Sunday 8th November 2020

Call to Worship
We are met this day
to glorify God whose power sustains the world;
to remember with thanksgiving
those who lived and died
in the service of our country;
and to ask for God’s help and blessing,
that we may be worthy of their sacrifice
each day of our life.

God is our refuge and our stronghold,
a timely help in trouble.
(Psalm 46: 1)

HYMN 161 O God our help in ages past

Eternal God,
you are the shepherd of our souls,
the giver of life everlasting.

On this day
when we commemorate and commend to you
those who lived and died
in the service of others,
we are glad to remember
that your purposes for us are good,
that you gave Jesus Christ
for the life of the world,
and that you lead us by his Holy Spirit
into the paths of righteousness and peace.

Merciful and faithful God,
your purpose is to fold both earth and heaven
in a single peace.
With sorrow we confess
that in our hearts we keep alive
the passions and pride
that lead to hatred and to war.
We are not worthy of your love,
nor of the sacrifice made by others on our behalf.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Almighty God,
pardon and deliver us from all our sins,
confirm and strengthen us in all goodness,
and keep us in life eternal;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

God of unbounded grace,
you declared your reconciling love and power
in the death and resurrection
of our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Teach us, who live only in your forgiveness,
to forgive one another.
Heal our divisions,
cast out our fears,
renew our faith in your unchanging purpose
of goodwill and peace on earth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Lord’s Prayer

Act of Remembrance
Let us remember the kindness of God,
and his favour to us in our time of need.

Let us remember the courage,
devotion to duty,
and the self-sacrifice
of the men and women in our armed forces;
the toil, endurance, and suffering
of those who were not in uniform;
the support of those who sent us help from afar,
or came and stood by our side.

Let us remember those
who were wounded in the fight;
those who perished in air-raids at home;
those who fell in battle,
and are buried at sea
or in some corner of a foreign field;
and especially those
whom we have known and loved,
whose place is for ever in our hearts.

Let us remember those who were our enemies,
whose homes and hearts are as bereft as ours,
whose dead lie also
in a living tomb of everlasting remembrance.

Let us remember those who came back;
those whose lives still bear the scars of war;
those who lost sight or limbs or reason;
those who lost faith in God
and hope for humanity.

Let us remember the continuing grace of God,
whose love holds all souls in life,
and to whom none is dead
but all are alive for ever.

The Tryst
‘They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
and in the morning,
We will remember them.’

Two minutes silence is observed

In memory of those who died,
may we be better men and women;
and in gratitude to God,
may we live as those who are not their own
but who are bought with a price.

HYMN 706 For the healing of the nations

John 15:9-17
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

I think most men of my generation, and many of others, will have grown up reading such things as the ‘Warlord’ comic, or ‘Commando’ magazine; we also grew up with a diet of war films, many of which were from an earlier generation. The majority of these productions focussed on the Second World War; the majority also made it clear who were deemed to be on the side of good, and who were not. It was a simplistic approach that satisfied people and reinforced their often long-held beliefs. The truth, though, is rarely such a simple affair. I recently was introduced to the following story, again set during the last world war. I don’t usually bother with war stories however I think this one is worth telling.

The raid had gone badly. The plane was now on its own. One of the crew was dead, the remaining nine were either wounded or badly shaken up. The pilot, a mere twenty years old, was somehow holding on. The fuselage was literally shot to pieces; significant gaps could be seen. Three of the four engines had now failed. They were in German airspace and hundreds of miles from home, and safety. In some ways it was a miracle that they were still airborne. The aircraft, and American B-17, was usually referred to as a ‘Flying Fortress’ … it was now little more than flying scrap.

Common sense should have led the pilot, Charlie Brown, to order his crew to bail out. Most likely they would survive, albeit as prisoners of war. Yet something in the pilot made him determined to head for home. Ahead they could see the coast and the North Sea. It would take a few hours, but something gave him hope that they could make it across the water to the east of England where their home had been for the last year. It was then that their hearts fell. The speck in the distance was getting larger, and closer. It was a German fighter plane, and it was on an intercept course.

The German pilot was something of a hero. At twenty-eight Franz Stigler was still relatively young but his combat experience from the outset of the war had made him a veteran. Not only that but he had been decorated for his flying and his bravery. This was a fighter that would not miss his target. He approached the crippled bomber from the rear; this was normal practice as there were fewer guns pointing that way. Yet there was no defensive fire. As he drew closer he was almost in disbelief at what he saw. He could see the rear gunner was dead, yet he also saw the other crew members huddling together and tending to their wounded comrades. Stigler’s orders were simple … shoot it down.

