Sunday, 19 June 2016

'Seek first the Kingdom of God and do not let the King down' - transcript of sermon St Bertelin's 19th June 2016

St Bertelin's Stafford Sunday 19th June 2016

           Teddy Bear's Picnic celebrating the Queen's Birthday

Galatians 3.23-29 & Luke 12.22-31

“My job first, second and last is never to let the Queen down.”
Prince Philip

May it be that as God’s people we echo that as we say; our job first, second and last is never to let the King down. 

The King that is, to whom the Queen bears witness, as in the excellent souvenir book – ‘The Servant Queen and the King She Serves.’

So how might we let God down?

Let us explore that in the light of our Gospel reading. The one read at St Paul’s Cathedral as part of the Queen’s birthday celebrations.

Firstly, this needs just a bit of context.

In some ways, this section in Luke almost reads like a Q&A session with the Pharisees and others who in very typical Jewish style puts questions and teasers and ‘what if’ and ‘supposing ifs.’
Just before we pick up the story someone said, ‘teacher tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.’

Either he wasn’t there or not paying attention because Jesus has just been saying, ‘that God knows even the hairs on your head and that you are far more precious than sparrows and God loves you and wants the best for you.’

So why was this man worrying his head about the inheritance.

Last Wednesday night I watched the 1973 film by Zeffirelli ‘Brother Son, Sister Moon’ with a fabulous soundtrack by Donovan.

Zeffirelli presents a romantic portrayal of St Francis who comes across a bit like a 12th century hippy. He shuns all earthly wealth, as he wants to live like birds, trusting his heavenly Father for everything. He dramatically hands back to his earthly father the clothes of his back.  

This Gospel passage from Luke 12 was of course deeply influential on Francis who took it in a literal sense.

We enter the story at verse 22…

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall wear.’

We need to hold in mind that these words were spoken to people who for the most part were living at subsistence level. Therefore, quite naturally, they had a very deep concern about their next meal and having at least some clothes to wear and a roof over their heads.

And Jesus said, ‘don’t worry about these things!’

Put this story into a modern Western world context and it screams out against the amount of money, energy and passion along with huge stress levels that very many people live under.

We have a culture based on dissatisfaction – certainly, dissatisfaction with what was the thing yesterday. The latest, the newest, the most up to date - is the order of the day. Advertising is based on creating dissatisfaction. (Some might even say greed)

And yet curiously their remains a deep thread of all things retro – from music of a former era, to vintage cars and tractors to antique furniture. Alongside the plethora of TV shows and films brought back and given a fresh 21st century sparkle.

So maybe, just maybe, we are not that confident about what lies in the future and seek to take some comfort by retreating into the past.

So – given this, how is it that might be let God down?

To begin with by not heeding St Paul’s advice in Romans 12.2

"Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its mold...." 

We let God down by buying into the prevailing culture and suffer the same stress levels and heart attacks and illnesses as non-Christians.

We do not demonstrate a real alternative way of living and conducting our lives.

Sadly, I have seen some churches that actually add to the stress levels. They have such busy programs and events and activities, that it takes a small army of people just to keep everything moving along.

And as this is football season, let me offer a footballing metaphor. It sometimes seems that the church looks like a football match. Twenty-two people in need of a rest, watched by 22,000 in need of exercise.

We can let God down by not seeking him in prayer and saying that this is God’s church and we are God’s people – what is it that you God want to achieve and to build up and establish. What would the Kingdom of God look like in this place?

Remember the Church of God does not have a mission – the God of mission has a Church.

I don’t think for a moment Jesus is saying that food, clothing and what have you are bad in and of themselves.

It is where we place them in the order of our priorties that matters most.

Jesus said, For the nations of the world strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added unto you.

Seek first his Kingdom…

Isn’t that what lies at the heart of this passage and isn’t that what lies at the heart of the Good News.

St Augustine said ‘Jesus Christ is not valued at all until He is valued above all.’

How does that stand with you this morning?

Is Christ above all, in all, through all in your life?

How does that stand with this Church, this People of God, is Christ at the head of everything?

Are you aware of the presence of Jesus at each and every meeting and gathering?

Just before we picked up the Gospel story Jesus told that wonderful story of Bigger Barns.

(And if you ever get the chance do listen to Ishmael sing a fabulous Children’s song based on this story...

The story Jesus tells is of man who is busy building his own Kingdom, his own Empire.

He decides he needs bigger barns in which to store all his extra grain and goods. They were duly built and filled. Then he died.

There is a story told of a man who was rather mean to his wife. As he lay dying, he made her promise that she would put all his wealth in the coffin with him.

Come the day of the funeral and after he was duly buried a friend came up to her, who knew about this request and asked if she had actually done what he had asked for.

Of course she said, I worked out all his wealth, wrote out a cheque, put it in the coffin, and if he can cash it then he can have it.

“Our job first, second and last is never to let the King down.”

Our job is to seek first the Kingdom.

Our job is to show to a watching world that there is a better way of ordering our lives.

‘Drop thy still dews of quietness till all our strivings cease, take from our souls the strains and stress and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of thy peace.’

The other way we can let our King down is by being ‘shy’ about faith and belief in Jesus as Lord of all.

Increasingly we have seen the Queen become more vocal about her deep faith that she would like others to embrace.

Here is one recent quote “It is my prayer that we may all find room in our lives for the love of God through Christ our Lord.”

Earlier in chapter 12 of Luke’s Gospel Jesus said;

Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

We can let down our King by not being as vocal about our faith as the Queen is.

It is great to see that so many Teddies have made it to Church this morning after a busy day they all had at the Teddy Bear’s Picnic yesterday.

Can I invite you once you have received Communion to go and pick up a small piece of ribbon and write on the ribbon the name of someone whom you would like to see fully embrace the Christian faith. Tie this onto your bear who will become your Prayer Bear. 

The prayer is simply that next year that person will be here, worshiping and following Jesus. Keep your Prayer Bear somewhere where you will see them so you will remember to prayer for that person.

If you have yet fully to embrace the Christian faith then can I invite you to take a ribbon and write Jesus. Whenever you see your bear, remember to say a prayer to Jesus, asking that he will make himself known to you. You may like to visit the website that will help you discover more about what it means to be a Christian.

Let me end with some words His Holiness Pope Benedict XV1

And only where God is seen does life truly begin.
Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is.

We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution.
Each of us is the result of a thought of God.
Each of us is willed,
Each of us is loved,
Each of us is necessary.

There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel,
By the encounter with Christ.
There is nothing more beautiful than to know him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him.


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