“In Service”

Sermon preached on “Mayor’s Sunday”, 13th September.

(Based on Philippians 2: 6-11 and John 3: 13-17)

Anyone near the town centre on Friday afternoon, MAY have noticed our church-bells ringing – ringing, in fact, for a little under 3 hours: I know, I Iive next door!!

A highly expert peal of bells was rung in honour of Her Majesty the Queen who, after 63 years on the throne, has now overtaken great-great granny, as the longest reigning monarch in British history. And, although her long reign has seen changes in society, so rapid and dramatic as to be unimaginable 63 years ago, throughout it all she seems to have maintained a steady sense of purpose and commitment.

Many of us are familiar by now with a certain clip from the speech she gave on her 21st birthday:  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. “                                                                                                                         While many of us may have no personal recollection of belonging to that great imperial family, I think the majority of people would recognise that she has tried to live out that noble statement of service, of duty, ever since.

But if the words “service” and “duty” may trip off the tongue happily enough, I want to suggest two other words that we might apply to the Queen’s reign and to the notions of public service, and “Christian service”.

Our readings today attribute two characteristics to Christ’s own ministry – “sacrifice and “humility”. And I want to suggest that there are shades of that same self-offering – of sacrifice and humility – in the life of our monarch, and of others in public life.

For all those in the public eye, the notion of a private life is a luxury that will be afforded very rarely. Those who serve in public office do so at considerable cost, not only to themselves but to their families.

And the Royal family is no exception – with very little chance to escape the lenses of the media, very little time to do their own thing, and absolutely no chance of escaping the carping criticisms of others or of defending themselves against such criticisms.

The Queen herself, with an intelligent mind and vast experience of public life, studiously keeps her opinions to herself when at times she must be itching to really speak her mind!

Prince Philip – is notably LESS cautious in his speech!

But for him, supporting his wife as our monarch meant the sacrifice of a promising career in the Royal Navy, and all that might have been for him.

And there also is an element of humility in their willingness to undertake so many public engagements: Despite the shy awkwardness evident in that clip from the Queen’s 21st birthday speech – she now engages quite naturally with a much broader spectrum of society.

In an image conscious, status conscious age – she sits light to the elevated status that she might assume – exemplifying instead sacrificial duty and humble service.

And so to public life more generally and to the life of our community here.

We’re very fortunate to have as our Mayor someone who shows remarkable commitment to this community and a real understanding of our varying needs. Phil works tirelessly – and has demonstrated that he is quite prepared to get his OWN hands dirty whether that be filling sandbags or reading the riot act to those supposedly resurfacing the road last summer!

We’re very fortunate that he has been willing to serve and serve again in that role – and, although that has been wonderful for us, we need to remember that that willingness is not without cost – the sacrifice of personal and family time.

And if public service inevitably involves personal sacrifice, then I think there is an equally significant element of humility in being prepared to share the task with others.

Perhaps because the personal cost is high it’s easy for those in office to demand recognition – to protect their own little sphere of influence in order to appear even more significant – to ensure public status.

And yet we achieve so much more when we work together and cooperate across different strands of our common life.

Here in Wilton right now, we have a professionally run Youth Centre purely because Church and Town Council worked together to make it happen – the Church’s Educational Trust providing the staff, the Council securing the building for them.

It would have been easy for the Church to protect its own resources for more selfish projects, it would have been easy for the Council to be wary of a faith group leaping in to rescue a secular provision – but neither of those issues arose. All of us could clearly see that the issue wasn’t about us – we simply had to address the need that had arisen and get on and work through it together.

And there’s a strong mandate for that approach in our Scripture readings: It was for the life of this sometimes messy and murky world that Christ came and died and rose again.

And that life is not about “us” as individuals, it is about ALL of us as sharing a common humanity – all of us as children of God. And that guiding principle needs to govern both our public policies and our personal actions.

There’ve been two other major items in the public eye this week – the Refugee crisis and the Assisted Dying Bill.

I can’t deal properly with either of those things just now – but I’ll simply reflect that both are complex and incredibly emotive subjects.  And so, more than ever, it is vital that we enable ALL those with experience and insight on either issue to contribute to whatever decisions are made, whatever action is taken.

Knowing that we need to do something doesn’t make it easy to see what that might be. And we all need to see beyond our pre-formed ideas or knee-jerk reactions if we are to understand the full consequences and do what is right for all concerned.

I want to end, where I began, with Her Majesty the Queen.

Despite the constantly shifting backdrop to her reign, somehow she has remained – determined and absolutely true to that early pledge of service.

And I think one key reason for that resilience is that she is not simply a Head of State.

At her coronation she was anointed as a Christian monarch, marked out and symbolically strengthened by God for her unique role for life.  And that ideal is something that I think she has taken with utter seriousness and had always sought to live up to.

And so perhaps another pointer for all of us.

Just as our common humanity demands the humility to work with others, for the sake of the common good, so our common status as children of God demands that we sacrifice our proud notions of status and self-determination and try instead to recognise where He is leading us.

Without God’s blessing our work is in vain – but if we entrust all our work, however menial or grand, to God’s guidance, if we dedicate our own lives to the service of God and to our neighbours, then we can and will continue Christ’s saving work of transforming the world.