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