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Sermon for 14th Sunday after Trinity

Sermon for Sunday 18th September - 14th Sunday after Trinity


Amos 8:4-7

Psalm 113

1 Timothy 2:1-7

Luke 16:1-13


May I speak in the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Spirit of life,

Amen


One of the things I think we all value about coming to church is the way the language we use together helps us to express thoughts and feelings which are buried deep within our innermost fears and anxieties. When we want to give voice to our anger, our bewilderment, our grief or our love, sometimes all at the same time, we know we can come to church and find that language, whether it’s in the psalms, or our readings or our prayers.

Sometimes that language takes part of its power to move us from its unchanging beauty. And then sometimes, after decades, even centuries, there comes a change. And in these past days we’ve all been made keenly aware of the changes that come with death.


Every third Sunday we have an 8 o’clock Service of Mattins taken from the prayer book. And every Sunday from the Queen’s accession in 1952 until her death nine days ago we prayed that God would ‘behold our most gracious Sovereign Lady, Queen ELIZABETH; and so replenish her with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, that she may alway incline to thy will, and walk in thy way.’


We asked God to 'Endue her plenteously with heavenly gifts; grant her in health and wealth long to live; strengthen her that she may vanquish and overcome all her enemies.’


All those prayers were answered in fine style through the Queen’s devotion to her role and to her country and the commonwealth and in the way she made it clear to us all that her faith was central to how she lived. Our hope for her now as Christians is expressed beautifully in the final words of that same collect, that ‘after this life she may attain everlasting joy and felicity, through Jesus Christ our Lord’.


For many people, the Queen’s death came as a tremendous shock; but without skipping a beat our liturgies help us cope with the shock of bereavement by straightaway giving us new and moving ways of expressing our deepest thoughts and feelings. This morning at Mattins we used a new prayer for a new King, praying:

‘Let wisdom be his guide, and let thine arm strengthen him; let justice, truth and holiness, let peace and love, and all those virtues that adorn the Christian profession, flourish in his days.’


The new Collect asks:


‘Almighty God, whose kingdom is everlasting and power infinite; have mercy upon the whole church; and so rule the heart of thy chosen servant Charles our king and governor, that he, knowing whose minister he is, may above all things seek thy honour and glory…. he may above all things seek thy honour and glory… through Jesus Christ our Lord.’


I think these changes in the language of our liturgy help us to come to terms with everything that’s happening this week. And this week has been a time to come to terms with the reality of our loss. This has been hugely challenging. You just had to listen to the language of the news or read the papers to understand how very hard it’s been for many people to accept the reality of the Queen’s death. Reporters and journalists initially spoke and wrote about her as if she was still alive, something which all of us who’ve lost someone dear know is exactly what we all do immediately after a death. But it seemed strange nonetheless to be told on Monday that the Queen had left her beloved Balmoral for the last time and on Wednesday that, in the words of The Times, for one last night queen Elizabeth was back with her family. There was this odd, yet very moving sense of talking about her, of doing things for her such as making marmalade sandwiches, as if we were holding onto the idea that she was still with us.

This moment, when we really don’t want to accept the reality of death and the change it brings, is where the unique and wonderful language of the Gospels comes to our aid; because this is the change which the Gospel writers are agreed should be wondered at and celebrated above all others.


I don’t know what the readings for the Queen’s funeral tomorrow will be, but I hope there’ll be a place for the two men in dazzling clothes, in Luke’s Gospel, who tell the grieving women as they gaze into Jesus’s empty tomb, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen’.


I think that question, and its extraordinary answer, are for all of us who mourn.

I thought of those words when watching pictures of the people filing past the Queen’s coffin in Westminster Hall and again when I was reading our psalm this morning; If you can find time, take a moment later today to watch the live stream from the lying-in state. There, just as the psalm describes, are people of all ages and conditions, some are ‘the poor and the needy’ and at times the hall has been ‘set with princes’, but the Cross at the head of the Queen’s coffin proclaims that all of those present are equal in their mortality before a God, who, in the words of the psalm, has his throne so high yet humbles himself to behold the things of heaven and earth.


As Christians, we believe with Paul that death is not final. In what sense life continues we can only wonder, but his words to the Corinthians give us a way of talking about that greatest change of all which may help us see a little of what lies ahead; he tells us that;


We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.


This is how the language of the Bible helps us to approach the mystery of the changes that come for everyone with death. Paul also tells the Corinthians that ‘What you sow does not come to life unless it dies’. The image of the seed falling into the ground and losing its earlier shape and form to become something new and transformed is his way of telling us that there is nothing to fear from the changes that come with death, there is a form of life in and with God which we can only enter through dying.


We can’t possibly know what being changed will mean or be like, but we do know this promise is not just for Kings and Queens lying in state, but for all of us. When Timothy in our first reading asks us to pray for Kings, he’s asking for nothing more than to be allowed to live a quiet life- this at a time when Kings could be dangerous and vengeful characters. But Timothy also tells us something more important, that there is one God, one Christ and that this same God cares for everyone, King or Queen, regardless of their wealth and status.


Luke writes in today’s Gospel of how we need to live faithfully and honestly in order to be entrusted with what he describes as ‘the true riches’. And as we wait for the Queen’s funeral tomorrow, with all its earthly pomp and ceremony, let us pray that at the end of this time of sudden change we may all discover those true riches for ourselves.


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,

Amen.





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