Giving your all – Remembrance Sunday
Dr Richard Vautrey
In the meeting room at the old Harewood chapel where you used to sit for coffee after the service is a plaque on the wall that originally came from the old Methodist chapel at Dunkeswick. It was a memorial to those in the village who fought in the 1st World War. I was struck by the number of young men who came from the same family. 4 or 5 who were boys from the same family, were at the same time struggling to survive in the trenches of Northern France, and ultimately lost that struggle. Just imagine what the relatives left behind must have felt. Just put yourself in the place of their mother or their sister. Perhaps a feeling of pride at first as they all marched off to war, but very soon feelings of fear, sadness and maybe even despair.
Up and down the country, in small village chapels and large cathedrals, memorials adorn walls and statues have been erected to the thousands of men and women who travelled alongside these young men from Dunkeswick, who also left mothers, sisters, wives and lovers, thousands of whom were not to return. They were men and woman who were called by their country and who gave their all in response. Whatever we may think about the rights and wrongs of the wars that they fought in, and the wars that we ask our soldiers to continue to fight, we cannot doubt the bravery of those who were and still are prepared to give their all for the cause that their country is fighting for.
This is something we have seen in the last couple of years with the dreadful situation in Ukraine, with people across that society being willing not only to join the armed forces with the obvious risks to their own lives as a result, but also the many people willing to go in to dangerous situations to provide support or even evacuate those trapped there, and those willing to work in hospitals and other buildings that could be under fire from indiscriminate bombs and missile attacks. And then more recently we've seen the daily horror from Israel and Palestine, with thousands of people dying as a result of the atrocities inflicted by Hamas and then in the response from Israel. War is a terrible thing and giving your all can be a costly business.
It's very easy to say but extremely hard to actually live that out in our modern lives, and even harder if we suddenly find ourselves in traumatic situations such as we've seen in Ukraine and other war zones around the world. Jesus was very clear with his disciples that as a result of following him they could be subjected to attack and abuse, could be imprisoned or even killed. They needed to be prepared for everyone, including their friends and families, to turn against them. And in our minds and from the comfort and security here in the UK we perhaps think "yes that's the right way to behave, that's what we would be prepared to do if we were talking with Jesus in the temple. We'd be prepared to give our all too, of course we would".
But would we? Are we really prepared to follow in the footsteps of these men and women? Would we really be willing to accept abuse and conflict as a result of following Jesus and his teaching? Are we prepared to give our all? And are we ready to do that at any point?
As we heard in our reading earlier, Jesus reminds his followers that they needed to be ready. The 5 bridesmaids with their prepared lamps filled with oil where ready when the bridegroom arrived and the wedding began. Are we ready to take action when we respond to the presence of the kingdom of God in our midst, or are we too distracted with other things to even notice what God is calling us to do?
I am reminded of the prayer that we say together during the annual covenant service:
"I am no longer my own but yours, put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will, let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things let me have nothing. I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal." Is that what we really mean? We may well talk the talk, but are we prepared to walk the walk?
I am always struck and moved by those parents who dedicate their lives to looking after severely disabled children. As part of my work as a GP I have come across numerous examples where children with major disabilities, and who need 24 hour nursing care, are looked after at home by mothers and fathers who give their all to looking after their much loved child. The hopes and dreams that any expectant parent have suddenly need to be radical changed when they realise that their own life will be turned upside down and will be far more different than they ever expected. Families even find themselves having to move house to specially designed accommodation that can cope with lifts and hoists. Lives revolve around frequent visits to hospital wards or the GP surgery, and the emotional rollercoaster can sometimes be frightening.
Sadly all too often the pressure of selfless giving like this can have a heavy price. It can lead to crisis and breakdown, it can lead to periods of deep depression, and even lead to the break up of marriages and relationships. But so often what shines through the hardships that these parents undergo is the power of the love that they have for their child. Their love gives them the strength to go that extra mile. It gives them the ability to pay that heavy personal price.
And it's the power of love that so often drives people on to give of themselves during times of conflict and war. It's not just duty and expectation, but a love for family, friends and community that enables them to keep going even in the most difficult of situations.
You will remember the words of Jesus when he was asked what the greatest commandment was. We all remember the second one, to love your neighbour as yourself, but we often forget what Jesus said was the number one commandment:
"Love the Lord your God with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength."
It is love of God that comes first, and it is through that love that we are given the power to fulfil the tasks that otherwise seems impossible. It allows us to give our all, when we naturally would hold things back, or give ourselves half-heartedly. If we truly love God with all our heart, mind and strength, we will hold nothing back, we will give our all.
If we truly love God then it means we will be prepared to get our hands dirty, we will be prepared to take risks, we will be prepared to put aside our own desires and aspirations and dedicate ourselves to work in places that we would not chose to go. We will be prepared to, as Amos states, "let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" as we seek to be a justice-seeking church and community, rather than focusing on our internal church structures and activities. We will be able to live out the covenant prayer and "freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal."
If we give our all as individuals, and if we are ready for the moment we are called by God to do new things, we don't know where it will take us, but we could say the same for us as a Church, for if our Methodist Church is to give of it's all, where will that lead us.
Times of change can be difficult. I once visited the most southerly Methodist church in the connexion, the small church at Samares in Jersey. It's an old chapel in the poorer part of the island, although no parts of Jersey are that deprived. However they had been struggling to survive, with dwindling numbers and the risk of closure on the horizon. They started to do things differently, first by having regular café style services in a morning and then by developing a range of small groups for people to drop in to during the week. They also put leaflets through ever door in the area offering to prayer for anyone who wanted to ring and leave a message on their telephone prayerline.
Over the next couple of years their numbers grew to such a point they were forced to make another big decision. They decided to move away from their old church building and in to a community centre a mile away. Since the church had been built over 100 years ago the main centre for the community housing had shifted. The church believed it was called to be at the heart of the community, and so that meant taking the risk of leaving their much loved building and moving in to the community they felt called to serve.
I don't know how the story ends. I don't know whether it was a successful move or not. I don't know whether their initial growth has since turned to decline as seen in so many other churches across the county. But I do know they made the decision for the right reasons. They were a church who were prepared to give their all. They were prepared to take a big risk for the sake of the God they worshipped and served and the gospel they proclaimed.
Where will God lead us if we are prepared to give our all as a Church? Again think of the words of our own covenant prayer. "I am no longer my own but yours, put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will, let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things let me have nothing". What does that mean to our circuit as it under goes a review of our mission strategy, and as we reduce the number of ministers working with us? Does it mean that we may have to let go of things we now treasure? Does it mean that we will have to change in ways that we currently don't feel comfortable with? Does it mean we should be prepared to try new things that might fail or do we stick at all costs to our old ways and hope that society changes around us and comes back to us and our way of doing things?
But then should we really be afraid of change? Should we really fear the future when we are people of the resurrected Christ? We worry about decline in numbers and the influence the church has in modern society, but don't forget how we started, not with John Wesley, but with the man who died a criminal's death on a cross outside Jerusalem. A man who was crucified because he gave his all, a man who was ready at the right time and who gave his all because of his love for his father and love for those who followed him. And through the power of that love he conquered death and lives with us still. Churches and circuits may come and go but the power of God's love never dims.
God calls us to give our all. That may be just a few coins, but it may well be our time, our talents, our resources even our whole life. We can face these challenges and questions in times of peace as well as war, in times of relative ease as well as times of crisis and uncertainty. But when God calls we need to be ready and must not hold back. Because God loves us he didn't hold anything back and give us his only Son. Through our love for him let us give our all in return.