Sermon - 29th January 2017
Scripture - Luke 10:25-37
[An audio version of this sermon, in mp3 format, is available via the link at our Spirituality > Audio and Video page.]
Our service today has two themes: we join in with the international marking of Holocaust Memorial Day, which takes place annually on 27 January, the date on which in 1945 the largest and most infamous of the Nazi death-camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated by the Red Army of the then Soviet Union.
The first part of our sermon is in the form of a video presentation which provides a background to the rise of National Socialism and those who were victims of the Holocaust which followed.
The Holocaust is the name used in English to refer to the genocide which took place in Europe 1933-1945 under the National Socialist regime in Germany. 12 million people were intentionally murdered because of their ethnicity, religion, politics, sexuality or disability. Many millions more died in this War in the fight to defeat the fascist regimes of Europe.
We think of murder as a violent, emotional, irrational act, and many acts of genocide have been like this, but the Holocaust was different: it began as a political idea; it was highly planned, discussed around meeting-tables and administered from offices. Architects and engineers designed and built the concentration camps. Trains were timetabled to take the victims to the camps. Scientists developed the chemicals used to kill quickly.
The Rise of Hitler
At the end of the First World War, in the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was required to pay £6.6bn in reparations, which in today’s money would be £284bn. This bankrupted the Germany economy.
Adolf Hitler’s popularity was born in the extreme economic poverty and political chaos. In 1923, inflation was out of control: one needed 4,200,000,000,000 Marks to buy just one US Dollar; and by 1932, 30% of the workforce was unemployed. There were no benefits, so unemployment meant hunger and homelessness.
Hitler blamed the Western Allies, bankers and businessmen, many of whom were Jewish. His biggest political rivals were the Communists. Communism is a set of political idea, created by Karl Marx, a Jew.
Like any politician, Hitler promised that his government would make things better, but Hitler’s politics had an extra layer: that the Jews and others were responsible for Germany’s downfall and that part of the solution to success and victory was their annihilation.
When Hitler came to power on 30 January 1933, almost 80 years ago to the very day, he implemented his economic policies which were very successful, winning him many more supporters, while at the same time, his regime removed any and all opposition.
The Path to the Final Solution
In 1934, laws came into force, with the aim of driving the Jews from Germany. Many left, but most stayed, either because they could not afford to leave, or believing that they were loyal German citizens.
In 1939, a leading Nazi, Adolf Eichmann, became responsible for the Madagascar Plan, to deport all Jews in Europe to this large island off Africa. The start of the Second World War in September 1939 put an end to this plan.
The German army advanced eastwards into Poland and Eastern Europe, killing Jewish communities by shooting. This was abandoned because it required too much ammunition, needed for the war – at least one bullet for every person - and many soldiers became mentally ill, unable to cope with the cold-blooded shooting of civilians.
Plans were drawn up to construct gas chambers and crematoria in the concentration camps, and death camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau were built. Here, hundreds could be killed within minutes using Potassium Cyanide gas (Zyklon-B) and their bodies disposed of in fire.
The Scale of the Holocaust
Despite the bureaucratic efficiency of the killing, many records were lost in the fighting. Historians can only estimate.
- Around 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust.
- The Nazis’ racial hatred spread beyond the Jews to include the Poles and other Slavic people. Around 2 million non-Jewish Poles died in the Holocaust.
- The Soviet soldiers were both Slavic and Communist, the Nazis’ political opposite: around 3.5 million died in the Holocaust.
- Gypsies were seen by the Nazis to be stateless and their way of life contrary to National Socialist ideals. Around 350,000 Roma and Sinti gypsies were killed.
- Anyone who was mentally or physically disabled did not fit the Nazi ideal of the “master race”… around 160,000 Germans were euthanized, mostly by lethal injection.
- Gay people were also victims: an estimated 50,000 died.
- And there were tens of thousands of others… ordinary criminals, Allied soldiers including many British officers, political opponents, people of faith – Catholics, Protestants and others – who stood up and refused to obey the regime.
Why do we remember? We remember, because it happened: therefore, it can happen again. This is the core of what we have to say.
There is one way to prevent the terrible events of the Holocaust re-occurring, and that is for those of us alive today to stop history repeating.
Two weeks ago, I preached about Martin Luther and the Reformation, this year marking its 500th Anniversary. The core of the teaching of the Reformation is “grace alone”: that we receive God’s free gift of salvation, bought at the cost of Jesus’ death of the Cross. And it is a response to receiving that salvation that we bear the fruit of good works: that is, engaging with the world around us to make it a better place.
We are called to be Christ to all whom we encounter, a teaching which is better told through one of the most famous of all Jesus’ parables:
The Good Samaritan <Reading Luke 10:25-37>
In our reading today, we reminded ourselves of the two greatest commandments: to love God and to love one another. This is the heart of Jesus’ teaching. The Good Samaritan parable which follows is a practical example of how to love one’s neighbour.
In much of Jesus’ teaching, He deliberately chooses examples which would have been shocking to His audience. The Samaritans were an offshoot of Judaism with their own Temple, until it was destroyed by the Jews. Simply put, the two hated each-other.
In the story, we are invited to expect that a priest and a Levite, part of the religious ruling class, would show compassion on the poor, wounded victim of this terrible robbery and assault. This paves the way for the greater surprise that is the hated Samaritan who is the true neighbour.
It is easy to stop our thinking there, comforting ourselves maybe with the thought that we are more like the Samaritan than the priest or Levite. Let us look at the level of commitment that the Samaritan demonstrated:
- Firstly, his heart was filled with pity (Luke 10:33).
- Secondly, he took practical action by tending to the man’s wounds (v.34).
- Thirdly, he took responsibility for the man by taking him to a place of safety and continued to tend to him (v.34). The Samaritan changed his plans for the sake of showing compassion.
- Fourthly, he took on a longer-term commitment to the man. The Samaritan expressed his compassion by investing financially in the man’s well-being (v.35).
- Lastly, the Samaritan’s commitment to the man was without limit. He said to the inn-keeper: “I will pay you whatever else you spend on him.” (v.35).
One lesson often missed in sermons about the Good Samaritan is the level and depth of commitment that loving one’s neighbour involves.
In closing, I want to return to our theme of Holocaust Memorial, and reflect on the gay men who wore the Pink Triangle, an estimated 50,000 of whom were killed in the Holocaust.
Our church congregation exists to minister to the LGBT people of Greater Manchester and the North West, to spread that message that God loves them, despite what they have heard to the contrary by other churches who seek to limit God’s grace, whether it is done with an air of propriety like the Church of England this last week continuing to deny gay marriage and thus perpetuate homophobic attitudes, or whether it is done with hate-filled words and violence like many of you here have experienced in the African churches.
In the past month, we have had two sets of visitors to our church who are experiencing condemnation in churches which restrict God’s love and grace. A key part of our church’s mission is for us to be “out” as Christians, and being “out” as a Christian in the LGBT community can be just as difficult, if not more so, as being “out” as LGBT in some Christian churches!
We need to tell the LGBT people we know that God loves them. No conditions. No restrictions. God loves them. Amen.