Sunday, 12 June 2016

Her Majesty the Queen's 90th Official Birthday

2 Samuel 11.26-12.10,13-15, Galatians 2.15-21, Luke 7.36-8.3 We’ve all overheard conversations in a bar or restaurant, maybe on a train where people are telling each other where public figures have gone wrong. Government policy is corrected, sports managers selections slated. You know the sort of thing…’of course what they need to do is pass a law stopping anyone who hasn’t lived in the country for at least 20 years from buying a home’ or ‘where Roy went wrong was playing Rooney too deep behind the front two’, it’s a national pastime. Some people were asked last year what they would change if they were King or Queen for the day and had absolute power. Ideas included making the joining of a communal choir compulsory for everyone with daily public performances, turning Eton and Harrow into social housing provision and the return of national service, for everyone younger than the proponent. Of course yesterday marked the 90th anniversary of Her Majesty the Queen’s official birthday. Our longest ever reigning British Monarch looked resplendent in lime green and there were numerous celebrations across the country, including Seal, to mark the occasion. In our reading from Samuel today we heard about a monarch who behaved in a way we could not believe possible now. King David has taken Uriah’s wife and had Uriah killed. The prophet Nathan has come to the king who seems to be able to separate what he has done from his relationship with God. In a smaller way it’s probably something many of us do, convincing ourselves that something is justified and keeping it separate from our prayer and worship so that it never comes under the microscope of examination. Nathan tells the king a story of a rich man with all he could ever want who takes a poor man’s one treasured lamb to feed a traveller, despite the fact that he has an enormous flock from which he could have chosen. In doing so he dehumanises the poor man, he thinks only of what he wants and needs at that moment. Because he is rich and self-important he has a sense of entitlement to whatever he wants, in his view the poor man’s needs don’t matter and he proceeds without thinking. Naturally the king flies into a rage upon hearing this stating that ‘the man who has done this deserves to die’ before Nathan points out that ‘you are the man’, the king is the subject of the story and now understands the parallel with his own actions and the acknowledgment of his grave sin follows. Of course a constitutional monarchy limits the powers of our Queen but she still has a position of great privilege and influence, representing the country in various ways and meeting regularly with the prime minister. She must have got to know Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair extremely well, meeting more or less weekly with them over 11 and 10 years respectively with both saying that they valued the engagement. When you think about it so many people actually have positions of power which have a direct affect upon the lives of others, managers in the workplace, teachers and those marking exam papers, people allocating housing, government officers in all their forms and each of us in the choices we make every day. Like Her Majesty the Queen we all need to think whether having some power means we can now get our own way, or hopefully realise what we are being given is responsibility, an opportunity to serve. Nathan the prophet was very brave to challenge the king as he did but thankfully our own monarch is somewhat less terrifying. I was introduced to her as a young man and she thanked me for making the tea and doing the washing up as part of a huge team behind the scenes at the Buckingham Palace garden parties. The tea made in huge vats looks so much nicer as it is poured from small silver tea pots. Goodness knows how many people she must have shaken hands with on the posh side of the marquees, as up to 8000 people are invited to each garden party, so it’s hard to imagine that meeting a group of porters (as we were called) at the end of a busy day would have been the highlight of her schedule but she was attentive and interested to an extent that surprised us. In 1964 when the Queen was introduced to the stars of the Royal Variety Performance the comedian Tommy Cooper asked her if she would mind answering a personal question. ‘No’ she says, ‘But I might not be able to give you a full answer.’ ‘Do you like football?’ ‘Well, not really,’ she replies (despite the nonstop singing of the National Anthem by England fans throughout each international match) So Cooper responded ‘In that case, do you mind if I have your cup final tickets?’ So we start to think about whose serving whom. Clearly I’m serving the tea but her majesty is serving her subjects day in and day out as she fulfils her duties. Her commemorative booklet says it all in it title’ The servant Queen and the King she serves.’ It speaks of her trust in Christ and her faith weaves it’s way as a rich thread through every aspect of her life from many happy occasions through to her ‘Annus Horribilis’ in 1992 when Prince Andrew separated from his wife, Princess Anne divorced her husband, there were numerous revelations about the unhappy state of Charles and Diana’s marriage, all topped off by a fire in Windsor Castle. Demonstrating a living Christian faith day by day hasn’t proven to be any barrier to excellent relations with people of other faiths. Rabbi Sacks says that Jews have great respect for the Queen. They value her because they know that she values them. She makes them feel not strangers but respected citizens at home. As supreme governor of the Church of England it might be expected that she would assert its authority over other denominations and faiths but speaking a few years ago she said ‘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. We should all give thanks for this great privilege which we mostly take for granted. We can regularly see the appalling consequences around the world when this freedom and mutual respect is not upheld. In Luke’s gospel we heard how Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus to his house. It seems that Simon has plans to show his standing in society by entertaining and debating with this interesting man among his friends. A typical home for a man of such social standing may have been in a courtyard set off the main thoroughfare, open to passers by who may call to listen to the teaching. Reclining was the usual posture for eating in Jesus' time, laying on one side keeping the right hand free to eat so it was not difficult for the woman to start bathing Jesus feet with her tears. We shouldn’t underestimate the shock value of the woman wiping Jesus feet with her hair. Here she was a woman described as a sinner and assumed by many to be a prostitute letting her hair down in public, something which was reserved for privacy at home with husbands by decent women. Jesus contrasts the loving extravagance demonstrated by her actions, knowing that her sins are forgiven with Simon’s lack of awareness of his snobbery and failure to recognise his own sin and need for forgiveness. At least King David could recognise his sin when it was explained to him whilst Simon is far more begrudging as he and his guests question Christ’s authority to challenge them saying ‘who is this that even forgives sins?’ Sometimes we fail to see that our own lack of compassion and indifference to the plight of people that are not close to us can be far more damaging than an overt wrongful act. The Queens life to date is one which publicly makes Christ real, serving him by serving his people. When we see inspirational figures such as her it’s hard not to examine ourselves and ask what can we each do to serve. We see loving forgiveness in Christ at the Pharisees home but it is not enough for us just to see it, understand what is being illustrated through the parable we need to be changed by it. Mark Oakley, a priest at St Pauls wrote ‘I am capable of being moved into the heavens during a liturgy or when reading something about God, but afterwards I am capable of being as shallow, bitter and ungracious as ever I can be.’ We shouldn’t beat ourselves up over our failures because the message from our readings today is one of loving forgiveness but we do need to keep coming back to God through Christ to be fed, receive guidance and to make his love know through the way we live our lives. Amen Kevin Bright 12th June 2016

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