Something inside the fighter pilot ‘clicked’. Hi earliest experiences of combat had involved flying with an older pilot, who was from a different school of thought that that which prevailed at the time; he had said to Stigler, “You shoot at a machine, not a man. You score “victories”, not “kills”. But what could he do? There was no obvious answer. He brought his fighter alongside the bomber. Frantically he gestured to the American pilot to follow his lead; the bomber held its course. The bomber was now near the coast and would soon encounter anti-aircraft batteries who would have no hesitation in shooting it down. Stigler then took a gamble. He was not going to let the plane escape, but rather he would help it to safety. He tried to nudge the plane towards neutral Sweden but the stubborn American held his course. Stigler took another gamble; he flew alongside as if on escort duty, hoping the guns below would leave them alone. It worked.

Out to sea the planes went their separate ways. The bomber struggled onward losing both speed and altitude but somehow made it back to England. Stigler returned to base to ‘face the music’. The ground crews would have seen him and reported what they saw to his commanding officer. He could be shot. Yet no report was made.

Safe in England, the American crew made their reports but these didn’t chime with the needs of wartime propaganda. The men were sworn to secrecy, and the reports filed away. Stigler returned to his squadron. Both men served out the remainder of the war.

It is now 1985 and Charlie Brown finally tells his story to a friend. Several retellings later it is published in a journal for veteran German airmen. In Vancouver, Canada, a now seventy year-old former fighter pilot opens his latest copy of the same journal and sees the story … his story. Franz Stigler was alive and well living in Canada since shortly after the end of the war. Eventually the two men spoke on the phone before an emotional and tear-filled meeting. Over the coming years the pair would travel to various air shows and veterans gatherings to share their story. This was their act to try and create a better world. The story comes to an end in an eight-month period in 2008 when both men died.

As a Hollywood film this may not quite work; it is a little far-fetched, a little too good to be true. But this is not fiction; these events happened. This is history.

This true story serves to remind us that even in the depths of the horrors of war that grace and mercy can sometimes be seen offering hope to those caught up in the midst of it. It serves to remind us that we do not need to abandon our humanity even as others around us may choose to. We can opt to choose the path of Christ and reach out to our enemies, whether real or perceived. We can choose to stand up and, as Jesus commanded, love our neighbour as ourself.

God of power and love.
bless our country and commonwealth.
Give wisdom and strength to the Queen,
govern those who make the laws,
guide those who direct our common life,
and grant that together we may fulfil our service
for the welfare of the whole people
and for your praise and glory.

Bless all members of the armed forces.
Defend them in danger.
Give them courage to meet
all occasions with discipline and loyalty.
So may they serve
the cause of justice and peace,
to the honour of your name.

Bless our young people.
May they never see the flames of war,
or know the depths of cruelty
to which men and women can sink.
Grant that in their generation
they may be faithful soldiers
and servants of Jesus Christ.

Bless our friends
and those who were our enemies,
who suffered or are still suffering from war.
Grant that your love
may reach out to the wounded,
the disabled, the mentally distressed,
and those whose faith has been shaken
by what they have seen and endured.
Comfort all who mourn the death of loved ones,
and all who this day
miss the comradeship of friends.

Bless those who are homeless,
those who are refugees,
those who are hungry,
those who have lost their livelihood or security.
Help us to pledge ourselves
to comfort, support, and encourage others,
that all may live in a world
where evil and poverty are done away
and where human life
reflects the radiance of your kingdom.

Bless those in authority in every land,
and give them wisdom to know
and courage to do what is right.
Encourage those who work for peace,
who strive to improve international relations,
who seek new ways of reconciling
people of different race, colour, and creed.

Bless your Church throughout the world.
By your Holy Spirit,
draw the scattered flock of Christ
into a visible unity,
and make your Church
a sign of hope to our divided world.
Grant that we who bear your Son’s name
may be instruments of your peace,
bringing peace to our homes,
our nation, and our world.

And now, rejoicing in the communion of saints,
we remember those whom you have gathered
from the storm of war
into the peace of your presence,
and give you thanks
for those whom we have known,
whose memory we treasure.
May the example of their devotion inspire us,
that we may be taught to live
by those who learned to die.
And at the last, grant that we,
being faithful till death,
may receive with them
the crown of life that never fades;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

HYMN 704 I vow to thee my country

National Anthem

God grant to the living, grace;
to the departed, rest;
to the Church, the Queen, the Commonwealth,
and all people,
peace and concord;
and to us and all his servants
life everlasting.

And the blessing of God almighty,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
be with you all.

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Prayers and Act of Remembrance taken from the Church of Scotland Book of Common Order (1994)