sermons by ian banks

Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly

We’re going to try something different today. During the sermon there will be a call and response, the same one that we used in our prayers earlier. I want you to think of this sermon on Micah as an extended intercession. So, you’ll need to stay awake!

When I say “O God, hear our voice” – the response is “and grant unto the world your everlasting peace”

Coventry

I wonder how many of you have visited Coventry Cathedral or know of its story? (1)

Almost 79 years ago to the day, on the 14th November 1940, the city of Coventry was devastated by thousands of bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe. Two thirds of the city was destroyed and hundreds of lives lost. The Cathedral burned along with the city, having been hit by numerous incendiary devices.

The decision to rebuild the cathedral was taken the morning after its destruction. Rebuilding would not be an act of defiance, but rather a sign of faith, trust and hope for the future of the world. It was the vision of the Provost at the time, Richard Howard, which encouraged the people of Coventry away from feelings of bitterness and hatred. This in turn has led to the cathedral’s current Ministry of Peace and Reconciliation, which has provided spiritual and practical support, in areas of conflict throughout the world.

Shortly after the destruction, the cathedral stonemason noticed that two of the charred medieval roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. He set them up in the ruins where they were later placed on an altar of rubble with the moving words ‘Father Forgive’ inscribed on the Sanctuary wall. Another cross was fashioned from three medieval nails by a local priest. The Cross of Nails has become the symbol of Coventry’s ministry of reconciliation.

Today the ruins of the old Cathedral are preserved as a memorial and sacred space for the City. They are side-by-side with the new Cathedral building.

O God, hear our voice, and grant unto the world your everlasting peace

The past is ever present

  1. In our Remembrance service today we think of the past. In many ways, like the old Coventry cathedral, the past is still very much with us. Side-by-side with the present. We remember those who have given their lives for this country in war and in conflict. As we look around the photos and plaques in this room, some we may have known personally and some we know only as names on a list or photos in a frame. But we remember them all with gratitude.
  2. Coventry can think of that one moment in time when their old Cathedral was destroyed and they made the decision to build anew. Each Remembrance Sunday we similarly mark a specific event. It’s another year on since the wars and conflicts that we are remembering. Another year of relative peace which the sacrifice of those whom we’re thinking about, at least in part, helped to bring about.
  3. And like Coventry Cathedral we look to the future. We make the choice to act justly and turn away from bitterness and hatred. As we mark Remembrance Sunday we too look forward with hope to a more peaceful and equitable world and society.

O God, hear our voice, and grant unto the world your everlasting peace

Micah: Past, present and future

In our reading today from Micah, he also picks up these themes. Micah was around in the same time as Amos and Hosea in the North and Isaiah in the South. Micah’s message is to the capital cities of both regions. If you think about what he said:

  1. He talks about the things that have happened in the past, the exploitation of the helpless and the emptiness of their religion.
  2. He marks a current event in the judgement of those two nations.
  3. And finally, he offers a transformational future with fresh hope for the people of God as they repent and turn to Him.

This reading is particularly appropriate for Remembrance Sunday as Micah speaks all this against a background of ongoing armed conflict. He almost certainly witnessed war and its effects 1st-hand. Assyria covered parts of what we’d now call Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran. Still troubled areas today. Assyria had attacked the capitals of both Israel and Judah, with some 20 years between the two. It’s highly probable that Micah lived through both of these events and appears to have been deeply affected by them. Just like someone living through both WWI and WWII.

Swords into ploughshares

You may recall in last year’s Remembrance service, we also came across the Assyrians in connection with the visit from an unwilling, fishy-smelling, Jonah (3). That story was set just before today’s passage in Micah. So, sadly the Assyrians repentance in the Book of Jonah, with even the animals being very, very sorry, must have been really short-lived…

Micah talks about the inadequacy of our human plans compared to the wisdom of God. He tells-off the leaders and prophets who have led the people into this situation. He rebukes them. You can imagine he’d be doing a lot of rebuking about our politics today. Our reading speaks of the new hope that there will be when restoration and God’s rule comes. And God Himself will judge the disputes ‘for strong nations far and wide’.

Then, and only then, will people beat their swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. We’d call that up-cycling now. It could be an episode of Money for Nothing on the BBC. But notice that people are still active, they are still ‘doing’ something. They’re not sitting around doing nothing. They are farming and working the land rather than engaged in conflict and strife. Making peace not war isn’t just absence of fighting. It still requires sweat and application and effort.

O God, hear our voice, and grant unto the world your everlasting peace

Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly

Having witnessed the horrors of war, Micah says that true peace can only come when God’s rule reigns supreme. In a world where many deeply desire peace, we too need to remember that it is God alone who can bring true peace. God alone who can bring true justice. In our reading Micah describes 4 freedoms:

  1. Freedom from ignorance – He will teach us His ways
  2. Freedom from war – neither shall they learn war anymore
  3. then freedom from want – everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree
  4. and freedom from fear – no one shall make them afraid

As his hands and feet, we, you and me, play our part in making those freedoms happen. Later in Micah (chapter 6) he explains that our role in this new world order is ‘to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with you our God’. We are to walk and work hand-in-hand with God to bring about the peace which he describes.

As the world desires peace, we should remember that true peace can only come when we do work hand-in-hand with God. Creating peace through diplomatic, political or military means can be vitally important supporting elements for peace – and mechanisms by which godly people can achieve a righteous conclusion. But, as Coventry Cathedral demonstrates, true peace can only come when God is at the centre of all those efforts.

O God, hear our voice, and grant unto the world your everlasting peace

Let’s dream a little

So, God invites us, you and me, to join with Him in making His peace and hope known on the earth. To offer true hope to a world which seems increasingly in conflict with itself and determined to shatter itself apart with civil wars and unrest. A world which increasingly seems to focus on our differences rather than on what we have in common, and on the individual rather than the community. A world which today marks and remembers the past in thousands of services like this one – and continues to look to the future for the hope which God alone can offer. 

And we don’t need to be politicians or world leaders to do this. If every single one of us here in this room tried to ‘act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God’ in everything that we said or did or thought then what an impact that would have on those around us in our immediate circle. We might fail in the attempt but just trying would make a difference.

Let’s dream a little bigger. What if every single Christian in Bury did the same? Every Muslim? Every Jew? What would be the impact on our town? Wouldn’t that be utterly transformational? But it will need sweat and application and effort.

Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. But let’s start with us, with you and me. For if not us, then who? If not now, then when? Start with us. Start small. But let’s start.

O God, hear our voice, and grant unto the world your everlasting peace. Amen

References:
  1. http://www.coventrycathedral.org.uk/wpsite/about-us/
  2. Much of this sermon is adapted from  Sam Cappleman http://www.thisischurch.com/christian_teaching/lectionary_bible_notes/specialfestivals/remembrancesunday.htm
  3. https://stjohnstmarkchurchbury.com/2018/11/11/jonah-jesus-fred-and-you/

This ‘act justly’ Remembrance Service address was delivered by Ian Banks at Four Lanes End Congregational on 10th November 2019. It’s based on Micah 4:1-5. Please press here for Ian’s take on the story of Naaman. For lot’s more by Ian please follow this link.

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