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Sermon preached on Remembrance Sunday (13 November 2016) by Revd Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor
Canon Michael considers remembrance, freedom, and recent world events
In a moment, we will pray together in this service of remembrance for the peace of the world: for leaders and governments that they may have the
wisdom to know and the courage to do what is right; and we will also pray for those who work to improve international relationships, that they may
find the true way to reconcile people of different race, colour, and creed.
The people whom we remember today gave their lives as we put it ‘so that we might be free’. It’s a line that trips off the tongue
rather too easily I reckon both for the ease with which it is said and probably also for the lack of clarity as to what we mean by it.
Of course it must have something to do with democracy, in that most British people and their allies surely preferred the balanced economy of George
V, Herbert Asquith and David Lloyd George to the Kaiser; or George VI, Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill to Hitler.
It must also have something to do with freedom of opinion in that most British people and their allies wanted to protect the right to their own
opinion and the right to the development of rights and privileges through that most glorious of British customs: mutually worked out compromise.
I doubt very much if the people whom we remember today went to the Front with anything more specific on their agendas than that kind of thinking
and, in any case, it’s not unreasonable to remember that most of them had no choice in the matter anyway. I doubt if they went to the Front in
order to fight for women in leadership or equal marriage or ethnic integration. Indeed, such issues were probably not even on their radar, and yet
today those issues and many others are crucial ingredients in our moulding of a society which has at its heart the concepts of fairness and equal
opportunity, of tolerance and diversity.
And there is thus a direct connection between the freedom which was protected by those whom we remember today - and our very British
resistance to the suppression of individual identity or the marking out of certain people as being undesirable.
In which case, if I’m right, it’s worth considering whether our remembrance observance in the latter part of 2016 is in any way compromised by the
vote on the part of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union and the election of Donald Trump as 45th President of the United States.
Both of the campaigns which led to these two democratic outcomes included significant claims that certain foreign people were undesirable and
unwelcome in our respective united lands and that there was some idyllic British or American world in recent history which we could rediscover if
only people would act more homogeneously and more conventionally.
I know that these are not the reasons why many people voted for the two outcomes I’ve cited but the fact remains that these claims were part of the
language of the campaigns and, to some of us, they are as chilling as the language of protest in Germany was in the 1930's.
The Christian faith, in common with all the principal world religions, teaches that our number one priority is a neighbour in need
and, conversely, none of them teaches that charity begins at home. Trump and Brexit lead me to believe that the latter premise is rapidly
overtaking the former doctrine: that, in many people’s opinion, charity does begin at home and that a donation to BBC Children in Need is enough to
sort out the rest of the world’s problems.
As I said before, I don’t believe that the people whom we remember today went to war with any specific agenda least of all an agenda which happens
to be the same as twenty-first century social consciences but I do believe that they were part of a movement that rejected hate and fear as being
utterly alien to the British and American sense of fair play.
Where was that sense of fair play on 23 June and 8 November this year? If people are today being beheaded and hung on telegraph poles 3,200 miles
south east of where we are sitting this morning, how can charity begin at home? If we are going to pray in a moment for those who work to improve
international relationships and for the reconciliation of people of different race, colour and creed, can we do so with integrity and sincerity in
a Trump-Brexit world?
However, a wise old priest once said to me, ‘Michael, approach every issue on the assumption that you might be wrong.’ I might be wrong about all
of this but the privilege of preaching is the privilege of offering one interpretation of the response we might make to the Word of God as revealed
in the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus taught us the parable of the Good Samaritan: a man who had fallen among thieves is given aid by a passer-by and is then
given ongoing board and lodging while he sorts himself out. It costs the Samaritan financially and, because the man who had fallen among thieves
was one whose people despised Samaritans, it is a bold move – but it is an action which I see being rejected by a growing tendency throughout
western society to claim that ‘I’m alright, Jack’, and to let the rest of the world go hang.
When we glibly say that the people whom we remember today ‘died that we might be free’, we must never forget that with freedom comes
responsibility, and the very responsibility which the people whom we remember today showed even to death is enough to tell me they didn’t fight and
die so that we could renege on our responsibilities whenever it suits us.
Brexit and Trump were won with lies and fear. Two world wars were won with truth and courage.