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Remembering Conflict and Reflecting on Peace
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
November 11, 2012
Joshua 1:1-9 Revelation 21:3-4, 22-27; 22:1-5 Psalm 44
This Sunday is Remembrance Day. It is a day when we reflect on the courage of those who served in the military, and who sacrificed their lives for us. It is also a day to reflect on war and the meaning of armed conflict. And finally, it is a day to reflect on our hopes for world peace, in a world filled with conflict, mistrust, and hostility.
I have selected two Bible passages that reflect two ways of seeing conflict. The first reading was from Joshua. In this passage, God tells Joshua to have courage. God also tells Joshua that He will give him the land promised to the forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to Moses. This land will be from the wilderness in the southwest to the great river Euphrates, in modern day Iraq. Joshua is told to have courage and to conquer. Deuteronomy tells us that the Israelites will take over, “large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant” (Deuteronomy 6:10-11). What God is telling Moses in this Deuteronomy passage is that the Israelites will conquer the Promised Land and take possession of cities, houses, vineyards, and olive groves built by the inhabitants of Palestine. These spoils will be the result of armed conflict.
Then, at the very end of the Christian Bible we find that beautiful passage about peace from the book of Revelation. John foresees a time when,
God Himself will wipe away every tear . . . and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more” (21:3-4).
And in the Holy City New Jerusalem, we find the tree of life the leaves of which are for “the healing of the nations” (22:2).
The passage from Joshua and the passage from Revelation bring out two sides of this morning’s issue. That is, armed conflict and peace. There seems to be Biblical support for both of these issues.
On Remembrance Day we think about the tragedy of war. We think about those who gave their lives for the free world. Specifically, we think of World War I and John McCrae’s poem IN FLANDERS FIELDS and the Battle of Ypres. From our place in history, WWI is seen as a just war. We feel that the ambitions of Germany needed to be stopped. We see those who gave their lives in the War as heroes, and we honor them on Remembrance Day. We may even be inclined to think that God sided with the Allies, and crushed the imperialist ambitions of Kaiser Wilhelm II.
I am no expert on world history, but I have learned something about World War I in school, and by study on my own. One of the terms that comes up often as a precursor to WWI is the term “The Great Powder Keg.” What this term refers to is the huge and perhaps excessive armament that the nations of Europe were amassing. It is called The Great Powder Keg because it was as if this armament were just waiting for a spark to ignite it into war. When one considers the vastness of WWI, versus the apparent cause by an insignificant Yugoslavian assassin, one realizes that WWI may have been inevitable. In this case, I think that all the great nations of the world played a part in it.
I think that World War II is a more clear case of just war. The atrocities of Hitler were unimaginable then and remain so now. This monster needed to be stopped.
But we are still left with the grim fact that death and destruction are the results of even just wars. The men and women of our armed services have paid the ultimate sacrifice for the survival of freedom and what I hope are humane values.
Today, we see conflict in another form than that of the great world wars. We see conflict in the form of terror and suicide bombings. The victims of terrorist bombing are not armed combatants, but unarmed civilians. On Remembrance Day, we need to remember those innocent civilians who have died not in war, but as the result of terrorist attacks.
Unfortunately, in the case of modern day terror, religion has been added into the mix. The terror we see seems to come from fanatic Muslims. And Westerners who know little of the Muslim faith are inclined to think that these extremists represent the whole religion. These extremists think that they are doing the will of Allah. But there are many, many Muslims of good will who are quick to point out that these fanatics do not speak for the religion in general. I suggest that this church body take a little time to study the Muslim faith, go to City Hall, where a presentation about the Muslim religion is on display, talk with your Muslim neighbors, and learn about this wonderful world religion. We need to keep a level head when it comes to terrorism and whom or what we blame as causes for it. And as Swedenborgians, we need remain respectful of all those who faithfully practice the religion they know, even as we ask for respect and the privilege to practice our faith.
But it seems that we are left with both of the issues of today’s talk. There are the Hitlers in the world, or they can arise. When one power seeks to assert itself and annex or conquer its neighbors, I can see no other recourse but armed conflict. But before armed conflict erupts, I think that every possible diplomatic avenue must be exhausted. Armed conflict is a last resort. This is when we honor the memory and the calling of our armed service men and women. Even as they are called to prevent unjust hostilities today, in years past servicemen and women have given their lives to promote the ultimate goal of world harmony.
The first step in world harmony is understanding. Through understanding can come the healing that John speaks of. I think of that beautiful image of the tree of life, whose leaves are for “the healing of the nations.” If the nations of the world are to find healing, it must come through understanding. It must come from respect. It must come from the realization that other countries want to exist the same way that we want to exist. Other countries want to rule themselves just as we want to rule ourselves. Other nations want their culture preserved even as we want our culture preserved.
I hold up Canada as an example of what the world could look like. And I hold up Edmonton in particular as an example of what the world could look like. In city hall we have rotating displays from different faith traditions that are called “Celebrating our Faiths.” Right there in the centre of the life of Edmonton we find a celebration of diversity and religion. Look around you as you go about the city. We see all different faiths represented, we find peoples of all different countries represented, we see the gifts of differing cultures throughout the city, such as China Town, or Little Italy, and the different restaurants offering ethnic food. Edmonton is richer for its diversity.
It can be done. Through acceptance and understanding the prophesy in John can become a lived reality. “God Himself will wipe away every tear . . . and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more” (21:3-4). The tree of life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations will become a global reality when it grows first from the soil of our own hearts.