(Begin with the Prayer for the Queen from the BCP)

 

There can be little doubt that her majesty has taken into the heart of her vocation the Christian values we have heard about in today's Gospel reading (Luke 22, 24-27) & the reading from the book of Proverbs (8, 1-116). The queen has never sought to Lord it over her subjects, she performs her role with wisdom, dignity and humility. But, also I suggest passion and commitment. She is after all the monarch who suggested in the 2012 Queen's Speech that our response to God's love for us, made manifest in the life and death of Jesus Christ should simply be this: 'to give him my heart.'

Elizabeth recognises that even as monarch she also serves that 'other country' she first 'heard of long ago.' So should all Christians. Again to paraphrase from I Vow to Thee My Country the Queen has understood that she has a vocation to bring into the here and now 'all heavenly things above.' So should we. It's what we pray for in the Lord's Prayer: 'thy will be done, thy kingdom come on earth as in heaven.'

Christianity is central to the Queen's identity and, we should always remember that the Queen is 'Supreme Governor of the Church of England,' and, 'Defender of the Faith.' So as members of the C of E we have a double reason to celebrate her birthday. But, she is no narrow minded defender of the faith. The notion of hospitality, one of our aspirations, is central to Her Majesty's understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Listen carefully to the words she used when opening the 2012 Lambeth Conference:

'The concept of the established Church is occasionally misunderstood and, I believe, commonly under-appreciated. Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country. It certainly provides an identity and spiritual dimension for its own many adherents. But also, gently and assuredly, the Church of England has created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely. Woven into the fabric of this country, the Church has helped build a better society – more and more in active co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths.'

 

Let's pause and reflect on the Queen's mental model of what it means to be the Church of England:

Passionate about the good news of Jesus Christ, fostered through its own distinctive spirituality. Evangelical in inviting all to give their hearts to Jesus Christ.  And yet, simultaneously hospitable to all. Concerned, always, for the Common Good, and desirous to cooperate with any person, group or faith who shares that aim. Humble and gentle in the exercise of its leadership.

Is this a mental model we could share?

Could we go further and make sure it is woven into the very fabric of how we do Church here, in this community, for this community?

I think, hope and pray so.

If we can dare to be this sort of Church we will do Her Majesty proud, we will give due honour to her years of loving service, and like Her Majesty we will help shape and enduring legacy. We will give back to the Queen a real and lasting present; the sort of present that cannot be stolen or eroded away.

And there is one other present we can give the Queen; our prayers. Our prayers are the only present the Queen has ever asked from us. In the Foreword to 'The Servant Queen' – our church present to you – Her Majesty reflects:

'In my first Christmas Broadcast in 1952, I asked the people of the Commonwealth and Empire to pray for me as I prepared to dedicate myself to their service at my Coronation. I have been and remain very grateful to you for your prayers and to God for his steadfast love. I have indeed seen His faithfulness.' Note what the Queen is really saying, 'our' prayers, have helped her to both know God, and to fulfil her vocation. So prayer really is a wonderful present.

So let's keep a short period of collective silence during which we give thanks for the life and witness of  Queen Elizabeth II, both as Monarch and Supreme Governor of the Church of England, to 'give him' our hearts and to commit ourselves to the service of humanity, here in this place.

 

Amen.

Let me start by asking a question. Is there anybody you consider to be a hero? It doesn't need to be someone famous, although it might be.  I think, although I am slightly guessing, heroes are afforded their status based on two criteria: what they do, or achieve and just as importantly how they achieve it. Sadly, I suspect that in today's culture many are more interested in what we might think of as 'mere achievement' rather than the character.

I think that there can be little doubt that Laurence quickly became a hero to the early church. Laurence is of course our patron saint. There is a chapel dedicated to St. Laurence in Salisbury Cathedral and, the ancient European Cathedrals of Genoa, Lugano, Prague and Trogir (Croatia) are all dedicated to St. Laurence. In more recent times the cities of Amarillo (Texas) and Berthangandy (India) have also taken the name of St. Laurence. When Sadiq Khan was installed as Mayor of London in Southwark Cathedral, the Dean saw fit to invoke the spirit of St. Laurence.

And yet, St. Laurence was not an ecclesiastical high flyer. He wasn't an archbishop, bishop or even a priest. He was a deacon. He never rose above the first rung ladder on the church's ladder of hierarchy. Maybe he would have done in time, who knows, but his martyrdom got in the way.

His martyrdom got in the way because he understood what the gospel is all about. He knew that you cannot serve two masters, you either serve God, by following in the footsteps of Jesus, or you serve yourself. He understood that God cares for the poor, the weak and the marginalised. He understood that the middle classes, of which he was a member, have an ethical responsibility to use their assets judiciously. He understood a basic Christian truth:

That assets should be used to help people, rather than people being used to to build assets.

