War No More, Pastor Kinsey
On the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, 100 years ago today, Peace was declared, officially ending WWI. The Great War, as it was called, but also, the War to End all Wars, was finally over, and people were jubilant. Suffering and death were ended. Indeed, no greater loss of life, so quickly, had ever taken place. WWI invented modern technological, and chemical warfare, with terribly devastating results. Though many young men and boys gladly signed up, by the end, people had had enough of war, forever.
I don’t know how many boys from Unity signed up to go, but there is a plaque memorializing all those who didn’t return. Pastor Davey, Unity’s pastor at the time, and only pastor since our founding in 1905, was in tears when the news broke and members of Unity came joyously marching in, after circling the neighborhood with many others, in an impromptu celebration. ‘What can we give as a memorial to peace,’ Pastor Davey wondered aloud? ‘Let it be an organ,’ he answered his own question! And so they sold two Liberty war bonds to kick off the fundraiser. It would take another year and a half before, this organ, right here, was ‘dedicated in thanksgiving to God, for peace.’
And so, from suffering and death, arose new life. ‘The Lutheran gift’ of organ-music, to enliven our worship of God, brought joy here, with its new instrument, and has graced members of Unity for 98 years, in this Austin organ.
By now, it’s certainly showing its age – and we do the best we can to tend, and mend it, from year to year. But still, I’d rather not depend on WWIII to raise the money for a new one!
The War to End all Wars lasted less than 30 years, when the 2nd WW broke out. And the conflicts, and undeclared wars, we’ve been having ever since, have been far too many and too costly. The truth is, war cannot end war! It is much more likely that ‘violence begets violence’; that lies and deceit, power and posturing, and poking the bear, bring us closer, to armed conflict. Stockpiling weapons and building up armies, are more likely to produce war, than peace. WWI ended with great disillusionment, but it did not end waging war.
Are you watching the TV show, This Is Us? I don’t want to spoil it for you if you’re not caught up! But this was the one where we learn how Jack entered the Vietnam war. Jack is a sargeant, we discover at the beginning of the episode. A very serious and caring leader, who ‘is there’ for one of his soldiers that gets badly injured when they are ambushed in the middle of the night. Only later do we learn that Jack didn’t want to enlist. But then, as the show likes to do, we go back in time, on the night of the announcement of the draft numbers, sometime in the 1960’s, when Jack and his younger brother, Nick, about to turn 18, go to the local bar to watch it on TV. “The first number is – June 20, or whatever day they picked out of the hopper, and so if your birthday was June 20th, you were first in line to go. Number 2 was announced; #3, #4, and we see Jack and his brother drinking a beer, starting to settle in, trying to calm their nerves. But then his little brother’s birthday comes up as #5, and their world collapses. Still Jack doesn’t enlist right away, it’s only after Nicky’s letters, that he sends back from Nam, start to get really dark, that Jack, always his little brother’ protector, decides he has to go. Jack of course, will make it back home from the war, we know. But his little brother never does, and Jack feels responsible ever after, a burden that changes his life, both for good and ill.
Today we commemorate Martin, Bishop of Tours, who having been conscripted in the Roman army by his own father, later had a conversion to become a follower of Christ, through an encounter with a beggar. To follow Jesus, for him, meant turning around from his life in the army, even though he was arrested and served jail time, to do it. Later, when he became a bishop, Martin was so dedicated to the freeing of prisoners, that when authorities, even emperors, heard Bishop Martin was coming, they refused to see him, because they knew he would request mercy for someone, and they wouldn’t be able to refuse!
In the post-Vietnam years, Congress decided to end the draft and go to an all volunteer army. ‘Let’s just take the ones that really want to fight,’ was the rationale. Except in peacetime, recruiters always emphasize the education and job training you can get by enlisting, and lots of boys coming from poor households see it as their opportunity – compared to college, which they can’t really afford.
Why is it, that we continue to fight wars, when we want to end them? When will we arrive at Isaiah’s vision, from over 2,000 years ago, that on “the mountain of the LORD… they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Our gospel reading focuses on one widow, in her poverty, and the enormous sacrifice she made. We have often lifted up this woman as an example to follow, especially in our Stewardship campaigns and sermons. If she could give so much out of her poverty, how much more should we be generous! There’s even a title for this story that has become synonymous with her – the Widow’s Mite, because a Mite (M-i-t-e) was another name for the smallest coin used in Palestine.
Except that when we ask people to give generously, we’re usually talking about percentage giving, or tithing. But the widow, says Jesus, gives “everything she had, all she had to live on.” That’s different, by a long shot.
Jesus is comparing the poor widow to the haughty Scribes, those leaders who ‘walk around in expensive academic gowns, preening in the radiance of public flattery, basking in their prominent positions, sitting at the head table at every banquet.’ Beware of them, Jesus says! Watch out, because at the same time, they are also exploiting the weak and helpless. “They devour widows’ houses…”
Then, sitting down opposite the temple offering box, Jesus watched. And he notes how the rich were making sure everyone noticed how they were making large contributions, while the widow put in two small coins, a mite, all she had to live on. To the disciples, Jesus instructs them – this woman gave much more than all the others contributing to the treasury. She sacrificed her life. Who among us could say the same?
But the widow, it would seem, is more of a foreshadowing of the sacrifice Jesus will make on the cross, for the life of the world.
I have encountered many on our streets who have lost everything, but no one, in all their generosity, who has willingly given up all their possessions!
'There is a reason the widow has only a penny left to her name. It’s possible to be a hero, and victim, at the same time – which many veterans and military families understand all too well.' (Rev Brian Hiortdahl) Poverty is not an accident in our society. The wealth gap in America is so very wide today, because policies, laws, and politics continue to enforce it. And war, and the Military Industrial Complex, are a part of those drivers.
It doesn’t matter, if we have a draft, or a volunteer army, until we begin to put as much and more into planning for peace; Until we agree to mediate our problems and disagreements, by talking and diplomacy, through the rule of law (instead of the chaos of war). If we don’t have a vision to beat swords into plowshares; If we don’t learn to ‘love our enemies,’ the gospel message of Jesus will not come alive, in us and our communities. From us – we must demand Peace.
Jesus died ‘that we may have life and have it abundantly.’ We are the people who can embody, ‘no more war.’ If not, we’re just devouring widows’ houses, and preening for public flattery.
Let’s find a way. [Looking at watch] it’s just about the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month – 100 years later.
It’s never too late, if we do it together. Peace be with you!