Sunday, 10 November 2013

Remembrance Day

Instead of my usual blog, I will offer, instead, the substance of my sermon on November 10th at Jubilee United Church.  Don't worry - reading this does not constitute going to church.  Non-theist and Non-Christians alike, you are safe. 

I was going to talk about Red Poppies and Whited Poppies… I was planning to talk about why, at Jubilee, we hold a Service of Remembrance on the Sunday before November 11th, and why other churches do not do so.  I was planning to talk about war and peace… but as I was preparing for the Sunday Service I was looking at a copy of the Last Post, written in my high school music teacher’s hand….

When I was 16, I met RJ Cringan. 
He was my music teacher at Earl Haig.  He called me leather lips because I could play the trumpet for hours on end… he taught me to write music, encouraged me to write a musical, made music a part of my life – a part that I cannot imagine being without.  
Bob volunteered for the infantry in 1943.  Realizing that it takes months to train a soldier, but years to train a musician – they decided to take this musician and have him play for the troops, and so he led the Rhythm Rodeo and toured the bases in Canada and the UK playing for the men and women in service.   
It was Bob who had me play the Last Post for the first time. 
At a school Remembrance Day ceremony.  He wrote it out for me…  I have it with me to this day, not that I need it… but it connects me to him.

I think that’s one of the reasons that we wear the poppy… it connects us to those who have shaped our lives, in ways we recognize and in ways that we take for granted.

After I played the Last Post, being a teenager, I decided to jazz it up a little… playing in the music room by myself, I added few riffs, flattened a couple of notes… improved the melody and gave it a better finish.   Bob heard me playing it and told me to stop.  I don’t recall Bob ever being “angry” with me, but it was clear that I was to stop doing what I was doing.
“Leave it alone…” he told me,  “It’s not meant to be show stopper… it’s meant to be simple… it’s meant to mourn… and honour.. remember that.”
I never fooled around with it ever again… I always play it the way he taught me. Thirty Five Novembers in a row.

I will try to keep my thoughts this morning, in a similar vein.

My father was born in 1939; he didn’t go to war.
I have never been called to serve.
My children have never been called to serve.

To those who have served – thank you.
Thank on behalf of me, my children and my parents… not many people in the world have three generations at peace.

That’s all any of us who wear a poppy want to say – “Thank You”

The vets who wear the poppy are saying “thank you” to the soldiers who stood with them, those who fell in battle and those who made it home… thank you for you sacrifice, thank you for standing with me…thank you for picking me up when I fell and thank you for putting me back together.
The rest of us are saying “Thank you”  to the men and women who have served and are serving…
the families at home who worry around the clock…
those who will always remember their child, husband, wife, sister, brother, parent in uniform – because it was the last time they saw them….
The men and women who stayed home and worked new jobs and extended hours to support the country…. 
The men and women who came back and didn’t know how to fit back into civilian life…
the men and women who helped others come “home” and fit in…
Thank you.

Remembrance Day is a time to mourn
We mourn those who didn’t come home.
Those who didn’t get to take us fishing, or see us graduate, come to our wedding…
those who might be forgotten if not for one day a year when we remember those who have served.

We mourn those who have come back from active service, but are not the same people who left…  the pain and burden they bear is so great… too much for us to understand, sometimes too much for them to handle.    

We mourn lost youth… because everyone who has served has spent some of their youth on all of us.  Some have spent it all.

We gather today to honour…
I don’t mean that we gather to cheer on the soldiers,  wave the Canadian Flag in victory or glamourize war.   We’re not politically motivated and we have no future or present war agenda.
We gather to honour.
Most veterans that I know, are the biggest advocates for peace…. They don’t want us at war, they don’t want their children at war… they went because there seemed to be no other way, but they hope and pray that we can find another way.  
We honour them as we try to find another way.

Some call them heroes…  I don’t think that they are.   
Hero is a term that comes from ancient Greek mythology and drama in which there are Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes.    Gods are… well, they’re gods.  Demi gods are half human half god and Heroes are the humans who aspire to be gods.     The men and women that I know, who have been to war…. Never aspired to be gods.  
They aspired to be sons and daughters, husbands and wives, parents and grandparents, comrades and buddies, neighbours and friends…  they aspired to be the best human beings they could be in the worst of conditions.  Their greatest desire was to come home and make it possible for all of us to be sons and daughters, husbands and wives, parents and grandparents, comrades and buddies, neighbours and friends…
The scripture that we read earlier recognized the widow who gave all that she had to the Temple (Mark 12:41ff) She gave, not out of abundance, but out of her poverty because she gave everything that she had.   We honour our veterans when we recognize that they have given to us, not out of their abundance, but out of their poverty, by giving everything that they have.
In every country…
under every flag…
in every generation…

Today, I think about my father in law, who enlisted because he wanted to fly planes and knew that he’d look good in the jacket…  he had no idea what it would really be like…and it was horrific.  But he stayed.  1939 to 1945.  He doesn’t talk about it much, but every now he’ll talk about flying, being shot down... and other experiences.  Most of the time he would rather talk about his family.
I think about my grandfather and his brothers in the Navy and Merchant Marines and how it must have been for my great-grandmother to have her boys at war…
I think about the young man who asked me to bless his Sunglasses on his way back for a second tour in Afghanistan… 
I think about the number of veterans that I came to know so well in my years in Bowmanville and now at Jubilee… their stories, their lives… their pride, their hope and their sorrow, all intertwined.

And all that I can say is “Thank You” for giving, not from abundance, but from your poverty – giving all that you had and have… I promise to try to be the best human being I can be in hard times and situations; to give to the community not from my abundance, but from my poverty, daring to give all that I have.   In that way, I hope to find a better way than war… and I hope to honour all that you have done for us all.

Bob would want me to end now… no big finish required. 

And so, that’s what I’ll do.

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