St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Fourth Sunday after Trinity, 2014

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 “1722, Charlie and Jesus...”
I speak in the name of Jesus the Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.
 
A few Saturday’s ago I had the enormous privilege of being allowed onto the apron at Ysterplaat Airforce Base. There before my very eyes, a few retired pilots and ground personnel carefully wheeled the last remaining airworthy Avro Shackleton, out of the hanger. Shackleton, No 1722, built in England on the 29th of August 1956, was acquired by the South African government and flown out to South Africa. The aircraft was largely based on an improvement of WW 2 technology. The crew then proceeded, after a number of checks and with the marshals kindly keeping the small baying crowd at a safe distance, to start each of the massive thirty-seven litre supercharged V12 Griffon engines. 
 
I was absolutely mesmerized.
 
It felt as if I was transported back to World War Two... the power, the engines, the smell, the whole experience encompassed me as I suddenly felt that I had an inkling of what it was like to be flying in the air force during WW 2.
This reminded me of a true story that I had come across recently...
 
This is quite a remarkable story...
 
A few days before Christmas in 1943, a rookie pilot, Second Lieutenant Charlie Brown and his crew was preparing to do a bomb run over Germany. Upon approaching Bremen, the aircraft was severely hit by anti-aircraft fire and number two engine had to be shut down and number four engine throttled back to prevent further damage. This meant that the aircraft was no longer able to keep formation and would thus be a vulnerable target for further attack by enemy fighters. Eventually after sustained attacks upon the aircraft, the tail gunner was killed and four of the crew were injured. During one of the attacks the oxygen supply system was damaged and Second Lieutenant Charlie Brown, pilot in command, lost consciousness... 
In today’s Gospel reading in Luke we are reminded of a very important message that Jesus leaves us all with regards to how we should live our lives. There are a lot of instructions to us as Christians here in this passage. May I take a moment to refocus on the main message...
“Be ye merciful, as your Father is also merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: give and it shall be given unto you;”
Here we have a powerful set of instructions of how to live our lives in the real world around us, with real people with real relationships. These instructions are not to be taken lightly... they are a set of instructions that we as Christians have to work on daily... many of the instructions do not come easily.
Life, in essence, is all about relationships, whether it be the relationship with:
Your significant other
Your ex-partners
Your parents
Your children
Your extended family
Your boss at work
Your work colleagues
Your friends
Even the strangers that you come across every day and engage with, even if for a short while.
This begs the question:
As Christians, “How do we treat the people around us?”
Do we treat everyone we meet with integrity?
Do we treat everyone we meet with dignity?
Do we treat everyone we meet with forgiveness?
Do we treat everyone we meet with a lack of judgement?
Do we treat everyone we meet with mercy?
These are indeed hard questions for us all to answer and I specifically include myself here as I have also battled with forgiveness and judgement.
 
Jesus calls us as Christians to strive towards holistic and fulfilled relationships with one another. This is a challenge. It is not a commitment to be taken lightly. For if we are to be in Christ, in the world, then we need to take the life instructions of Jesus seriously as we engage with one another in real time in the real world.
 
 No one said it is easy to forgive people who have wronged you...
I recently met a young lady who is separated from her husband and going through a divorce. Although she has been separated for close to three years now, she still harbours intense feelings of hatred towards her ex-husband. I tried to explain to Sarah that in order for her healing to begin, she had to let go of the hurt and hatred in order to move on. “I am over him! I just wish that I could bullet between his eyes!”
 
Seriously? Are you really over him? The hatred that you possess for your ex-partner is only holding you back... not him, it is destroying you, it is preventing you from growing and establishing new relationships and a new life.
Jesus is commanding us to forgive and show mercy...
 
Which brings me back to Charlie...
Charlie eventually regained consciousness a few hundred feet above the ground and managed to bring the bomber back to level flight. He then glanced to his left outside the cockpit window and to his horror, noticed a German fighter aircraft, a BF 109E, flying next to him, so close that he could see the pilot waving at him. Charlie’s heart sunk as he knew that this was the end as it was the German fighter’s duty to finish him off.
 
Instead something incredible happened... instead of firing a coup de grace shot, the German pilot simply saluted Charlie in respect and broke away and flew off... no shots were fired. Charlie, with a feeling of absolute incredulity, drew up some inner strength and announced to the crew that they were welcome to bail out or stay with him as he tried to nurse the bomber home. The surviving crew all elected to remain with Charlie. He managed to fly the bomber back to base...
After many years, in 1990, Charlie decided that he would try to track down the German pilot. He eventually succeeded in finding the German pilot, a man by the name of Franz Stigler. Charlie and Franz, now in their eighties became like brothers and there is an actual recording of their interview on You Tube. As I watched the each pilot retell their story, something incredible happened...
 
First Charlie tells his experience of how his bomber was crippled and after a while he noticed the German fighter stationed on his left, choosing not to fire...
Franz then tells his side of the story of how he came across the badly damaged bomber and that he could not believe that it was still flying. He was able to see the dead tail gunner and wounded crew, as well as Charlie who was trying to keep the bomber in the air. Franz knew that he would never be able to fire upon a helpless aircraft; even though it was the enemy... for him it was the same as firing upon aircrew who were parachuting down to the ground...he showed mercy...
At the end of Franz’s recollection, he turns around to Charlie and says four simple words...
“I love you, Charlie...”
Wow!
I burst into tears.
I could not believe what I was hearing!
Here, a proud, dignified German pilot from WW 2 was telling his past arch enemy, who he had been instructed to kill at all costs, that he loved him.
You see my brothers and sisters in Christ; here we have an incredible example of the love of Christ working in the real world.
Jesus instructs us to be merciful towards one another.
“I love you, Charlie!”
Jesus instructs us to stop judging one another.
“I love you, Charlie!”
Jesus instructs us to stop condemning one another.
“I love you, Charlie!”
Jesus instructs us to forgive one another.
“I love you, Charlie!”
Charlie and Franz went on to remain close brothers for the rest of their lives and they died six months apart from each other.
A true story.
St Augustine wrote,”Laborare est orare; orare est laborare.”
To work is to pray, and to pray is to work.
Perhaps William Maxwell captured it well in his book entitled, “Concerning Worship”...
 
“To the Christian, all life is worship. Not only at the Holy Table but in his daily tasks he offers his skill, thoughts, desires, and will to God. No Christian wholly achieves this, but it should be his guiding principal and the goal of his constant endeavour. It provides incentive and direction in all he undertakes, for he sees all life as consecrated to God.”
Is there perhaps a Charlie and a Franz in your life story too?
May God bless you this week ahead as you recommit yourself to the life instructions that our Lord Jesus Christ has given us with regards to our relationships with one another.
Amen.
 
 

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