There Has To Be A Better Way…. Matthew 5:3-9,21-22
Fred was well on in his eighties when I got to know him. He was a lovely old chap, and we had some good talks together. One day he told me about his experience of going to war and how he had served in the Pacific in World War Two. His descriptions of some of his experiences of living in the jungle had me awestruck Fred had seen some terrible things, and I might say had done some terrible things. I suspect I only heard the sanitized version. To kill even in times of war is not something that one crows about. For him it was something that had to be done, but I suspect it left him with many many sleepless nights. As we talked one memory that really seemed to bother him was going to Hiroshima just weeks after the war ended to survey the damage and assess the effects of the atomic bomb. The devastation he said was like nothing he had ever seen or imagined.. He described how the nuclear explosion had sucked all the air out of the area and then when it rushed back in everything was flattened, even huge factories.
He admitted he had not liked the Japanese. He spoke of a friend who had lived through the brutal treatment of prisoners. Fred believed the Japanese deserved the atomic bomb, though as he said few of them really understood what it was.
But then he saw Hiroshima. He recounted how he and a mate had walked though the flattened rubble. Passing by a small pile of bricks that had been sort of fashioned into a small shelter they saw a small girl behind a wall. As Fred spoke there was a quiver to his voice. She was, he thought, about 5 years old, and her clothes were tattered rags falling off her body. Her eyes were sunken and she was terrified of these strange white men in their military uniform. Of course she had no English and they had no conversational Japanese. As far as they could tell she was alone with no-one to take care of her. She was obviously scavenging for survival. I could sense he could still vividly recall the scene as if it were yesterday. He recalled his feelings of helplessness as he realised she was just a little child and probably her parents were dead along with any extended family. Here was a little five year old alone, helpless, and fending for herself. None of this was her fault, and yet he knew she would soon die of exposure to radiation. Fred a soldier who had seen it all, shed tears. That’s war, and that’s why I hate it he said. He still believed we had to defend ourselves and fight for our freedom, but why he asks did they drop the bomb on a civilian target with little military significance. Why couldn’t they have found an area not so heavily populated. Fred went on talk about more recent wars in Iraq and the lies that were told. There has to be a better way he said.
There has to be a better way.
As we gather on another ANZAC day we remember those like Fred who have served in armed forces to protect and defend a way of life we hold dear. Some of us will remember family members or friends that never returned. For those that did return this day is a day of mixed emotion. No one who has lived through war want’s to glorify the killing, but we do want to honour the ideal of sacrifice for the common good and the standing up for what we hold dear. Out of control madness and evil sometimes needs to be forcibly stopped, but let us ever forget the plea of Fred that there has to be a better way.
That way I believe has much to do with working to build a world where respect and human dignity is taught and practiced. We have to learn that it is wrong to demean another human being. We have to learn that it is right to honour one another with good manners, respect, and the gift of empathetic attention. It is right and part of the other other way that Fred longed for to go out of our way to listen to another human being and to seek to understand their story and how that has shaped their point of view. The way begins with upholding human dignity. Jesus said you know it’s wrong to murder, but I tell you, ‘you murder someone when you speak ill of them or find some way to put them down or demean them.’ You as good as murder someone when you consign them to scrap heap and don’t care, and then you are in danger of being cast on the scrap heap and fire of hell yourself. These are strong words that should have us reflecting on our own propensity to writ others off or put them in boxes. The other way that Fred spoke of is not easy.
Most of us will easily say we are peace lovers, but Jesus invited us to be peacemakers and there is a huge difference between the two. Peacemaking requires real effort, and sacrifice. It takes hard work to reach out and look over the fences of fear that divide us. It takes hard work to siddle up to those ‘other sort’ of people and begin to engage in some way that helps us see that they are human like me. It takes hard work to look beyond the stereotypes and images often created by others to see human faces in those labelled different.
Peace lovers often talk of tolerance and are happy if you do your thing and it doesn’t disturb me doing my thing. Peacemakers know there will inevitably be conflict as we work to engage and find the goodness in one another. There will be discomfort and clashes that will be painful as we are faced with differing lifestyles and values. Jesus never promised us it would be easy as we seek to build bridges across the divides of race, age, sexuality, and so on, but in the end even in war the guns have to be put down and the hard work of peacemaking begun.
We are a varied and diverse community and have become more so in recent years. Even in my own whanau I find huge diversity. We see things differently. Religion, politics, sport, race. I acknowledge that my way of seeing will be shaped by my journey. Others have had very different journeys. We see things differently. We know this in this city where tragedy has opened our eyes to our Muslim brothers and sisters. There are some real challenges in front of us now in how we can live with diversity and respect that is more than some lovey dovey sweep our differences under the carpet and proclaim our one-ness. The way Fred dreamed of I think begins with our common human-ness and yet seeing sacredness in one another. Seeing the presence of God in every person was something Jesus encouraged his followers to do. Nurturing habits and practices like good manners and taking time to consider how it might be for another rather than just looking after yourself is where this other way begins.
Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God. I invite you to go from here this morning to work hard at this task. Do not leave it to others.
Putting the hard yards and sacrifice in to genuinely listen and understand those who are different.
To the Freds of the world I want to say I have searched for and I hope upheld is a better way. .
Dugald Wilson April 25 2019 0 Grid