Homily for September 2019
… on war and peace, conflict and reconciliation
2 Corinthians 5:18-20 New International Version – UK (NIVUK)
18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God.
The above is not easy to understand, though perhaps the following might make it a little clearer:
2 Corinthians 5:18-20 The Message (MSG)
16-20 Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.
Justin Welby to chair a reconciliation commission on the decision to leave the European Union (I still cannot use that horrible “B….t” word, that seems to me to devalue this most monumental of decisions!)?
This looks to be a great idea, though he has already established certain conditions which already will not please many people.
What I am certain of is that the Church as a whole and all those who follow Christ, the epitome of the Peacemaker, should have a role in trying to address the deep divisions which now exist in our great country, itself hitherto the paragon of democracy and fairness.
The thing that strikes me as strange here, however, is that the reconciliation seems to be coming before the war! There are countless examples this and last century of peace and reconciliation following conflict and war. It is good that in this case there may be a chance of reconciling extreme and extremist views before they develop into dangerous conflict.
There are many criticisms that can be levelled at the European Union, yet for all its imperfections, it has achieved one of its major objectives at its inception: to keep the peace in Europe. The fact that conflicts of the most vile and brutal nature have still happened, just beyond its borders (one thinks most obviously of the wars following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union) should continue to be a lesson to all of us.
Over this summer, the thought of war and its effects on countless individuals has never been far from my mind. During one of the flights on our way to Uganda, I watched the film called “A Private war”, which was the true story of part of the life of the American war correspondent, Marie Colvin. She was easily recognisable from the patch she wore over her left eye, the sight of which she lost whilst covering the civil war in Sri Lanka. Born in 1956, she reported on many world conflicts over a 33- year period and specialised in the Middle East. She met her death during the siege of Homs in 2012, in what was proven to be an assassination ordered by the President of the Syrian Arab Republic himself, Bashir Al Assad. Her family brought a civil suit against the Government of Syria who were ordered to pay £302 million in compensation.
I also began reading Jeremy Bowen’s “War stories”, a personal account from this most famous of BBC war correspondents, described by the Independent as “a work of remarkable honesty”, by a man who somehow has survived until now, himself also omnipresent in the Middle East conflicts as they have erupted. It is uncomfortable reading, not least as he speaks of his excitement at doing this job, seeing and reporting on the most base and brutal of human actions and of the many friends he has lost along the way, who daily take the risk in order to bring us news of the terrible things that go on in so many troubled areas of the world.
We have listened to another novel in the car as we have travelled here and there this summer: “The bee-keeper of Aleppo” by Christy Lefteri which tells the harrowing story of Nuri, the bee-keeper and his blind wife, Afra, overtaken by the ravages of war as it reaches this once beautiful Syrian city and how they make their escape. Afra’s blindness was not congenital, but was brought about by the trauma of the terrible things she had seen and experienced in the war.
One of the most defining aspects of our recent visit to Uganda was the warmth and friendliness of the people, unbelievably so since they until very recently have suffered during the most heinous of conflicts largely at the hands of the rebel “Lord’s Resistance Army” led by Joseph Khoni. I talked to a man, on several occasions, who told me that he had been “adopted” by the LRA and had lived for 12 years in the bush. He had met, knew, eaten with Khoni … he had lost most of his family in the war and had eventually sought amnesty along with 50 others. I shuddered at the thought of what this kind, gentle, soft-spoken man might have been forced to do during that horrendous time. Helen and Polly met and talked to others with similar experiences, some bearing the terrible physical marks of their suffering, but all no doubt in constant mental pain from inner scars that may never heal. As we visited villages, I thought of how many of the families living in a particular village are inter-related, part of the same family and just how devastating it would have been as so many similar communities were attacked and wiped out, often by younger members of their own families who had been previously abducted (“adopted”). By Khoni’s troops.
These glimpses into the lives and experiences of individuals brought home to me the horrors of war suffered on a massive scale by ordinary people and in so many parts of the world and how fortunate I have been to have been direct involvement.
We have seen how easy it is for things that seem so solid and secure to be threatened, damaged and broken up. We are right to consider reconciliation before conflict and so break the mould of the order of things. As Jesus rode into Jerusalem the crowds hailed him as a new general who would rid the place of the scourge of Roman occupation and put them to the sword. He came, however, as the King of Peace, the servant of the poor, the weak, the vulnerable, the destitute, the outcast. How quickly they turned against him!
For there are evil powers at work in this once United Kingdom: those of populism, nationalism, jingoism, extremism, terrorism and we all have a duty, especially those of us who espouse the values of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, to counter them, amongst our neighbours, friends, workmates. I was shocked to learn the other day that a person who lives close to me had made a racist remark to a Muslim neighbour of ours, suggesting that he should return whence he came. This is exactly the type of thing what we must challenge in our own communities.
The excitement of the forthcoming UCI World Cycle Championships based in Harrogate towards the end of September is reaching fever-pitch. It is less a question of an interest in cycling for me, than a passion for the event itself – an opportunity for us to receive people from all over the country and from all over the world to this greatest celebration of our beautiful county, our great country. It is a chance to extend a welcome from all the small communities in Yorkshire through which the cyclists and their entourage will pass, a welcome which is second to none. I have already had a two-day training session on World Host Customer Management and later this week will do my role-specific UCI Services training. In addition, I have attended a counter-terrorism course. The major thrust of this was that all of us see things differently and even see different things. What may appear suspicious to one, may not to another. However, like random acts of kindness, we may never truly know the impact of what we do. We were advised not to be anxious, but to be vigilant. Those who conduct “hostile reconnaissance” (we could possibly call this “casing the joint” or observing security measures, looking for opportunities and with hostile intent) are highly likely to be experiencing extremely high anxiety levels themselves, for fear of being caught, or failing themselves or their organisation. This leads in most cases to body language, facial expression, activity, choice of words which might appear out of the ordinary to an observer.
So, we must look out for each other and gently challenge abnormal, unacceptable, unusual behaviour. We learnt on the course that the US spends more on defence than the rest of the world put together, that the US spends more on intelligence-gathering than we do on our while defence budget, but that they still failed to stop the attack on the Twin Towers. The UK, the 4th biggest spender on defence after the US, China and Russia is on alert as the risk of a terrorist activity somewhere in the country is classed as “severe”. This is only one level below the top one: “critical”, which means that an attack is imminent. There are currently 700 groups and activities, along with 3000 individuals being monitored because they represent a threat. The UK is possibly the most successful country in the world when it comes to thwarting or limiting the effect of terrorist activity. This is because in an estimated 60% of cases, the public has had an impact in one way or another. Our trainer’s last words to us were:
“Don’t be anxious, just be vigilant!”
26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have told you. 27Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let yourhearts be troubled; do not be afraid. 28You heard Me say, ‘I am going away, and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved Me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.…
Peter Lambert – September 2019