The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s107e15   Fourth Sunday of Easter  26/4/2015

‘we ought to lay down our lives for one another’   1 John 3:16

Yesterday, in Australia and New Zealand we observed Anzac Day, and this year the 100th anniversary of the attempted invasion at Gallipoli, a campaign which both countries consider their first foray into world affairs.  For readers elsewhere this action was doomed from the start, an unmitigated disaster.   It says something profound that both my country of birth and now my adopted one, look back to a military debacle as their ‘coming of age’.

‘Anzac is the acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.   This corps was created early in the Great War. .. In December 1914 the Australian Imperial Force and New Zealand Expeditionary Force stationed in Egypt were placed under the command of Lieutenant General William Birdwood.’  (1)   ’The one outstanding success of the campaign (to invade Gallipoli) was the evacuation led by Birdwood, which took place in December 1915 and January 1916, when the entire force was withdrawn before any Turkish reaction.’  (2)

I am married to an American by birth, and I have a lot of sympathy for the last great superpower, to whom everyone looks to, to be their sheriff, supporting them against their adversary.   Inevitably charges of self-interest will be laid against them when they take any action, such as the claim that the US was protecting their oil interests when they invaded Iraq.   However I well remember an early internet campaign pleading for someone to intervene in Afghanistan to stop atrocities against women, long before 9-11.  One example that perhaps prompted this is that the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan .. imposed on the parts of Afghanistan under their control their political and judicial interpretation of Islam, issuing edicts especially targeting women.   According to Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), "no other regime in the world has methodically and violently forced half of its population into virtual house arrest, prohibiting them on pain of physical punishment.”'  (3)   Again, I can remember that initially the US was criticised for not finishing the job after retaking Kuwait in 1991 by helping the Shia and Kurdish Iraqis who led several uprisings against Saddam Hussein's regime. (4)   Many believed the job was only completed with the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

We have a healthy scepticism of the possibility that war will solve any of the world’s problems, yet we still want to honour those who ‘answered the call of King and country’ to take up arms against an aggressor.   For we antipodeans on the opposite side of the world, about as far from ‘civilisation’ as you could get, enlisting was probably the one and only opportunity to escape a very narrow universe, to embrace adventure and earn fame, and was understandably often irresistible.  Fortunately few people are joining IS.

Even within these words we can see the tension between the desire to ‘make a difference’ and escape from a mundane existence.   I would not want to claim that everything I have ever done was always from purely selfless motives!

But I do want to point to that desire to make a difference.   I suspect that every parent tries to make life a little easier for their children than from what they had to endure.   People join service clubs, political parties as well as the church, in the hope of contributing to the wellbeing of the community.    Those who have jobs in medicine and education can easily see their calling as trying to make a difference.   However as I often reflect, the hospital in which I have the privilege to work depends on the dedication of the cleaners as much as the surgeons and nurses.   But all these inevitably have an element of self interest as we enjoy the company of like-minded colleagues and get a paycheque at the end of the week.   Many veterans enjoy the annual opportunity on Anzac Day to reconnect with others who know their story without having to explain or apologise for it - just as we in Christchurch talk about the earthquakes to those who have experienced them - to the utter boredom of those who haven’t!

The opportunity to give one’s life for a good cause is almost universal, and the obverse, the perception of a lack of being able to give one’s life for something which will make a difference is the ultimate pain of unemployment and under-employment.   This is not something that the church has discovered and needs to tell the world and impress on others the necessity to live this out - as if the church is the only selfless organisation in the whole world!

The words of John point to the reality of the universal and eternal temptation of religion itself, ‘christianity’ as easily as any other, to become selfish; to be used to limit just to whom we need to be charitable.   The kingdom of God will not come if our ‘charity’ extends only to straight Anglicans of my particular variety!

So as we reflect on the sacrifices of those young men and women 100 years ago and since, let us rejoice that we find ourselves conflicted.   How do we honour their sacrifices, yet like them deplore war and the need for it?   Lest we forget - lest we forget them, certainly; but also their sacrifices, that they were ever needed in the first place.   Lest we forget that we can be conflicted, publicly; we can publicly oppose our involvement in current disputes overseas without being jailed or silenced.   We observe Anzac Day to honour the past, but also as a warning to the present and the future.

Father Patrick Dore, catholic chaplain at Gallipoli wrote in June 1915: ‘I have seen any amount of war and would not mind, for the sake of the boys and for the world’s sake, if peace were declared.’ (5)

‘Laying down our lives for one another’ reminds me of those solemn words of St Paul: ’I am speaking the truth in Christ — I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit — I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.   For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.   They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed for ever.’  (6)  These were the very people who chased him out, town after town, from Jerusalem to Rome; the ones he condemns so expressively in Romans 1:24-25   We pray for our persecutors, not that we might have relief from their persecution, but that others will have relief from persecution, that society might have relief from religious persecution.   It is the same message that the risen Christ charged Saul: he was persecuting divinity when he persecuted others.

‘We ought to lay down our lives for one another’ and if I reflect on what is my life, it really is my faith.   These words call me to abandon my faith for other people, and surely this is precisely the same message as that well known parable of Jesus, that of the Good Samaritan.  (7)

Our Christianity calls us into fellowship with all of humanity, and if this means letting go of those things we find so ‘life-giving’ - eucharist, word, congregation - in order to make friends with others - so be it.   Christianity is always on the margins, practiced by the fringe-dwellers; people like John Lennon who wrote: ‘Nothing to kill or die for / And no religion too / Imagine all the people / Living life in peace. .. You may say I'm a dreamer / But I'm not the only one / I hope someday you'll join us / And the world will be as one’.  (8)

Actually ‘christianity’ is only at the margins; religion at the centre, religion which monopolies truth, always denies this.   No, it is when ‘two or three’ (9) - not hundreds - gather - no matter how enthusiastically the name of ‘Jesus’ is invoked by the multitudes.   The Spirit of the risen Christ is present when real two-way communication happens between individuals, not when crowds are swept up in the emotion of the moment.   So corporately the risen Jesus is present when christian, jew and moslem gather, rather than when straight conservative evangelical ‘christianity’ triumphs.

Which was going to be the conclusion of this sermon, except that on the 17th of April the GAFCON Primates ended their conference issuing a Communique which in part read:  ‘Over 450 participants attended the inaugural conference (of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans Australia) in March 2015 and this fellowship is now well positioned to contend for the faith in the years to come ..  We do not regard the recent use of a Church of England building for a Muslim service as a minor aberration.   These actions betray the gospel ..’  (10)   Well, not in my book!

5.  quoted by Rev Allan Davidson in Tui Motu Interislands April 2015 p23
6.  Romans 9:1-5
7.  Luke 10:29-37
9.  Matthew 18:28