Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: “God’s unfairness”- Battle of Britain Sunday

The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
13 September 2020
10.30 Morning Service

Revd Nicholas Mercer

There has been much talk of late about fairness:

During the lockdown I was sent a link to an article written by Lord Sumption

Rather than tend his roses after leaving the Supreme Court, he had decided to publically challenge the lockdown restrictions

On behalf of his own age group, he argued, with great conviction, that their lives been adversely affected

He said

 “Life is a family celebration with children and grandchildren. Life is companionship, an arm around one’s back, laughter or tears shared at less than two metres. These things are not just optional extras. They are life itself ”

The defiant Lord Sumption went on to tweet “I would go to a crowded pub with no hesitation”

With hindsight, I am not sure this was helpful

Needless to say, I am not a fan of Lord Sumption most of the time and made my views known, politely, with my correspondent

My politics are more to the left and I particularly like the writing of Polly Toynbee

By way of contrast, she wrote an article about the younger generation and how their lives were being blighted

She pointed out that they are suffering the economic consequences of the lockdown, where

  • Graduate recruitment had fallen by 68%,
  • Internships are almost non existent
  • part time job’s for indebted students have fallen off a cliff

And this is on top of the inter-generational inequalities of student debt and exorbitant housing that exist already

Young people will bear both the immediate cost of the pandemic and in the years to come

And to be fair, both commentators have a point about the different constituencies they represent.

However, when it comes to the virus it is not just about intergenerational fairness

The impact is more complicated

Admittedly, the elderly are more likely than any other group to be adversely affected

Your chances of succumbing to Coronavirus rise sharply over 70

But it is not just the elderly

Those with underlying medical problems – are also more likely to develop serious illness.

Ethnicity also plays a part

People from ethnic minorities account for disproportionate levels of positive cases, hospitalisation and ITU admissions

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

COVID disproportionately impacts on those with low incomes

As one commentator remarked, “Coronavirus is not about equal opportunities”

This all leads on to the readings this morning which are also about disease and/indirectly/its impact on individuals and the community

Leprosy is a very unpleasant disease

It causes the skin to lose its colour as well as ulcers around the eyes and ears

It can attack people from every sector of society

First we heard this morning about Naaman, the Assyrian General who seeks the assistance of Elisha in finding a cure

At the other end of the spectrum, although we don’t know much about them, the 10 lepers,

Whereas Naaman belonged to the upper echelons of society, it is not unreasonable to assume that the ten lepers were on the margins

In the case of leprosy, it tended to be more prevalent amongst the poor as they lived in closer proximity to others

However, during the summer holidays we watched Ridley Scott’s epic drama “The Heavenly Kingdom”

It has a wonderful depiction of King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem

Known as the “leper king”

Leprosy clearly afflicts both Kings and commoners alike

And in a sense, the unfairness falls on those simply unlucky enough to become infected

As you will have noted this morning, I have focussed on fairness 

It is clear however from the examples cited that it is almost impossible to predict where unfairness will fall

The American philanthropist Bill Gates said “Life is not fair- just get used to it”

And perhaps this is a suitable, if slightly unconventional, introduction for the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain in 1940 which falls today

It was a dramatic turning point in the Second World War

It was the first major German defeat in World War II and a crucial turning point in the conflict

However, the average age of the pilots was just twenty

When the battle was over, 544 RAF pilots and aircrew were dead.

As Churchill famously remarked Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”

Those “few” however were just boys and barely young men

They shouldered an extraordinarily heavy burden which fell disproportionately upon the youth of this country – it was certainly not fair

But we remember them and salute their courage and sacrifice this morning

I have no answers to the question of fairness other to recognise that it exists and that we should seek to redress unfairness as and when we can

However, in a sense, our whole faith is underpinned by unfairness

The unfairness to our Lord Jesus Christ

The burden of God’s Redeeming plan fell on the shoulders of a young man – the shoulders of just one man alone

He was the victim of a politically motivated lynching and did not deserve to die

Jesus had every right to say, “This is not fair!”  

But God allowed that unfairness so that He could be unfair to us by lavishing us with the “unfairness of his grace”

A grace which we certainly do not deserve and could never merit 

So, in spite of all our difficulties, all the disproportionate burdens of this pandemic and of life May this gospel truth sustain, comfort us and empower us in our earthly lives together