Monday, 8 May 2023

Serving a Higher King


Sermon preached at the Civic Service, Buckingham Parish Church

Sunday 7th May 2023 


It’s a privilege to speak at this Civic Service as we celebrate the coronation of King Charles III.  I have to confess, though, to feeling slightly anxious.  You see, I am a cleric in the non-conformist tradition – a Baptist minister to boot.  In 1613, one of my Baptist forebears, Thomas Helwys, wrote a booklet and sent it to one of Charles’ forebears, James I.  The pamphlet was called, ‘A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity’ – quite a snappy title in its day – which amongst other things, defended the right of all to religious liberty.  It seems the King disagreed for he had Helwys imprisoned in Newgate Gaol where he died in 1616.

 

You can see why I might be nervous.  If I am marched down to the Old Gaol in Buckingham at the end of this sermon – or even before that – I will know it has not gone well!

 

Yet I feel that King Charles would have a lot of empathy with Helwys.  Back in 1994, he spoke of his desire to be defender of faith rather than ‘Defender of the Faith’.  He was criticised at the time, not least from those within the Christian Church.  More recently, he has clarified his position.  In a 2015 interview with BBC Radio 2, he said:

 

“As I tried to describe, I mind about the inclusion of other people’s faiths and their freedom to worship in this country. And it’s always seemed to me that, while at the same time being Defender of the Faith, you can also be protector of faiths.”

 

To me, those sentiments are entirely appropriate in our modern-day, multicultural society.  Whatever our religious beliefs or lack thereof, we should surely support the right of others to practise their faiths in the way that they choose.  Liberty and justice demand it.  

 

And yet all too often, our beliefs divide us – religious, political, philosophical.  Is there something that might unite us?  I believe it is service.  The big idea of King Charles is an encouragement to look beyond ourselves and to serve our fellow human beings.  In this, he is emulating the One for whom he is Defender of the Faith.

 

Our reading from Luke’s gospel is an interesting one.  It was one of the suggested readings for civic services such as this.  It comes in the context of the Last Supper, in which Jesus has given the disciples bread and wine as a sign of the sacrifice he is about to make, symbols of his body and blood, which will be broken and shed on the cross.  Just moments after this solemn occasion, they argue about which of them is the greatest! Jesus has been serving them bread and wine, but instead of turning this act of service outward, they turn it inward and serve their own ends.  They seek personal recognition for what they have done.  They covet a higher status over others.  These are things that may be very familiar to us from the worlds of business, politics and life in general.  Grab what you can while you can!  Yet Jesus turns conventional opinion on its head.  Don’t be like the kings who lord it over others, he says.  Don’t act like the greatest, even if that is how others regard you.  Don’t be self-serving.  Instead, be selfless in serving.

 

What might it mean for us to be selfless in service?  Here are a few ideas:

·      It would mean that we always seek the good of others, before our own good.

·      It would mean that we always look for the best in others, whilst being the best we can.

·      It would mean that we give – time, skills, money – without expecting anything in return.

·      It would mean that we consider no-one to be beneath us, and all to be at least our equal.

·      It would mean that we are willing to have even the most unlikely people serve us.

·      It would mean that we serve not only as a means to an end, but as an end in itself.

·      It would mean that we recognise, as Justin Welby stated yesterday, that service is love in action.

 

This is completely in line with the Christian Faith and the other faiths that Charles protects.  Jesus asks his warring disciples a rhetorical question: ‘For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves?  It is not the one at the table?  But I am among you as one who serves.’

 

There is a much-repeated saying from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: ‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.’  We could say that Charles our new King was born to greatness.  From as early as he’s been able to understand, he will have known he would one day be king.  That is beyond his control.  He may one day have greatness thrust upon him, and that too may not be of his choosing.  Yet it may be through serving our nations and commonwealth, and encouraging us to serve, that he achieves greatness.  I loved that the Coronation opened with words spoken by a child: ‘Your Majesty, as children of the kingdom of God we welcome you in the name of the King of kings.’  And I was heartened at the reply of Charles: ‘In his name and after his example I come not to be served but to serve.’

 

Christians believe that there is no higher king than Jesus, the King of kings, and this is the One before whom Charles yesterday made his promises.  And this higher King, Jesus the Christ, was willing to serve others even to the cost of his life on the Cross.  I believe that King Charles will serve us well.  He already has for many years.  For him as for us, it is often as we bless others with acts of service that we are ourselves blessed.  It feels good to serve.  It gives purpose.  And like us, Charles will face the question: will he – will we be selfless in serving others, whatever the cost, whatever the sacrifice?  That is the challenge that comes to each of us from the life – and death – of Jesus.

 

Let me finish with the words of a modern hymn concerning Jesus, the King of kings whom I seek to follow:

 

‘So let us learn how to serve

And in our lives enthrone him

Each other’s needs to prefer

For it is Christ we’re serving.

