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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Keep Calm and Carry On - a sermon for Remembrance Sunday 2010

“Keep Calm and Carry On” This poster was initially produced by the Ministry of Information in 1939. It was intended to strengthen morale in the event of a wartime disaster – an invasion. Two-and-a-half million copies were printed, although the poster was distributed only in limited numbers. Quite what the reaction to it was in 1939 I have no idea. It was rediscovered in Barter Books, a second-hand bookshop in Alnwick, Northumberland in 2000. While never intended for this age it seems to have captured the imagination of the British people. Perhaps they have recognised something in their character.
[Slide 5 – Keep Calm and Carry On Products]
There are T-Shirts, mugs and posters and much more. I don't believe this is all marketing, after all if you make these things and don't sell them they soon disappear.
Its pretty much the same message that Jesus is giving his disciples as he talks about the End Times. He is saying that nothing much has changed in the world as we moved from BC to AD. There are still going to be Wars and revolutions, just as there had been in the past. Nations will fight and try to destroy each other. It was not new then and it is not new now. There are still going to be earthquakes. There are still going to be famines, There are still going to be epidemics or even pandemics.
[Slide 6 – Shoemakerlevy hits Jupiter]
There are still going to be great signs in the heavens. This picture shows the comet Shoemakerlevy as it collides with Jupiter. In Jesus time the interpretation of comets and other events in the night sky was very different from the interpretations we have now. Something like this would have been seen as a sign of something important happening on earth. Just like the star (whatever it was) that led the wise men to the new king of the earth shortly after his birth. In the mind set of the people of the time you could not have such an important person born without there being a sign in the sky.
All these things must happen before the end comes. Jesus' disciples are not to be frightened by any of this, but are to accept it calmly as inevitable and part of the process that God is going through in order to complete His redemption plan.
Perhaps we could put it another way:
[Video – Corporal Jones – Don't Panic]
Jones, of course is talking to himself as much as those around him. The message remains the same from popular culture whether you are in the seventies or the eighties.
[Slide 7 – Hitchhikers Guide – Don't Panic]
“Don't Panic”
Its an important message for for people to receive in times of disaster. When a bomb lands on the bank during the war, or when your world is being destroyed panic will only cause things to get worse.
I'm sure there have been many times throughout your life when it has looked as though your world is falling apart. Sometimes that has been at a personal level – when you loose someone important and don't know how you can continue to cope without them. Sometimes that will have been at a national level, when you see a threat to your whole nation.
Some of you here will remember and have been involved in WWII. You will have been through the times when it looked like the Germans might bomb London to a pile of rubble.
[Slide 8 – St Pauls, Blitz]
You will remember the heroic efforts to keep St Pauls from being burnt down. You will remember the famine that resulted from the war, rationing and the fears that you might starve to death. You will remember friends and family who gave their lives in the fight, or who were killed by enemy action over our heads. These were no doubt some of the low points of the war for you.
I've recently finished a book called 'Bomber Boys' about the young men who volunteered to fly in the RAF bombers that bombed Germany. The statistics are appalling:
2/3 of Allied bomber crews were lost for each plane destroyed, it was higher for the RAF, who flew the more dangerous missions.
6 bomber crewmen were killed for each one wounded
Tour Of Duty% KIA or MIA
Fighters (300 combat hours) 24%
Medium bombers (50 missions) 48%
Heavy bombers (30 missions) 71%
Many of them, whose writings are recorded, believed in what they were doing, and believed in the ultimate success of the whole venture.
There have been other wars since, of course. Most notably for me the Falklands war. I remember thinking at the time that it was nothing more than a skirmish and would be over in a few days. How could a country like Argentina defeat Britain – with its professional, well trained and equipped military services. So imagine my shock when I heard on the radio of the sinking of the HNS Sheffield by an Exocet missile.
[Slide 9 – HMS Sheffield, burning]
It took me a while after that to regain my composure, to calm down and to carry on. There was a real chance that the task force could be defeated and I had to come to terms with that.
It was the low point of the conflict for me.
There have been other wars since, and I know that I am very fortunate. I have not been involved in a war in my life time. I sincerely hope that I never am, and the same goes for my children.
[Slide 10 – Black]
We must remember though that although we are not involved in a physical war, we are most definitely involved in a spiritual one. When Jesus is talking about the end times He did not start by saying that war is a normal state of affairs on the earth. He started by warning us not to be deceived by the many who will come in his name claiming to be the Messiah. Many have come, here just a few that are recent:
David Koresh - Born Vernon Wayne Howell, was the leader of a Branch Davidian religious sect, proclaimed that he was "the Son of God, the Lamb."
Ariffin Mohamed – Also known as "Ayah Pin", the founder of the banned Sky Kingdom in Malaysia. He claims to be the incarnation of Jesus, as well as Muhammad, Shiva, and Buddha.[1]
Laszlo Toth – Hungarian-born Australian who vandalised Michelangelo's Pietà in 1972.
Arnold Potter - Schismatic Latter Day Saint leader; called himself "Potter Christ".
