Tag Archives: Lest we forget

Abundance out of poverty: remembering our unsung heroes

A sermon preached by the Dean of Melbourne, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, at St Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne on Remembrance Sunday 2015:

Poppies
Jesus said: ‘All of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had’ (St Mark 12.44).

In this season of Remembrance we give thanks for the sacrifice of those women and men who served in our armed forces and, who through their often selfless service, have enabled us to live out the values we cherish: a life in liberty, in a society founded on justice, freedom and opportunity. In our remembrance we tend to commemorate those whose service has been recorded in the pages of history: field marshals who led armies into battle or who, like Lay Canon Sir Harry Chauvel, secured a timely retreat for those embroiled in the bloodbath of Gallipoli. We tend to remember those who took up arms, and gave their lives in battle, or took to the skies in bomber squadrons and single combat Spitfires. We recall those who dug trenches and fought in the lines, think of those who operated tanks and advanced battles. Our corporate remembrance centres on those who gave of abundance; who gave of their strength. All too often we tend to neglect those who contributed out of their poverty; who gave all that they had – the unsung heroes of our conflicts, whose service tends to go unseen.

+

Quite literally so, in the case of Sister Lilian Bessie Kiddle of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. Commemorated in this Cathedral not on a large brass plaque in the aisles, but on a simple wooden board in the corridor outside my office. Sister Kiddle was trained in St Kilda, and embarked on one of the first transports to Europe once war had been declared to join the Imperial Military Nursing Service. As a result, Lilian Kiddle was one of the first of 30 Army sisters to cross over into France in October 1914. Her nursing care knew no boundaries, no enmities: she cared for Allied servicemen and German soldiers alike. Anyone caught up in, or between the lines, servicemen or civilians. In her service Sister Kiddle put herself in harm’s way: her nursing apron pierced with shrapnel, her torch often the only source of light in the field hospitals because of blackouts and fear of attacks from the nascent German airforce. Sister Kiddle remained with ‘her men’, working on ambulance trains behind the lines, and moving along the front as they did, retreating only when they did (The Australasian Saturday, 15 March 1919, p. 35). Sister Kiddle survived the war, returning home to Melbourne in 1919 after giving six years in service to a conflict far away from home, giving not out of the strength of force, the abundance of power, but nevertheless ‘putting in everything she had’ in her service.

Also not commemorated among the military heroes in this Cathedral, but a war hero nevertheless, is my illustrious predecessor Frederick Waldegrave Head, the Seventh Dean and also concurrently the Archbishop of Melbourne. The Senior Tutor and Chaplain of Emmanuel College Cambridge when the Great War broke out, Head considered joining up as an Army Chaplain but swiftly rejected the idea: at 41 he felt too old to serve in the forces, so joined as one of the Chaplains attached to the YMCA providing pastoral care to servicemen behind the lines in France in 1915 instead. A year later, he was commissioned as an officer and chaplain with the Second Guards’ Brigade, and soon became a senior chaplain to the entire Brigade. In an interview on his appointment as Archbishop and Dean Head reflected on his experience at the front of the ‘blood-soaked line from the Vosges to the Channel’: it was his sheer hard work that enabled him to cope with the terror of ministering to an endless stream of injured and dying soldiers, comforting, as best as he could, those who had come to the end of their lives, or those who were, once more, thrown into the fray. The war disturbed, but did not break him, Archbishop Head reflected, and would say no further to the Melbourne press on the matter. The fact that he was awarded a Military Cross in 1917, and had a bar added in the final year of the Great War are external testament to his heroism (Table Talk, Thursday 23 January 1930). A heroism borne, again, not out of strength or abundance, but once more out of a desire to ‘put in everything he had’ for his beliefs.

Confirmed in their belief to ‘put in everything they had’ in times of great conflict both Sister Kiddle and Archbishop Head continued their work for those most in need. Sister Kiddle continued nursing in Melbourne, even after she married one of the officers whose life she saved in the final stages of the war: the fellow-Victorian Lieutenant Hugh Hanna MC. Kiddle ran first aid and home nursing programs in order to enable others to extend, in times of peace but relative poverty in the post-War years, the care that enabled her save lives through her heroic service. Likewise, it was the experience of the bloodshed and destruction of the Great War, his own experience of having given out of his poverty, that led Archbishop Head to set up programs to promote greater social justice in Melbourne: he was one of the first church leaders to visit, and seriously engage, with those living in what was then the ‘Broadmeadows Camp for the Unemployed’, praying with those suffering from the effects of the Great Depression, and preparing them for confirmation (The Argus, Wednesday 29 April 1931). His advocacy for those in need was ceaseless: he invited the Brotherhood of St Laurence to move to the diocese, and establish their first social outreach programs in what then were the slums of Fitzroy, in St Mark’s parish.

