Wednesday, June 5, 2024

We need some D-Day spirit today!

2 Timothy 2.8–15

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.  The saying is sure:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

if we endure, we will also reign with him;

if we deny him, he will also deny us;

if we are faithless, he remains faithful—

for he cannot deny himself.

Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

Mark 12.2834

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’  Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’  

Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”;  and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbour as oneself”,—this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question.


How much do you think you could endure, for the sake of the Gospel?  How much of your happiness and comfort would you sacrifice to love your neighbour as yourself?  Are you prepared to die with Christ, so that you might live with him?  Could you ensure hardship and suffering, for the promise of reigning with Christ – whatever that metaphor means?

These are the challenges of today’s readings, and of the commemorations of D-Day that are taking place in Portsmouth and in France over these two days.  The soldiers, sailors and aviators of D-Day gave themselves utterly to the task of loving their neighbours in France – to release them from the grip of Hitler’s Nazi regime.  And they did it for love….for the love of their French neighbour, inspired by the love of God, who rightly insists on our heart, soul, mind and strength.   Each one of them deserves our undying respect, admiration and thanks.

Other groups of people have been brought to the forefront too.  Yesterday, the King reminded us that Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus were among those who died and fought for freedom that day.  We must never make the mistake of thinking that only western, Christian, people understand the value of sacrificing oneself for one’s neighbour.  There are many in other religions to whom Jesus would say, as he said to the Jewish scribe, ‘you are not far from the Kingdom of God’.

Another group of unsung heroes are those who worked, diligently, sacrificially and often in secret, behind the lines.  Often women, these were factory workers, the farmers, the Land Girls, and the military support units, like the WRENS, who helped with the logistics, planning and delivery of the greatest amphibious fleet ever assembled in history.  Women flew airplanes from factories to the front, they drove lorries and logistics waggons, they provided food and nourishment for the troops, and nursing for the wounded.  

All of these ‘folks behind the lines’ made sacrifices to love their neighbour too.  Often they gave up their homes and normal lives to add their skills and expertise to the war effort.  They lived for long periods away from the families, and even their own children (who were billeted in the countryside as evacuees).  It may perhaps be said that no nation in history was ever so completely mobilised in the task of sacrifice and love of neighbour.  That is, of course, something of what we mean when we talk about the wartime spirit of Britain.  Churchill’s greatest achievement was to encourage and foster the spirit of sacrifice among an inherently selfish nation.

Yes, this was about defence – defence of the United Kingdom from the Nazi threat.  But it was more than that.  This nation, bolstered by our Allies, decided to sacrifice a generation of young people in the defence of Europe, and for the love of our European neighbours.  We led the charge against the blind and stupid nationalism and despotism of Hitler and his henchmen.

Which is why it is so worrying, 80 years later, to see some of the same patterns emerging in our politics today.  Extreme right wing ideologies are once again on the march.  Politicians and leaders routinely lay the blame for our economic challenges at the feet of those least able to defend themselves – just as Hitler did with the Jews. We are encouraged to look for people to blame – homeless people, benefit ‘scroungers’, foreigners, travellers, fat people, woke people, trans-people.  The millionaires who run our country don’t want us to look too closely at their wealth.  ‘Look over there’, they cry.  Be distracted. Blame the others.  

In short, we are forgetting the lesson of D-Day – that the path to glory is not paved with blame, but with sacrifice.  The more divided our nation becomes, the more we blame ‘the other’ for our own unwillingness to bend to their needs, the further from the Kingdom of God we fall.

What are the practical implications of this message?  D-Day was an example of national sacrifice, and logistical prowess combined in an epic battle for the common good.  One of the modern battles we are waging is one against the large total of net migrants to this country.  With net migration of three quarters of a million people a year, our hospitals, schools, housing and health-care facilities are under immense strain, without a doubt. 

What if we were to apply the D-Day Spirit to this very real challenge?  It would take a ‘wartime spirit’ that was, for example, willing to forego some of the high standards of building and safety standards we’ve come to expect.  It would mean a few less hospitals and homes designed to win prestigious awards, and rather more prefabs and Nissan huts.  But with sacrifice and love for neighbour at the heart of such a programme, if would be possible to mobilise the nation to quickly build new homes, hospitals and schools, and to relieve the pressure on public services by bringing-in immigrant builders, doctors and teachers – who would pay tax and build the nation. 

But what do we do?  We blame the migrants – instead of our lack of D-Day vision. So, we choose not to requisition the land of multi-millionaires as we did at D-Day, to meet a national emergency.  We choose not to build the prefab homes we once did to house people in urgent housing need.  We choose not to build hospitals in simple huts, or set up schools in porta-cabins.  No – because we are too good for these things.  Oh, they are good enough for poor people in far off lands.  We’ll set up field hospitals in tents for them.  But we have our own high standards here at home, and we’re not going to bend them for anyone! 

Has it never struck you as perverse that we can build glamping pods for wealthy British holiday makers, but we won’t provide housing pods for the homeless?  We can build acres of mobile home parks for wealthy vacationers, but we can’t provide safe parking spaces for travelling communities.  Doesn’t it seem odd that we want the right to travel anywhere in the world on our blue British passports, but we won’t give the same freedom of movement to ‘the others’. You see, the homeless, travellers, and immigrants are ‘the other’ – and we’re not going to sacrifice for them!

My friends, we’ve forgotten how to apply our heart, soul, mind and strength to the task of loving God, and loving our neighbour.  And until we regain the D-Day spirit of sacrifice, coupled with ingenuity, I believe that as a nation we will remain far from the Kingdom of God. Amen.

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