Don’t tease the parrot

Don’t tease the parrot. 

The parrot lived in the zoo.   It was not really a zoo – it was just a little corner of the garden surround by pretty flowers – an oasis of peace and a place to relax after a hard day’s work.  There were foxes, a shaggy St Bernard dog, doves and a few small birds – and then there was the parrot – with a notice on it :   Don’t tease the parrot.

The zoo wasn’t for everyone… Not everybody could enjoy the animals –  – only the camp commandant and the senior officers.  It was a bit of escapism in a hard world… in fact the hardest of worlds –   right in the middle of the Nazi death camp of Treblinka where thousands of people, almost entirely jews, but some Roma, some communists and a few homosexuals were slaughtered each day.    …  but  Don’t tease the parrot.

Treblinka was the first of three death camps that I visited this summer with a small mixed group of Christians and Jews from Chicago.   We went to  Treblinka, Majdanek, and Auschwitz. Together these three  were the Nazi death machine for about two million people –  just to put 2 million in context,  2 million is the entire population of Waltham Forest, Redbridge, Newham, Barking and Dagenham, Havering, Tower Hamlets and Hackney combined. – it is the whole of North East London.

It was cattle trucks – not trains –  which brought the Jews –from the ghettos.  They were told to bring things with them – a little food, cooking utensils, a change of clothes, toiletries.    But when they arrived at Treblinka – filthy, starving and desparate,  after a journey that may have lasted up to ten days, without food, sanitation or water, they were stripped, gassed and burned – instantly –  often 10,000 people a day.

but – remember what it said on the notice   ….    don’t tease the parrot….

You see, as all this was going on,  their fellow human beings, members of the Nazi SS, were just getting  on with their day to day job between breakfast in the morning and dinner in the evening of supervising and enacting the processes and procedures of the mass slaughter of women and children and men.

Now Treblinka, Auschwitz and Madjanek are all a very long way away from this Leytonstone church and our everyday lives.    We live in a country where we are safe, free and whatever we might think on a bad day.   –   democratically governed –

None of us here have ever had to live through the horrors of those endured by the millions of Jews and other minorities persecuted and exterminated by the Nazis.

None of us here have lived under a government whose official policy was the mass liquidation of an entire ethnic group.    So yes, –  on this Remembrance Sunday we have much to be thankful for.

Above all we have choices.    We have choices about who we will vote for, choices about where we will worship or whether we worship at all.  Choices about what we believe, who we love, who we are.

and so ‘vicar’  ..    …..  don’t preach about politics, or brexit, or refugees or migrants –  and above all, don’t rock the boat.     Don’t tease the parrot.

Around the world wars rage  –  men, women and children flee their homes with nothing but a little food, a change of clothes and a few toiletries.  Ethnic cleansing of one kind or another still goes on  –  Of course it is not on such a vast scale as the holocaust – 10,000 people shot, or gassed day after day.   But it is shocking none the less.

Less than a month ago 39 vietnamese migrants suffocated in the back of a refrigerated lorry.  .. victims of slavery, probably, and money and greed.   …   and who knows how many others survive such journeys.

On the eve of our powerful journey to Poland, our mixed pilgrimage group was sent a youtube link to a ten-minute video called ‘Happy Nazis’ – it showed photos of SS officers and their wives on an outing to a holiday resort about 30 minutes from Auschwitz. The ‘works outing’  – all smiles and laughter, with music and dancing, and a little too much wine  – it all takes place in the summer of 1944,  when the slaughter was at its highest.   

They don’t look particularly evil people – they people on the vidoe –  in fact they look very much like normal people. Scarily just like you and me – people having a good time with their friends – just getting away from it all.

And yet these were people for whom the mass killing of women and children has become socially and morally acceptable.   How did that happen?  What went wrong?

Why did no-one  tease the parrot.

Some people did, of course.  The soldiers of our allied forces – the French, the Russians, the Poles, the Americans –Indians, Pakistanis, Ghurkas, Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, all fought alongside English, Scottish Welsh and Irish men and women and gave their lives to stop the Third Reich.

And in Germany, Over 77,000 German citizens were executed for speaking out against the Nazis.  Generals in the German army tried to overthrow Hitler and the SS.  Catholic bishops, protestant pastors, unknown church leaders spoke out against the horrors of the Nazi regime – and were exectued for their bravery.

But the majority – like the people who lived in the housing estate next to the extermination camp at Madjanek – merely watched the thick dark smoke rise from the crematoria and smelled the daily stench of burning flesh and above all … they did not tease the parrot.

Whatever we think, our lives are not hard.   We are not living through genocide and the mass destruction of all we hold dear.  …   and we have choices.

As we navigate through the pressures on our personal lives and on our national politics at home and abroad  – we can choose  what to do.

So then, – writes St Paul –   stand firm and hold on to those truths which we taught you, both in our preaching and in our letter.

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and in his grace gave us unfailing courage and a firm hope, encourage you and strengthen you to always do and say what is good.

And to close …. let me just say that Jesus did tease the parrot.   

He stood up to those who were wrong, or cruel or hypocrites and he told them the truth they did not want to hear.   It didn’t get him very far … . they didn’t like it and they killed him for it. 

But, like us, he had a choice .. silence or speech … and he chose speech.   

always to do and say what is good. ….  even if that teases the parrot.