(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.