They Lived And Died For Something
We have all seen films of men marching as newly recruited soldiers into the First World War. They look cheery and they sang their songs.
'Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag,
And smile, smile, smile!
While you've a Lucifer to light your fag,
Smile, Boys, that's the style.
What's the use of worrying?
It never was worth while.
So, pack up your troubles in your old kit bag,
And smile, smile, smile!'
They were willing to die for their King and country if required to do so, including those whose names are on the Cenotaph along the road. The men who were conscripted to the military in the Second World War went out of obligation and honour but perhaps not with so much naivety or levity of heart. They too had their songs as some here will remember.
'Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye
Cheerio, here I go, on my way
Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye
Not a tear, but a cheer, make it gay
Give me a smile I can keep all the while
In my heart while I'm away
'Till we meet once again, you and I
Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye'.
The wars in which Britain has been involved since then, Korea, Malaya, Suez, Falklands, Iraq, Iraq again and Afghanistan to name some have not been on the same scale thankfully. Neither have soldiers gone to fight so willingly or in such good cheer. It may fairly be said that the last two of these wars which cost well over six hundred lives of British military personnel did not inspire any high mindedness and no great songs of encouragement. You may recall the Remembrance Service from the Albert Hall in 2013 when a little girl from Stirling called Megan Adams sang in a girl group called 'The Poppies' and was surprised when her father, a Navy officer, serving abroad at the time appeared to congratulate her. Her tears of joy moved everyone who saw it and the video has been watched many times on the internet. The song the girls sang was called 'You'll come home when it's over, no need to say good-bye'. It was schmaltzy and anodyne pop and a clear effort to raise hope against reality. In general terms the people of this land have not thought the sacrifices of men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan were justified or worth it. People can and did discern what is and what is not dying for. Bereaved families are not comforted because they feel that the deaths of their loved ones were not necessary. The attempted justifications of politicians are hollow and demeaning to them.
I mention this because of the evidence that supports Jesus' resurrection from his cruel untimely death outside Jerusalem on Passover Friday 29 AD. There are several strands to this evidence. Firstly, no-one ever found or produced Jesus' body. Secondly, he returned to his disciples and they were truly convinced that it was him and that he was and is risen. And thirdly – these first Christians, men and women, thereafter lived and died for this same Jesus. They lived and died for something. The human instinct for survival is very strong. The physical body fights and struggles again untimely death. Even in great old age, the body does not shut down quietly or quickly. Most people do not want to die even when they are very old. Some, it is true wonder why God keeps them alive when they'd much rather be gone but they are usually a minority. Alex Nicol of this parish used to say “I can get used to anything – except dein''
For more than three hundred years many of the first Christians suffered and died for Jesus. They did not kill for Jesus and that is very important. They lived for Jesus and many died for Jesus. This is the strongest evidence of the truth of Jesus' resurrection. Humans cannot keep a conspiracy going that long without someone breaking ranks to tell everyone that what is being claimed is a complete fraud. You see betrayals and revelations in every human enterprise. Even large empires fall through internal dissent. In the face of persecution and gaining nothing in this world the early Christians lived and died for something they knew was true – that Jesus was risen from the dead. They did no harm to anyone. Their hope was in heaven to come. They stored up spiritual and eternal riches. They lived as outcast witnesses to Jesus. In 313 AD the Roman Emperor Constantine stopped the persecution of Christians and began a process that led to Christianity becoming the official faith of the Roman Empire.
Thereafter throughout the centuries, Christian men and women have lived for Christ and died in Christ. For what? For Someone unseen, unproveable – atheists would say unreal. I remember when I taught theology in Kenya many years ago, a young student for the ministry called Emily told me how dismayed her father was when she told him that she was going to become a Christian minister. He thought she was giving up her life for nothing – she was wasting her life - in his estimation. Think of David Livingstone giving up the possibility of a comfortable life as a doctor in Glasgow for the life of a missionary explorer in Africa. There was Hudson Taylor - another Victorian - who sacrificed much to take Christianity to China. Eric Liddell the gold medallist at 400 metres at the 1924 Paris Olympics gave up fame and fortune to go to China as a missionary. He lived and died there on 21st February 1945 at the age of 43 of a brain tumour while in a Japanese prison camp.
