Remembrance Sunday

Today on Remembrance Sunday we pause to honour the memory of the countless millions who have lost their lives in times of war, and to pray for peace on earth.  The twentieth century was the bloodiest century in all of human history.  In the Second World War, which came as a bloody sequel to the First, over fifty million people lost their lives, and more than half of them were civilians – men, women, and children who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Sadly, too often people have gone to war in the name of religion.  The church did it during the Crusades, which were themselves a response to the violence of the Muslim invasions of the ninth and tenth centuries.  People went in the name of Jesus in the Spanish conquests of Central and South America, and in the great Catholic and Protestant wars of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and more recently in Northern Ireland.  And we know that killing in the name of God hasn’t stopped in the twenty-first century.

Our Old Testament reading (Micah 4:1-5) became a very important passage to the early Christians; in the early Church this was one of the passages that new converts were encouraged to memorise, because it gives such a clear vision of God’s ultimate purposes for His creation.

In this passage, Micah, through a vision, teaches us that the time will come when the nations of the world will acknowledge that the one true God is real, and because He is real they will make a decision to come to Him and learn from Him.  The ‘mountain of the Lord’s Temple’ in v1 is the mountain where the Temple stood in Jerusalem, the place where God was worshipped, the place where the priests taught the people from the law of the Lord.

Encouraging people to acknowledge that there is one true God was a revolutionary thought in Micah’s time.  People were used to the idea of every nation having their own god or gods; those gods would go with them in battle and give them victory over their enemies.  This idea is still alive in the twenty-first century; we still like to think of God being on our side, of God having some special place in His heart for our nation or race.

This passage teaches that the time will come when God’s word goes out from Jerusalem and the whole world listens to it.  The early Christians saw themselves as being part of the fulfilment of this prophecy as they went into Asia Minor, Greece and on into Italy and France and all around the known world of the day.  The message they took was that there is one Creator God who wants us to worship Him and not idols, and that this God cares about how we live and has given us commandments to guide our daily life, not just rituals to guide our worship.  This would have sounded very strange.  They added to this message the good news that Jesus also announced – that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and that the King himself has come among us and has lived and died and risen again to set us free.  One day, Micah says, everyone will endeavour to live by God’s commandments.  And what will be the result of this?  God’s kingdom will come in all its fullness, swords will be beaten into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks, and people will turn their back on war, (v.4).

In other words, when God’s kingdom comes in all its fullness everyone will live together in peace.  This is the opposite of having stubborn and self-centred attitudes, an approach that says, “This is the way I want it and this is the way it’s going to be, come hell or high water!”  That’s what causes disagreements between nations to end up in conflict and bloodshed.

But the day will come, Micah says, when instead of everyone being determined to get what they want, everyone will instead be determined to listen to what God wants.  Living like this would usher in safety and security.  After the weapons are converted to farm implements and the schools of war are closed, ‘they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid’ (v.4).

This is what the kingdom of God will look like: a world in which each person and each nation truly and sincerely seeks the Lord and commits themselves to learning His ways; a world in which people and nations submit their disagreements to God’s guidance and abide by His ruling; a world in which weapons are converted into farm implements and no one studies war anymore; a world in which everyone is safe and secure and no one makes them afraid.

Micah acknowledges that this will not be easy.  He acknowledges that not everyone will choose to follow this way, yet still he challenges people to follow it anyway – not because God always promises that it will work in the short term, but because it’s God’s way, and God’s way is always right.  Jesus makes the same challenge to us today as Christians. In a world which continues to hate and kill, and divide the world into friend and enemy, He calls us to take the risk of looking at the enemy and calling them our friend.

On this Remembrance Sunday, let us pray that the world will heed that call – but let’s be determined to heed it ourselves first, whether others do or not.

As Micah says, may we live out this truth that; “All the nations may walk in the name of their gods, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever’.

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

Living thoughts

Read again Micah 4:1-5.  What is it saying to you about God’s vision of peace?  Why not write down your thoughts as you ponder these questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others. 

Digging into God’s Word

  1. What does Remembrance Sunday mean for you?
  2. What does it mean to walk in God’s paths (Micah 4:2)?
  3. Through Christ’s death on the cross, we can have peace with God.  Why is this so important? (Look at Colossians 1:19-22)

Digging deeper into God’s Word

  1. Jesus breaks down the barriers that exist between ourselves and God.  He also breaks the barriers that separate people from one another.  At the heart of breaking down barriers, is forgiveness.  Why do you think many people find forgiveness so difficult?  How do we begin to forgive someone who has wronged us?  Is there anyone you need to forgive, or seek forgiveness from?
  2. In Hebrews we read ‘Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.’ (Hebrews 12:14).  What does living in peace with everyone look like in reality, and what does it mean to be holy?

Prayer Response

Father, keep me from being distracted by busyness, the cares of this world, and a heart of unbelief. Thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Help me to “keep in step” with the Spirit as I keep watch.  Father give me a longing for the return of Christ and keep my eyes focused on the prize that is set before me.

“A COMMON mistake today is to regard peace as the chief characteristic of Christianity, but it should be noted how the primacy of righteousness over peace is maintained throughout Scripture.

“The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable” (James 3:17).

“Follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace” (II Timothy 2:22).

“The Kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).

We must live righteously; for that very reason we may not be able to live peaceably with all men. And in these days, when so many are working for peace and stability, it is well to recall the words in Isaiah 32:17:

“The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance for ever.”

It is always wise to do what is right, rather than what is merely expedient.

The Christian attitude must be “Righteousness at any cost,” not “Peace at any price,” for the best way to preserve peace is to be strong in righteousness.”

From “A very present help” by Lt. Gen. Sir William Dobbie