In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
In 1998, Thomas Brokaw, an American retired network television journalist and author wrote a book titled The Greatest Generation, where he coined this term as a description to those men and women who were born roughly between 1900 – 1920s. The greatest generation members all lived through the Great Depression, Spanish Flu, sinking of the Titanic, World War I and of which many of them fought and died in World War II. On November 11th of each year, we pause to remember these brave and exemplary men and women. But as we pause and remember, it also gives us an opportunity to question, what made them so great? Especially as we see war continuing to break out, genocides committed once more or pandemics reemerging, what made them the greatest generation and what’s more, what can we learn from them, if anything at all?
When we think about greatness, we often use words such as brave, courageous, strong, and determined. Therefore, it is not hard to see why those men and women of the early 1900’s were great. They overcame famine, economic struggle, sickness, and war by remaining brave, courageous, and strong. As Christian’s we, likewise, find these characteristics to be virtuous and desirable for ourselves especially when we face such difficulties. Yet, in Scriptures we see Christ giving a different example of what greatness is. The greatest among us is the child, “the greatest among you [Christ says to his disciples] will be your servant.” Though at first glance it may seem as if this definition of greatness and the characteristics of the “greatest generation” are opposed to one another, upon a closer look we see that they are in fact emphasizing the same truth. To be great we must begin with loving those around us. The sum of all the characteristics of the “greatest generation”, bravery, courage and determination – begins with love. In Christian terms, a love for our neighbors as ourselves.
Leo Tolstoy writes in his book titled On Life, about spiritual kinship by saying “…every man prefers his own child, his wife, his friends and his country, to the children, wives, friends and country of others, and he calls this feeling love. To love means in general to do good. Thus when I love…I desire the welfare of mine more than the other.” This is natural, we love that which is ours and want what is best for them. Yet, Christ teaches us to love the other, by seeing the other as ours. This is done through the very example of Christ, who seeing us in our sinfulness, in our separation from God the Father, choose to be like us, take our suffering, our thirst and hunger, to take us and bring us into Communion with Him. Likewise, we, as the children of God must therefore, in compassion empathetically choose to know each other, take each other’s pain, suffering and experiences, despite our difference and thus begin the pathway to love. And once we love, and to love means to do good. To love even in the face of evil no longer becomes a paradox. To do good becomes a natural reflection of the love in us.
When WWII broke out, the evil and atrocities about what was taking place overseas was heard about all over the world. How countless lives were being slaughtered not just in the battlefield but also in Hitler’s Nazi occupied lands. Yet, many of the people who were involved in those horrific acts, had no idea what was taking place. Propaganda and lies fueled how they looked at those who differed from them. They did not know the truth of war, of suffering, or of the pain of their fellow man; especially when Germany was coming out of great economic woes, it was easy to understand how people were seduced with the notion that it was the someone else’s fault. For example, in 1940, as WWII was moving forward, a young, uneducated, and hungry German boy, Rudolf Paul, saw that the German army was offering free food, clothes, a place to stay, and this momentary comfort blinded him to the truth of what horrific events were taking place in the war. Whereas in contrast, after seeing the horrible events of Pearl Harbor, Sergeant Keiller of the US Navy, volunteered to serve and defend against those who committed the atrocities of war. Two men, who volunteered to go to war yet, one blinded to the realities of the suffering of others, vs. one who knew they had to serve and protect the other.
The greatest generation, my dears, are those who in spite of hardship, in spite of physical weakness, they responded by serving, they self-sacrificed to fight and defend their fellowman, their neighbor. The greatest generation loved and served. The greatest among us must love and serve. Thus their greatness was their love – and this love cannot be apart from God. St. Paul in today’s reading to the Ephesians writes, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” The Lord’s will is love, the Lord’s will is for us to serve one another as He served us; to be wise and recognize the evils of today and respond by being the opposite. A life lived in love is a life of faith, a life of love, mercy and compassion demands a life lived by this divine virtue. As St. Maximus the Confessor teaches us, “spiritual knowledge without practical life is the theology of demons.” In other words, if we who claim to know God, who claim to be His child, who through the grace and loving kindness of our Heavenly Father, have been redeemed and in Christ Jesus have been illuminated to true greatness, if we don’t live our life in love, if we don’t reflect through spiritual knowledge God’s example to those around us, than we are no better than the demons, then those who act blindly.
To love in the face of tyranny is not to condone it; to love in the face of war and persecution is not to bend our necks to the sword. To love our neighbor, to love others, even in times of evil is to live a life in service to God. When we open up our scriptures, come to Church, confess our sinfulness, speak to the priest and receive Holy Communion, by the grace of the Holy Spirit we learn, become knowledgeable about God’s love for us and of God’s love for all humanity. This love wipes our sins, quenches the fiery darts of evil, fills us with wisdom and knowledge. Yes, my dears, evil exists. War, economic hardship, pandemics, genocide, addiction, darkness, suffering are not new things in this fallen world. When we see them on the news, when we come face to face with these realities, it is because we are aggravating a wound that has been left from sin, from the denial of God’s love, from denying each other. Our only response can be that of the greatest generation – our response must be to love. Only then can we call upon our Lord to raise us up, even from the darkness, to raise us to greatness, to equip us with the wisdom, hope and love that can overcome all evil, all sin and all darkness. A life lived in faith, a life lived in Christ, a life lived in love brings glory to our Father in Heaven, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, now and for all time, Amen!