Exodus 32.7-14 & Luke 15.1-10
Following her death on Thursday 8 September, we all mourn the loss of the Queen who meant so much to so many. She has been a presence in our lives, and for many this has been for our whole lives. She was the Servant Queen who put her service in the hands of God.
In a radio address in 1947 on the occasion of her 21st birthday she said “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong. But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join it with me, as I now invite you to do: I know that your support will be unfailingly given. God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share it.”
In this declaration she conveyed her steadfast intention for her reign to be selfless and one of faithfulness to her vocation as monarch. She showed in this declaration that she would be empowering others, listening to others and respectful to others. This she did throughout her whole reign, keeping true to her declaration.
This servant Queen was also a devout witness through her leadership of this country to the King that she served, Jesus Christ. She often expressed in words and action that this was the way she chose to live her life. In 2002 she said “I know just how much I rely on my faith to guide me through the good times and the bad. Each day is a new beginning. I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God.”
She was someone who was virtuous. She was also a faithful witness who expressed the uniqueness of Jesus Christ in her faith which she expressed in 2011 saying “Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.”
She was challenged in her faith though, as all of us are, but she remained devoted to God, as she was devoted to this nation. In 1980 she said “In difficult times we may be tempted to find excuses for self-indulgence and to wash our hands of responsibility. Christ stands for the opposite... we need to go out and look for opportunities to help those less fortunate than ourselves, even if that service demands sacrifice.”
In our Gospel reading we hear of Jesus welcoming sinners and eating with them. The principal message of this reading is not about the meal itself but rather the profligate love that Jesus expresses. This notion of profligate love is rejected by the Rabbis and in fact sits in contradiction to a prayer of first century Rabbis which said “I thank the Lord my God, that you have set my portion with those who sit in the sanctuary and not those who sit on the street corners. I rise to attend to the torah, and they rise to futile things.” And the prayer goes on, with continuing derogatory comments about the poor. What Jesus calls us to is to love our neighbour, not shun them. Not to think ourselves better or act with indifference and disregard.
This was not the way the Queen lived out her vocation as monarch to the nation. She was selfless, respectful, virtuous, steadfast, faithful, empowering, devoted, committed, hardworking, loyal and a Servant Queen. She also, let us not forget, had a great sense of humour. From James Bond at the Olympics to Paddington Bear at the Jubilee, from off-mic quips to an outburst of hysterical giggles when a swarm of bees disrupted a military review at Windsor Castle in 2003. She was a steadfast witness to the work of God in her life and is an example to us all of what it means to be a ‘good and faithful servant’ of our Lord Jesus Christ.
With the Queens passing something that we all now must adjust to is that we have a new monarch, his most gracious Sovereign Lord, King Charles III. His reign will not be the same. For each monarch brings their own uniqueness, so it will be different. For we are all uniquely made in the image of God with our own gifts. We also must relearn the national anthem, which we will sing for the first time at the end of the service with the words ‘God save our gracious King, long live our noble King.’ This is because as our King begins his duty, we should commit ourselves to support him as we did Queen Elizabeth. Praying for his vocation as monarch. That he be imbued with wisdom, knowledge and understanding to govern well.
Equally over the coming days we should all be surrounding the whole of the Royal Family with our love and prayers as they mourn the loss of their mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. As we ourselves mourn the loss of our Queen in our own way. Moses said to God in our reading from Exodus “God, remember those who served you” to which we ask God the same “O God, remember our monarch who served you”. We have prayed all our lives: God save the Queen. So now we entrust Her Majesty to her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Gracious God, we give thanks for the life of your servant Queen Elizabeth, for her faith and her dedication to duty. Bless our nation as we mourn her death and may her example continue to inspire us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Revd Gareth Morley, Curate
Philemon 1-21 & Luke 14.25-33
Well, here we are gathered again for the new term. It’s great to have our choir back, and if you’ve been away, welcome back! We have a busy term ahead with lots going on so there’s much to look forward to.