'If you have many possessions make your gift from them in proportion, if few do not be afraid to give according to the little you have.'

'Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal.'

The readings inform us that what is at stake is our own souls; it is our souls that the world wants to steal, not simply our 'stuff.'

Laurence had an eye for the common good. He understood that people are the treasure of the church. Its a lesson we all need to learn and re-learn. Loving service, hospitality to all, irrespective of worldly rank, status or achievement should be our central, Christian, concerns. Everyone in God's house deserves the best. No one should be treated differently; that's why its so crucial to the practice of our faith that we all share one common meal, the Eucharist. Its the one meal where everyone gets to eat and drink the same amounts from a common set of vessels.

It is my hope that this church will continue to regard St. Laurence as our local hero and to be inspired by his story. The story of this humble deacon must entourage us to embrace the dangerous and dirty pursuit of holiness. Like Laurence we need to look to the common good whilst regarding the poor, weak, rejected, different and marginalised as the treasures of the Church. As the reading from Tobit reminds us: ' do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor, and the face of God will not be turned away from you.'

And, if we are serious about a deacon shaped ministry we need to make sure we are active in the community, serving the community and its needs. I hope that St. Laurence week is a catalyst for our ongoing, diaconal, ministry.

As a 'good Anglican' I am going to leave the last word to Pope Francis, who in the following reflection captures the essence of Laurentian spirituality, the ministry of the deacon and the dirty work of holiness:

'I like to use the image of the field hospital to describe this church that goes forth. It exists where there is combat. It is not a solid structure with all the equipment where people go to receive treatment for both small and large infirmities. It is a mobile structure that offers first aid and immediate care so that its soldiers do not die.'

St. Laurence, I suggest, should for us, not simply be a name on our letter heading, but our hero of the faith, a Saint whose spirituality and influence lives on and informs our mission and ministry in, but more crucially for, this community and especially its most vulnerable members.

Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

Imagine being an observer at a family argument. Maybe some of you have been. Frequently family arguments erupt when one member, or faction, within the family want to head off in a different direction. The protagonists may well be newer or younger members of the family, who see the world through a different lens.

The problem with being on the sidelines, watching, is that at some stage the uncomfortable feeling begins to emerge that you may be forced into choosing sides. And, this is what the story from today's gospel reading is all about. The disciples are put into a position where they are forced to witness a face off between Jesus and the Pharisees, the guardians and elder statesmen of the Jewish faith. And, the Pharisees are not impressed with Jesus and his table manners! What seems like a small incident then erupts into the mother and father of all arguments; the normal pattern for all family arguments! The Pharisees reprimand Jesus and his followers for failing to keep the Jewish purity laws, but the bigger criticism is that Jesus and his friends are playing fast and loose with the tradition. The tradition is of course built around a specific 'understanding' of Scripture.

Jesus then erupts, accusing the protectors of the tradition of being hypocrites. His accusation is savage. He says to the guardians of the faith that you know full well what the real tradition is, but that you have chosen to manipulate it for your own political and selfish ends. You are hypocrites. Your hypocrisy is also made even worse by the fact that you know how to manipulate the tradition to make it look as through you speak for God, when you don't you simply speak for yourselves. He gives an example to validate his claim:

He tells the Pharisees that by claiming all of their assets are Corban, offerings to God, they are deliberately using a religious concept, to create a loop hole and break the mandate to honour their fathers and mothers. Jesus criticism is in fact even deeper than this for what he accuses the Scribes and Pharisees of is not only hypocrisy but the deliberate and political manipulation of Scripture. Heresy in other words!

So what has Jesus to say about Scripture, which he clearly esteems and believes contains everything necessary for instruction into how to live a good and Godly life?

Jesus reminds us that Scripture contains the commandments of God and, that the commandments of God are concerned with how we treat each other. Real faith is evidenced not by what we say, and how we say it, not by the rituals we keep, and the doctrines we espouse but in how we live our lives; how we relate to each other. 

Are love and service our central concerns? How serious are we about hospitality, healing and the dirty work of holiness – these should be our gospel concerns.

We can manipulate Scripture and invoke the tradition to endorse all manner of claims, but this is to misuse Scripture and to fail to understand the tradition we have inherited. Jesus' own understanding of Scripture is based largely on the prophecy of Isaiah with it's emphasis on justice and liberation of the oppressed, the lonely, the marginalised, the excluded and the poor; hospitality for all.

These were Jesus' real preoccupations, and he didn't just pluck them from nowhere. He took them from Scripture and he urged his followers to make sure that the tradition should never be used to avoid the real mission of the church.

So, as always when faced with family arguments we come back to the question: whose side are you on?  I hope and pray that we are on Jesus' side, Amen.