Sermon at St Mary’s Church Hadlow 10 a. m. on Trinity 14, 13th September 2020
Exodus 14 vv 19 – E The Lord protects the Israelites
Matthew 18 vv 21 – 35 The unforgiving servant
Battle of Britain. Last weekend, on Saturday 5th September I met three members of the family of Squadron Leader Philip Campbell Pinkham, who 80 years ago as Commanding Officer of 19 Squadron RAF took off with his Squadron from an RAF airfield in Essex and who was shot down by an incoming a German Luftwaffe aircraft somewhere over the River Thames, crashing on the North Downs just above the Pilgrims Way in Birling parish. We met to remember the sacrifice of a young man of 25 who, in common with many other pilots in the Battle of Britain, lost his life in the defence of his and our country. I had the privilege of dedicating a new memorial cross at the place where he died and saying a prayer of thanksgiving with the family members and others at this place with its marvellous view Southward to West Malling and Borough Green. As Mayor’s Chaplain I was able to convey the greetings and the appreciation of Cllr Jill Anderson of this act of remembrance just within the boundary of our Borough.
Sunday 15th September 1940 is regarded as the turning point in that Battle; a point when the Royal Air Force began to gain the upper hand and obtain air superiority over the German Air Force. Hitler was intent on invading England, but he knew that he could not do that until he had air superiority. He was taken aback as the Luftwaffe with superior numbers began to lose the upper hand. Air Marshal Hugh Dowding, Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command revealed in his memoirs that he attributed the success in the Battle of Britain to ‘divine intervention’. Incidentally, on that Sunday our Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, with his wife Clementine, visited the Sector Operations Room at RAF Uxbridge, to witness at first hand the progress of the battle that day. The operations room was restored about 25 years ago, with the plotting board as it would have been at some point on that Sunday. Although RAF Uxbridge closed as an RAF Station about 10 years ago the operations room has been retained and is open to the public (battleofbritainbunker.co.uk). Usually, Battle of Britain Services are held on or close to the 15th September. This is not a full Battle of Britain Service, but it seemed appropriate to recall today that critical time in the life of our nation, a time of great uncertainty, 80 years ago.
Exodus. During the Exodus and the wilderness wanderings, the Israelites lived through a very stressful and uncertain 40 years. As we look back on that period of the formation of the nation of Israel, with a record written from a theological perspective it is easy to miss the uncertainty that many ordinary people felt. There were those who often criticised Moses’ leadership saying it would have been better to stay in Egypt as slaves than to endure the hardships of life in the desert. Our first reading this morning reminds us of the early stage of that uncertain period. The Egyptian army was pursuing the escaping Israelites and so, suddenly they were confronted with the Red Sea in front, the Army behind and possibly soon be round their flanks as well – no escape. “Help. We have had it now”, many of them must have been thinking and even voicing aloud. Suddenly a dark cloud comes down between the Egyptian Army and the Israelites, the wind gets up and blows with gale force to thrust the shallow waters of the upper Red Sea out towards the Indian Ocean and the Israelites are able to move forward in the early morning light.
A word about the walls of water on either side. They have been portayed quite often in children’s Bibles and in films as huge vertical walls of water perhaps 100 feet high. Quite sufficient to cause a thinking person that the whole account is either made up or grossly distorted. In the Hebrew language, the original language of the Old Testament, there are two words, translated as ‘wall’. One is ‘Chomah’ used of a defensive wall such as a city wall or of an enclosure such as an orchard or vineyard. The other is ‘qir’ used of the wall of a house or other building. The word used of the Exodus is ‘chomah’. It therefore is describing the water as a protection of the Israelites, since it prevented a flanking movement by Pharaoh’s army. The water needed to be only 3 or 4 feet deep to prevent such a flanking movement and didn’t have to be vertical as in the wall of a house.
Some Israelites did not share the belief of their leader, Moses, in the God of all creation. They did not perceive that God was using his own creation, with the laws of its operation, including providing air superiority, to facilitate their escape from Egypt. They did not see that God was laying the foundation of a great plan of salvation that succeeding generations would celebrate in the Passover Festival as God’s supreme act of salvation of his chosen people. Such people would easily have looked back on that night and said “Phew! That was a lucky escape!”. Such people, without faith in God, found the deprivations and uncertainity of the wilderness experience more that they could bear. They repeatedly complained about their leaders.
Most of this year we have been living and are still living through a time of uncertainty. Restrictions were easing but with the possibility of a resurgence some restrictions have been reimposed, both in this country and in other countries. No longer is it a fight between one country or alliance of countries and another, but rather of all countries fighting an unseen, a hidden, enemy. However the threat is also a global force for unity and even cooperation against this common enemy. There have been plagues throughout history, there are always illnesses abounding and it is difficult to understand the causes and the working of such things. The human race, with its huge population, is having unexpected effects on the whole natural world. In dense populations disease spreads more readily. It is difficult to understand the place of viruses in the created order. The chief certainty of life is that each of us will die. Part of the wisdom of life is to live positively, through uncertainty, towards that end,. This in part is done by a firm belief in God our Creator, who knows us each one, who loves us each one. The Exodus and wilderness experience was a challenging time for the Israelites. By no means all rose to the challenge. When the twelve spies were sent out to make a reconnaisance of the Promised Land, only two came back with a report based on faith in God and his promise. We have the evidence of the supreme and loving God in his great saving act of the New Covenant, achieved through our Lord Jesus Christ.
I was but 4 years old at the time of the Battle of Britain and was evacuated from Kent to Devon. For those living here in Kent, those in London enduring the nightly bombing, it must have been a very challenging time, when some lost hope. One of the good things to come out of the Second World War was the founding of Missionary Aviation Fellowship, as three former RAF officers, two pilots and an engineer, believed that God was calling them to use the skills that they had acquired in wartime to serve him in peacetime in serving vountries in Africa. That new venture which has flourished over the past 75 years, now flies in around 26 countries in the world. The last surviving founding member, the Engineer Officer, Stuart King, who continued throughout his life to take an active interest in MAF, died on 29thAugust at the age of 98. We thank God for a humble, dedicated and visionary servant of God.
Let us, who are living in a particular time of uncertainty, not only because of Covid 19 but also not knowing how we will progress as a country, when we fully leave the European Union in a few months time, continue to trust in God, a loving and faithful God.
1418 words Christopher Miles