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Another sermon for Remembrance Sunday Evening Prayer

October 26, 2014

old soldier‘Whatever is true… just….. pleasing…. commendable….think about* these things’ words from our second lesson

Some years ago I gave up my half term holiday to be the token male teacher accompanying a bunch of 12 year olds on a trip to Normandy. We stayed in a remote farm house. Despite a 4.30 a.m. start, a long coach and ferry trip, we couldn’t guarantee a good first night’s sleep as the kids were hyper. So when they wanted to go to the shops, we walked them to the nearest village – two miles away to tire them out.

Near the farmhouse was a huge parish church. Why so big when nobody lived there? A look at its war memorial told the story: hundreds of its young men never returned from the First World War.

I remember one boy well, though not his name, so I’ll call him Liam. It dawned on us that he was ringing doorbells and running away: not a great advert for Anglo-French relations. My job, thereafter, was to keep a close eye on him.

My most vivid memory is Omaha Beach, site of the D. Day Landings and a film we saw about it at Arromanche. The cinema is a bit like the IMAX. As you sit and watch, you are caught up in the action. It feels like the rat-a-tat machine-guns are firing at you. At the end, Liam asked me, ‘Is that a true story, sir?’

On the coach coming back, I told him about an old friend who was five during the Bristol Blitz: of his fear in an Anderson shelter for twelve hours in Bedminster with the stench of cigarette smoke and overflowing latrines, with cardboard between his teeth and his fingers in his ears to stop him biting his tongue or his eardrums busting as the bombs dropped.

Later, at the American cemetery, in Colleville-sur-Mer, with its row upon row of identical white crosses and Stars of David, immaculately kept, we had one of those discussions that RE teachers would kill for. Liam asked why humans go to war. Is war wrong? – cue the Just War theory. Is there life after death? How can we know? Whatever is true…..just…..commendable….think about* these things

Earlier, Paul wrote: 6Do not worry about anything. The world is teetering on the brink of irreparable global warming; recession – possible double-dip; house repossession after mortgage arrears; redundancy and we have 24/7 news coverage to remind us about this at every turn. Yet those involved in war didn’t have much time for worry. They just got on with it and had some sort of faith. Faith in their comrades. The vague sort of faith in fate that my father had in the RAF: if the bomb has your number on it, your time is up. No point in worrying. And there was a sense of ‘Always look on the bright side of life.’ As Paul wrote: in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God……will guard your hearts

Corrie Ten Boom worked in her father’s business: a watchmaker’s shop in Haarlem, Holland. She used it as a front to smuggle Jews into hiding. In her book The Hiding Place she writes of her time in a Nazi Prison Camp with her sister Betsy. Corrie and Betsy were spending their first night in a woman’s dorm infested with fleas. Saying their prayers that night, Betsy reminded Corrie to thank God for the fleas. Corrie thought her sister was mad! But Betsy believed in thanking God in all circumstances, so she thanked God for the fleas. Later it turned out that those fleas were a blessing in disguise: the fleas were so bad that the Nazi guards wouldn’t come into their dorm. Thus they were spared much of the suffering undergone by others, the excruciating medical experiments and so on.

Keep on doing the things that you have learned says Paul. In our first lesson, Micah says that we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever. What does that walk involve? Those who fought in war believed they were fighting for a time like that foretold by Micah: When God shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; for a time when they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; 4but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees.

Meanwhile, what we have been doing here: whatever is pleasing………..if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about* these things. We have made music. music that is pleasing, excellent, worthy of praise and we have thought about these things. tt might sound strange but Choral Evensong is a form of subversion. Music and worship, like education isn’t really ‘for’ anything. It does not fuel the economy. It does not put us ahead in the arms race. It exists for its own sake. and proclaims that the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard our hearts and your minds.

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