Sheep among the Wolves of War
Week of Sunday April 26 - Easter 4 - Anzac Day
The Old Testament Reading: Ezekiel 34: 1-10
Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. 4You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. 6My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.
7 Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; 9therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.
The Gospel Reading: John 10:10-18
10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
11 ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.16I 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. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’
Epistle: 1 John 3:11-24
11 For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. 14We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. 16We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.24All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
I do not preach this sermon as a prescription for your belief or your action as you face the incalculable moral decisions war forces upon us. I preach my own witness and my own fears and failings.
I preach with a heavy heart as our nation glories in war this weekend, and too often seeks to find meaning and purpose in this, rather than in justice, compassion, and love. May you find some word of God in for you in these words.
A letter from my father:
We were well aware that there was a group of Japanese who were holed up in what was known as the pocket, but had been told they posed no threat and would probably be starved out. June 21 proved that one can't take anything for granted. We had come off our shift at midnight and had not long settled down, the 6am shift had been called and were settling down to breakfast when all hell broke loose.
The Japs had found their way out of the pocket and entered the port area….
At the time we had no idea as to what was going on although our camp was only about a quarter of a mile from all the activity. What orders came through to us was to lay low, not panic as everything was under control. Actually we were in a no win situation because although we all had rifles none of us had any ammunition…
This is war. Blind luck. 22 Australian men on the docks were killed that morning. Someone once said war is interminable boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.
"At Anzac Cove as few as 80 Turkish riflemen formed the original opposing force." There were no machine guns. The invaders were packed in boats, like the photo below, sheep to the slaughter. Life or death was nothing but luck.
I will never criticise those who went off to war. They were braver than I have ever been called to be. I weep for what my father lived through, and for what we still send young men and women into today— we know well that many of them never really recover, even if they come home alive. You can see them standing in small groups outside the psych wards 40 years after Vietnam, and hear them screaming in their sleep at night. And we care little.
But what am I called to do, and to be, as a Christian… as a follower of Christ?
It says in 1 John 3 that "we should love one another. 12We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother."
How do we live as Christians? Are we subject to the state when it calls upon us, not much differently from Eric Bogle's song The Band played Waltzing Matilda?
Then in 1915, my country said son,
It's time you stopped rambling,
there's work to be done.
So they gave me a tin hat,
and they gave me a gun,
and they marched me away to the war.
What do we owe to our country?
Two of my friends were conscientious objectors— one did jail time for it. I was saved the ordeal by a change of government. Could it be that as an objector and a follower of Jesus that is what I owed Australia: to be a voice for peace?
What do we owe to God?
Ezekiel 34 and John 10 tell us that the shepherds, the leaders of the nations, are often wolves. Jesus' sheep only follow the good shepherd. The wolves are not for caring for people, especially for the widow, the orphan and the stranger. They are about maintaining the position of the rich and the powerful, and they invite us to join them. If we join them and help them, they will help us. In the end this leads to war. The image is a World War 1 antiwar cartoon by Boardman Robinson called The Father and Mother. It is theologically true.
How do we know the good shepherd?
He is not the one who goes to fight the war.
He is the one who lays down his life for the sheep.
He goes ashore in the landing craft without a gun and, like the unarmed medics, cares for the dying and hurting. And caring for enemy and friend alike. Jesus transcends our hatreds and loyalty. He came so that all people might have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)
There has always been war. The first archaeological record of what could be a prehistoric battle is at a 14,000 year old site known as Cemetery 117, located on the Nile near the Egypt-Sudan border. And there was murder before that.
There will always be times when we cannot avoid war, times when diplomacy has failed, or when leaders do not want peace, but for reasons of pride, greed, revenge, or fear, prefer to send young men and women to die for them, rather than do the hard work of seeking justice and peace. The only question is whether we will be Jesus' sheep or whether we will willingly join the wolves that send the nation to war.
War will be. War is always a human failure, even if we are defending ourselves against a barbarity like that of Imperial Japan. And war always pulls us down to barbarity…
we— the good people in the war— were the ones who wiped out between 60 to 80 thousand innocent people in an instant at Hiroshima… and then did it again a few days later at Nagasaki.
Last week I was seeing posters like this in the country towns of Victoria:
Hiroshima says we, too, became the Hun.
If we are called to war, how will we be Jesus?
If we are too old to go, what will we say and do at that time? The greatest of the wolves always stay at home— will we be their sheep, handing out hatred and white feathers?
If the enemy comes among us, murdering in our streets, how will we live?
How will we be Jesus?
"… this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us." We are commanded to love, and we are commanded to trust his command to love and to actually do that.
The text continues:
For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother… 16We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.
The first proof of love is this: "17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action."
When we deny the massacres of Aboriginal Australians…
when we turn the refugees away from Australia...
when we refuse to pay fair wages for clothing from Bangladesh…
when we will not pay a few hundred extra dollars of tax in a year so that there can be decent health care, and properly funded schools, and refuges for women who live in daily fear for their lives…
then Jesus asks us the question, "Where is God's love in your living? '17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?'" And perhaps he also asks us if at such a time we are not already beginning the march to the inevitable war which follows injustice and oppression.
So if I must go to war let me not be glad.
If we truly decide that the least bad thing is to stand at the beaches, and kill those storming ashore, let me regret what must be done. If war is the least bad option thrust upon us, so be it.
But let me choose carefully.
In God's grace I can be confident that my decision— which will always be faulty— is never held against me by God.
But I can only claim this in confidence if I have lived the Jesus life of compassion and mercy. For then my heart is moulded after God's heart. It is giving and suffering, not valour and victory which shapes my heart after the heart of Jesus and keeps me as his true sheep. It is the laying down of life without a gun in my hand which is my true glory. And if I must carry a gun, God help me not rejoice and glory in that, for then I am lost.
If I live the Jesus life of compassion and mercy, then can I say "19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God..."
But if I urge people to violence— even as a man too old to be given a gun…
if I rejoice in the deaths of my enemies…
if I glorify the courage of young men and find meaning through it
instead of weeping for their trauma and loss…
if I do not repent of the evil which even Australian soldiers do and have done…
then I have joined the wolves. I am not Jesus' sheep.
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.(1 John 3:1)
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