Thomas Harrison Provenzano[4] – convicted murderer who possibly was mentally ill. Provenzano compared his execution with Jesus Christ's crucifixion.
Georges-Ernest Roux – Founder of the Universal Alliance, claimed to be Jesus, then God, called the "Christ of Montfavet" or "Georges-Christ".
Ahn Sahng-hong – South Korean man worshipped by World Mission Society Church of God
John Nichols Thom - Cornish-man who claimed to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ and his body temple of the Holy Ghost. He was killed by British soldiers at the Battle of Bossenden Wood, on May 31, 1838 in Kent, England.
Sergei Torop – a Russian who claims to be "reborn" as Vissarion, the returned Jesus Christ. He founded the Church of the Last Testament and the spiritual community Ecopolis Tiberkul in Southern Siberia.
Ernest Norman, founder of the Unarius Academy of Science, was allegedly Jesus in a past life.
And that takes no account of the Moonies and other such sects. People are easily deceived and there are plenty of people ready to deceive them. Jesus tells his disciples not to be one of them. Whatever they say, Jesus' instructions are “Do not follow them”.
How not to be deceived?
That's the first and perhaps the most important thing. Then at the end of today's reading is a section where Jesus talks to his followers about what their life will be like. He starts in v12 with “But before all this”. Before there are wars, natural disasters, pandemics and famines there are more immediate problems that you will have to overcome.
Persecution can be very minor, like the rather ridiculous attack on Ian Duncan Smith for using the word 'sin' in a speech. Mostly though it is far from minor, and as Jesus says here it often involves the courts. In many countries courts are not involved at all, the targets of persecution are beaten up, and their churches or houses burned. None of the persecutors cares if some of them die as a result – there is no justice.
How many Christian Martyrs do you think there are in a year?
[Slide 11 – The Christian Martyrs last prayer]
[get some answers]
Perhaps your view of Christian martyrs is shaped by stories from Nero's Rome, and that leaves you with the impression that it doesn't happen today.
According to one estimate it is about 171,000 per year world wide.
[Slide 12 – Christian Martyrs of the 20th century]
In 1998, 10 Statues were added to Westminster Abbey. (Yes, I know there are only six in the picture!) ( commemorate 10 Christian Martyrs from the 20th century. You may recognise some of the names and know their stories. Some you may not have heard of – neither had I. Each lost their life because of their faith in Jesus Christ. They are only 10. There are thousands that we will never know anything about who have made the same sacrifice. Jesus predicted as much in His words to the disciples (v 16).
Today, as we remember those who have given their lives to fight for our country, let us also remember those who have given their lives to fight for our faith. They died so that we may live our lives in peace and in freedom.
Perhaps the most shocking persecution of Christians that is happening today is causing Christians to leave the middle eastern countries in droves. It is being described as a new exodus. Christians in the past few years have left Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, and The Lebanon. In the case of The Lebanon they were not that long ago the majority population, now they are down to under a third. Islamic fundamentalism often gets the blame but the causes of this are unclear. The disruption and hardship caused to the thousands of families forced to leave their homes is obvious.
Will you or I end our lives as martyrs? - It's possible. I have no idea where Jesus will take me next, and I doubt that you do either.
If we do have to face the ultimate sacrifice, or any kind of persecution Jesus says that we should not worry about what we will say beforehand. His promise is that the Holy Spirit will give us the right words when the time comes. Verse 15 “For I will give you words of wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict”.
Keep Calm and Cary On.
We know that many awful things must happen before the end comes. We are not allowed to know when that will be, but we are given some clues and told to watch for signs. Jesus warned his disciples to leave Jerusalem and head for the hills when they saw the armies advancing. In AD 66 Titus Flavius Vespasianus led the Roman army against Jerusalem. By AD 70 the seige of Jerusalem was broken and the vast majority of it's inhabitants slaughtered by angry Roman soldiers. Josephus estimates that 1.1 million were killed, while only 97,000 survived. If only they had followed Jesus' advice and fled. Instead they followed the common wisdom of the time – that it was safer inside the walls of the city than outside.
Keep calm and Carry on does not mean that you ignore the signs that are so carefully put there as a warning for you.
Peter, one of Jesus' three closest disciples says in chapter 4 of his first letter “7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” and in Chapter 5 “8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
Our reading today ends with the line “but not a hair on your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life”. He says this immediately after telling the disciples that some of them will be put to death. This ONLY makes sense if you are expecting another life after this one. Jesus had not demonstrated Eternal Life when he said this. Now he has!
Now we have so much more than the disciples had, but like the people Peter is writing to we must be alert to the signs and stand firm in the faith.
[Slide 13 – Keep Calm and Carry On]
Keep Calm and Carry On
Carry On deepening your faith, be alert look carefully for signs, be sure you know how to read them. Some of them will be awful and may disrupt life as we know it. Some of us may end our lives as martyrs. We cannot correctly interpret and respond to signs – even if they are as clear as an unexploded bomb, if we are in a state of panic.
Carry On standing firm and you will gain life.