Amos 5: 18-24 (NLT)
18 What sorrow awaits you who say,
“If only the day of the Lord were here!”
You have no idea what you are wishing for.
That day will bring darkness, not light.
19 In that day you will be like a man who runs from a lion—
only to meet a bear.
Escaping from the bear, he leans his hand against a wall in his house—
and he’s bitten by a snake.
20 Yes, the day of the Lord will be dark and hopeless,
without a ray of joy or hope.
21 “I hate all your show and pretense—
the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.
22 I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.
I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.
23 Away with your noisy hymns of praise!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,
an endless river of righteous living.
Luke 12:49-56 (NLT)
49 “I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning! 50 I have a terrible baptism of suffering ahead of me, and I am under a heavy burden until it is accomplished. 51 Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other! 52 From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against—or two in favor and three against.
53 ‘Father will be divided against son
and son against father;
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother;
and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’[a]”
54 Then Jesus turned to the crowd and said, “When you see clouds beginning to form in the west, you say, ‘Here comes a shower.’ And you are right. 55 When the south wind blows, you say, ‘Today will be a scorcher.’ And it is. 56 You fools! You know how to interpret the weather signs of the earth and sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the present times.
Sermon by Colin Udall
Remembrance Sunday is about remembering and honouring those who have fought and died in wars. Principally the 1st and 2nd World Wars, but also other wars and battles that have taken place where people have lost their lives in defending others.
In a podcast I was listening to earlier this week, one of the commentators, referring to the First World War, the “war to end all wars” remarked that we hadn’t learnt our lesson, wars had happened since and were going on even now.
Jesus says in the Bible that he has come to give us peace, and yet here we are in this passage from Luke hearing Jesus/ tell us that, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” Where is the unity, love and grace we know is associated with Jesus? What might he be referring to?
Every Christian who truly relies on God has come to know the importance of peace from the assurance of the Jesus’ words. So, why they are these words recorded and should they be taken literally or metaphorically?
The mood here is with a definite meaning of division or disunity rather than war. Still, the apparent change in attitude by Jesus can be disturbing to some who focus on his message of peace and love, of whom the prophet Zechariah says, “would guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Of course, within a short time Jesus’s own prophecy came true with His followers. Whilst on the one hand, what we now know as the Catholic church was set up, on the other, less organized churches were banned and leaders even murdered.
A friend of mine, a Christian, works for a company and often has to conduct interviews. He is curious to know what drives people, particularly young people, in terms of their moral standpoint. He is not allowed to ask directly about any religious beliefs and instead asks, “what is your code of conduct?” To his dismay, the younger interviewees don’t know the answer and have never thought about it. There are stares into space but never eye-to-eye contact after that question. Comments on integrity, loyalty, patience, kindness and other prized qualities are welcomed, yet not once can my friend remember a prospective employee mentioning those things. If the answer is, “The Word of God or similar religious statement,” then the positive qualities that make a great person are understood. Here is another dividing point—those with a Code of Conduct and those without. Christ brought a message of truth that leads to love. Division comes when those who want to do only what they want, without regard to truth or love, or even of another person in the equation make this way of life their code of conduct.
I was struck by a comment made in an audiobook I have been listening to. Talking about the philosophy of religion, he described a picture in the Louvre he had seen of St. Michael standing over Satan with his foot on Satan’s throat. I guess rather like the depiction of the same scene on the side of Coventry Cathedral. The comment that struck me was that he said that it was ok for the world to have the devil in it, as long as we keep him under our feet. I have thought about this comment ever since and have concluded that what he meant was that we should recognize and accept the evil that is in this world and we should be doing whatever we can to control and eradicate it.
In the passage from Luke, Jesus calls the crowd hypocrites. “How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?” he asks. The reason for this outburst was that He knew they could predict weather-related events by watching the sky and feeling the wind blow, but they failed to recognize Him despite all the signs pointing toward Him in the Scripture and all the miracles He performed and teaching he gave that would prove who He was. Had He not been performing miracles before their eyes and shared heavenly wisdom long enough for them to have a clue? The crowd was made up of people who had knowledge of Scripture and even witnessed for Him. He expected the scribes and other teachers in this crowd to anticipate His coming pain and grief, which had also been well described in the prophecies. He also knew that his coming death and resurrection and everything else that followed would bring change into hearts as well as society. This division would be deep and painful. Families would disagree. Jesus said, “They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” To put it mildly, chaos would come to not only nations, but to the most intimate relationships. He could probably already see it happening around him and anticipated the worst. Not only was it eating away at the scribes and Pharisees, but at His family and the families of those that followed him. He knew He was teaching against the philosophy of those that ruled in both religion and Government, as was to be seen by those Christians who came up against the Roman rulers.
But he never said the way would be easy. Instead teaching a narrow way that was hard to follow. A way of forgiveness and of peace.
Many of the wars that have taken place and many of the acts of violence we see in our cities now are blamed on religion, some rightly so. We have lived in relative peace in Europe for 75 years now. That relative peace has come with relative wealth and decent standards of living. Many of the wars and acts of violence we see today are because people do not have the opportunities for such healthy well-being. They are oppressed, abused, put into desperate situations and feel they have to fight – literally, sometimes – to get anything worth having in their lives.
And this is where the reading from Amos comes in. This is God asking my friend’s interview question. “What is your code of conduct?” God is saying, “Well, here you are before me, worshipping, offering sacrifice, music, singing (when allowed under Covid rules), offering me love and respect and asking the same in return. But what is your code of conduct? When you aren’t here, what are you doing to spread peace, kindness, happiness, loyalty, integrity and justice amongst others? What are you doing to stop division amongst your families, your neighbours and other countries? What are you doing to help those in need? What are you doing to ensure people aren’t oppressed and need to fight for all they have?
We need not just to honour those who fought and died by reading their names, but ensure that others don’t have to follow them by having a code of conduct and acting upon it. We need to actively be pursuing peace amongst neighbours and countries. We need to learn the lessons that have been taught to us and to read the signs that are there for us to plainly see.
The Coventry Litany of Reconciliation
All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,
The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own,
The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth,
Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,
Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,
The lust which dishonours the bodies of men, women and children,
The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God,
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.