Presented November 11, 2018 by Jim Guida
At 11:00 a.m. today, at whatever point I am in delivering this sermon, the church bell will toll 11 times.
While we should always keep peace in our hearts and in our minds, let us deliberately pause at this moment and give a brief meditation for those who have served our nation. Those with us here today and those who will be with us nevermore, whom we lost on the fields of battle or who fought the good fight of an ongoing peace and love.
One hundred years ago, to this date, November 11, 1918, at 11:00 o’clock, peace was declared, officially ending what was called “The Great War” and what we would know as World War I. Eleven eleven at eleven o’clock. Peace is declared marking the end of “the war to end all wars.”
When that hour strikes today, we will pause to remember those who valiantly fought so that we can meet here today in peace.
I’ll wager some of you had family who fought in World War I. I know for a fact that many of you have deep memories of the Second World War, the horror of which was brought about as a direct response to unresolved rivalries from the first war, including the rise of Adolf Hitler.
World War I was triggered by an assassin from one nation killing the archduke of another. And after that, all hell broke loose. I know some of you don’t like it when I use that word and I apologize for its casual usage in the past. But there is no other way to describe the atrocities that occurred.
The assassination was a terrible event in itself, but one that should have had minor international consequences. But due to a convoluted mass of treaties and alliances, some of them duplicitous, coupled with horrible miscommunications, millions lost their lives. Sixteen million people died as a direct result of that war and 100 million as an indirect result, mostly from genocide and the 1918 flu epidemic.
While we may think of the war as a European battlefront, fighting took place in Asia, the Pacific, Africa, the Middle East, and East India. While Canadian soldiers fought with their United Kingdom brethren, the United States didn’t enter the war until it was well underway. When we did, the Selective Service Act was created, sending 10,000 men every day to fight.
Fifty eight billion dollars was spent by the Allies, $25 billion by what were called the Central Powers.
“The Great War.” One hundred sixteen million deaths. Eighty three billion dollars spent.
The good news is … we won.
What have we learned in the past century? Well, now we can kill more efficiently, without the horrors of mustard gas burning our lungs as we lay dying on barbed wire in the middle of a frozen field.
The city of Sacramento could be annihilated in less time than it takes to finish this sermon. Heck, in less time than it takes … to finish this sentence.
And personal weapons exist that can wipe out our church in a matter of seconds.
I say again … yay.
As Christians, we are a nation of peaceful people, whose most important laws include loving our neighbors.
How, then, do we justify fighting a war?
First of all, realize that “All is NOT fair in Love and War.” In the 4th century, Emperor Augustine of the Christian Roman Empire postulated a “Just War Theory,” which Thomas Aquinas, whom the Catholic church considers one of its greatest theologians, codified in the mid-1200s, and which has remained the basis for the theory these past 800 years. Please note, this is not a theory to justify a war, but if a war is to be fought, this is “how” it should be done.
The gist of the theory says that in order to justify the killing that occurs in war, there must be a reason so important that it overrides the truth that killing people is wrong. The possibility of taking even one human life is a prospect we should consider in fear and trembling.
There are eight parts to the theory. I won’t read them all, but the first is “Just Cause” which includes the stopping of a massacre of large numbers of people.
“Last Resort” means we must have tried everything—negotiation, conflict resolution and prevention—before resorting to war,
“Just Intention” means the only reason for the war is to end the war: no revenge, no economic gain, no ideological supremacy.
Our response must be “in proportion” to situation. “Nuking them into the stone age” is never a proper response. The battle must “discriminate” between the attacking of soldiers and attacking civilians, protecting those not fighting. And the “Good” of the war must outweigh the “Bad.”
These are the ways to fight a “Just War,” but the key phrase, of course, is “War.”
People are just as dead and resources are just as destroyed in a “Just War” as in an “Unjust War.”
In the past 100 years, the United States has been in 40 wars—one of which was a result of our being attacked—and the longest of which is still being fought with children from our very own congregation involved.
How many of these were “Just Wars”?
This conversation is a slippery slope. In a historical context, when our military bases in Pearl Harbor were attacked, should we have we thrown up our hands and cried, “Heaven help us!”? We had a “Just” decision to enter the war at that time. But I offer: if we were to recognize the atrocities being committed in Germany—the genocide of the Jews, whose persecution continued in a synagogue as recent as just last month—should we have, in fact, entered the war sooner? By the “Just War Theory,” we had a right to do so. But as Christians, we want to avoid fighting.
