The Sacrificial Soldier and the Sacrificial Christ
It is a very great honour to be your speaker today. This was my home church. The minister of the day, Alan Begbie, was Chaplain-General. This service would mean a great deal to him.
The past 100 years in Australia have been golden years. We have enjoyed freedom. There has been unparalleled opportunity. We have freedom of association, freedom of movement. This is a great country.
Many take this for granted. It’s easy to think of it as a given, a right. But thinking people don’t. Reflect for a moment on what has enabled our freedom. Reflect for a minute on the wars of last century.
One and a half million in the services.
One hundred and two thousand killed.
Two hundred and twenty five thousand wounded.
Twenty-five thousand POW’s.
That has been the ‘price’ some have paid for the rest of us. Those ‘some’ include the ones ‘left behind.’ The women without husbands. The men without wives. The parents without children. The orphaned children. The children without brothers and sisters.
We honour those who did this for us. And we say, ‘thank you.’
Personally I am a little uncomfortable addressing this topic and speaking to those who have served where I didn’t. I was too young for World War II. I was too young for Korea. I wasn’t needed for Vietnam.
The closest I have come to combat was the Japanese submarine attack in Sydney Harbour. As a small boy I remember the booming guns and the searchlights crisscrossing the sky. My uncle took me to see the tiny sub then on display.
Like many of you I have visited a number of war cemeteries. I have been to Beer Sheba, Sandakan, Ari Burnu (Anzac Cove) and Lone Pine.
They are superbly maintained, places of stillness. The names on the crosses show that those who perished were often just boys. We pause and say, ‘You did it for me.’
The first time I visited Gallipoli our Muslim guide said,
‘It is a very sad place.You Aussies lost many men. So did we.’
And they did.
Ayhan, my Turkish friend, an older man, said,
‘It is a very sad place. You will want to say a prayer.’
He was right. I read aloud to the group this passage, Revelation 21 vs 1-8. And I said a prayer of thanks for those young men who died – for us. He listened intently.
We look at the crosses at Lone Pine. Young men – just boys, many of them. I say to myself, ‘He did this for me.’
Like many of us, I have an interest in history. World history is a sad history. It is marred by slavery, war, oppression, exploitation and misery. History has been particularly cruel to women and children.
In recent weeks the world has been at war again. We all sense there is further trouble ahead. We say to ourselves,
‘Why is it so? Will it always be like this? Is this kind of life all there will be?’
The answer lies in our passage, Revelation 21 vs 3-4.
Behold the dwelling of God is with men.
He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people.
And God himself will be with them.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,
And death will be no more,
Neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more,
For the former things have passed away.
This is the ‘new heaven and new earth, the ‘new Jerusalem.’ What we have at present is called, ‘the former order of things.’ It will pass away to be replaced by the Kingdom of God.
Do you find that hard to believe? It’s hard to believe because we have no experience of it. We can’t see it.
There are other things we can’t see, but that are real. The microscope reveals another world. So does the X-Ray and the MRI and the Ultra-Sound. So does a facemask under water around a coral reef.
If there is more to this present existence than we can see then we should not doubt the possibility of this other world.
So: If God promises it – as he does - we should believe it. And God does promise it.
Jesus taught us to pray,
‘Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done.’
This will be when the dwelling of God is with men. When the former order is no more. When there is no more war, or death, or pain, or injustice. This is the hope and the promise of the Bible from beginning to end.
Wishful thinking? A panacea for woes?
No. I am a realist. As far as people go I’m not very religious. I don’t go in for religious talk or religious ceremonies.
As a historian of sorts I regard the resurrection of Jesus as historical fact. It is as secure Caesar crossing the Rubicon river and changing the course of world history.
The resurrection of Jesus much more profoundly changed things. It showed us what will be. It brought what will be into reach now. The kingdom of God will come, did come.
It’s hard to imagine but then so is what we see under a microscope.
It’s hard to believe but God promises it.
It’s hard to accept but Jesus rose from the dead.
We are now living through ‘the former order of things.’ The ‘former’ but not the ‘final’ order of things.
World history is also my history, I am a part of it. It is paradoxical, mixed.
God made us in His IMAGE. We were made to be God-like – generous, just, truthful. But we smashed ourselves and broke the image. And we smash one another’s image. We are like statues of handsome Roman nobles. But they have fallen from their pedestals from earthquakes. Their chins and noses have broken off. Vestiges of the IMAGE of God remain, but we are defaced.
So we are ‘mixed’ creatures. We are at once noble and ignoble. We are both good and evil.
That’s us. And that’s history - in war and peace. That’s the human race. That’s me.
· Good but defaced.
· Needing redemption.
As I get older I find myself looking forward to the Kingdom of God. God is good and God is love. What could compare with being with God face to face?
I look forward to that. But I also look forward to lesser things. A friend is taking me to the Rugby World Cup in October. I am looking forward to that.
People who have nothing to look forward to – except getting older, becoming frail – often become bitter, stoical.
If the World Cup draws me forward in happy anticipation how much more does being with the Lord forever, with no more pain and crying?
As creatures we can’t live without hope.
So, unworthy as I am, I am in the Kingdom of the world (through natural birth), and I am in the Kingdom of God (through God’s re-birth) which – as it happens – happened here in this church 1957.
Alan Begbie was preaching on the Prodigal Son. God the Father welcomed home this prodigal that unforgettable night.
What does being in the Kingdom of God mean? It means a life graciously ruled by God. It means genuine freedom through Christ. It means the inner assurance that I am God’s son, who he loves. I have the assurance that my sins are forgiven, because he died. I have the knowledge that my prayers are heard. I have the strength to do things I could not otherwise do. God is involved in the work of changing me for the better.
So for me – and I pray you – this ‘order of things’ is not it. There is the Kingdom.
There is another ‘final order’ grimly described. It is an everlasting mode from which God is absent.
This current mode is mixed – good and evil - with God restraining evil. The alternative to the Kingdom will be unmixed. It will be evil unrestrained. It will be the worst side of everybody there.
It will be like a shocking argument between a wife and husband – that just goes on. Or between a father and a son. There will be bitterness, anger, despair, guilt. And no comfort.
I don’t want that. You don’t want that.
So how am I in the Kingdom? How do I come to be in God’s Kingdom? By faith I need to believe the word of God. I need to acknowledge that the Kingdom of God is true. I need to be reminded that the resurrection of Jesus is true. Then I need to do something like many of us did at the grave of a soldier. ‘You did this for me.’
So I look at the cross of Jesus, the Son of God. And I say, ‘You did this for me.’
But for Jesus his death was not the end. Jesus is alive for evermore.
This ‘order’ cannot be all there is. In our heart of hearts we sense there must be more, something beyond.
I am a living soul. I laugh. I cry. I love. I remember. Surely this is not it. Surely I don’t just die like a dog. Remembered for few years and forgotten, as if I had never been.
Jesus says, ‘To him who is thirsty I will give to drink from the water of life.’
Look at him and say, ‘You did it for me.’
Dr Paul Barnett
This address was given at an annual Anzac Day service at St Stephen’s Willoughby in the Diocese of Sydney.
Paul Barnett is a theological lecturer, historian and author. He is the former Anglican bishop of North Sydney.