For both our unsung heroes I believe it was the experience of being able to give out of their poverty that equipped them for their future ministry. Both ended up as highly decorated war heroes: Kiddle a recipient of the Mons Star and Royal Red Cross Ribbon, Head an MC with bar. Yet they are remembered not for their heroism, nor for their winning campaigns or battles, but for their selfless service: ‘out of their poverty they put in everything they had’.

+

Heroes are sometimes like that. Like the widow in today’s Gospel reading, they are people who contribute out of weakness rather than strength, bring great riches of character and principle, sacrifice and service out of the poverty of their power. They would very likely say of themselves that they have ‘just done their bit’ or how they wished that they had been able to do more. You very likely know one or two candidates for such quiet heroism. They would probably prefer to remain unsung, unremembered, would prefer that no fuss was made to celebrate their service.

Yet it is that very remembrance, our bringing to mind and making present of their actions, that enables us to ensure that the principles for which they strove are fostered in our own generation. They encourage us to do ‘our part’ in promoting the values of justice – looking out for those who have no one to speak up for them, caring for those who have no one to care for them – the values of freedom and opportunity – enabling others to flourish in spite of their background and to engage those who find themselves at the margins.

All too often we may feel like them: confronted with an almost insurmountable task when faced with so much need. It is especially at times like these, that the example of those who have given out of their poverty, is encouragement for us to go and do likewise.

+

The examples of Sister Kiddle and Archbishop Head encourage me do what I can to ensure that their work of care in this city – a care that for our two unsung heroes was borne out of the wounds of the Great War – is continued. The same care – now borne out the wounds of the acts of terror and warfare of our own generation – needs others to ‘put in everything they have’.

For us at St Paul’s this is a care that, like Sister Kiddle, looks at people, not passports. A care that reaches out to migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, in making them welcome, safe and enabling them to share in our values of freedom and opportunity. A care that, like Archbishop Head, engages with people, not problems. A care that reaches out to individuals in helping them become the people God calls them to be, and enables them to witness to Jesus’ call: the motivation of all our calls.

+

This care calls for modern heroes. Some of those are very likely seated right here, in these pews. They probably do not regard themselves as such, but are those who create an abundance out of their own sense of poverty, are those who already put in everything, so that the treasury of God’s care for others may continually be filled. Jesus said: ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she, out of her poverty, has put everything she had’.

Lest we forget.

© Andreas Loewe, 2015. All rights reserved

Remembrance: the God who takes up our brokenness and makes all things whole

A sermon preached by the Dean of Melbourne, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, at Holy Trinity, Hampton Park, on Remembrance Sunday 2014:

154835_717147194480_36922549_44321247_7709916_a

This morning’s readings (Ezekiel 37.1-14 and Matthew 26.17-19, 26-30) assure us that God remembers each one of his own who has died; that he will bring together, at the end of all ages, all those who have lost their lives; and that it is by our corporate remembrance, our active recalling of those whose lives have been lost, that we can share in that assurance of lives restored.

Our word ‘to remember’ is the direct English equivalent of the Latin verb ‘re-memorari’. The second part of that word—‘memorari’—comes from the noun ‘memoria’, from which we derive our word ‘memory’. The Latin prefix ‘re-’ often means ‘again’ or ‘back’. To remember a person or an event, therefore, means to have an intensive awareness of someone or something in one’s mind: to be intensely mindful of someone.

That is one, and the most conventional, way of looking at the word. Now imagine the same word with a hyphen. If you add a hyphen between ‘re-’ and ‘member’, the word suddenly changes its meaning altogether. To ‘re-member’ may look very much like our first word, but has very different roots. Yes, it shares the Latin prefix ‘re-’—‘again’ or ‘back’—but its second part comes from the Latin ‘membrum’—‘limb’ or, somewhat archaically, a ‘member’.

To ‘re-member’, then, means to bring together, reassemble, members and limbs. It means to bring to life someone or something that was broken and therefore is the direct opposite of the word to ‘dis-member’. This morning’s readings invite us to put our communal remembrance of the conflicts, wars and acts of terror that have brought us together this morning, in the context of both of these words.

Our first reading, a momentous vision from the prophecy of Ezekiel, illustrates well the second—the hyphenated—meaning of the word re-member. The prophet finds himself in a vast plain, surrounded by dismembered, dried out bones; a valley full of dead bones without any hope of life. At first he is not told where these bones come from, God’s hand simply leads him around the bones. Ezekiel may be standing in the middle of a mass grave, or a place where generations of the dead have been placed; at this point the prophecy doesn’t tell us more about their provenance. All we know is that there ‘are very many bones lying in the valley, and they were very dry’ (Ezek. 37.2).

