Sunday, 12 June 2016

A sermon on the occasion of the 90th Birthday of HM Queen Elizabeth II



2 SAMUEL 11:26-12:10, 13-15
LUKE 7:36 – 8:3

It has been a week in which I have been thinking about leadership, servanthood, and the gospel of God’s love, shown in Jesus Christ…

Where does leadership come from?  Who is to exercise it?  How is it to be exercised, and in whose interest?...

We are all drawing closer to the exercise of our citizen-vote on the plebiscite of 23 June 2016 – to determine whether we wish to remain part of the European Union of 28 nations, in a political and economic bloc, or to withdraw from that partnership of the last 43 years.  Meanwhile, we have learnt the likely names of the two politicians to contend forvotes from the citizens of the USA, in November, in order to become President of the United States of America: Donald J. Trump and (almost-certainly) Hilary Rodham Clinton…
And, this weekend, we think about the servant leadership of someone never elected, but called, into the role of being our Monarch, as our Queen, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II reaches the milestone of her 90th birthday…

Today’s scripture readings provide us with models of leadership, of engagement, and ofservanthoodThey do so through all being exercises in understanding Godly hospitality and our wisdom in applying it to situations we find ourselves in.  Ultimately, they help to point us to the grace of God, and the source of our salvation…

I will touch, briefly, on each of our readings, before focussing down on our portion of St Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, which is our agreed preaching strand these weeks of June…

*David’s abuse of hospitality, rebuked by Nathan (and, as much as it is an abuse of hospitality, note also that it is expressly condemned as an abuse of the poor anddefenceless)
use-abuse of his position of privilege
-unwillingness to sacrifice any of his precious ownership
-his own selfishness and sin addressed and repented, but, notice, consequences already spilling into his life and affecting the future…

*Jesus is in receipt of a Pharisee’s hospitality, but it is limited – on his own, ritualistic and purity-focused rules/standards…self-righteous
woman’s actions are of a more genuine and spontaneous kind – and rooted in a humility and awareness of her own sinfulness
- Jesus teaches, in story and more directly, the lesson that true hospitality is a school for the acceptance of forgiveness…

*and then, St Paul, teaching on with theGalatian gentiles, from where he was in the first part of his letter (which we read these last two weeks), reminding us about the importance of being free from our personal-histories as we learn about God’s welcome to all…
- Paul has used the incident with Peter which occurred in Antioch, in verses 11-14 of chapter 2 of this letter to the Galatians, to illustrate again his independence of the Jerusalem church, as Fr Mike talked about last week. The incident was over an issue (kosher food versus table fellowship with Gentiles) that pointed toward the same general principle Paul wishes to establish with the Galatians: that the Church, despite its Jewish heritage, cannot compel Gentiles to observe the Mosaic Law.  To do so is to make "justification," that is, right relationship with God, come about "by (literally `from') works of the law" rather than "through faith in Jesus Christ."
- he teaches now that the law is an ass – that a person is acceptable to God, welcomed by God, given hospitality and a place by God, not through law, not through cultural ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, or through being ‘our sorts of people’, but through faith/trust, and God’s grace… to reintroduce law is to deny Christ, to deny the efficacy of his death…
Paul does not "nullify the grace of God" by asserting, as his opponents apparently do, that Christ's sacrifice was insufficient for our justification
we should not do so, either…

I should like to finish today, also, by making some comments about our Queen, Elizabeth:

Elizabeth, who now presides over a monarchy that has managed to remain popular, regal, inclusive and relevant in the 21st century. After 64 years as monarch, she is still one of the most respected figures in the world.
If we are to truly appreciate the reign of our Queen, then we need to understand her deep, inner conviction, the fierce resolve and complete dedication that guides this woman.
Obviously, her Christian faith has been at the heart of who she is. She made this very clear in her 2000 Christmas broadcast when she said, “For me the teachings of Christ and personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life.”
But we can go deeper and find the central idea that shaped Elizabeth before she even became Queen. On her 21st birthday in 1947, in a speech to the youth of the British Empire, Princess Elizabeth said:
“There is a motto which has been borne by many of my ancestors – a noble motto, ‘I serve.’ Those words were an inspiration to many bygone heirs of the Throne when they made their knightly dedication as they came to manhood. I cannot do quite as they did.
“But through the inventions of science I can do what was not possible for any of them. I can make my solemn act of dedication with the whole Empire listening. I should like to make that dedication now. It is very simple.
“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 in 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 in it.”
Long before the term became popular in church and business, Elizabeth defined herself as a servant leader–as one who serves rather than expects to be served, as a royal who turns the common understanding of royalty upside down. She is a Servant Queen whose life has been one of service to her subjects every hour of every day from the moment she became heiress presumptive to the day she takes her last breath on this earth.  
Some of us may think that the monarchy has no real power in this day and age. It’s a symbol without substance, a relic of the past without relevance to the present. And yet, servant leadership is about influence, about shaping the discussion, touching the heart, stretching the mind, motivating action and compassion and engagement in public life. Servant leadership is about the ability to bring people together in common purpose and shared values and a hopeful future. Servant leadership is much like love: the more you give to others, the more flows back to you naturally.
No wonder Queen Elizabeth is one of the most respected people in the world. She has this deep notion of duty and selfless service to others, which is deeply attractive and commands our utmost respect and admiration.
This is how to understand the servant leadership of our Queen: her power is in her influence, and this has more to do with service than status. She is a voice that harmonizes the cacophony of voices in the Commonwealth, a symbol of a common heritage that binds a multitude of nations and peoples into one communion, an authority figure without being authoritarian.
In her 2001 Christmas broadcast, the Queen addressed the issue of multiculturalism that has so affected the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth nations. She raised her voice for tolerance, inclusiveness and mutual respect when she said that we need to “overcome differences and misunderstandings by reducing prejudice, ignorance and fear. We all have something to learn from one another, whatever our faith–be it Christian or Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or Sikh–whatever our background…”
That is monarchy at its best–having roots and wings– and soaring into the future while staying grounded in an enduring purpose and shared values. Monarchy gives us that firm foundation to exercise our politics respectfully, civilly and for the common good. It is inherently inclusive rather than exclusive, all-embracing rather than ostracizing, making room for differences among people rather than demanding a rigid uniformity.
St Paul got it.  The Queen gets it.  The Galatians were being urged to get it.  Have we got it?!...
Yes, God bless the Queen. Throughout her long reign, oftentimes triumphant and joyful, sometimes sad and tragic, but always dedicated and faithful, Elizabeth has never ceased to be a Servant Queen, a Royal with a heart for her people, a Sovereign with a deep sense of responsibility for her subjects. She has exercised her role as Queen graciously, majestically and with the utmost dignity. So in a world of political expediency, crass politics and shady politicians, how could we not be thankful for such a Queen?

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