Sermon – 13 November 2005 (Remembrance Sunday)

Rather than preach as I usually do this morning, I am going to talk you on a journey that I made last week – a walk in London when I was on holiday down there last weekend. A little pilgrimage, if you like.

We will start in on of the churches that I was visiting – St Martin in the fields. I was there to worship with and meet Bishop Gene Robinson from the States, but it is not him whom I want to talk about this morning.

As I came out of the church, I noticed on some of the lamp-posts near the church an emblem. It is of a cloak cut in two.

Those who know their stories of the saints will know why. As soon as I saw that divided cloak, I remembered that it was St Martin’s day this week.

Armistice day fell on Friday this week. The eleventh day of the eleventh month. And with it, as usual, fell the Feast of St Martin of Tours, who gave his name to many things including the church that I had just visited. His feast-day falls every year on the same day on which people in this country remember those who have fallen during war time.

The conjunction of St Martin and Armistice day is one which always seems to me to be most suitable. For Martin was a soldier saint – one who was called by God when he was in uniform fighting with a Roman Legion.

The most famous story that is widely known about his is this – as a soldier, he saw a naked beggar and in order to clothe him he cut his cloak in two, giving half to the beggar and keeping half for himself. He then later had a dream in which he realised that he saw Jesus wearing the half cloak that he had given away. He then decided that this Jesus person might be worth finding out about and he turned his life towards God.

His story tells us a number of good things:

·        That we must look after ourselves as well as looking after other people.

·        That good works are valuable whether someone already knows Jesus or not.

·        That when we care for someone we meet with God.

All these things went through my mind as I stepped out of the church and passed the lamp-posts and looked out into Trafalgar square. And my attention was drawn to two monuments there – Nelson on the top of his column and also the new statue called “Alison Lapper, pregnant”. You know, the one with the woman with no arms sitting waiting to give birth. It is enormous and voluptuous.

Placed in Trafalgar square it is a reminder that courage is expected of all kinds of people facing all kinds of situations. No doubt old Nelson displayed courage himself and generated it in those around him. And now alongside him there is a reminder that there are other people of courage who fight other distinct battles.

And win.

On I went, through Trafalgar Square and down Whitehall. Past the Whitehall theatre, scene of so many farces. Past the smart mounted soldiers at horseguards. And here I found something else I had not seen before.

A new monument in Whitehall – the monument to the service of women during wartime. It is a dark slab, the same kind of size as the Cenotaph just further down the same road. But carved in stone around this slab are clothes, hung up. They are workers clothes. Uniforms. The uniforms of those women who worked for their country whilst their men were away fighting the war on foreign soil.

It is slightly eerie. And it makes one wonder why that contribution went unacknowledged by the state in this way for nearly 60 years. We are a changing people now.

As we remember those who have died fighting for the freedom of others, as we do today, we pray for peace. Let us not forget those who lived, whose peace was shattered. Let us never forget those who worked and fought other battles than those on the front line.

In the old testament reading this morning (Judges 4:1-7) we hear of people planning for war with the utter conviction that they were doing so with God on their side.

God is almost always the first prisoner of war in any conflict. Appropriated by those who fight, whatever the cause.

In the years since the 2 world wars, we have seen the way people think changing. Far fewer people now would make the claim that God is on the side of one nation over another.

There are other voices in the bible which suggest that God is not on the side of the winners, or the righteous armies, but on the side of the poor, the widowed and the orphaned.

We are starting to hear their voices more than they once were heard.

Last weekend I stood and looked at the memorial to the contribution of women in wartime for quite a long time. It gave me much pause for thought.

I moved on – further down Whitehall. Passed within the shadow of Big Ben’s clocktower and across into Westminster Abbey.

And there I stood as thousands have stood before looking at the red poppies surrounding the tomb of the unknown soldier.

What shall we pray for those who died? John Bell’s new song challenges us to pray on a day like today.

What shall we pray.

For peace, certainly. For justice, certainly. For a more equal world. For quietness and peace amongst nations? Without a doubt.

What shall we pray? How shall we pray? As I stood by the tomb of the unknown warrier last week I knew I would be coming here today to preach and ask that question.

What shall we pray?

This year, the churches of Britain and Ireland have produced a new set of prayers which try to answer that question. And I am going to close this morning with one of them – we will end the service this morning with another.

Let us pray.

Ever-living God
we remember those whom you have gathered
from the storm of war into the peace of your presence;
may that same peace
calm our fears,
bring justice to all peoples
and establish harmony among the nations,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O God of truth and justice,
we hold before you those whose memory we cherish,
and those whose names we will never know.
Help us to lift our eyes above the torment
of this broken world,
and grant us the grace to pray for those
who wish us harm.
As we honour the past, may we put our
faith in your future;
for you are the source of life and hope,
now and for ever.

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