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The Good Samaritan at Anzac Day

April 25, 2015

Leunig AnzacFor the first time in a long time, I took an Anzac service. I have long been resisting this challenge. My concern about the growing tide of nationalism and the glorification of war (disclaimers to the contrary notwithstanding). For the best summary of my views on the Anzac story see here. However, this year it was harder to get out of it. It was my turn and a friend had encouraged me to speak our rather than simply inhabit the parallel world of peace services. Here is my sermon from this morning

LESSON           Luke 10:25-37

 

ADDRESS

 

Today we gather with a sense that there is a great cloud of witnesses… many who have gone before are with us, in some sense looking on. As we gather today we feel that their deepest desire for us is that we never have to experience what they experienced. Never again!

 

In 1915 it was billed as the ‘great war’… the ‘war to end all wars’. Of course it didn’t do any such thing. Wars do not end wars they beget wars.

 

Today we are in a church and so we listen to the word of God. And here this word from God goes by the name, Jesus of Nazareth.

 

In our reading Jesus is asked a question which essentially can be translated as a question about the good life. What does it mean to be part of the life of God? What does that look like? Jesus turns the question back to the questioner. What do you think? What does your law tell you? The guy says: “Love the Lord your God with all your soul and strength and mind. And love your neighbour as yourself’. Jesus agrees with this answer. It’s the standard orthodoxy of the time.

 

But the questioner isn’t finished. He wants clarity. “Who is my neighbour?” In response Jesus tells the famous story of the Good Samaritan – a story in which the person who loves his neighbour turns out to be a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans were in a state of constant hostility. They despised one another. And this incendiary role-model, this enemy of Israel, turns out to be the one who loves his neighbour by loving his enemy, a wounded and dying Jew.

 

The thing is, there was another orthodox belief at the time of Jesus… that ‘my neighbour’ amounted to ‘my fellow Israelite’. “Love thy neighbour”, yes, but only if my neighbour is a cultural ally, or a member of my own nation, within my circle of kin.

 

In terms of the orthodoxy of his time Jesus was a heretic. “Love thy neighbour”, became, for the first time, “Love thy enemy”. “You have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’, but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

 

The tragedy of this moment of remembrance is, of course, that it is easier said than done! Those who died in military action bear witness today to the long history of our failures as a people to love our enemies. Not only must we remember those who have died, but we must also learn to repent. We honour them in our memory by learning repentance, by learning and relearning the things that make for peace.

 

Of course, this heresy that Jesus of Nazareth introduced (love for enemy), was not simply an idea. It was a life that he lived. It was a life that he lived all the way to choosing death on a Roman cross over military rebellion. It was a life that he lived as he was dying with the words ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.’

 

And for us who believe that this life was more than just his life, but the very life of God… that God raised him from death… believe that this life and this “dying on the cross” is our great hope. And in this man, who gives himself unreservedly into the hands of his enemies, in this man is the beginning of the end of war …

 

In response to this man, Christians gather weekly in buildings like this for a kind of boot-camp in the fragile art of loving our enemies, and learning reconciliation… and we fail regularly in the process.

 

In the end we believe (counter-intuitively perhaps) that love (enemy-love) is more powerful than violence.

 

This faith teaches us, in all the messiness of life, to look for the creative long-term solutions… In Jesus of Nazareth we learn the willingness to suffer, and to trust God. Better to risk death than to perpetuate the cycles of violence that continue with us in the 21st century.

 

Let us continue to thank God for the lives of those who have died. Let us continue to remember them and all they were caught up in … not in cynicism or despair, but in hope for the new life to come.

 

Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 25, 2015 6:49 am

    Great stuff Bruce. Many thanks.

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