November 12, 2023 Reflection and Worship Link

Picture of Rev. Carla Wilks

Rev. Carla Wilks

Associate Minister

Remembrance Day/Peace Sabbath

“Advent One: Make Ready a People”

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5 and Matthew 5:1-12
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This being my first Remembrance Day as Chaplain of the Seaforth Highlanders and carrying the weight and responsibility of the rank of Captain in the Canadian Armed Forces, I wanted to reflect a little bit today on what this has meant for me. If you had asked me two years ago if I would ever join the Armed Forces I would have said no way. It had not even entered my mind. But as many of us have learned in our lifetimes, God has a sense of humour. I think God said oh yeah? I’m gonna take that ‘no way’ and turn it into a ‘sign me up!’ When I learned from my colleague, Julie, who was the Seaforth Chaplain before me, what she did in her job, it intrigued me, and the more I talked to her about it, the more I felt called to apply. I felt called to support these women and men who would so bravely put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of peace and for the sake of our country and for our freedom. Some of the people in my unit have served in Afghanistan, in Croatia and currently in Latvia.

In addition to supporting the ones who serve overseas, I predominantly support the reservists who train here and remain here in my unit, many of them who are at a time in their life when they are figuring out who they are and who they want to be in this world, as they become independent and begin to make the decisions that will determine what kind of mark they want to leave, and navigating all the complexity of being a young adult in today’s world. So for me, wearing this uniform represents commitment and care and love for our serving members. You know that love of Christ that we share here each week – and sometimes we remind each other to take that and share it out in the world. That is the love that I take with me each Wednesday night to the Armoury to share with whoever needs it. If I can remind one soldier that their life matters, and that they matter, and that they are not alone, then I have done something to deserve the honour and privilege of wearing this uniform.

I’m so proud to be able to serve this community, this congregation, and I have been so proud for the six years that I have been here. And now I am also proud to be able to serve my country in a way that I know how…by sharing Christ’s love with the people I meet. I know that some people look at this uniform and see war and terror and lives lost. Of course that is part of it – but for me, I also see a commitment to peace when I see this uniform. Canada has been involved in many peacekeeping missions over the years. I also see love – love for country, love for fallen comrades.

The very first time I wore this uniform was in Italy in May, when I was asked to join them on a battlefield tour to retrace the steps of the Seaforth Highlanders through Italy in WW2. When I wore this uniform in Italy, it represented a connection to those who served before me. It was a connection to history and a connection to the past like nothing I had experienced before. When we wore our uniform in Italy, it sparked the memories of the Italian people, and how their lives had been impacted in a positive way by the Canadian soldiers. We heard stories of Canadian soldiers carrying children across fields with landmines to safety and stories of Canadian soldiers bringing food to families who had none.

This year for me, Remembrance Day has been particularly significant. Not only because of it being my first in uniform, but also because of what is happening around us in the world. We speak of peace but it seems there is no peace to be found as the war rages on in Ukraine and now in Israel and Palestine. The conflict and destruction in Gaza has felt very close to me since it began because of my personal connection with Ilham and Nabil the family that we have come to know. Hearing their story of how Hamas rule and the conflict has threatened their lives and impacted their families, makes it more than just a war that is out there, that I can watch on TV news, but it makes it real, when it has so tragically impacted people that I care about.

This year is the 75th anniversary of the first UN Peacekeeping mission. I was encouraged by that and then I read where that first peacekeeping mission was. My heart sank a little when I read that it was in Israel. The UN Truce Supervision Organization was the name of the mission, and now 75 years later, it is still needed and the mission still remains in operation. The call for peace, echoed in Isaiah’s passage, remains elusive, but the commitment to peacekeeping endures.

What would it look like if Isaiah’s passage was taken literally and adopted throughout the world. They shall learn war no more. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. What if that were practiced, exchanging weaponry for farming tools, and using them for growing crops and feeding each other instead of them being used for destruction. Creating new life and abundance instead of destroying life.

The Matthew reading that we call the Beatitudes, in a similar way turns our usual way of thinking around. We are invited into a glimpse of where God is at work, further transforming our understanding of God. The God that we know in Jesus shows up where we least expect God to be – in a feeding trough in a stable, rather than in a palace, among the poor and outcast rather than with the powerful. The beatitudes challenge societal norms and highlight the blessedness found in unexpected places – among the downtrodden, the meek, and the peacekeepers. This teaching embodies the essence of Jesus’ ministry and invites us to see beyond conventional measures of success.

Blessed are the poor, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacekeepers. Jesus teaches us how to recognize blessedness. Not how to become blessed, or even how to bless each other, but rather to recognize who is already blessed by God.

Sometimes we are distracted by thoughts of success by society’s standards – fame and fortune and power and beauty – but that is not what being blessed by God is about. Jesus teaches us to see that God calls blessed, those who are down and out, distressed by their circumstances, working for peace or persecuted for doing the right thing. Jesus urges his disciples and us, to look at those around us differently than the world does – instead to see their character rather than their social successes. It is not that Jesus is saying that God wants us to be down and out or persecuted or poor or mourning – just that when we are in such straights, God is present, supporting, caring, seeing, and blessing.

This teaching – that God favors and cares for those the world is likely to forget, if not despise – constitutes the heart and soul of Jesus’ ministry and mission.

God shows up where we least expect God to be – amid our brokenness, in order to bless what the world refuses to bless, to love what the world calls unlovable. What if we would all do the same? What if we embraced the marks of blessedness in those who might be particularly hard to see as blessed, ones that society typically overlooks or despises?

And what if we could see ourselves as God sees us – even when we don’t feel particularly lovable, capable or blessed – we are just that. God continues to surprise us by reminding us that we are inherently lovable, we are capable and we are blessed.

And if God shows up where we least expect God to be – then God is also in Israel and Palestine and Ukraine, trying to find a way toward peace. God is still with the UN peacekeeping mission in Israel, 75 years later.

Throughout my life God has shown up in unexpected ways, calling me to ministry and now to military service as well. With the profound message of this passage as my guide, I feel called to recognize the blessedness of each of the men and women in my unit, in their despair and brokenness, and it compels me to remind them of their goodness and the meaningful contribution that they bring through their lives.

As we remember the sacrifices of the past and navigate the complexities of the present, may we strive to embody the spirit of the Beatitudes, recognizing God’s presence in unexpected places and working towards a world where swords are turned into plowshares, and peace prevails. May it be so.