Their lives given for our freedom

Sermon for Remembrance Sunday 2022
All Saints’ Church Highbrook

Today, throughout the country and the Commonwealth, we gather around war memorials and in churches to remember those who have lost their lives in conflicts past and present. 

Although our poppies and war memorials bring into focus those who died during the First and Second World War, there are still many who risk their lives every day to fight for peace and justice around the world. In 2021, 7% of households in England and Wales included one or more persons who had served in the UK armed forces. That is almost two million people who put themselves forward, risking themselves, to serve others. 

Not least thanks to medical advancements, the number of deaths has drastically decreased. More men lost their life in the Battle of the Somme than in armed conflicts in the past 70 years. But this does not take away from the fact that still many lives are markedly changed by the experience of war and violent conflict.

Read more: Their lives given for our freedom

And of course for many of us, our lives would not have been the same had it not been for those who fought in wars of the past.

Probably you have noticed by now that I am not English. I grew up in The Netherlands. This time last week, I was travelling back from a visit to family and friends. Seeing the famous ‘bridge too far’ in Nijmegen, made me realise once more that I owe my freedom to the people whose names are on the war memorials around which we gather today. 

Had it not been for those who left their country to go to France, Belgium, The Netherlands; to fight for our freedom, I would probably not have been able to travel freely, not been able to speak but certainly not learn Dutch in school. The world would have been a very different place.

And maybe that is what I find most remarkable about those we remember today: that their sacrifice was so often made far away from home and loved ones, that they fought and died for the freedom of others. They gave their lives, so that we may live in freedom.

With that freedom comes a responsibility. Not only to not forget those who made this possible, but also to use that freedom well. In our Gospel reading this morning, we hear about a freedom that comes with forgiveness, as Jesus tells the parable of the Unforgiving Servant. We hear of a man who owed a great debt. When he pleaded with his lord, he had pity and forgave him all his debt and set him free.

As soon as he was free, the man met one of his fellow slaves who owed him just a little. However, instead of treating him as he had been treated, he did not forgive him his debt, but had him thrown in prison until he would pay. Instead of using his freedom to set someone else free, he wanted what he deserved. 

The parable is as challenging to us, as it was to its original hearers. We live in a world in which we are told that we need to stand up for ourselves, so that we get what we deserve.

Jesus here is turning everything around. Instead of fighting for what we deserve, he suggests that we should use our freedom to set others free. I think that this is an incredibly powerful message on a day like today when we remember those who have given us our freedom. A summon to us to use that freedom to give others theirs.

What that looks like will be very different for each of us, and we might well disagree what it looks like for us as a nation. The idea that we need to use our freedom well, is not a political statement about our involvement in conflicts abroad. But it is a fact that with our freedom comes a responsibility. Freedom brings choice: we can decide how we use our time, our money and our talents.  

One day a year, we stop for two minutes silence to remember. But to really honour those who gave their lives, we remember by how we live our lives. For Christians, the way we live our lives includes remembering the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the Cross, giving us our ultimate freedom through the forgiveness of our sins.

Whatever decision we make, is it one that is made from a position of great thankfulness for the freedom we have been given? And do we therefore wish that freedom for others too? 

Let us remember and give thanks, today and every day. 

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