"The message for Remembrance Day is the message that lies at the core of our faith. That death is not the end, because Jesus has defeated death."
The Bible has a lot to say about justice, and injustice.
In the Old Testament two typical examples of the former would be;
And of injustice;
But for true justice, we are told, then look to God
There are lots more, and you only have to work your way through any decent concordance to realise that throughout the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments the concepts of right judgement and justice go hand in hand with any discussion about the nature of God.
But it's not just that God is the ultimate source of justice and righteousness, he expects this to be high on the agenda of his people.
We think particularly about Jesus and his relationships with some of the less popular and desirable elements within the society he lived and moved within. The way in which he saw no difference between the adulteress and the Priest as human beings - in his eyes at least they were equals, and therefore equally deserving of time, love, healing, ministry and justice. This is what God expects as a basic standard from mankind.
And in our reading from Amos the prophet makes this perfectly plain. We have what is a fairly well known passage directed towards those who thought that all God required of them was regular Chapel attendance and doing things the proper way.
Well, it doesn't actually say it quite like that. He talks about the reliance of the people on ritual and sacrifice - that they thought they could get away with a less than perfect lifestyle if only they got the ceremonial side of their religion correct.
It's not just Amos who saw what was going on in society and spoke up against the hypocrisy of people's faith - check out Hosea and Isaiah among others. The people and particularly the religious and tribal leaders had totally forgotten the reasons why these ceremonials had first been instigated, and now it was just a smokescreen behind which they did as they liked.
It was like having some sort of lucky talisman - I can sin as long as I follow it up quickly with a sacrifice, and then I can go on sinning again.
Pretty good, if you can get away with it. But then along comes Amos and tells it to them as it really is. Excuse me, he says, you seem to think that you have an automatic entry to eternity because of all this ritual. Afraid not!
When the Day of Judgement comes you are going to be very uncomfortable, because God is up to here with all this pretence. He's stopped listening to your singing, he's not even looking when you sacrifice those animals.
You want to know what sort of sacrifice is acceptable to God? Stop behaving in the way that you currently are for a start. What God wants to see is justice and fairness handed out. A little more transparency in your dealings with those less fortunate than you. He want to see honesty and humility be such a natural part of your life that they flow like rivers that are never going to run dry. That's the acceptable sacrifice that is pleasing to God.
And that's the acceptable sacrifice for all people, isn't it? I don't want to get too political here, but look at the world we live in now, and ask yourself the question "Is there a country anywhere (or indeed has there ever been) where the government has honesty, fairness and justice at the very core of its philosophy? Where there isn't an over-riding spirit of self-seeking or image making that comes before social action?"
And what of the Church, in the broad sense of the word - Does it speak out where it sees injustice? Does it stand up and be counted when national leaders, wherever they are in the world sanction injustice and oppress their people or indeed any people? Does it show compassion and love and justice and tolerance wherever it is needed and to whom it is needed within its own community?
Sometimes it's very easy to cling to ritual, routine and ceremony. They become important to us almost in a superstitious way, as if there is something almost magical in the order of words or the actions of Priest.
But at the very centre of our faith is not ritual but love and justice. That was the reason that Jesus came into this world, to bring God's love and justice and forgiveness to all mankind, that all might be reconciled to the Creator of all.
And today particularly we need to remember this, and to remind ourselves that love and justice and fairness should be at the very core of our lives and our dealings with others. If they are not, then the words of Amos should be ringing in our ears.
Read the words of Isaiah.
This passage from Paul's letter to the Thessalonians is wonderfully apt for Remembrance Day. But it is also such an encouragement to anyone who has lost a loved one, whether through war, illness or old age. It is a message that goes to the heart of the Good News of the Gospel - that our whole journey with Christ is one that has its ultimate conclusion in eternity.
The Church at Thessalonica was a young one, but already it seems as though there had been deaths, and Paul is responding to this outpouring of grief with words of encouragement to a people he was particularly fond of. He had been working among them, earning his living as a tent maker and rubbing shoulders with them day by day. These were friends every bit as much as members of a congregation.
In the first couple of paragraphs of his letter, Paul had given the Church a real pat on the head when he told them
"And because of you, the Lord's message has spread everywhere in those regions. Now the news of your faith in God is known all over the world, and we don't have to say a thing about it. Everyone is talking about how you welcomed us and how you turned away from idols to serve the true and living God. They also tell how you are waiting for his Son Jesus to come from heaven. God raised him from death, and on the day of judgement Jesus will save us from God's anger."
Almost certainly Paul must have felt it was vital for the people to realise that although they believed wholeheartedly in the Resurrection of Jesus and were already waiting for his triumphant return, they also needed the reassurance that they too would share in that Resurrection
Paul gives a vision of the Lord's return in verse 16ff
"With a loud command and with the shout of the chief angel and a blast of God's trumpet, the Lord will return from heaven. Then those who had faith in Christ before they died will be raised to life. Next, all of us who are still alive will be taken up into the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the sky. From that time on we will all be with the Lord forever"
and this is a picture that would be a familiar one to the people, as described by a later preacher in the 4th century, John Chrysostom;
"When a king made his entry into a city, certain ones among the dignitaries, the chief officials and those who were in good standing with the king would go out to meet him, whilst criminals and those on trial would be kept within the city to await sentence. In the same manner, says the preacher, when the Lord will come, the first group will go out to meet him with assurance, whilst those who are conscious of their sins will wait below for their judge"
Paul following the example of Jesus in using familiar images to express the truth of the Gospel message. And it's a truth that needs emphasising not only on Remembrance Day but every day.
We live in a world where people are searching for reassurance, for hope, for identity and fulfilment. Yet they are seemingly not finding it, because they are looking anywhere but towards the established Church. You've only got to look at the adverts in the paper for Psychic fairs, new age philosophies, car readings, yoga, crystals and the like.
What do these see in our lives and hear in our words as representatives of Christ's body here on earth? Do we give the impression that we have deep in our hearts the conviction of Paul that death is not an end but only a beginning? And if not then why are we not asking the question of ourselves 'What is the hope to which I have been called?'
Look sometimes again at what Job went through. And then read these verses from
Job 19:25 "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!"
The message for Remembrance Day is the message that lies at the core of our faith. That death is not the end, because Jesus has defeated death.
And just as Jesus was raised up to be with his Heavenly Father so shall we be raised up in the eternity that is the hope and centre of our faith. This is the faith to which we have been called and it is the hope that can sustain us through all manner of difficulty and hardship.