A sermon in honor of Armistice Day (11-11-22)
The last week in October, I was surprised to see an email from Rebecca, stating that she and Joann were looking for some help with preaching. The first date listed was Nov. 6th, followed by several in January and February. My initial reaction was, “hey, I’m retired and out of the preaching business now.” Then, when I looked at the calendar, I realized that this Sunday was the week when our nation celebrates one of our national holidays, now commonly referred to as “Veterans Day,” which this year is recognized on 11-11-22. Hmm, well that just seemed auspicious to me . . . 11-11-22 to celebrate a holiday originally called Armistice Day which was established to commemorate the ending of World War I, and to be forever set aside for all nations to work for peace.
A little history here. World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” – officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919. However, fighting itself ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month (and here we are at 11-11-22). For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars,” a particularly bloody and devastating war which even included the first use of weapons of mass destruction in the form of nerve gas. 20 million people died as a result of this war (more than half of which were civilians) and there were another 21 million known casualties. Let those numbers sink in.
It is particularly important to me to remember the original meaning of this holiday as I am a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and I have been opposed to war ever since I was released from active duty in December, 1964. During my three-year hitch, it became clear to me that our government and the media had been lying to the public, and what we were doing in Southeast Asia was not what I had signed up for. I also have been for many years an active member of Veterans for Peace, a national organization dedicated to working nonviolently for the cause of world peace and justice. Working for peace and justice are some of my core values.
Which brings me to the topic of today’s reflection. I believe that “it’s time for a core values checkup,” both as individuals and as a society. What do I mean by this? For those of us of a certain age, Medicare requires that we each have an annual “wellness” checkup. It feels kind of weird, because your doctor (or other provider) asks all sorts of questions about your social interactions, your emotional state, your activities, etc., and may never even ask you to open your mouth and say “ahh,” or listen to your heartbeat. That’s because western medicine has come to the conclusion that our lifestyles may have more to do with our overall well-being and longevity than any physical indicators (of course, there are exceptions, if you have any noticeable or serious physical symptoms).
I would contend that for the health, well-being, and sustainability (or longevity) of our communities, society-at-large, and our planet, we also ought to be re-examining our core values, those values that drive us from deep within, both individually and as a society.
I read in a recent issue of Common Dreams, an internet-based news information source, something that literally took my breath away. The author was writing about the upcoming UN Climate Change COP 27 global environmental conference taking place in Egypt later this month.
In its Emissions Gap Report 2022: The Closing Window, the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) reiterated how the world is “falling far short” of the goals outlined in the 2015 Paris agreement. The director said, “We had our chance to make incremental changes, but that time is over.” “Only a root-and-branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us.”
Policymakers routinely acknowledge the need to slash greenhouse gas pollution to avert the planetary emergency’s worst consequences, but [the U.N. report watned] their current plans for doing so are “woefully inadequate” and “only an urgent system-wide transformation can avoid an accelerating climate disaster.“
Wow! Talk about a wake-up call! The global social and ecological body of our planetary home is gravely ill and in immediate need of a radical core values checkup, followed by a multitude of treatment interventions, if we are to survive.
So just what are “core values,” you might ask. Core values come from what we were taught, both by word and by example by those around us, our immediate family members. Core values are passed on through cultural traditions in our families and in the communities we identify with. Core values also come to us through our faith and/or belief systems.
I would ask each of us right now to think about what are our own core values and where do they come from? Let’s take a minute or so to reflect. What core values are at the center of your life? Can you identify two or three of them right now? Let’s take a minute to reflect together in silence. . .
I’m not going to ask us to share out loud right now, though I think it would be an interesting exercise. Instead, I might ask you to share with one another following our worship service or later at home.
Instead, I would like to share with you some excerpts from a book I have been reading, reviewing, and contemplating written by John Phillip Newell called Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul about theologians from the Celtic tradition over the past two thousand years, Newell writes:
What most endangers us as an earth community today is that we have neglected our interrelationships—as countries, faiths, and races. The reality is that we need one another. We will be well to the extent that we all are well. (Does that ring a Paul Wellstone bell?) We will be truly strong to the extent that we faithfully protect one another’s well-being, not simply the well-being of our people, our community, or [even] our species. The strength of the sacred feminine is deep within us, in both men and women, young and old. It is awakening again in our depths. We need to be open to it, now, if we are to be well.
[Newell goes on to talk about one of] Pelagius’s teachings which is the sacredness of compassion. Pelagius taught that it is not so much what you believe about Jesus that matters. The important thing is becoming like Jesus, becoming compassionate. A “Christ-one”, he said, is one “who shows compassion to all, . . . who feels another’s pain as if it were [their] own, and who is moved to tears by the tears of others.” And this compassion is not just for human beings, he said; it is for all life. “When Jesus commands us to love our neighbors, [Jesus] does not only mean our human neighbors; [Jesus] means all the animals and birds, insects and plants, amongst whom we live.”
It is the sacredness of compassion that fuels the holy work of justice. It is compassion within us and among us that will inspire and sustain the work of equitably accessing the earth’s resources.
For those of us who call ourselves Christian or “Christ-ones,” this is the root source of all our core values. We are called to live as Jesus, as much as possible, in the ways in which we interact with our world today. Our core values are to love, or care for the well-being, of all our neighbors and all creation. Our core values, summed up so well by the prophet Micah, are to act for justice, to love with compassion, and to walk humbly (connected to our mother earth) with our God, for our very lives and the life of our planet depend on it.
I‘d like to close with a simple quote by Margaret Mead to remind us of the power we have when we act together. She said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” May it be so, for us all.