Saturday, 17 November 2018

On the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1

If you sometimes think you are insignificant in this life, or doubt the wider effects of your actions in this life, or the value of being able to let God into it, I’d like you to consider a student, just one man, Gavrilo Princip.

On 28 June 1914, Gavrilo Princip shot someone who would have settled for peace. He shot one man, and four years three months and one week later, many millions were dead, more were wounded or traumatised, and swathes of Europe lay wasted. Not bad for one shot.  Gavrilo’s shot lined up Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy- which later changed sides-against France, Britain-Ireland and Russia, drew in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, caused Empires to crumble, revolution to engulf Russia, and the US to be a world power. In the UK, six million men were mobilised. In one battle, the Somme in France, up to one and a half million died. 

One shot led people barely trained to fight small colonial wars to be thrust into the horror of open ended industrial struggle. So don’t think you are insignificant, or doubt the wider effects of your actions, and how you might need to let go, and let God in. 

100 years ago we did, in the early morning light, in a converted dining car in a French train, when it was agreed that WW1 would be over from 11am, and fighting on land, sea and air would stop. Maybe we didn’t let go enough. The later terms of the agreement may have led us to WW2, but we are grateful for the extraordinary sacrifice and struggle of the soldiers and civilians who thought greater love hath no man than to lay down life for friends.  But when we remember, we forget that they didn’t, or couldn’t. My grandfather William, in the photo, survived the Somme, came home with the Kings Liverpool Regiment, and never mentioned it again. 

Actions have effects, and effects have actions. I have worked with soldiers who fought in N. Ireland or the Falklands or wherever, and seen them find peace of mind despite PTSD. In WW1 there was no such thing as PTSD. There was fear of exploding shells and poison gas in the trench, fear of bullets going above it, fear of death, hunger and exhaustion from fear of decomposing bodies which dropped out of the ground as it shifted in the wet, fear of the rats eating them, because they would try to eat you if you slept, fear of body lice, fear of debilitating trench fever, fear of waterlogging, fear of trench foot, fear of extreme temperatures and frostbite, and fear of there being no obvious end in sight. 

So my Grandfather picked up his solider’s Bible and went to Romans 8: To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace … if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he will give life to your mortal bodies also …  I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us … we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose … If God is for us, who is against us? Who will bring any charge against us … Who is to condemn?  Who will separate us from the love of Christ? 

Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us. I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

After the war, he became a lay preacher, because one man, like Gavrilio Princip, also changed the world with one single action.  Jesus of Nazareth called some fishermen, 2,000 years ago.  For the WW1 soldiers, letting go was an external letting go with a destination to prepare for, the Western front, the trenches, a bag, a gun. For the fishermen, and for us, we don’t need to pack up, we just need to let go, and to know we are citizens not just of our country, or of our continent, or even of our world, but of the invisible God’s eternal life in us. 

Follow me is a call to let the invisible God work through us because actions have effects in the world, yes, but also in eternity.  So, when Jesus says, “I will make you fish for people,” he isn’t describing a job catching new members, but a way of letting go in this life for God’s life. He could just as easily have said to scouts “Follow me, you will honour God.” To carpenters, “Follow me, you will build the kingdom,” to farmers, “Follow me, you will grow people, to doctors, “Follow me, you will heal brokenness,” to teachers, “Follow me, you will grow minds,” to parents of all stripes, “Follow me, you nurture new life.”

Simon, Andrew, James and John, by Galilee, were not extraordinary, but they responded to Jesus’ words and actions about letting go in trust and relinquishing control for God’s greater purpose to work through them in ordinary daily life, the same ordinary sea, the same net, the same boat, wind, water, fish, sore muscles, tired bodies. They cast the net out, pulled the net in, mended the net. They didn’t expect much, but he called them to let go of nets, boats, and their fathers, and to follow a new way of life. So what can we learn from the WW1 soldiers called up to fight, and from the fishermen Jesus called in, to let go?  

That there were no discussions, no questions, no good byes. No “Where are we going? What will we do? How long will we be gone? What do we need to take? Where will we stay?” They relinquished control and allowed this ordinary life to be extra-ordinary through their daily routines, casting and mending their  way through daily struggles, as we can.

If we leave the mental nets of emotions that entangle us, the small boat like bodies that contain us, and the individual fathers from whom we seek approval & identity, we let go and allow this ordinary life to be extra-ordinary, since we are citizens not just of a nation or a continent, but actions have effects, and not just for this visible world, as St Paul said… our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but cosmic powers, spiritual forces, in heavenly places.
Jesus knew very well the cost of leaving the known, of relinquishing control to the invisible God. Jesus said truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom, truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it cannot produce seeds, truly I tell you, when you were young you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. 

What is he saying?  He is saying your life is more than your knowable body and mind, which are not in control, because there is so much more going on through them, if you can let go and let God, and acknowledge eternity as well as the world, so your actions will really have effects, and so no chaotic circumstance or death can separate you from the love of Christ, the universal mind in whom we all live and move and have our being here.

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