This is the sermon preached at Wymington Chapel on Sunday, November 11th, 2012. Any comments and discussion would be very welcome.
11th November 2012, Remembrance Sunday
As Jesus taught, he said “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. The he called his disciples and said to them “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:38 to 44)
About 100 years ago, there was a family living in a Somerset village- father, mother and five sons. In 1914 the First World War began, and one after another, the father and the five sons joined the Army and went to fight. And one after another the telegrams came home, first the father, then the eldest son, and one after another all the sons except the youngest. All killed. After the war, the mother and her youngest son struggled to rebuild their lives. You would think there would be sympathy for her in the village- but no, neighbours grumbled, because of the amount of pension she was receiving in compensation for her terrible loss. “It’s not fair”, they said. “Why should she get more than us.” In the end they decided to move out of that village, and they went across the border into Wiltshire. For the rest of her life the mother refused to stand whenever the national anthem was played. Somehow she felt betrayed, conned. She couldn’t take all the talk about how honourable it was to have given your sons for King and Country. It made no sense to her. She felt that she had given everything- and for what.
Our Gospel reading this morning tells of another widow who gave everything. Money this time, not people. As Jesus says, she gave everything she had. And for what? For the Temple, for that great building that was so much the pride and joy of the people, built by Herod. People felt “While we have the Temple we still have our pride. Maybe the Romans rule our country but we still have our pride as a nation, because we still have the Temple.” They thought it was worth giving everything to maintain that national pride. And Jesus says it’s all a delusion. The people are being conned, conned by the religious leaders who gobble up widow’s houses- lending them money when they need it, and then when they can’t pay their debts taking their houses off them. All to maintain something that Jesus says is soon going to come crashing down. It’s all a delusion, all a big con.
At least the Temple didn’t demand child sacrifice, though. There were plenty of gods in the ancient world who did just that. In the Hebrew Scriptures we hear of a god called “Moloch” who demanded that the children “pass through fire”. These were gods who promised everything the people wanted- power, wealth, victory in war. But they demanded something in return. “Give us your children”, they said. “Give us your children and we’ll give you what you want.” There are even echoes of that in the life of Israel. Abraham feels that somehow God demands that he must sacrifice Isaac, his son. Only at the last minute is Abraham stopped from doing that. But some of the kings later did exactly that- they sacrificed their sons and daughters so that the gods would give them success.
There are plenty of gods around today who still demand child sacrifice. “Give us your sons and daughters”, they say, “and you’ll have success, you’ll have wealth, you’ll have power, you’ll have victory over your enemies.” Of course, we don’t call them “gods” these days. We’re more sophisticated and enlightened than that. We don’t any longer believe in the supernatural things they used to in the ancient world. But the things a nation of a community puts first are its gods. The priorities we choose as a people are our gods.
And some of these gods still demand child sacrifice. The British Empire did that, which is why we and other nations of Europe ended up in the mess of the First World War, and everything that came afterwards. Today we hear a lot about the “War on Terror”- which too easily slides off into a war to defend Western civilisation against its enemies. Which all too easily becomes a Christian Crusade against the Muslim world. And we know all about Crusades. We’ve had too many of them for a thousand years. “Christian” Europe, and now “Christian” America battling against Islam. And some Moslems finding ways to hit back. Which is why a lot of people celebrated when the World Trade Centre was destroyed on 9/11.
Was that right? Of course not. That kind of violence and terror is never justified, and it needs to be dealt with firmly. But the celebrations showed how much people resent the constant pressure they feel the “Christian” West has been putting on the Muslim world. And if we are not careful our determination to resist and fight back can become yet another Crusade- another “god” that demands child sacrifice from us as our sons and daughters are sent to fight and die.
A few days before Jesus saw the widow in the Temple he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. When he came over the hill and saw Jerusalem spread before him, he wept. “If only today you knew the things that make for peace”, he said. “But they are hid from you.” And so the days are coming when all you have will fall apart, all you take pride in, including that great Temple of yours, will crumble into dust.
Because you did not know the things that make for peace. Does Jesus weep over us today, because we fail to see the things we need to make peace in the world? Or are we, the people who profess to follow Jesus, able to reject those false gods who still demand the sacrifice of our children, and instead follow the way of Christ, who alone brings us peace?