Sermon of Nov 11, 2012 — A Commitment to Remember
They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Lest We Forget
These lines, known as the “Ode of Remembrance” are taken from Laurence Binyon’s 1914 poem “For the Fallen”, which was first published in The Times newspaper in Britian.
The poem honoured the World War I British war dead of that time and in particular the British Expeditionary Force, which had by then already had high casualty rates on the developing Western Front. The poem was published when the Battle of the Marne was foremost in people’s minds.
Lest we forget. Lest we forget.
Although Canada’s recent involvements in war has brought a slightly higher awareness of the human costs behind our freedom and liberty, I think it’s safe to say we’ve mostly forgotten. If this was 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have even needed to hedge that statement with the word mostly. I could have straight out declared we had forgotten. Even though remembering the 158 Canadian soldiers that have died in Afghanistan since 2002, and many more that have been wounded in that action, does not bring us to the depth of mourning that is meant to be elicited by Laurence Binyon’s poem. War is a horror, and we are to remember.
I have to admit, Remembrance Day has not held a high place of significance in my life. Please do not take that as dismissive. I do know the significance. I know that we are pausing with respect to commemorate those who have fought and died in wars. I know those sacrifices have allowed me the freedom to grow up unfettered to any ideology that would seek to control my life. I am aware that I am incredibly blessed to be free from dictators, fascists and totalitarians of all kinds because of the complete sacrifice of people I have never known. I know that I have unparalleled freedom compared to history, or even much of the current world, because people fought and died in order to preserve our way of live. I really do understand that. However, beyond the solemnity of the day and the musings of what those sacrifices have brought me, my remembrance falls short the rest of the year. Once my poppy has been removed from my left breast, and the ceremony has passed, I must admit to myself the most significant remembrance on this day is often the paid day off work.
You must forgive me for that attitude. In my lifetime I have known nothing but peace or distant skirmishes. The 158 members of the Canadian Forces that have died in Afghanistan is the most since Canada was involved in the “police action” in Korea. I have never met someone that went on to die in a war. I haven’t lost a brother, a father, an uncle, a grandfather, a friend, a co-worker or even a faint acquaintance. I have never had to deal with death because of war. When “The Last Post” is played, nobody comes to mind. War just hadn’t affected my life. I know what Remembrance Day is all about, but in my heart I do not understand the way that some of you may. Would that mean that I am forgetting?
Worse yet, I have been desensitized to it all. I’ve watched war first hand from the comfort of stadium seating while eating nachos and cheese (I’m not the popcorn type). I’ve seen Saving Private Ryan, Full Metal Jacket, and the Patriot with their graphic and realistic carnage, in complete comfort and safety and while enjoying an overpriced snack. When it first came out, I was given the opportunity to see an advance private screening of Schindler’s List hosted by the Jewish Holocaust Education Society. It took until about the half way point of the movie to realize that among all these Jewish people at the theatre was me, Michael SCHNELL. War has become entertainment, poignant at times, sure, but even then still just a moral reminder of evils that have been routed.
I guess you could day I’m not insensitive to how I should be remembering, I’m unsensitive. I don’t know how I feel or how I should relate; I don’t know how to truly remember. I can’t. War has not entered into my life. When we pause for a minute my mind does not focus on anyone. It wanders and wonders at how long a minute is sometimes. Remembrance Day is an abstract concept to me. Would that mean that I am forgetting?
After processing this lacking of mine, I paused for a moment of silence as I mourned what felt like a loss of my humanity. I had forgotten. I wonder if I had ever actually known what I was not supposed to forget. I know I should care more. I know I want to care more. What was it about me that allowed this state of apathy towards all the sacrifice that laid a foundation to such a blessed life that I could afford to be apathetic? Unfortunately, I think the biggest problem is one not so easily solved; I’m only human.
I believe the sin of self (or if you rather, the fleshly nature) lends itself to forgetfulness. This is not the type of forgetting that requires me to (more and more every year) write down things I want to remember. The essence of this sort of remembering is not around the facts and figures or knowledge of events and outcomes. Rather, this remembrance is one of understanding and seeking understanding the impact of that knowledge on the living out of our daily lives. This sin of self allows us to amputate the whole truth so that what remains limits our hurt and maximizes our comfort-ability. In other words, the further we are removed from an event, the less poignant it becomes, and the more apt we are to “forget it”. It wanders off into the deep recesses of our minds, stored as moral tales of times past or quaint reminiscing of our current history. In essence, we are forgetting.
It was in grade eight I first heard that popular aphorism that “Those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” Ironically about an hour of Googling did not afford me who first made that assertion. However, what my grade eight social studies teacher was quoting to attempt to motivate us to study does ring true. It also reveals for us one of the reasons we fail to remember. We forget because we were never told. As one generation does not tell or another generation does not listen, the realness of the events gets lost. If I am never told of the sacrifices, if I never know of the stories, if I never hear of the events leading to my liberty, how can I ever respond with thankfulness? How can I properly remember? Some of us have forgotten because we have never been told.
