Sermon for Sunday 27 February 2022 (Next before Lent, Year C)

Readings: Isaiah 2.1-5, Luke 9.28-36

How on earth do I start today? While writing, I started and deleted a beginning multiple times. Perhaps I shall just start – not at the beginning, but with a beginning. 

What is happening in the world?

Russian forces have invaded Ukraine under the direction of Vladimir Putin. As we gather today in the relative safety of our church in our quiet Herefordshire village, citizens and soldiers alike are fighting for the control of Kyiv, the Ukranian capital.

And make no mistake – this is an invasion. Not a ‘conflict’. And most definitely not a ‘peacekeeping liberation deployment’ as President Putin so falsely claims. Russian forces are not only targeting military sites. They are not avoiding civilian casualties.

Volodymyr Zelynskyy, President of Ukraine, has thrown everything into defending the country and people he loves. He has declared martial law, asking the citizens to resist and begging Europe and NATO to help. He is resolved to remain with his people: “We will defend our state because our weapon is our truth.”

I cannot imagine what it must be like to be in Ukraine right now. To be one of the many civilians joining militia forces to protect their homes in Kyiv. To be one of the women in smaller settlements learning how to mass produce Molotov cocktails. To be families desperately trying to cross the border to Poland. To be one of the Ukrainian children forced onto a bus to be “evacuated” by the Russian forces.

I also cannot imagine what it must be like for the citizens in Russia. We are hearing of covertly organised anti-war protests in full knowledge that if they are caught, they will be arrested and charged exorbitant fines. Fed a government-curated version of events, access to outside news sources limited by the Kremlin. To be one of Putin’s political opponents, poisoned and imprisoned. To be part of the electorate, knowing that any likely competition to the current regime will be eliminated and any elections will be manipulated. To know that your friends and family in Ukraine are fighting for their lives against your friends and family in the Russian military.

Is this the catalyst for World War Three? Many people fear that it is – and the generational cycle of history as described by Strauss and Howe in The Fourth Turning certainly predicts that a major war is due. The key factor to this will be if NATO decides that it is time to intervene.

Yet even if we do not participate in active combat, our lives in this country will not remain untouched by this war. Russia’s major exports are wheat and oil, upon which we and many other countries rely, and these prices will be inflated to fund their military. That’s without sanctions. With sanctions imposed, these supplies will be even further restricted. If Russia is excluded from SWIFT (the global financial society that enables international financial telecommunication), then our already rising fuel prices will become further inflated. Companies that export to Russia will not be able to receive payment for goods and services. And, of course, Russia will retaliate with its own sanctions. 

Is that a cost we are willing to pay? If we don’t, we are funding the military operation we claim to oppose. But it will have a devastating effect on an economy already weakened by pandemic. We will need to rally to support those in our communities who will not be able to afford to heat their homes or feed their families. 

And if there is global war? Good Lord, deliver us.

That’s the first time I’ve mentioned God in this sermon, perhaps because it’s so hard. I don’t see God in war. But I do see God in the courage of the people risking their lives to protect the weak. In the generosity of the people donating blood, welcoming refugees, supporting the charities working on the ground. I see God in the people speaking against the Russian regime, risking their lives and reputations to share the truth of what is actually happening. I am a pacifist, but I see God in the peaceful people learning how to shoot guns in order to fight the invading forces. It pains my soul, but it is true. 

I also see God pointing at my own weakness – reminding me that the only reason I am so worried about Ukraine is because it is so close to home and because it is so visible on social media. I can scroll through Twitter, Facebook, news sites – even TikTok and YouTube – and receive regular updates on events. But this is not the only war happening right now: Afghanistan, Darfur, Kivu, Congo, Nigeria, Syria, Yemen, Iran, Israel and Palestine, Ethiopia – these are only a few of the ongoing and emerging conflicts elsewhere in the world today.

What are we to do in the face of all this suffering?

Our readings today teach us about the transformative Glory of God as Jesus, our Messiah. 

As we meet him on the mountain, we like the disciples are exposed to the revelation of his extraordinary divinity – Jesus, the man, was a great teacher – a charismatic teacher who wisely advised and guided his followers. But Jesus, the Son of God, the Chosen One demands our attention. His words are of truth and power, and his mission is great – transformation of our social, religious and moral order towards justice. 

This is the mountain of the Lord – the earthly indwelling of God – as described in Isaiah 2. The Kingdom we invoke every time we pray: your Kingdom come, your will be done. From here, he will teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths.Truth, peace and justice will reign. 

He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;

they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.  Isaiah 2.4

It is impossible to make sense of the suffering resulting from human conflict in this world. It is easy to feel helpless. Much of my past few days has been spent sitting in horror as I watched and read and thought about the developing events in Ukraine. There is too much to think about (not withstanding the ongoing anxiety about a global pandemic which – although easing – is not over), and I could pray was “Lord, have mercy. Good Lord, deliver us.” 

When we pray these words, and the words of the Lord’s prayer, we are casting ourselves and those for whom we pray into the mercy and protection of God. If we truly trust in his revelation on the mountain, then trust that he condemns the oppressor and we live in hope that he will carry us through these times of trial. 

As I was watching the news on Saturday night, Zelynskyy’s words to his people captured this hope: 

“This night will be difficult, very difficult. But the morning will come.”

As it says in Psalm 30.5: Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

These times will end. He will guide us through this valley of the shadow of death, and he will establish his indwelling among us forever.

So, in assurance of this hope, what can we do for the people of Ukraine?

Today we pray for peace in Ukraine. On Tuesday, we are invited to join the Diocese in Europe at 6pm to join a service of prayers for peace in Ukraine on their YouTube channel. On Wednesday, we are encouraged to join with Christians across denominations and across the world in a day of fasting and prayer. This Lent, I am committed to praying for peace. I’d like to encourage you to do the same.

There are also practical things we can do: donating to organisations such as the Ukrainian Red Cross and UNICEF who are supplying humanitarian aid on the ground; being vocal about our support of Ukraine and making sure our politicians know; welcome refugees; lobby the large corporations to divest from Russian portfolios; preparing ourselves to shoulder a greater personal financial burden and mobilising ourselves by whom the changing economic climate will be hit the worst. We can also be the voices of comfort and hope to our community. A listening ear to the anxious. A support to the weak. 

We are not through this age of unrest. We hope and pray for the best, and we must do our part in the case of the worst.

A Prayer for Ukraine

God of peace and justice,

we pray for the people of Ukraine today.

We pray for peace and the laying down of weapons. 

We pray for all those who fear for tomorrow,

that your Spirit of comfort would draw near to them. 

We pray for those with power over war or peace,

for wisdom, discernment and compassion

to guide their decisions.

Above all, we pray for all your precious children, at-risk and in fear, 

that you would hold and protect them.

We pray in the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Amen.

Archbishop Justin Welby & Archbishop Stephen Cottrell
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