Today the charity known as The Barnabas Fund, documents the persecution of Christians throughout the world. A Chinese man called Yimiti is serving a 15 year prison sentence in a labour camp on a trumped up charge. His family are allowed to see him for 15 minutes every three months. A 33 year old Eritrean woman called Twen was arrested at a Christian prayer meeting in January 2005. She refused to sign a declaration saying that she would cease Christian activities and so is still held in prison. In India Christian evangelists are arrested for communicating the Gospel. Islamic State has executed Christians in Libya, Egypt and Ethiopia and has filmed these martyrdoms. There are probably about 100,000 Christians in labour camps in North Korea, living in squalor, starving and worked to death. In Pakistan a Christian called Masih and his pregnant wife were burned alive in a brick kiln. In Syria Christians are kidnapped and some are shot continuously. They lived and died for something. They lived and died for Jesus Christ.
We know that humans are capable of large scale self-deception. America has been and remains a fertile ground for quasi-religious cranks and fraudsters. Heaven's Gate was a cult which was set up by Marshall Applewhite. He had a heart attack in the early 1970's and had a vision that he and his nurse, Bonnie Nettles, were witnesses. Applewhite believed he was a direct descendent of Jesus, he merged Christian beliefs about salvation and the end of the world with more modern theories of evolution and even time travel. The end result of this quasi-Christian doctrine was the belief that the world was ending sometime near the second millennium. Applewhite and Nettles referred to themselves as Bo and Peep, and cultivated a following of members to believe in their version of the end of days. In 1997, Applegate used the appearance of the Hale-Bopp comet to spread the idea that a space ship was following behind the comet to take all of their faithful members to heaven. To achieve the ultimate ascension the group donned matching outfits with matching white Nike’s, and all 39 members drank poison while covered in ceremonial purple shrouds awaiting their heavenly transport.
The Raelians were founded in 1974 by Claude Vorilhon and believe that life on Earth was scientifically created by a species of Aliens named the Elohim. Raȅlians believe that when these extra-terrestrial forefathers visited us in early times they disguised themselves deliberately to resemble humans claiming to be angels who led us through each age. According to Raȅl, Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Muhammad, and Joseph Smith and others throughout history have been messengers of the Elohim. Their doctrine describes the Garden of Eden as a large laboratory on an artificial island, Noah’s Ark as a spaceship with genetic information to clone animals, the Tower of Babel was a rocket, and the Great Flood as a by product of a nuclear bomb. Raȅlians currently number over 70 thousand and are apparently halfway to their 20 million dollar fund raising goal to build a landing site and embassy for extra-terrestrials. Then there's better known cults such as Scientology, the Mormons, Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses, Children of God, and countless others. What is the greatest false claimant in the world of ideas today? It is Islam. Its harvest of murder, mayhem and misery is there for all to see and yet it is given credence by western politicians and treated as equal to Judaism and to Christianity.
Be thankful today that you share in something credible, reasonable, understandable, non-violent, humanitarian, beneficial and universal. Jesus Christ. He was the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his friends and for humanity. He took it all upon himself and took no-one with him. He was a liberator of the human spirit, an enlarger of the human heart and an inspirer of the human mind. We remember him on this anniversary of his resurrection. We remember him in the sharing of bread and wine. He is alive to us. We recognise, acknowledge and worship him as our risen living Lord. He does us no harm and brings only good to us. He is the Prince of Peace, the forgiving loving Saviour every human being needs. He has found us. We have found him. 'REJOICE! REJOICE! Christ is in you, The hope of glory in our hearts. He lives! He lives! His breath is in You. Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice'.