November 14, 2021

“Evil is insolent and strong”: a sermon about the sovereignty of Christ for Remembrance

A sermon preached by the Revd Aaron Kennedy on the 14th November at the 8.30am service, on Remembrance Sunday.

Mark 13.1–8

“Evil is insolent and strong;

beauty enchanting but rare;

goodness very apt to be weak;

folly ever apt to be defiant;

wickedness to carry the day;

imbeciles to be in great places,

people of sense in small,

and mankind generally unhappy.

But the world as it stands is no narrow illusion

… we can neither forget it, nor deny it, nor dispense with it.”

(Henry James)


For the people of Britain and its Commonwealth states,

one symbol more than any other is synonymous with remembrance tide.

The humble red poppy.


I was privileged to visit Flanders with the Toc H Trust

during my ordination training

and see the still very clear scars of battle,

and the many poppies

along what was once the front line of the Great War.


The poppy, which grew in such great numbers in the aftermath of WWI

has become a profound symbol

for honouring the courage and self-sacrifice our troops.

For me it also signifies the remembrance of the dead from all wars,

whatever their nationality.

And for this reason it is a poignant expression

of a desire for peace,

and a commitment to remembering the horrors of war,

how costly it is,

and how important it is

that we should work each day to avoid its recurrence.


In our gospel passage this morning, Jesus says:

‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom;

there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues;

and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.’


15 or 20 years ago these words, I suspect,

would have sounded quite out dated,

old fashioned or irrelevant to our modern ears.

Throughout my life time at remembrance

it has been common to focus on the Great war and the Second World War.

The last 60 years have seen

an unimaginable increase in wealth for us in the west

and an unprecedentedly long period of peace in Europe.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall

and the apparent demise of communism

one historian, prematurely, I think

announced the so called “end of history”,

the end of great upheavals and upsets,

in which western liberal democracy triumphs

as the final and only necessary form of government.


Regardless of your political persuasion,

events that have unfolded since the 11th September 2001,

seem to betray as hubristic and false

this sense of security.


The reality of distant wars

in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and South Sudan,

are beginning to come home to us in Europe

through the huge and tragic refugee crisis;

and the blight which is terrorism

has begun to haunt our daily lives

in a way unforeseen even 25 years ago.


The departure of the UK from the European union

seems for many to have heralded the end of an era

of peace, security, prosperity, and progress,

bringing with it an upturn in racist and homophobic attacks on our streets.


And the depressing news from the COP26 climate conference this week,

which Greta Thunberg has described as more blah blah blah,

seems to point to a climate related future we are ill-prepared for;

where the system of our human society seems beyond the control of governments,

and where vested interests and private finance,

propel us toward a fossil fuel cliff edge without a soft landing;

in which life will get much, much harder

for us all, but especially those not living here in the West,

with the resources to buffer themselves from the worst effects of a changing climate.

Did I mention the refugee crisis?


History, it would seem, is far from over.

Evil is insolent and strong;

beauty is enchanting but still rare;

goodness remains very apt to be weak; folly to be defiant;

wickedness to carry the day;

imbeciles to be in great places,

people of sense in small,

and mankind generally unhappy.


With the apparent decline of western liberal democracies

or at least their inadequacy to guarantee the end of history,

it is as if Jesus words

to those who were admiring the temple stones and ornaments

applies to us,

to our conceits and idolatries too:

the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another;

all will be thrown down.’

Because it doesn’t matter how virtuous

or how beautiful our idols are,

all of them will pass away.


All will pass away,

but for those of us apprenticed to Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace,

it is not something we need to fear.

Perfect love, we are told, casts out fear.

While the unevenly stacked stones of the world are thrown down,

we have our foundation on the corner stone.

That which the builder rejected.

As Isaiah says of Christ, whom this image foretells:

“One who trusts will not panic.”


No, despite the chaos and anxiety of our age,

Christ remains, even now, sovereign.


Jesus did not speak of war and tribulation to panic folk;

in fact he warns them against those who say “the end is nigh”.

No, Jesus seems to want them to have a realistic view

of the hardships that are to come,

realistic because Jesus is not soft pedalling

the power of oppressors,

the horrors people face each day around the world,

he is realistic because it is his confident claim

borne out by the resurrection,

that it is in the midst of great suffering

that we may come to know most profoundly

the truth that God is sovereign,

that nothing can separate us from the life and love of God

which is revealed to us in Christ Jesus.


It is vital that we push into this paradox

unafraid of the apparent contradiction

of Christ’s claim to sovereignty

and the horrors of history,

because this coincidence,

this is very site of the revelation of the Good News,

this, is the foot of the cross,

this is resurrection.


Such Good news frees us

to live under the sovereignty of God,

of living lives that pursue peace.

This means that we don’t live in an echo chamber,

a comfortable little world of our own creation.

Living under the sovereignty of Christ means

that we are undefended against the stranger,

that we are not ignorant or detached from the poor and oppressed,

that we are not anxious in the face of climate change.


Let us not, in the words of Henry James’,

live in a “narrow illusion” of the world,

“forgetting or denying or dispensing with” those parts we are unfamiliar with,

but instead, in the words of St Paul to the Thessalonians,

let us not tire of doing what is right:

of loving our neighbour,

whether or not we like or agree with them,

whether they are near of far,

whether they have black, brown, yellow or white skin,

whether they are gay, straight or in-between,

male, female or otherwise,

cisgender or transgender,

animal or plant,

animate or inanimate,

because all are part of God’s good creation.


As we look to the past

honouring the courage and self-sacrifice of so many,

remembering the horrors of history so as to stop repeating them,

let us ask and commit, here and now,

for the grace –

despite our fears and uncertainties,

to be ever more capacious channels of God’s love to all his creatures.


Because the hope to which we can lay hold of this morning,

as followers of the risen Lord Jesus

who has revealed God’s sovereignty

through his defeat of death,

and who calls us to live lives of faith and love,

in sure and certain hope of his good future for humanity,

– this hope, is one that the world desperately needs.


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