Sermon: The Good Soldier
This talk was given for Remembrance Day on Thursday, November 11, 2010, at the Olivet New Church in Toronto.
THE GOOD SOLDIER
Remembrance Day Address by Rev. Coleman S. Glenn
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
At 11:00 this morning, we will pause and join the rest of the country in 2 minutes of silence. In those 2 minutes we honour and remember those brave men and women who offered their lives in service to their country. We honour the courage they showed in their willingness to lay down their lives for their friends.
Remembrance Day is held on the 11th of November, the anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the first World War. In that war, over a hundred thousand Canadians crossed the Atlantic to fight on foreign soil, to defend their allies’ homelands. In battles like Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele, they proved themselves to be valiant and courageous soldiers, winning victory at the cost of many lives.
On Remembrance Day, we remember those who fought in that war – and those who fought in the wars that followed. Since that war, Candians have fought and died in the Second World War, the Korean War, the Afghan War, and on peacekeeping missions around the world. Today, over 2,000 Canadians are stationed on active duty in Afghanistan, and there are thousands more in the Canadian forces who, by joining the military, have declared that they are willing to sacrifice their lives in defence of their homeland.
Today we honour these men and women for the love they have shown to their country. A passage from the Writings for the New Church says that it is good and right that we should honour those who are willing to lay down their lives in defence of their homeland, out of love for their country. That passage says, “A person’s country should be loved, not as one loves himself, but more than himself. This is a law inscribed on the human heart; from which has come the well-known principle, which every true man endorses, that if the country is threatened with ruin from an enemy or any other source, it is noble to die for it, and glorious for a soldier to shed his blood for it. This is said because so great should be one’s love for it. It should be known that those who love their country and render good service to it from good will, after death love the Lord’s kingdom, for then that is their country; and those who love the Lord’s kingdom love the Lord Himself, because the Lord is the all in all things of His kingdom” (TCR 414).
This morning we read another passage, from the book Doctrine of Charity. That passage talked about charity in the commander of an army. That book goes on to describe charity in a military officer, and charity in a common soldier. All of these people, it is said, act from charity when they willingly go to war for the sake of defense. Those who are in charity fight not from a desire to attack others or for their own glory, but from a desire to protect their country, to protect what is good and innocent. And just as good soldiers do not invade or attack – except if that is part of their defense – so the angels never attack evil spirits, but defend us against their attacks. When evil spirits attack us with thoughts and feelings of evil, the angels are there to offer us hope, to offer us love and wisdom for our protection. They do this from the Lord, and the Lord does the same – He always acts from a desire to defend and protect, never a desire to attack or to harm.
This love from the Lord – the desire to protect others – is the love that inspires a good solder. The book Conjugial Love tells us that there are two universal spheres, or atmospheres, that flow out from the Lord throughout heaven and throughout the entire universe. These two spheres are a love of procreation, and a love of protecting that which has been procreated – that is, a love of protecting the things that have been born into the world. The love of protecting one’s country comes from this love of protecting the things that the Lord has created, and especially protecting His children from attackers. It is a love that the Lord has within Himself, and He is the source of that love.
When the Lord was in the world, he fought from that love – a love of saving the human race from their enemies. The Lord was a good solider, a warrior. In the book of Revelation, He is described as having a sword coming out of His mouth; and in the prophets He is described as a great warrior and liberator for the land of Israel. The battles he fought in this world were not against enemy soldiers, but against the power of hell itself. And in all those battles he fought from a love for other people, not for himself. The book Arcana Coelestia says, “In all His combats of temptations the Lord never fought from the love of self, or for Himself, but for all in the universe, consequently, not that He might become the greatest in heaven, for this is contrary to the Divine Love, and scarcely even that He might be the least; but only that all others might become something, and be saved” (AC 1812). He laid down His life, not for his own sake, but for the sake of all people, including us today. The Lord said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” He was talking there especially about His own life – he was about to lay it down for his friends, that is, for all the people who are willing to accept His love.
These words – that the greatest love is to lay down one’s life for one’s friends – refer especially to His own sacrifice – but they also hold true for ANYONE who is willing to lay down their lives for their friends. That love that he fought from – a love for the human race – is a love that a good soldier shares. It is a love that inspires him to deeds of great sacrifice. It is a love that carries him through long nights and terrible warfare. And it is the Lord’s love, although he feels it as his own. When a soldier feels that passionate love to stand up for what is right, to defend the people he loves, he is feeling the Lord’s presence within his heart.
That love inspires soldiers to fight for their country – but it’s a love that is in each one of us, too, whether or not we ever fight in a war. The Lord encourages each one of us to be a warrior. There are times in our lives when we need to sacrifice our own comfort for the sake of something greater – times when we have to sacrifice our own desires, our own self-satisfaction, to protect something important. It could mean speaking out against something wrong, even if we know it will cost us our jobs. It could mean standing strong for the truth, even if we know it will lose us friends. And sometimes to does literally mean going to war in defense of our own country, putting our own lives on the line for the sake of others.
The good soldier does not go to war because he loves war, but because he desires peace. War itself is never the Lord’s will. In war, hellish things happen. But the Lord permits war for the sake of avoiding even greater evil; he permits it so that people are able to see the real and disastrous effects of holding hatred for others, or cherishing an inordinate lust for power. The goal of every good soldier is peace – true peace, heavenly peace. This is not the apparent peace that comes when one country dominates another, or the false peace in a nation where the ruler treats his people as slaves. True, heavenly peace comes from following the Lord in freedom. That is what the men and the women who have fought and died for this country have truly fought for – the freedoms that we all enjoy, the most important of which is this: the freedom to follow God as we see fit. When we follow the Lord from our own free will, there are battles we must face – but this is the path that leads to true peace. Today we honour and thank those who have served to defend our freedom. And we thank the Lord for inspiring them and us with His love, a love of eternally defending what is true and good.
The Lord said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
LESSONS: John 15:9-15; Rev. 19:11-21; Charity 164
Charity 164. Charity in the Commander of an army. By the commander of an army is meant its highest officer, whether he be king or archduke, or one constituted commander who holds authority from them. If he looks to the Lord and shuns evils as sins, and if he acts sincerely, justly, and faithfully in the affairs of his generalship and command, he does goods of use, which are goods of charity. And as he perpetually meditates upon them, applies himself to and executes them, he becomes charity. If he is king or archduke, he does not love war, but peace; even in war he continually loves peace. He does not go to war except for the protection of his country, and thus is not an aggressor, but a defender. But afterwards, when war is begun, if so be that aggression is defense, he becomes also an aggressor. In battle, if he has not been born otherwise, he is brave and valiant; after battle he is mild and merciful. In battle he would fain be a lion; but after battle, a lamb. In his inner self he does not exult in the overthrow of his enemy, and in the honor of victory; but in the deliverance of his country and his people from the invasion of an enemy, and the destruction and ruin they would inflict. He acts prudently; cares faithfully for his army, as the father of a family for his children and servants; and loves them, everyone, according as he does his duty sincerely and valiantly; and many such things. Cunning, with him, is not cunning, but prudence.
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