Video for September 28th, 2023
Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
Last Sunday I had the privilege of dedicating a plaque in Leighton to Captain Stephen Beattie. He was born in Leighton, one of our Welsh parishes, to a clergy family. He won the Victoria Cross for actions in Operation Chariot, the raid against the dry dock in St. Nazaire in 1942. He was one of five VCs awarded in that raid alongside 100 other citations. As the Lieutenant Commander of HMS. Campbeltown, he steered the ship into blinding searchlights and point-blank machine gun fire to the gates of the dock where it was scuttled as planned, thus denying the German navy access to an important repair facility. Remarkably, he survived and was taken prisoner. He received further mentions in despatches for his gallantry in captivity and was awarded the Legion D’Honneur at a ceremony in 1947 back in St. Nazaire. French officials described the raid as the first time in two years of occupation that they began to have hope. The raid had a similar effect on morale back in Britain.
The gift of the Victoria Cross is quite rightly a rare occurrence, marking as it does extraordinary courage. A significant number are awarded posthumously. The medal acknowledges our highest ideals of sacrifice for others.
For some reason we find it hard to ascribe such idealism and value to God’s sacrifice for us in Jesus Christ. Jesus’s death on the cross has been caricatured as a wrathful God pouring out his petulant anger on an innocent victim to somehow make him feel better. But this is a gross distortion of the doctrine we call the atonement. Close reading of the scriptures show that every person of the Trinity is involved in what goes on. God the Father gives up his son – as many did their own in the great conflicts of the last century and Ukrainian families still do today. Jesus willingly gives himself on behalf of broken and sinful humanity. As Paul said in Romans 5: 7, “very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” In the midst of this the Holy Spirit hovers powerfully as he did in creation, bringing a new life to birth. He makes real in our own lives the benefits when we submit our lives to the direction of Jesus Christ personally. In the Narnia stories CS Lewis uses the story of Aslan as a metaphor for this – the deep magic as he calls it. Jesus death impacts the moral and spiritual reality of things in the same way that light from the sun energises life in the physical world.
God is revealed to be one who gives of himself for the benefit of others and Jesus calls his followers to do the same. The call is to take up our cross, deny ourselves and to follow him. So many paradoxes here: we find ourselves by losing ourselves; we die to ourselves in order to truly live. This is profoundly counter-cultural in an age of self-indulgence. Oscar Wilde’s confession that the way to deal with temptation is to give in to it could be our culture’s motto. It should not be ours. Deep down, as the recognition of heroes like Captain Stephen Beattie shows, there is an instinct that sacrifice and self-denial are the highest manifestations of human behaviour. This touches every part of the life of a disciple. Our culture may tell us, “if it feels good, do it”, but we look to a higher authority for self-regulation. When I visit parishes, I am normally supplied with vast quantities of very nice cake. If I don’t want stage 2 diabetes – delicious though the cakes are, I need to stop at one (or maybe two) slices. Strong feelings of desire will never be the determining factor for Christian decision making. Billy Graham’s wife once spoke of her gratitude that God never answered all the prayers she had offered to form a relationship when she was younger. “If he had,” she said, “I would have married the wrong man several times!” Right discernment is never purely about our feelings. They are as affected by sin as any other part of our nature. We can only discern (and that imperfectly) in the context of a scripturally grounded community. Our stories and life experience predispose us to certain conclusions, but we all need to be able to submit those to a higher wisdom. Fortunately, the scriptures provide rich soil for that wisdom to grow in our lives.