 

This is our God, the Servant King,

He calls us now to follow him,

To bring our lives as a daily offering,

Of worship to the Servant King.’



Sunday, 25 December 2022

Who is Jesus to you?

A poem/meditation for Christmas Day and all days


 Who is Jesus to you?  

Is he Christmas card cute, the babe in a crib,

The centrepiece of the stable scene?

Is he the precocious child, astounding scholars

With his high IQ?

Is he the wise teacher, the humorous preacher,

Packing a punch with the weight of his words?

Is he faithful friend, an example, a very good man – 

But no more than that?

Is he a man of history, whose magnetism

Attracts - and maybe, repels?

Is he a right person in the wrong place at the wrong time

Unfortunate in the game of life?

Is he one who was more alive than most, but today

Just as dead as all who have ever been

And one day you will be?

Who is Jesus to you?

 

Who is Jesus to you?

A figment of imagination, a legend

Without basis in truth?

Too good to be true, has to be false,

A liar or worse?

A charlatan, a trickster, a spin doctor

Who peddles fake healing, false hope?

One you reject, despise, would be glad

To see suffer, if he existed at all?

Who is Jesus to you?

 

Who is Jesus to you?

God’s Messenger, God’s Message, Messiah,

Source of life, Saviour, Son of God?

Who is Jesus to you?

 

Who are you to Jesus?

A daughter, a son of his Father,

A sister, a brother, a friend,

Loved for all time,

Healed, whole, complete,

Forgiven, free to be,

One for whom he died, at cross purposes

With the world.

One for whom he rose, cross empty, tomb vacated,

By His Spirit, the world gloriously full.

If you believe, when you believe,

This is who you are

To Jesus.

 

© Tim Edworthy 2019

Friday, 9 September 2022

The Spirit of the Queen's King

This sermon was preached on Pentecost Sunday, 5 June 2022.  It seems a fitting tribute to share now as we mourn the death of Queen Elizabeth II.  We can give thanks that the Queen's King has called her home.


Acts 2:1-4; Ephesians 4

 

I am a Baptist minister, and I feel slightly ambivalent about celebrating the British monarchy.  Thomas Helwys is recognised as the founder of the first Baptist Church in Spitalfields, London.  In 1613, he wrote a booklet called ‘A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity’ which amongst other things, defended the right of all to religious liberty.  He sent a copy to King James 1, who exercised his power against that freedom, and had Helwys imprisoned in Newgate Gaol, where he died in 1616.  So, I must choose my words carefully this morning.

 

Having said that, I have nothing but praise for Queen Elizabeth II.  She has been a remarkable monarch who has crossed eras and transcended the times in her new Elizabethan era.  In all of this, her Christian faith has been not just the bedrock, but as Archbishop Stephen Cottrell said on Friday, the well and the fountain of her life. 

 

To show that I have no hard feelings to the Queen to her forebears’ imprisonment of my Baptist predecessor, Helwys, this morning’s sermon comes largely from the Queen, as we think about ‘The Spirit of the Queen’s King’.  On the Day of Pentecost, the Spirit came like a rushing wind with fire and praises to God in many languages.  Today, the Spirit of the King may still come like that, but more often the Spirit arrives in the still small voice, the whispering of conscience, the inner strength that empowers us to follow the King and make him known.  That seems to be the case with our Queen.  She knows the King deeply, and has his Spirit to be a unique disciple of Jesus Christ.

 

Listen to these words from the then Princess Elizabeth on her 21st birthday:

 

‘I 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.  But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join it with me, as I now invite you to do: I know your support will be unfailingly given.  God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share it.’

 

Like her, we are called by Jesus to serve and share our faith.  We follow the same King as our Queen, we can be filled with the same Spirit as her.  Although our positions on earth are very different to hers, in heaven we are One in Christ, called to one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

 

At her coronation in 1953, Elizabeth was anointed with oil; an outward and visible symbol of the inward invisible grace that comes to us by the Holy Spirit.  For her, of course, it was also a mark that God had chosen her to be Queen, something which I know she believes strongly.  Without needing all the ceremony, we too are anointed with the Spirit as we commit our lives to Jesus, and hopefully, again and again through our lives.  I believe that nothing can take away our anointing in the Spirit; He is our guarantee of a wonderful inheritance in Jesus.  How will we emulate the Queen in being filled with the Spirit of the King?

 

In 2000, the Queen said:

 

‘For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life.  I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example.’

 

And in 2002:

 

‘I know just how much I rely on my faith to guide me through the good times and the bad.  Each day is a new beginning.  I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that thee day brings, and to put my trust in God!’

 

And if anyone should doubt the sincerity of the Queen’s belief that Jesus is more than just a moral teacher, listen to this from 2011:

 

‘Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed.  God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are), but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.’

