacrifice made by their loved ones, the children without fathers, the widows, perhaps denied children, the mothers and sisters, and the fiancées and girlfriends who never married. Today we also have to remember the families of the service women who have recently died.
And so as we remember all those who made sacrifices for us, we have to ask ourselves “What would they have require of us?”. To ensure that all those who were injured were well looked after? Yes, but more than that. I think that they would want us to live in peace and protect the rights of all to freedom and justice, and I believe that only by obeying Christ’s command to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves can we achieve that.
We also have to bring Christian hope to a materialistic world which has lost its purpose and direction. In our reading from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he gives hope to those who are grieving, and you may have recognized the reading as it is sometimes used in funeral services. Paul did not know, as we still don’t know, exactly what happens to us when we die, but he did know that Christ was crucified for all of us and that he rose from the dead. Paul therefore has a sure belief and faith that Christians too will be raised from the dead at the end of time.
So let us reflect on our own lives to ensure that not only are we striving to defeat evil in the world, but that we also spread the good Christian message of love, hope, forgiveness and peace, so that our children, and our children’s children, will be able to share those freedoms which we, through the sacrifice of many, and God’s abundant mercy have all enjoyed.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Canon Roy Arnold
Charlotte Bronte (who wrote “Jane Eyre”) in the opening words of her novel “Shirley” observes: “Of late years, an abundant shower of curates has fallen upon the North of England: they lie very thick on the hills. Every parish has one or more of them.” But, as it happens, it now seems quite a few years since Bollington shared in this bounty, which makes you, Michael, all the more welcome. This very time last week you were getting ready for the Ordination Service, and this very time 51 years ago I was getting ready to go to St John’s Church in Bollington to get married to Hylda Mary Brogden, spinster of this parish.
It is not a new thought that Ordination and Marriage are quite similar, not least because they both – ideally – entail commitment and love. Of course, being married (or not married) or being ordained (or not ordained) does not make us any different from what we were or are, for better or for worse, but St Paul (in our Epistle for today) says: because we are all too human we can still get things wrong and fall into sin. And sin (as I see it) is like missing the target, God’s target, and there are thousands of ways of missing the bulls-eye, but only one of hitting it. But, week by week, it is the privilege of all Christians to hear, and for clergy to announce: “This is the target to aim for” in the teachings of Jesus, like his word to us today, that we must aim to be, somehow, “like little children again”. Note, not childish – but childlike. “Like infants,” he says, “seeing the world and other people afresh.” And how I wish that we all could (more often) experience the world like that – New Every Morning…
But sad to say we very soon start waiting for the next hospital appointment. or worrying about the children, or the car failing its MOT, or the church roof falling IN, or the Parochial Church Council falling OUT.
St Francis de Sales says “Have patience with all things but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about mending them, and everyday begin this task anew.” I think that we might start by remembering those words Jesus gave to us this morning:
“Come to Me, all of you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me. For I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”
At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”