Summary: God is a "present help in trouble" Ps 46.1

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Ps 46:1)

Committed Christians over the centuries have paid an important role in our armed forces. They have prayed for their country and they have been leaders in the forefront of battle.

One such Christian was Lt. General Sir William Dobbie (known as Dobbie of Malta).

Dobbie was Governor General of Malta during the Second World War – at a time when the defence of Malta was at its darkest hour.

The Italian forces had overwhelming superiority, both in numbers and firepower.

Yet Malta never fell to the enemy – and for their courageous stand - the whole island was awarded the George Cross.

Historians still cannot understand why the Italians did not take the island - given its strategic position for the convoys going to North Africa.

Dobbie realised the weakness of his position and that God alone was - in the words of Ps 46 - his “present help in trouble”. Ps 46:1

In his book entitled “A Very Present Help” Dobbie records his first “Special Order of the Day”, on the Island of Malta defining policy governing the defence of the island which read as follows:

"The decision of His Majesty’s Government to fight until our enemies are defeated will have been heard with the greatest satisfaction by all ranks of the garrison of Malta.

It may be that hard times lie ahead of us, but however hard they may be, I know that the courage and determination of all ranks will not falter and that with God’s help we will maintain the security of this fortress, I therefore call upon all officers and other ranks humbly to seek God’s help and then in reliance upon Him to do their duty unflinchingly.”

Those were the words of a Christian General engaged in the height of the Second World War not an armchair theologian remote in his ivory tower.

His Christian faith was a reality when under fire.

He looked to God for strength in the tasks that he had to do.

What a contrast to today where a Christian nurse is threatened with dismissal from the NHS for wearing her Christian Cross!!

Although Dobbie survived Malta, the war took its toll and he was invalided home in 1944.

Sadly, we take the sacrifice of the many men and women who served in the Forces for granted.

We too easily forget the price they paid for the peace and freedom we enjoy today.

I think Remembrance Sunday is one of the most important services in the Christian year – a time when we stop to “remember them”

I am not old enough to remember the Second World War – I was born ten years after it ended.

But my father and my Uncle Don were involved in the war.

Story: Dad served in the North African campaign and was at Alamein with Monty.

He also served in the Italian campaign. At Monte Casino, the blast of the guns badly damaged his hearing.

Towards the end of his life, Dad told us how the ravages of war had weakened his heart – which eventually gave out in 1988.

Dad never talked much about the war.

Though I do remember him once telling me how he was walking through a field in single column one day.

And an enemy shell fell on the Canadian soldier behind him.

The man simply ceased to exist – some mother’s son for whom the family would grieve.

As General Sherman, the American Civil War General once said: “War is hell”. How true it is.

Story: My Uncle Don lost his hair when as a young lad of about 20.

He was twice torpedoed on a ship that in the transatlantic convoys.

The loss of his hair scarred him for life – leaving him with a very low self worth for the rest of his life.

He too was a victim of war.

Yet Dad and Uncle Don were the lucky ones – they survived.

Many of their friends – and your friends - did not make it through the war years.

1. The Sacrifice

Remembrance Sunday is not just a reminder of those who died in the First and Second World Wars - important as they were.

It is also a reminder of other conflicts that our armed services have been in

The Korean War

The Aden and Malayan Emergencies

The Falkland War

The Cyprus Conflict

The Northern Ireland Police Action

The 1st and 2nd Gulf Wars

The Afghanistan and Iraq Conflicts.

The ability to remember is a wonderful gift that God has given to mankind.

Some of our memories are happy and we can recall wonderful experiences.

But some of our memories are sad and we may

weep as we remember them.

The First World War ended 91 years ago – and our last World war vets died this year.

Yet Brooksby will always have a link with the First World War.

Firstly because Lord Beatty of the North Sea and Brooksby - who used to live at the Hall - was one of the Commanders at the Battle of Jutland. And of course we have the Jutland memorial here in church

But secondly because one of my predecessors here at Brooksby, Revd H. Stirling Gahan, ministered to one of the great heroines of that War Nurse Edith Cavell before she was shot on 12th Oct 1915

The Second World War ended 64 years ago

Yet despite the passage of time it is still vitally important – yes it is right - that we remember that many still bear the scars of was today.

And it is good for us to remember those who have fought for their country, to support them and to pray for them.

When I was down on Romney Marsh, I came across this poem written about Flying Officer W. Parkes of 198 Squadron.

Parkes was an Australian pilot stationed at RAF Manston who was killed in Ivychurch (one of my former parishes) on 9th March 1944

“From far around the world he came

To fight and die, that we

Might live within our native land

Secure and strong and free

And thus it was, on Romney Marsh

One sad, bleak winter’s day

An airman passed from out this world

This world so cold and grey

On English soil his body rests

We pray in peace it lies

But he has left this troubled world

For homes beyond the sky

For God an angel sent that day

And on the wings of love

He bore him up to dwell with Christ

In Paradise above

So may we see him by and by

When we no longer roam

But by God’s grace, we’ll safely dwell

In our eternal home”

(Pilot crash-landed at Ivychurch March 9th 1944)

2. Thanks

Today is a day when we say “Thank you” to all those who made the sacrifice that we can stand here today in peace and freedom.

We have read out the names of those who died this morning.

But we must not forget those who are still suffering as a result of these wars.

And may I commend to you the work of the British Legion, who still work to alleviate suffering among ex-service men and women. Please do give generously to them

3. The love of Christ

As we stand in our parish church today, these thoughts of sacrifice should bring us back to the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for us all on the battlefield of Calvary.

St. John put it well when he said:

Greater love has no one than this, that one lays down his life for his friends (John 15:13)

Jesus gave his life not only for his friends but also for his enemies.

As God, Jesus had no need to experience human suffering but he did for all our sakes.

Man’s evil –that’s basically what we call sin – has separated us from God. Jesus died to reconcile us to God, by dying in our place – the Perfect One for imperfect creatures.

Jesus reconciled man to God, through dying on the Cross. This reconciliation is a gift that we can receive simply by asking Christ to come into our lives.

As the apostle John put it:

“But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12)

The former Bishop of Birmingham, Bishop J L Wilson, who was a Japanese prisoner of war in the Second War, recommended three thoughts for us all to carry in our hearts on Remembrance Sunday.

These are:

1. That we should be thankful for the sacrifice of others

2. That we should be dedicated to work for peace and justice in the world

3. That we should be sorry for human sin and evil.

May I end by reminding you that it was the philosopher and poet George Santayana who once said

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (G Santayana "Life of Reason)

Let us be a generation who can learn from the past – from the sufferings of war – and be a people who will continue to pray and fight for peace and justice.