They did only what they ought to have done

Remembrance Day 2019

Parish of St. John the Baptist, North Sydney

Wisdom 1:1-7; Psalm 139:1-9; Luke 17:1-6

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In the name of God: +Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

The sayings of Jesus that we just heard in the Gospel of Luke – they cut straight to the center of hard realities. At best, it is an honest look at life.

“Occasions for stumbling are bound to come…”

“It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”

“Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender.”

Harsh realities, indeed. In all things Jesus seems to be saying, have humility in doing all that you do so that you may say “we have done only what we ought to have done.”

Those who serve in this world with such humility don’t seek their own reward, but they do only what has been required of them for the common good. They say, “’…we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

This task becomes difficult when, contrary to those words from the Book of Wisdom, rulers turn against what is right.

“Love righteousness, you rulers of the earth, think of the Lord in goodness and seek him with sincerity of heart because he is found by those who do not put him to the test, and manifests himself to those who do not distrust him. For perverse thoughts separate people from God, and when his power is tested, it exposes the foolish; because wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul, or dwell in a body enslaved to sin. …wisdom…will not free blasphemers from the guilt of their words…”

These days we don’t hear much about holy wisdom, sin or blasphemy. It is countercultural to talk about them. There are days when we might put humble service in this category, too.

Well, our faith is countercultural – it does not reflect the values of today’s society. And, our faith should not reflect values counter to God’s good news. God calls us to be his holy people and to serve him and the common good with humble integrity, to do only what we are asked to do and to trust God with the rest.

To live a life of holiness in humble service is to commit to all of those things we renewed in our baptismal vows last Sunday. We promise to live up to the holy rule of life by living faithfully in every aspect of our lives and to fully participate in a faith community; to refrain from sin and when we don’t, to repent and return to the Lord; live the good news of Christ by thought, word and deed; seek and serve Christ in everyone – love your neighbour as yourself; live lives of justice and peace respecting the dignity of all; safeguard the integrity of God’s creation while respecting, sustaining, renewing the life of the Earth

To sin is to deny the God-given dignity within one’s self and within others, denying the true worth of life redeemed by Christ. There are consequences to the “you-can-have-it-all” “do-whatever-I-want” lives that some say is what it means to live in freedom. This, however, is not true freedom, because it causes others to stumble — and though it sounds harsh to us, this is so serious that Jesus figuratively says – “it would be better if a millstone were hung around your neck.” To blaspheme God is to deny God in the world, and in others, and in ourselves; distorting God to fit our image, rather than to allow our lives to be holy, and to trust that God will mold us according to his will. This is, as we say in the Invitation to Confession, because God is steadfast in love and infinite in mercy. When we accept this, then we are all most freed to serve God and the common good.

You are well aware of the sacrifices made, those from previous generations and those among us today. In 1959, as fire ravaged this beloved parish, dedicated individuals carefully removed what could be salvaged in the midst of flame and thick smoke. The memorial plaques in the back, this altar, that lectern and other appointments were lovingly saved. These tell the story of God’s holy people serving God and the common good.

I often pause when I go by the WWI Intercessory Prayer Service poster hanging in the back of our church. “They are fighting for you. Pray for the Empire, our Soldiers, our Sailors; pray for righteous victory, pray for lasting peace; will you not pray for them?” That humble, simple piece of paper speaks volumes of this community, then and now. It is a living piece of history that reminds us of the importance of prayer for one another and the world, for one day, one way or the other, we will all know God’s reign of peace and justice.

Until then, we live with the seriousness of harsh realities and of broken lives. More than 70,000 lost their lives in the Battle of the Atlantic. For six years the longest battle of the second World War was fought between our shores here and those of the British Isles. Convoys from Halifax, Sydney, and St. John’s were formed for the sake of safety in dangerous waters. They travelled with the protection of the Canadian Navy and RCAF squadrons. Those who served did no less than the work they had to do for the common good, for Queen and for Commonwealth.

Pray for Empire and all the nations of the world, for those who serve to keep us safe from land, sea and air; pray for righteous victory from all perils and dangers, pray for lasting peace and God’s reign of justice.

Will we pray for them?

Will each of us serve God and our community in doing only what we ought?

Amen.