And God charges Ezekiel to prophesy to these very many, very dead bones. God commands him to proclaim his word to them. And as Ezekiel makes known God’s word to the assembly of dried up dismembered bones, we hear him speak words of resurrection: ‘Thus says the Lord God to these bones’, Ezekiel proclaims to the valley of dry bones, ‘I will cause breath to enter in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord’ (Ezek. 37.5). Immediately, at the very time that Ezekiel proclaims God’s message of resurrection to the dispersed bones, they are re-membered: ‘the bones came together, bone to its bone’ (Ezek. 37.7). As the prophet speaks the words of resurrection, the disconnected bones become assembled, limb to limb, member to member, in this divine act of re-membering. And, as he continues to prophecy the words that God gives him, suddenly ‘sinews were on them, … flesh had come upon them; and skin had covered them’ (Ezek. 37.8). A valley of bones, re-membered, re-clothed with sinews and skins standing before Ezekiel, ‘but there was no breath in them yet’ (Ezek. 37.8).

And now Ezekiel is commanded to call on the breath, to fill the empty bodies with life. He calls on God’s spirit, speaks into the four corners of the earth—wherever their breath had been scattered—to fill the bodies, blows on them as one would kindle a fire, in-spires the empty bodies ‘that they may live again’ (Ezek. 37.9). And as God’s spirit filled them, the bodies stand and live, and God reveals to the prophet that the vast multitude before him is the whole house of Israel, a people once dispersed and dead, now re-membered and resurrected.

Yet although they stand, looking to all intents like real people—with fresh skins on their dead bones and the breath of life within their bodies—deep down they remain people who remain disconnected from one another and from God, we read. They tell the prophet: ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, and we are lost completely’ (Ezek. 37.12). And the word of God spoken by the prophet addresses them in their hopelessness, prophecies how God will bring them back, not only from their graves, but restore them to the heavenly kingdom that he had promised; how God will put his spirit within them, so that they may live. And all so that they may know that the Lord alone is, indeed, their God.

God will bring life, even in the midst of death, the prophet tells the vast army of the people of Israel. God has re-membered them, and will not forget them either. Another Dean of another St Paul’s Cathedral, John Donne of London’s St Paul’s, reflected on this hope like this in one of his sermons:

God knows in what part of the world every grain of every man’s dust lies … and he whispers, he hisses, he beckons for the bodies of his saints and, in the twinkling of an eye, that body that was scattered over all the elements, is sat down at[ the right hand of God, in a glorious resurrection (Sermon LXXXI, 19 November 1627).

God re-members, brings together, his broken people, by remembering, recalling each one that has been lost to death.

Just as our first reading proclaims God’s mighty works of re-membering, of putting together again those who were broken, wherever they may rest, so our second reading shows us how we, too, can engage in the work of remembrance. For at the heart of our gospel reading from St Matthew stand words that form the centre of our own worshipping life, as we gather round Christ’s table: ‘This is given for you; do this in remembrance of me’ (Mt. 26.26, Lk. 22.19). Do this, so that you may remember me, Christ says, and points to the broken bread that symbolises his body, the body that is about to be broken on the cross.

And so our daily sharing in the broken bread becomes not only the ultimate act of remembrance—a time when we recall intently the work of our salvation and the fulfilment of God’s promise that all may one day come to share in the promised heavenly kingdom—but also is meant to be a share in his work of re-membrance, of bringing together the members of the body of Christ, however dispersed, however disconnected from one another and from God they may feel, however broken they may be. At Christ’s table, as we come to remember him, we are all re-membered, are brought together, are given a share in God’s mighty work of deliverance in the death and resurrection of Christ. At Christ’s table, we make present this deliverance in our midst, and we do so by our act of remembering, as each individual member of his body shares in the bread and wine and we, ‘though we are a many, become one body, because we all share in the one bread’ (1 Cor 10.17).

We stand at Christ’s table not merely as a living assembly of humans—like the multitude of dried bones, now covered in flesh and given breath though still without hope, that once filled the valley of Ezekiel’s vision—but as living members, as limbs of Christ’s own body, connected to him, sharing in the pains he feels in the hope that we, too, might come to share the risen life he brings. As we remember him breaking the bread, the sign of his body, at table with his disciples, we also re-member—bring together—his broken body, become members one of another and of Christ; all by doing this ‘in remembrance of him’ (Mt. 26.26, Lk. 22.19).

On this Remembrance Sunday, as we remember the centenary of the Great War and the enormity of its cost, I invite you to share in the remembrance that both recalls in our minds and brings together again what has been broken by illness, suffering, war or hatred. I invite you to remember—to recall—how by letting his own body be broken on a cross, Christ has taken up in himself all brokenness in order to make it whole. And as you receive the bread and the wine of Holy Communion I invite you to re-member—to build up and become—his body on earth: be re-connected with one another and with Christ himself, as members of his body, so that together we may make known the work of his healing, wholeness and redemption in an age still marred by conflict and war.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.