However, once we are told, we are now burdened with a responsibility; we must tell others. Once I am told the full essence of what I am to remember, I will likely remember it for a time. If we are truly not going to forget we need to be so fully informed that we can pass our rememberings on to others. It is the next step. Without the full understanding needed to pass that understanding on to another, we run the risk of those memories turning into knowledge, and knowledge fades to facts and trivia. We forget because we were never taught to tell. If we truly esteem the need to remember, then we also need to take responsibility to pass those memories on. If it is worth remembering, it is worth declaring and spreading so nobody can say they did not know. Some of us forget because we were never taught to tell.
It is that full understanding in my life that limits my Remembrance Day. The personal relevance is lacking to a level in which I can count the cost of those who have come before me. If my father, or brother, or God forbid, children ever gave their life for the liberty of others, then I would want, no demand the remembrance of others. I have not been personally touched, however, and therefore am easily distracted by those things that do pester me every day. The joys and the sorrows of everyday life, even the monotony thereof can distract us. It does not take long before even the deep memories can fade. If we do not set aside the time and effort to remember, life itself can make us forget. Some of us forget because we do not make the time or effort to remind ourselves.
Please turn with me to Deuteronomy Chapter 8 verses 10 through 18 (NIV).
10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.
Lest We Forget
These truths about remembering are no more limited to our experience with our young country’s wars than our sin of self it. Remembering the formational and foundational truths of who we are and where we have come from will always suffer from these issues. The Israelites were even warned about the problem. “Be careful not to forget the Lord your God!” because when times become easy and you have all that you need “your heart will become proud and you will forget”.
We struggle with the remembering the truth of who we are every day. Each and every one of us in this room, in this hamlet, in this province, in this country were created by God and are loved and cherished by God so much that He, in the person of Jesus Christ, came into our world, lived our life, was tempted in every way, and chose to sacrifice himself so that we could have liberty, and yet, our hearts have become proud and we have forgotten.
Oh, we may know the accounts of what He did. We may understand the significance when we gather together to say a prayer and read a poem and hear a message, but do we remember in the depths of our hearts the sacrifice that He gave? Do we feel the grace of condemnation being overturned by His sacrifice? Do we feel the mercy of wrath not realized? Or do we gather together because we should show our respect and remember?
We live in a country that remembers our fallen with more respect and reverence than it remembers God. I would argue that it is for many of the same reasons.
Some of us have forgotten because we have never been told. Gone are the days when one can assume a cultural understanding of “Sunday School” references. To call something a “David and Goliath” fight does not bring a certainty that someone will understand what you are getting at. Most of the people who have ever told me that they do not believe in God cannot articulate what it is they do not believe. Rather it has always been merely that they do not know anything about God. I have found that true about almost any theological matter. People do not disagree with what the God has told us in the Bible, because they do not know what the Bible actually says. They have never been told. The disagreement is merely rejection in principle. There is no understanding about the content or the Gospel.
Some of us forget because we were never taught to tell. Although creation itself may leave us without excuse, we cannot blame each other for not remembering if we have never been told. However the situation becomes more acute when know, but never go further in our relationship with God. Harkening back to the parable of the sower, it is imperative that we are always able to give a reason for the joy that is within us. If we limit our remembering of God to those parts we have been told, we are setting ourselves up to forget.
Let me be more pointed. If we do not think those things we remember about God are important enough to “shout them from the mountaintops” then I wonder if we remember them at all. Our God Saves. There is Hope in His Name. Our God is Great. His Grace is Amazing. He loves us more than we could ever describe, but we should still try to. God is Love. As the Bride of Christ we need to be better at proclaiming, and as the local church we need to be better at helping each other with ways (and courage) to proclaim. As we remember our God to others, the depth of our remembrance will grow and grow. You don’t “feel” God some days? Tell others about His Amazing Grace in your life and see how much your feelings of His presence heighten.
Unfortunately, I fall into the last category all too often, and it was what the Israelites were being warned against. Some of us forget because we do not make the time or effort to remind ourselves. However you want to frame it, our relationship with God is our own responsibility. If the only way you are remembering God is by being told about Him, you may end up forgetting. No preacher’s message, no small group, no mentor, no devotional guide, no website, nothing will help you remember your God more than making the time and effort to remind yourself. Although all those things are good, if you are depending on “the programs of the church” or “a good sermon on Sunday” to remind you about who God is, you may well forget.
It is imperative to our remembrance that we “feed ourselves” and do it regularly. We need to do everything we can to remember God constantly, lest we forget His ultimate place in our lives, our world and everything. Deuteronomy 8 does warn us that:
19 If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed.
If you find yourself here today never having been told of God’s creation, His love for you, His seeking out of you, sacrifice for you, grace and mercy towards you desire to be not only in your live and redeem that life so you realize it is indeed fully His, then I would love to tell you or connect you with someone better suited to. Please seek me out this week or future weeks, or seek out any mature Christian around you.
If you believe you are limited in your remembering because you do not know how to tell others about the hope in you, please seek out someone in church leadership and ask them to help you in the next step.
If you believe you need to be more responsible for reminding yourself, there is no easy route. We all struggle to find time and effort to remind ourselves of who God is. My best advice is to find some time today, even if it’s short, and ask God to help you find when the next time will be. He is faithful and just. If you are really seeking a depth of remembrance with Him, He will help you find it.
As I have clumsily tried to relate the remembrance of our civic holiday to the remembrance of a constant holy day, I hope you do always remember the sacrifices that have brought you liberty.
the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8 And they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.