 

Our King calls us by his Spirit, he anoints and fills us with his Spirit.  Finally, he equips us.  ‘To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it’ (Eph 4:7).  The Queen has been uniquely equipped by the circumstances of her birth, her education, her upbringing and her experiences, but more than anything else it is the grace that her King has given by his Spirit that impacts her life.  We are each unique and very different to the Queen, but like her we have the gift of God’s Spirit and the gifts of grace that he chooses to give to each.

 

We are called, we are filled, we are equipped by the Spirit of the Queen’s King!  I came across this quote on my recent retreat, which covers all three of those things and which continues to challenge me.  Here it is: ‘God’s call won’t take you, where his grace won’t keep you.’  I think the Queen has found that to be true in her varied and often challenging life of service.  Will we, like her, allow the Spirit of the King to direct our lives where he calls us to serve?

 

Here are a few final words of the Queen, taken from her Christmas message in 2013:

 

‘This is the time of year when we remember that God sent his only son ‘to serve, not to be served’.  He restored love and service to the centre of our lives in the person of Jesus.

 

‘For Christians, as for all people of faith, reflection, meditation and pray helps us to renew ourselves in God’s love, as we strive daily to become better people.  The Christmas message shows us that this love is for everyone.  There is no one beyond its reach.’


Revd Tim Edworthy

Saturday, 12 October 2019

'For the least of these...'

Caf├ęs filling for breakfast; traffic on snooze for Saturday morning; the tap, tap of walking poles; modern buildings giving way to ancient; Galician bagpipes blasting out merrily; a crowd gathering excitedly; music amplified raucously; spires reaching for the heavens.  These were the sights and sounds as I walked into Santiago de Compostela around 9.15am on 5th October at the end of my pilgrimage on the Camino.  

These were not the only things that I saw and heard.  We remember things differently. You would have observed things that I do not, and vice versa.  We have selective memories and choose what to report and what to keep to ourselves.  There are things I have not yet reported, and I cannot keep to myself.  If I did, I would be as guilty as the priest and Levite who walked by on the other side, in Jesus’s story of the Good Samaritan.  The heavily pregnant woman who knelt in silence in the middle of the path on the way to the Cathedral, a small pot in front of her.  The dishevelled man outside the entrance to the Cathedral, his eyes pleading, his begging bowl waiting.

It’s not my practice to give money to such as these.  They say it only exacerbates the problem.  The more who give, the more who beg.  Also, I don’t know their circumstances.  Are they genuinely in need?  Or are they there for easy pickings?  I avoid making eye contact.  I appear to ignore them.  Yet I hear the words of Jesus ringing in my ears, ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  I cannot help all, but neither can I ignore all.  

My response through walking the Camino has been to invite sponsorship for Toybox, whose mission is ‘changing the world for Street Children’.  Toybox works in countries such as Bolivia and El Salvador, Nepal and Kenya.  Toybox exists to see:
·       A World with no Street Children
·       No child living on the streets
·       No child working on the streets
·       Every child safe from exploitation
·       Every child safe from traffickers

Toybox does everything it can to target those in genuine need.  I know this because one of the staff is a member of my church, and she makes regular visits to ensure that it is the case.

I’ve been hugely encouraged and amazed at the generosity of the many who have sponsored me.  All of this giving goes to Toybox.  At the time of writing, it looks like together we will have raised over £2000.  That’s awesome!  It’s not too late to add to that if you would like to.  Below, you’ll find details of how.  Thank you so much for your support of me on the Camino, for your giving, praying and encouraging.

-->We can’t help everyone in need, but we can help some.  And Jesus says, ‘Whatever you did for the least of these… you did for me.’

PS
Please scroll down to my blog of 4 July 2019 for more details about how to support Toybox through my giving page orhttps://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/TimEdworthy 
click on 

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

The Journey goes on...

I made it!  Exactly one month after leaving St Jean Pied de Pont, I arrived outside the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela having completed the Camino Frances.  

I had deliberately done extra miles on the previous day, so that I could arrive early on Saturday.  Every pilgrim that completes at least the last 115 kilometres from Sarria to Santiago qualifies for a Compostela.  To prove that you have done so, you must collect stamps in a ‘Credencial de Peregrino’: at least two per day from Sarria, and one per day before that.  These can be obtained at albergues, churches, bars, restaurants and shops and sometimes, wayside stalls.  On arrival in Santiago, it’s important to proceed as early as possible to the Pilgrim Office to book your place in the queue for a Compostela.  I arrived there around 9.30am and was 390 in the queue.  Thankfully, there is an online app by which you can check where the queue has got to so that you don’t have to stay there for hours!

