November 11, 2018

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The Twenty-Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture Reading: Hebrews 9:24-28

24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Placeevery year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Sermon: “Flanders’ Fields”

When you see this picture, what do you think of?

That, of course, is one of the red poppies that veterans’ organizations all over the world use as a simple form of remembrance. As it turns out, scarlet corn poppies grow all over Western Europe. Their seeds can lay dormant for years, then start growing whenever something disturbs the ground.

In late 1914, the fields of northern France and Flanders were torn to bits as World War I raged through the heart of Europe. After the bombing, shelling, and fighting was over, red poppies grew by the thousands, covering the battlefield.

In 1915, Maj. John McCrae, a brigadier surgeon, authored a poem he called In Flanders Fields. London Magazine published it in December of that year.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

Just after the end of the war, an American professor named Moina Michael read McCrae’s poem while she was volunteering at the New York headquarters of the YWCA. She decided to wear a poppy as, in her words, “an emblem of keeping the faith with all who died.”

She went to a nearby department store, bought two dozen red silk poppies, and gave them to her coworkers. Then Moina made more, a lot more. The idea made its way from New York to France, thanks to a 1920 American Legion convention held in Cleveland. From there, remembrance poppies spread to Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and England.

Flanders’ fields are now at peace. World War I ended 100 years ago today, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918. It seems so far from us, so distant. Oscar-winning director Sir Peter Jackson has tried to bring it closer, taking film shot during the war and adding sound as well as color. Here’s a brief clip from his film,

They Shall Not Grow Old.


This doughboy helmet belonged to my grandfather. He came home from WW1 the survivor of a gas attack—his lungs seared, his strength sapped. But he came home.

Many did not. Willis Sparks, writing a tribute to his own grandfather, likewise a World War I vet, said this in the electronic newsletter Signal.

Sunday will mark the 100-year anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I. Some 70 million people were sent into military action. The war killed nine million soldiers and seven million civilians, and it triggered a number of genocides as empires fell and borders were redrawn.

When the war ended, the soldiers’ return triggered an influenza epidemic, the so-called Spanish Flu, that infected an estimated 500 million people across the world. More than 50 million [of them] died.

So, as we worry over events of the day and how they might shape the 21st century, spare a thought this Sunday for all those who lived and died through those turbulent years. It may put things in perspective.

Today especially, we should spare more than a thought for the veterans of World War I, as well as for all those in our armed forces who have fought, and sometimes died, on battlefields around the world.

Sparks is right about something else. We do lose perspective. The problems we face in our age seem, to us, so much worse than those faced by anyone else.

The same thing happens in our lives of faith. Our fears and doubts loom large, and our faith appears correspondingly small. The book of Hebrews is a sermon, sent in hopes of helping a congregation struggling with that same lack of spiritual perspective.

Reading between the lines, we see a church discouraged, restless, and weary. People suffered meaningless, cruel, persecution because they were Christians. They carried guilt nothing could ease. Their hope was fading and, with it, their faith. The preacher in Hebrews didn’t deny any of it. How could he?

The challenge of the Christian life isn’t to close our eyes and make the world go away. It is, instead, to face the world, while remembering there’s more to life than just the world.

For Christ didn’t go into a holy place made by human hands, a copy of the real one. Christ went into heaven itself and now appears on our behalf in the presence of God.

What is real? Slip on a pair of goggles and enter a world of virtual reality. Watch a supposed “reality” show on your TV. Or, if you live in China, move to London, Paris, or even Jackson Hole without leaving the country.


These clones aren’t tributes to the cities they copy, but to China. It has become so rich and powerful, these cities say, that it can have its own London, Paris, or Venice.

We build our own cities, you and I. They rise, brick by brick, out of the lies we tell ourselves and the fears that rule us, as well as out of the love we cherish and the faith we keep.

Those parts which are holy and true stand strong. The rest crumble into dust when faced with times of trial or testing. It’s important to know the difference between a copy and what’s real, between a faith that saves, and one cannot.

The priests of old went into an earthly temple built to mimic heaven, and offered there the blood of sacrificial animals. No more, the preacher of Hebrews says.

For Christ didn’t go into a holy place made by human hands, a copy of the real one. Christ went into heaven itself and now appears on our behalf in the presence of God.

Only God can deliver on God’s promises, and God did just that in Jesus Christ. Faith means following our Lord, while never pretending to have somehow “arrived.” You see, we have to keep ourselves in perspective, too. The poet Maya Angelou said,

I’m working at trying to be a Christian and that’s serious business. It’s not something where you think, ‘Oh, I’ve got it done. I did it all day—hot diggity.’ The truth is, all day long you try to do it, try to be it. And then in the evening, if you’re honest and have a little courage, you look at yourself and say, ‘Hmmm. I only blew it 86 times. Not bad.’ I’m trying to be a Christian.

Sometimes we blow it. Sometimes, like the Hebrews, we grow weary. But we have a hope whose symbol isn’t a flower, but an empty cross. It reminds us of One who conquered death and, even now, Hebrews says, is our advocate in the presence of God.

St. John Chrysostom’s Easter sermon describes that hope better than most. Along the way, like the preacher in Hebrews, he urges us to meet life head on, realizing there’s far more to it than we can see or feel or touch. I’ll close this morning with Chrysostom’s words about keeping death and destruction and war and violence and today’s headlines and tomorrow’s worries all in perspective.

Let those who have fallen again and again mourn no more;

for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.

He has destroyed it by enduring it.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.

It took earth, and encountered Heaven.

It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?

O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated!