Saturday, 25 April 2015

Anzac Day: A Postlude. “He restores my soul”.

For many millions of Australians and no doubt for many of you, yesterday morning your alarm clocks went off early and you arose and dressed and prepared yourself to go out to commemorate Anzac Day.  It is day which is often described as reflecting something of the essence of what it means to be an Australian: it is embedded deep within our psyche – you could say that it is part of our soul as a nation.

This morning you who are gathered here heard your alarm clocks go off again and rather than stay late in bed on a Sunday morning chose to come and to gather here on a day that is known in some sectors of the church as Good Shepherd Sunday.  It is a day in which we come and we hear hope proclaimed and we contemplate what it means to be God’s people, to be the sheep of God’s pasture.

As I contemplated the readings for today and the experiences of this week I was drawn to the phrase in the 23rd Psalm “He restores my soul”.

These words of longing and hope stood out to me as I struggled with the imagery of war and remembrance and as I thought deeply on the troubles of God’s creation and its people.  Anzac day for all its poignancy and sorrow is a difficult day to make sense of in the context of our faith and there is within me a longing that God restores our soul to face the week ahead.

I want this morning to share three reflections about having our souls restored by God that came to me as I engaged in reflecting on the meaning of Anzac Day.  In this sense I am giving you a good old three point sermon. And, the messages are simple: remember God, grow up and we are one.

So for the first time: He restores my soul

Lest we forget.

On Friday I was privileged to be asked to share a prayer at the Anzac Day Commemoration at Ironside State School and it lead me to research the origins of the words “lest we forget”.

The words “Lest we forget” came from a poem by Rudyard Kipling called The Recessional and were a reference taken from the Bible in Deuteronomy, where it says, “lest we forget the God of our forefathers.”

They were written by Kipling at a time when the British Empire was at its height.  Exercising dominion over so many other nations, including Australia, it could literally be said that the sun never sets on the British Empire.

Kipling wrote The Recessional as a challenge to the Imperialism of pride of his day.  Even to the point of the suggestion that the British Empire was in some way establishing the coming kingdom of God.  He was reminding them to be humble and to remember God and that before God’s own sacrifice all else was secondary.

On ANZAC day when we say “Lest we forget” they words can mean all sorts of things to us, especially that we should remember the fallen, but this was the original intent – to remember God: to remember God over and above our pride and our nationalism and to be humble.

The reality is though that Australia is far from remembering God, we are not now nor ever have been a Christian nation – we have never had a state religion.  Ian Breward describes us in a challenging way in the title of his book “Australia: the most Godless place under heaven”

The Psalmist cry must also be our cry: He restores my soul, restore also the soul of our nation – help us to remember God: Lest we forget!

Now for the second time: He restores my soul

It is often said of the landing at Anzac Cove that it was our baptism of fire possibly even inferring that it was our coming of age. The historical inaccuracy of such claims that Anzac was the birth of our nation or even the first blood shed confronts us. Further, it is often said about Anzac that it was about defending our freedom and our values and our way of life: our mateship.

But this week I read stories and quotes from men who actually landed on that terrible beach.  I could share many of the quotes with you but two comments from the survivors stood out:

The first from:

Ted Matthews, of the 1st Division Signals, [who] was the last survivor of those who landed on April 25... [he] said " Some people called us "five-bob-a-day murderers" but the politicians were the murderers. Politicians make up the wars. They don't go to them."

In another article I read words that back up Ted’s view. It said:

"War has its certainties. One is that politicians will always send young men to fight it. Another, that politicians will always lead the commemoration for those killed (“sacrificed”) in it."

The second quote is from:

Roy Kyle, of the 24th Battalion, who enlisted at 17, said: “I don't take any pride in the medals at all. I was a silly boy and should have had my bottom smacked for joining up at that age."

Much of our rhetoric about Anzac Day and nationhood ignores some of the deep and difficult realities that the men experienced.  Many were not there to fight for our values or freedom, many simply did not know why they were there – it was a terrible place of death and suffering and little sense can be of it.

For me Roy Kyle’s comment is telling: he was a silly boy – he needed to grow up.  The war was not the way to do this. 

Last week a group of teenagers was arrested in Melbourne for plotting to engage in a terrorist attack on Anzac Day.  Young impressionable Australians responding to a call to war from another nation – it feels eerily similar, except that it was a call to go to war on their own nation.

As we travel through life it is easy to think we have found the answer and we know better the bold passion of youth can often deceive us. But we, we need to grow up, to have our souls restored.

The Psalmist cry must also be our cry: He restores my soul, restore also the soul of our nation; help us to grow up.  To grow beyond naive mythologies, to accept that part of life is that we do not knowing everything; and, to receive the comfort of shepherd who guides us

And now for the third and final time: He restores my soul

We are all God’s sheep.

For me one of the most powerful expressions of the truth of our common humanity and the reconciliation that we should be seeking comes to us from the great Turkish commander Ataturk.

Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

It has long been my view that the Spirit of God blows where it wills and for me I hear the words of hope for humanity in this extraordinary man’s words.

I believe that what he acknowledged was that on the fields of battle men who fought now embrace one another side by side in death.  The cross and crescent, symbols of two faiths mingled in the ground.  Boys, sons, fathers, friends, enemies sharing side by side in the ground in death as no doubt God longed that they might share in life.

Restore our souls: let the peace and reconciliation Ataturk declared for dead be ours in life!  We live in a world beset by division and sectarianism, divided ideologies and aspirations.  Jesus our good shepherd reminds us:

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

It is not our place to judge who is in and who is out when it comes to God’s love – Jesus came into the world not to condemn but in order that it might be saved through him.  We are all God’s creatures in life and in death – let us not wait until death on a battlefield to learn to embrace those who are different to us.

The Psalmist cry must also be our cry: He restores my soul, restore also the soul of our nation; help us to know God’s love is for all nations and God’s desire is for peace and reconciliation as was proclaimed at the birth of Jesus.

Restore our souls, O God.

Tomorrow, your alarm will go off again.  You will rise and you will face the day. 

The shepherd his rod and his staff will guide you and he will restore your souls as you enter into life in the community around you: at work, at home, with family and with friends.

Remember God, grow to maturity in Christ, and remember all people are God’s people.


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