Telling it how it is

Pentecost 26 – 2016

Luke 21:5-19

Marian Free

 In the name of God who gives us courage to carry on when all hope seems lost and the future is out of our hands. Amen.

 

“We are lousy, stinking, ragged, unshaven and sleepless. Even when we’re back a bit we can’t sleep for our own guns. I have one puttee, a dead man’s helmet, another dead man’s gas protector, a dead man’s bayonet. My tunic is rotten with other men’s blood, and partly splattered with a comrade’s brains. It is horrible, but why should you people at home not know? Several of my friends are raving mad. I met three officers out in No Man’s Land the other night, all rambling and mad. Poor Devils!” so wrote John Raws from Pozieres on the fourth of August 1916[1].

That same day the Australians joined the attack at Fromelles. It was a disaster. Five and a half thousand young Australian men died – the greatest loss of soldiers in a single day during the war. Fighting continued on the Somme through the autumn mud and a bitterly cold winter. Australian casualties continued to mount, and the men’s health deteriorated in the conditions.

In November that same year, Hugh Anderson wrote home to his mother in New South Wales from Fromelles: “The Big Push has a 12 mile front and a depth of 6 miles and a curved front,” he wrote. “It has cost us half a million casualties at least and goodness knows how much money and animals. This is in six months. The German line is bent but not broken, at this rate to blow the Germans back to the Rhine, Britain will be broken for money and men. How it will end is very hard to say. I give him two years more at least. That’s my opinion from what I’ve seen and read.”[2]

This year marks 100 years since the Battle of the Somme. Between the 1st of July 1916 and the 18th of November, the Allied forces took on the Germans along the Somme River. The battle front was 30 kilometres long, the Germans well entrenched and when it was over the British and Dominion forces had lost an astounding 430,000 young men and the French 200,000 soldiers. In three and a half months the troops had advanced only 12 kilometers.

Three years later on the 11th of November, the Armistice of Compiegne went into effect. At the time, what we now know as the First World War was called the Great War – the war to end all wars. One hundred years later, we have witnessed a second world war and Australian troops have been involved in countless other engagements in countries too many to name.

Despite lessons from the past, the world has barely changed since 1916. Humanity, it seems, is destined to live with conflict and war, rioting and revolutions, oppression and injustice – not just in the last 100 years, but from the beginning of time. Not only must we contend with our inability to live together peaceably, we are also subject to the instability of the planet, the earth’s uncontrollable weather systems and the constant threat of illness or disease. For many people life is a daily struggle simply to survive and most of us at some time or another face some sort of adversity as a consequence of belonging to the human race on planet Earth.

It is important then to recognise that the words of today’s gospel are not prophetic in the sense that Jesus is predicting what might happen in a far distant future. Nor is he providing a check-list of signs that will precede the end. He is speaking of the world as it is – a world that is flawed, erratic and often dangerous. Jesus is describing the world as the disciples will experience it. His words are prophetic only in as much as he is describing the difficulties and dangers that the disciples in every age can expect to encounter. His words are prophetic only in as much as every generation has lived through wars, earthquakes, famines and plagues. At the same time, his words are not prophetic in the sense that though these events have occurred over and over again in the last 2000 years, they have not presaged the end.

In fact Jesus makes it clear that we are not to look for signs or to come to any conclusions as to the timing of the end. He cautions about being led astray by those who think that they know better than God when the end will come.

Rather than foretelling the future, Jesus is telling the disciples what they can expect in the present. Their lives might have changed as a result of their coming to faith, but the world will remain much the same. The only significant change in the disciples’ external environment is the risk that they will be misunderstood, that their faith in Jesus’ message may expose them to ridicule, misunderstanding, isolation and even arrest and imprisonment. He does not want them to be unprepared for a future that will be uncertain and ultimately unpredictable.

Behind the warning Jesus offers assurance and encouragement. “Not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” No matter how hard it gets, no matter what external or internal threats present themselves, Jesus assures that God will not abandon us. No matter what adversities we face, God will give us the courage and strength to endure. If we are able to trust in God’s steadfastness, if we maintain our faith to the end – no matter what life throws at us – God will keep faith with us. If our relationship with God through Jesus remains unbroken, we are assured that that relationship will defy even death and that in the present and for eternity we will be alive together with God.

Jesus doesn’t promise that life with him will be without challenges or will isolate and protect us from suffering, but he does assure us over and over again that life with him will give us the ability to endure. Let us thank God that, relatively speaking our lives are not subject to the desperation of poverty, displacement, disease faced by millions. Let us trust God that whatever life throws at us, we will find the courage to endure and face the future with confidence in God’s love for us and the certainty that we are destined for life eternal.

[1] Lieutenant John Raws, 23rd Battalion, 4 August 1916

[2] http://www.australiansatwar.gov.au/stories/stories_war=W1_id=99.html

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