Is it honorable to fight for honor? Hollywood says “YES!” with guns ablazing. Or do we walk away from a losing battle and let those who died before us rest in vanquished peace? A well-known short poem from World War I says “stay the course.”
I read to you IN FLANDERS FIELDS by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
There are no easy answers, and please know: this sermon is not about politics, although wars and politics are synonymous. It is about the Christian quest for peace. Not the peace of the Crusades, but the peace of not living in fear. The peace of knowing men and women, Black and White and all colors in between and of all faiths and orientations, can live and work together without fear. The peace of knowing your next meal is coming soon, along with clean water and safe shelter. The peace of Justice. The peace of Jesus. Here and across the globe.
How do we, as Christians, assure that global peace? None of us is a member of the US Congress, who are the only ones who can legally declare a war. We don’t have the resources to stop the planes and bombs and guns from being manufactured. But we are Christians. And the greatest gift we have as Christians is hope.
Not the hope of wringing our hands and wishing things were different, but the hope of action, the hope of setting examples, the hope of change for the better world Jesus promised us, here on earth before our heavenly eternity.
Does it make sense to say, “We have to fight for peace?” It is certainly an oxymoron, but on a real sense—outside of spiritual strength—that is what we must do. And to do that takes courage. Not the false courage of guns and bombs, but the personal courage of standing alone in your beliefs, if need be. Of speaking up against a wrong when all around you remain silent. Of kneeling for a cause you believe in while all those around you are standing.
One definition of courage comes from someone deemed the “Greatest Hero in Film History.” It is not James Bond or any Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone character. It is the quiet father of two young children—Atticus Finch, played by Gregory Peck, in a film from the book TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Finch says, to his children, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
We can all be courageous, even if we think we haven’t the strength or intelligence … If we have the spirit, we can succeed. I quote from another classic piece of literature: “You have plenty of courage, I am sure. All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.” And from the movie made from the book, I quote the former Cowardly Lion, when he says: ‘Ain’t it the truth? Ain’t it the truth!”
Your courage can exist in many forms—from physically standing up to bullies in a peaceful protest, as was done crossing the Edmund Pettis Bridge in 1965—to reminding a grandchild that love comes in many forms and colors, even if outside influences tell the child to the contrary.
Jesus tells us, in Luke 10, “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you.” So how we act with each other, here in our church family, those in our neighborhood and those neighbors around the world, is how we can begin to construct peace.
The popular bumper sticker reads, “Think Globally, Act Locally.” We can bring peace to an empty stomach by supporting our Food Closet, allowing those hungry people to focus on bettering themselves—as we all must do—and not on their lot in life.
Another way we can effect peace is through education—by supporting our local public schools. Ignorance often leads to fear and fear is the great catalyst to war. If we teach our children the borderless lessons of science, of math, of biology, and botany, they can’t help but learn that we are one on this planet—that we are all in this together—and it is only as one will we succeed.
Also we should support multi-lingualism. Being Americans, we typically believe everyone should “speak American.” But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn Spanish, Italian, French, Sign Language, Vietnamese or any of the other 4,500 languages spoken world-wide. There are 1,200,000 speakers of some form of Chinese in the world and I doubt anyone in this room can even say “hello” in that language. It is NI HAO, in case you are wondering. And yes, I had to look it up.
But communication, in all its human, written, and electronic form, is essential for a common peace. Be a part of that global understanding. If you know it, teach it. If you don’t, learn it!
Do not despair of our political leaders, but encourage them to find peaceful ends to the man-made troubles of the world.
Love those who need it most, although they are the most difficult to love. But it is by our love that they will know we are Christians.
And pray. Say a prayer which motivates you and others to seek out peaceful solutions to the problems of the world, of your neighborhood and of your heart. We can’t control what is going on in Afghanistan, but we can do something about Arden Arcade, Land Park, Elk Grove, the Pocket, and elsewhere.
Many of us have lived our wars and we pray not see another in our lifetime. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.” But for our children and their children, this escalated warfare cannot continue. Albert Einstein is credited with saying, “I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
We cannot allow that to happen and it must begin with us.
Our sermons traditionally begin with a New Testament reading. This has hardly been a traditional sermon, and as such, I offer the reading now.
From John 20: Jesus been crucified, buried, and has risen from his tomb. He comes to his disciples, who are cowering in a locked room, in fear of the leaders. And Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. Peace be with you.”
And THIS is the word of God.