November 11, 2012 - Pastor Dale Lloyd All across this great country of ours today in small hamlets and villages to larger towns and great cities something wonderful will happen. This happening will cut across age differences, and today the very young, the very old and all ages in between will come together. They will congregate in front of cenotaphs, place reefs, read poems and offer up prayers. In all of these activities there is a three word phrase that will be read over and over: ‘Lest we Forget.’
When you drive west of here on highway 401 you come to a portion of the highway that is designated: Highway of Heroes. This is also the designation given highway 416 that runs from the 401 to Ottawa. On those signs you will discover this same three word phrase: ‘Lest we Forget.’
Not so much in our youth but certainly with age and maturity, we soon enough discover that there are some things in life we dare not forget and if we do we do so at our own peril.
To underscore the validity and importance of this I remind you of the heart and core of God’s final instruction to Israel through Moses. Moses was 120 years of age. He was speaking to a generation all under the age of forty with just a couple of exceptions. The heart of that final instruction was this: ‘Then beware lest you forget the Lord which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt.’ (Deut.6:12)
The word ‘then’ marks a period of time and a state or condition relevant to that period of time. The time referred to was a season of incredible prosperity they were about to enter into in keeping with the long promise of God to the generations preceding them. In this God reveals the particular danger or vulnerability that develops during seasons of prosperity and increase. That vulnerability is expressed in this three word phrase: ‘Lest you forget.’
In Deuteronomy 6:12 the specific instruction was that they were not to forget the Lord. But when we come to Deuteronomy 8:2we read this: “You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years.....”
This scripture addresses the journey itself and instructs us to never forget that journey by which the Lord has brought us to where we are at this present moment. It is telling us that God was in the journey, and when we become forgetful of that journey we simultaneously begin to forget the God who was present in that journey. In remembering the journey we also remember the God who made that journey with us. This brief scriptural reference provides a bit of background to what I want to share with you on this Sunday of remembrance.
Let’s go back to the year 1897. Does anyone here know the significance of that year? This was the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Understand that Great Britain celebrated an empire that literally spanned the globe. It really was true that ‘the sun never set upon the British Empire.’ As part of this great celebration Britain’s leading poet of the day, Rudyard Kipling, was commissioned by the London Times to write a poem. He executed his commission and was immediately criticised, scorned and denounced.
Just before we read his poem from the overhead I would ask that we keep two things in mind. First, Kipling actually wrote this poem as a prayer. Secondly, whether it was intended or not the poem turned out to be a powerful prophetic warning and remains so to this day concerning any nation during its season of strength, prosperity and increase. Here is the poem. I have underlined some phrases for your notice.
“Recessional” by Rudyard Kipling God of our fathers, known of old-- Lord of our far-flung battle line-- Beneath whose awful hand we hold Dominion over palm and pine-- Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget—lest we forget!
The tumult and the shouting dies-- The Captains and the Kings depart-- Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice, An humble and a contrite heart. Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget—lest we forget!
Far-called our navies melt away-- On dune and headland sinks the fire-- Lo, all our pomp of yesterday Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet, Lest we forget—lest we forget!
If, drunk with sight of power, we loose Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe-- Such boastings as the Gentiles use, Or lesser breeds without the Law-- Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget—lest we forget!
For heathen heart that puts her trust In reeking tube and iron shard-- All valiant dust that builds on dust, And guarding calls not Thee to guard. For frantic boast and foolish word, Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord! Amen.
By Kipling’s own account (and I think obviously) the phrase that was enlivened in his consciousness and that birthed this prayer/poem was, ‘Lest we forget.’
To understand the poem you need look no farther than its title – ‘Recessional.’This was the first detail that drew criticism and got him into trouble. The word ‘recessional’ suggests recession, shrinkage, drawing back, the ending or passing away of things. And there was no evidence in the physical realm of any such recession. But Kipling saw beyond the external and was deeply troubled.
And so a Biblical phrase became – for Kipling – the heart of a national prayer to God about a mighty empire that should be looking to the Lord with profound gratitude for such a glorious reign as Victoria rather than any self-congratulation. He increasingly sensed the encroachment of a national hubris (exaggerated sense of pride and arrogance that becomes cruel in it outworking). This was repulsive to his sense of God, his sense of Queen, and his sense of country. But far beyond this he saw it as dangerous and deadly to the future of the empire. He knew that any nation that boasts in its greatness because of its own strength is in danger of being humbled through judgement – thus his reference to Nineveh and Tyre.
On this Remembrance Day Sunday I think the lessons are clear enough. I do not consider it inappropriate to speak, not only of this great nation of Canada, but also of our neighbours to the South –these two great nations that make up North America. We both need to remember and celebrate the particular journey in which our national formation took place. There is such an effort today to dumb down the testimony of history. We deny it and constantly endeavour to rewrite it in an effort to make it say something other than its own truth. The more I understand the education my daughter is getting at Queens University the more I understand how intense and deliberate this effort is.
They would argue that it’s not about changing history but about interpreting history. I don’t struggle with that. What I do struggle with is the deliberate intention to remove and eliminate God from that history; to cut God out of the journey of our national formation. So why is it that our educators and political leaders are so conflicted with the presence of God in our national history? In a four word phrase it is – the fear of accountability.
If I acknowledge God ordained the journey of our national formation; if I acknowledge God was present in this journey of our national formation then in all responsibilities of citizenship I am ultimately accountable to this God. That is what we fear. That is what we resist. That is what we fight against. And if you want a Biblical description of this just read the second Psalm.
On this day of remembrance let us do exactly that – remember. Let us remember 1897 and the prophetic warning in the words of an English poet. And then let us turn and face the true history of our national formation. Let us boldly and openly acknowledge the guiding hand of Devine Providence in that history. And let us confess that apart from the presence of God in the journey of our making there would be no Canada and no United States. And finally, let us acknowledge that, if we continue down this road of pushing God further and further out to the fringe of national consciousness, both of these great nations will be nothing more than mere memories even as it is with Nineveh and Tyre.
Let me conclude with a comment concerning what should be obvious regarding the present health of these two great nations. One of the first evidences that an “Empire” has become forgetful of God is found in its definition of “the responsibility of Empire.” Moving away from selfless, sacrificial service to others,toward a self-centred, narcissistic, self-absorbed and consumerist society built upon the core idea of personal rights pretty much establishes the measure of our “forgetfulness of God.” I leave it to you to assess the present health of North America.