Sermons from St
Paula O'Shaughnessy, Sunday, 13th May,
The meaning of life, death and our faith in God and the resurrection: that is our spiritual journey and our hope. In the earthly realm, this can be difficult to hold onto sometimes. Sensing the presence of God, who is everywhere – finding him in the unexpected, not easily described, but known. We search onward in this world, but looking always towards the Kingdom of Heaven.
During the Christmas period Radio 4 aired a fascinating series called ‘Voices of the First World War’. It was the real voices of survivors of the trenches, with a narrator telling the listener of the context and the events. One particularly poignant voice was that of a gunner in the artillery – an ordinary soldier – William Towers- who described his near death experience. His leg was badly wounded at Passchendale and he lay on a makeshift bed in the field hospital. The doctor on the ward was walking along, laughing and joking – with his arms around two of the nurses. Somehow the wounded soldier – with a sense of despair – of not mattering, being a nothing, a nonentity, managed to catch the attention of the doctor who shortly after did perform some primitive surgery, amputating the leg.
The soldier was sent to a hospital back in England and though he survived the journey, he was in a very poor and weakened state. All hope was leaving him and he felt that his very life was ebbing away. His great fear was not that he would die, but that if he survived was that he would become one of the poor amputees, leaning on a crutch with a tin in one hand, begging on the streets, that were becoming commonplace – displaced and uncared for.
However, suddenly, he said that kindly doctor at the English hospital took an interest in him. The doctor’s horror at the dreadful mess left by poor surgery and the infection which was setting in was clear to the soldier. But the doctor reassured him that he would do everything he could for him. Further, skilled surgery followed, in sterile conditions and the soldier made an amazing recovery. He was moved to a convalescent home where he was treated with kindness and compassion by the helpers. This enabled his recovery and rehabilitation – not only with the wound, but also with his spirit and back into the community. With the help of the good people he encountered he received a new life. He was able to accept the disability, as he saw that he had been saved. For William he felt that he was given his life back. He worked tirelessly for the rest of his life, campaigning for better treatment for soldiers wounded in battle. He had felt that in the carnage and chaos of battlefield, he along with many others were treated as less than nothing. But in the work of the good people who saved him – there was compassion and value for human life and the spirit. William took that on, not selfishly – caring only for himself and his life, but caring also for the lives of others. In his work, he did all that he could for future generations. He took a path towards all that was good, not one of bitterness and selfishness.
The prayer which Jesus makes to his Father in Heaven in today’s Gospel is spiritual food for the journey of the disciples. The journey is fraught with mortal dangers, but the heavenly and eternal life which is promised is assured. The calling of the disciple is to take the word of God into the world, sanctified and belonging to God, not to the world. The temptations of the world are there, all around the disciples, but they are strengthened by God to resist the temptations. The disciples are committing to living by the word of God, sanctified by the word of God. They are to turn the other cheek, resisting the temptation of human ways, the ways of sin. By not succumbing to anger, resentment, covetousness, or retaliation – the disciples do not perpetuate evil in the world. Their focus is resolutely upon God, pure and simple. They are in the world to perpetuate the word of God, to make all that is Holy and good prevail.
Jesus entreats his Father to protect the disciples from the evil one. The damnation of the one who was destined to be lost (Judas) is the sobering reminder to the disciples of how easily people can become instruments of evil, ensnared in the grip of evil and ensnaring others within evil – in all its malevolent influence.
The sanctification brought by God’s truth purifies and protects the disciples. But vigilance will be needed and sacrifice. The sacrifice which Jesus is about to make with his own life, for the salvation of mankind brings the love of God to the world, transcending all other powers.
In our own, limited human understanding – we dimly may see what this salvation means for the world.
In the moving story of the First World War gunner, we are reminded of how good and evil co-exist in the world. The armed conflicts prevailing down the centuries. The suffering which ensues for ordinary people. The corruption within the world and the difficult choices that people are faced with. The reality is confusing and distressing.
It is ever more important that we keep searching for God and cling one with faith through all of this.
The disciples and the early church carried the word of God forward for future generations, keeping the sanctity of the word of God alive and teaching for the good of all peoples. This is our privilege today, that we can share in the life of the church and live the word of God in the world.