I arrived alone outside the Cathedral, feeling quite emotional at the thought of the month-long journey and all that I had experienced.  I had hoped for a few moments of quiet reflection, but the square was filled with people, music and the beginnings of a basketball tournament on temporary courts.  There was a feeling of celebration, and I decided that I had better embrace the atmosphere.  Within moments, I was embraced by members of my Camino family who had arrived the previous day: Darius, Blathnaid, Sabine, Christian.  As the day went on, others arrived: Jess, Mack, Daniel, Mark, Theresia, Gill, Stephan and Annelie, Mauru, Bea, Katya, Daisy.  In fact, I was so caught up in catching up that I nearly missed my slot to obtain my Compostela.  I went running on sore feet down to the Pilgrim Office to find that the queue had reached 388.  Just a few moments later and I would have missed my slot and had to rejoin the queue from the back; a wait of some hours!

During the rest of the day, I visited the tomb of St James inside the cathedral (currently closed for worship due to renovations), did a little shopping, found the Seminario Menor Albergue where I was staying for my last night, went to a Pilgrims’ Mass and enjoyed a quiet celebration meal with Theresia and Gill.  The next day, I was able to catch up again with a few friends, before taking up the kind offer of a lift to the airport from the afore-mentioned well-known comedian/comic actor who was on the same flight home as me.

What now?  After a month walking the Camino, it’s going to take a while to adapt to ‘normal’ life back at home.  I’m not really ready to leave behind the Camino, and I’ve realised that I don’t have to.  For me, the Camino is not so much about following the Way of St James as about following Jesus, who calls us all to follow him.  He said, ‘Yo soy el camino’ – ‘I am the Way’ (John 14v6).   I believe and hope and pray that walking the Camino will help me to follow Jesus better.  Whether or not I ever return to the Camino de Santiago (and I hope I do!), the Camino continues with Jesus wherever I am.

Buen Camino! 


Thursday, 3 October 2019

Laying down my burden

A few days ago I reached the high point of the Camino both literally and spiritually. I rose at 5.30am and left my albergue at 5.50 to begin the ascent to Cruz de Ferro with the aim of being there for sunrise, around 8.15am.  The first part of the walk was by starlight. In an area free of light pollution, I could easily make out the constellations and the Milky Way.  It was awesome and reminded me of the hymn, ‘How great thou art’.  After a short stop for coffee and tortilla, I continued my journey and reached my  first objective of the day just as day was dawning.

Cruz de Ferro is a small iron cross on top of a long wooden pole. It’s origins are steeped in mystery. The most interesting legend is that St James, whose Camino it is, was on mission in this part of Spain. He came across an altar being used in a pagan ritual of human sacrifice. In righteous anger, James grabbed a small stone from his pack and threw it at the altar, which shattered into a thousand pieces. James erected a large cross in its place in honour of the power of the almighty God.

Whatever you think of that story, Cruz de Ferro is a special place. It has become a custom to bring a small stone from home and to lay it down at the foot of the cross, as a sign that you are laying down a burden.  For many people, including me, it was an emotional thing to lay down our stones. There were hugs and tears, smiles and embraces as people shared in this cathartic experience.

Of course, we don’t have to go to a specific place to lay down burdens.  We can come to the foot of the cross wherever, whenever, however we are.  I was reminded of the words of Psalm 55v22: ‘Cast your burden on the Lord and he shall sustain you’.  1 Peter 5v7 is also helpful: ‘Cast all your anxiety on him for he cares for you.’

Having laid my stone and spent a few moments by Cruz de Ferro, I crossed the road, found a gap in the trees and marvelled at the spectacular sunrise. It was a reminder that the Lord does care for me, and a day that will live long in the memory.












Wednesday, 25 September 2019

The Good Way

The Good Way

‘This is what the Lord says, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”’ (Jeremiah 6:6)

Perhaps it is inevitable, but many Camino walkers are at a crossroads. There are those who travel between jobs, using the opportunity for time out to prepare for the next challenge. There are those who seek to discern their way ahead. There are some who seek closure on a relationship gone wrong or a way through the pain of bereavement.  I have spoken with one person who felt himself falling into temptation on the Camino and sought my counsel.

Some are people of Christian faith, some follow other faiths, some have no faith that they would own up to. Some would like to find faith. Camino walkers are a very diverse bunch!

As some readers will know, I met a famous British comic who is on the Camino. He even bought me a drink! I asked why he was walking the Camino, and his answer was that he has always wanted to do so. That may be the simple answer of many, but perhaps there are deeper reasons. Even on sabbatical leave, I find myself being a pastor. I hope that my listening and my words point people to see where the good way is and find rest for their souls.

In case you are wondering, I don’t consider myself to be at a crossroads, but I am finding rest: in the walking, in the interactions and friendships with others, in the stay at albergues each day. Tonight’s (Wednesday 25/9) albergue in Rabanal is a particular joy. It is run by the London based Confraternity of St James. I write these word sitting in a large orchard garden awaiting afternoon tea. God is good!