During August, we’ve been gathering feedback from you about how we’re doing as a church and there have been lots of really useful and interesting comments. The feedback will really help us to identify some priorities for action as well as celebrating our strengths as a church community. The exercise we’ve been doing is very similar to the sort of thing many of us might have encountered at work or in other leisure organisations. For example I’m sure gyms often consult with their members about how they might develop in future – not that I’d know, of course.
But a church community is rather different, I think. For a church is much more than a way to pass our leisure time, or our time at work. It’s really about how we get to know Jesus and become more like him, and share the good news of the change he makes in our lives with the wider world.
In the gospel passage we just heard, Jesus is being followed by large crowds. Doubtless everyone was excited to see what he was doing, and hopeful that great change might happen – the Roman oppressors would be overthrown, and everyone who was ill would be healed, and everyone would have plenty to eat.
But this is another tough-love-Jesus passage. Jesus tells us it really isn’t as easy as all that. ‘Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple’. I know our text says ‘the cross’, but the original has literally ‘the cross of himself’, so it’s clear Jesus is referring to the burden each of us is to carry.
Everybody knew what the cross meant. They understood crucifixion – that awful torture the Romans used to punish criminals. If they hadn’t actually seen a crucifixion, certainly everyone would have known the sheer horror of it. Jesus is suggesting that the folk in those large crowds need to understand that the way forward is not an easy one. It’s full of challenge, and even peril. I bet they went a bit quiet when they heard what he said.
So here’s the question? How are you doing with your cross today?
Maybe your cross is weighing you down with some heavy thing that you’re carrying – suffering of some sort, fear, anxiety, worry? Or the pain of some past oppression?
We all carry some of this – perhaps more at some times than others, but always something. So how’s it going for you today? And what are you able to do about it?
We all have some choices – we can sigh and shoulder the heavy load but continue to be more and more bowed down by it. We can try to carry on regardless, to suppress the burden and lock it away and try to pretend it isn’t there – sometimes that works for a short while, at least. Or we can run away and leave it behind, make a new start and hope it won’t catch up with us.
But Jesus doesn’t simply say we are to take up our cross. He says we are to take up our cross and follow him. It’s that choice to follow that makes us disciples of Jesus. It moves us from being curious explorers of an exciting new lifestyle to the realisation that being a follower of Christ means giving up all that we’re holding on to.
Why? Because Jesus’ promise of life in all its fulness comes when we let go. When we let the rain of God’s love pour into our thirsty souls, like the dry grass being renewed by fresh and living water. Following Jesus involves a deep and personal surrender.
Well, that doesn’t sound easy, does it?!
It’s not, really. It needs trust, and some courage – and our burdensome crosses are really distracting and that makes it hard to focus and get to that point.
But the good news is that we don’t have to do it alone. Jesus began a whole church to help and support us.
You can see this a little in the story of Onesimus that we heard in our first reading this morning – a runaway slave encounters St Paul and the early church and is converted. Instead of the death penalty from his master when he is sent back, he is to be welcomed as a brother, for the master, Philemon, now runs a church at his house, and is asked by Paul to help and support Onesimus as an equal part of the community. As Paul says elsewhere, in the Body of Christ there is no inequality – slave or free, male or female, Jew or Greek but all are one in Christ Jesus.
As I’m sure you who have made that commitment could testify, being in the Body of Christ may not mean our crosses evaporate suddenly, but it does mean that we share one another’s burdens and that makes it a whole lot easier. Somehow, our burdens are then lightened by the experience of a living faith in Christ.
You probably know the hymn “Brother, Sister, Let me serve you”, which actually sums up what I’ve been saying rather well. At first reading it may seem like a rather gentle hymn about being nice to one another, but actually I think it speaks powerfully of how we can serve and support one another on that journey with Jesus. Apparently the third verse was written first, in 1976, and the others followed a year later:
“I will hold the Christ-light for you in the night-time of your fear.
I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.”
May this indeed be both our commitment and our joyful experience as we go forward together at All Saints. Amen.
Derek Lancaster, LLM