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Readings: 9 November 2012 - 3rd Sunday before Advent

02 November 2012


3rd Sunday before Advent
Remembrance Sunday

Jonah 3.1-5,10; Hebrews 9.24-end; Mark 1.14-20

Almighty Father, whose will is to restore all things in your beloved Son, the King of all: govern the hearts and minds of those in authority, and bring the families of the nations, divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin, to be subject to his just and gentle rule; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

TODAY's readings make no special concessions to Remembrance Sunday, which is appropriate, because war makes no special concessions to our lives. We have to make theological sense of the unlikely juxtapositions.

We hear about people called to follow God. Simon, Andrew, James, and John responded almost instantly, leaving Zebedee to watch his labour force in the family business get up and leave him to it. Those four men were setting off on a life-changing adventure that would end with their cruel deaths.

On the other hand, Jonah, in the rollicking story that bears his name (and which it is worth reading in its entirety), responded completely differently. We hear him set off when called, but there is a very different back story, which a map elucidates.

When God had previously sent him to Nineveh, Jonah had set off in the opposite direction entirely - going west to Spain (Tarshish), instead of east to Assyria. He could hardly have been more disobedient if he had tried. A fierce storm at sea and a brief encounter with the inside of a large fish did the trick. So, when God called again, off he went - this time in the right direction.

He complained furiously, however, when God showed mercy to the city as a result of his preaching. Most people would be thrilled that their preaching had such an instant effect (even the animals repented); but not Jonah. He would have prayed through gritted teeth the petition in the collect about divided nations' being subject to God's just and gentle rule.

What were those men thinking, as they set out on these new directions in life under God? They had dreams that they submitted, more or less readily, to a new direction from God. What did men and women in the armed services think, when war forced new directions on their lives? We remember them before God with readings about people whose lives were turned upside down.

We might ask ourselves afresh how we would respond, were our lives similarly disrupted. Would we dare to be as ready as Peter, Andrew, James, and John to respond, or, like Jonah, be the ultimate reluctant conscript? This involves our control of our destinies, as well as more domestic questions about the effect on our families.

On Remembrance Sunday, we remember that the call to serve in war is a hard call, to which some respond with their lives. However wrong the injustice that war is intended to put right, the suffering of war remains antithetical to the fullness of life that God offers his world in love, and to God's just and gentle rule offered to all the families of the nations.

At the end of the Remembrance Day service in Durham Cathedral, the congregation is challenged to a commitment to serve God in God's world today. This hymn, written when an awards ceremony and service for people training for ordination fell on Remembrance Day, is a reminder that not all injustices can be solved by war, and that all of us are called to catch the vision of the world as it might be under God's just and gentle rule. We are called to emulate the readiness of the disciples to serve God, wherever there are people whose lives are diminished by suffering and sin.


Once we had dreams, dreams of a new beginning,
When we had fought the war to end all war,
A world of peace, where people live in freedom,
A world where justice reigns for evermore.
And yet, and yet, each year as we remember
We know too well how subtly dreams can fade.

In this our world where peace is often fragile,
Where war and hatred grip, where children die,
Too easily our hearts are dulled to suffering,
Our ears are deafened to the hopeless cry;
We fail to grasp the call to be peace-makers
We act in fear and let the vision fade.

Still we need dreams: O God, make us your dreamers,
Inflame our passion for a world made whole,
A world where love extends to all a welcome,
Where justice, like a powerful stream, will roll.
Come, Prince of Peace, our fading hope rekindle,
"Your kingdom come" we pray, let peace be made.

© 2000, Rosalind Brown. Tune: Finlandia

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