Blood, toil, tears & sweat

I have nothing to offer you but blood, toil, tears and sweat,’ said Winston Churchill to the House of Commons in 1940, as he formed a new government and took charge as Prime Minister. This week we have been remembering his funeral which took place fifty years ago, and we have been reminded of the high esteem in which he is held for leading this country to victory in the Second World War. Nowadays we do not trust politicians, who seem to promise much and deliver little. Winston Churchill was able to stir the country into maximizing the war effort, not with empty promises, but with a brutally truthful assessment of the arduous task ahead of them.   ‘Poor, poor, people,' he said, 'they trust me but I can give them nothing but disaster for quite a long time.’

The political scene in Europe is undergoing a time of change as new parties emerge that point out the problems, promise change, but don’t say what they are going to do. There is never a quick fix to economic problems, but a long hard process of recovery.

'This child will cause the rising and the falling of many in Israel. He will be a sign that is rejected', said Simeon in the temple. The Presentation of the Lord, is a bitter-sweet moment: sweet as the Saviour is revealed as the light of the world, and the promise made to Simeon that he would see the Saviour is kept; but it is also bitter as along the way that he is destined to follow he will meet hostility, cruelty and death.

Those who rise, will be those who recognize Jesus as the Christ and come to him for redemption. He will raise up sinners, the afflicted and the humble. Those who should recognize him but cannot accept him will fall to violence and murder to put an end to the prophetic messenger of love.

The Christian message is not always comfortable. We cannot just preach that God is love and hope for a warm glow to follow. No, Christ says that if we would be his followers, we must take up our cross and follow him. He said he did not come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword. The sword is seen in the prophecy of Ezekial as passing through the land as a selective sword of judgement, exposing what lies in our hearts.

A sword, says Simeon, will pass through Mary’s heart as well. Some see this quite simply as the sword of suffering. The emblem of Mary is sometimes a winged heart with a sword thrust through it. Our Lady of Sorrows, is depicted with a dagger in her breast. The sufferings would come as a refugee in Egypt, losing her son in Jerusalem, and seeing him suffer on the cross. But Mary too was exposed to the sword of judgement. It appears as though she was on the point of rejecting Jesus, as his family reportedly thought him out of his mind. But Mary passed the test of discipleship, she responded positively to his message. She did not desert him at Calvary, and she was there with the disciples at Pentecost, and received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

But that prophecy of Simeon must have perplexed Mary, it must have chilled her for who would welcome the promise of suffering? But had been reassured by the angel not to be afraid and to take comfort from the fact that nothing is impossible with God.

Likewise, althoughthe British people shouldered the burden of suffering in World War 2, they were inspired by Churchill’s exhortation to never surrender. 

We are now within 100 days of the next election, which will be a tedious ordeal in itself. Our country and our town face many challenges, and we will be inundated with false promises.

Churchill was elected as MP for Oldham in 1900, two years afterwards a journalist asked him what qualities were demanded of a politician. He replied: “the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year, and to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.”

We would do well to seek and speak the prophetic truth, just as did Simeon and Churchill. We have to see things as they really are, and not just as we would like them to be. It is the Christian duty to uphold the truth and expose what is false, like the refiner’s fire of the prophecy of Malachi that burns away impurities from the gold, and the fuller’s alkali that removes the stains to leave the cloth white.