Psalm 107, Ecclesiasticus 5: 1 -15 and Timothy 3: 1 – 16
Some went down to the sea in ships …. They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths, their courage melted away in their calamity …. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. Psalm 107: 23, 26, 28
Do not say, ‘I have no master’; the Lord, you may be sure, will call you to account. Do not say, ‘I sinned, yet nothing happened to me’; it is only that the Lord is very patient. Ecclesiasticus 5: 3 and 4 (REB)
Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: ‘He was revealed in the flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory’. 1 Timothy 3: 16
We have two related themes today. The first on Remembrance Day is to remember the fallen in two world wars and subsequent conflicts, and to offer thanks for the sacrifice of life to enable us to live in freedom. We also offer our prayers for veterans who continue to suffer physically or mentally because of their experiences, and remember families who have lost loved ones serving their country. With the passing of the years – there is now only one pilot left who flew in the Battle of Britain – we think too of lives lost in some of the lesser conflicts since 1945, such as Korea, the Falklands, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan. We also pray that future conflicts may be avoided through good sense and diplomacy, although sadly this is a forlorn hope as we look around the world at continuing suffering brought about by humankind’s sinfulness in countries like Syria, Yemen and most recently in Armenia.
As a town with strong naval associations, we have a particular affinity with the Royal Navy and those in the submarine service who serve unseen to protect us beneath the waves. Our quote from Psalm 107 vividly depicts the hazards of confronting all types of weather and sea conditions, and we pray for their protection. We pray also for those in the naval chaplaincy who go out on deployment or support families left behind.
Turning to our other theme for today, we see in the quotation from Ecclesiasticus a warning about those who think they can sin with impunity, as if they believe they can act without being called to account for their deeds. History gives us many examples of leaders who drove their nations to war, with horrendous loss of life, and who thought they had got away with it. Whether we think of monsters like Hitler or Stalin, where millions died because of their perverted political or racial ideas, or more recent dictators who have indulged in systematic genocide, we must draw encouragement from remembering that God is sovereign and does not turn a blind eye to any injustice or suffering; all will one day be held to account.
The verse quoted from 1 Timothy 3: 16 is intriguing. In some modern translations, the set-out of the words is made different, to show its origins as a poem or hymn. It is suggested this may be a song Paul himself wrote and is quoting, something that was simple and familiar to Timothy and other readers of the epistle. If this is the case, it served a valuable purpose in reminding the early Christians of a condensed form of the Creed. We are reminded of the mysteries of our faith, with first the awesome sacrifice of the Son of God in coming to earth at the Incarnation, manifested in human form. The NRSV, NIV and REB then use the word ‘vindicated’ (the margin note gives ‘justified’ as an alternative) in spirit (or by the Spirit), to show how the Holy Spirit both empowered and validated Jesus’ status and suitability as Messiah in his ministry of teaching and healing. All this activity was witnessed by the angels. Not only do we have the record of the angels appearing to testify to the birth of Jesus, but his resurrection and ascension would also have been noted as the angels looked on in wonder at the successful completion of the plan of redemption, brought about on the cross. Paul’s song continues with the unfolding story of the proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles, the all-embracing mercy of God being sent out around the world. The final line refers not only to Jesus being received back in glory into heaven, but the subsequent mounting glory being brought to Jesus as millions have been won for God’s kingdom down through the centuries. This is a constantly evolving story, as we rejoice at the daily increase in those coming to faith around the world.
All this puts into perspective the futile actions of petty despots who come and go on the pages of world history – those who think they can act as they please, cause untold suffering and not be accountable to any greater power. On this day of remembrance, we think of all those who have died in righteous causes to defend freedom and liberate people held captive to perverted ideas. We also remember that one day all wrongs will be put right and the Lord, you may be sure, will call (them) to account.