Full text of sermon at Queen's thanksgiving service in St Paul's05 JUNE 2012
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Some words from St Paul: ‘Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.’
There will be other occasions to remember the splendour and the drama of the Coronation; today’s focus is different. What we remember is the simple statement of commitment made by a very young woman, away from home, suddenly and devastatingly bereaved, a statement that she would be there for those she governed, that she was dedicating herself to them.
‘Dedication’ is a word that has come to mean rather less than it used to. Those of us who belong to the same generation as Her Majesty’s older children will recall a sixties song about a ‘dedicated follower of fashion’ – as though to be ‘dedicated’ just meant to be very enthusiastic. But in the deep background of the word is the way it is used in classical and biblical language: in this context, to be ‘dedicated’ is to be absolutely removed from other uses, being completely available to God.
And so to be dedicated to the good of a community – in this case both a national and an international community – is to say, ‘I have no goals that are not the goals of this community; I have no well-being, no happiness, that is not the well-being of the community. What will make me content or happy is what makes for the good of this particular part of the human family.’
It is an ambitious, even an audacious thing to aim at. It is, of course, no more so than the ideals set before all Christians who try to model their lives on what St Paulsays about life in the Body of Christ.
That doesn’t make it any easier to grasp or to live out; but the way St Paul approaches it should help us see that we’re not being encouraged to develop a self-punishing attitude, relentlessly denying our own goals or our own flourishing for the sake of others. What’s put before us is a genuine embrace of those others, a willingness to be made happy by the well-being of our neighbours.
‘Outdo one another in showing honour’, says St Paul. Compete with each other only in the generous respect you show to one and all; because in learning that respect you will find delight in one another. You will begin to discover that the other person is a source of nourishment, excitement, pleasure, growth and challenge.
And if we broaden this out to an entire community, a nation, a commonwealth, it means discovering that it is always in an ever-widening set of relations that we become properly ourselves. Dedication to the service of a community certainly involves that biblical sense of an absolute purge of selfish goals, but it is also the opening of a door into shared riches.
I don’t think it’s at all fanciful to say that, in all her public engagements, our Queen has shown a quality of joy in the happiness of others; she has responded with just the generosity St Paul speaks of in showing honour to countless local communities and individuals of every background and class and race.
She has made her ‘public’ happy and all the signs are that she is herself happy, fulfilled and at home in these encounters. The same, of course, can manifestly be said of Prince Philip; and our prayers and thoughts are very much with him this morning. To declare a lifelong dedication is to take a huge risk, to embark on a costly venture. But it is also to respond to the promise of a vision that brings joy.
And perhaps that is the challenge that this Jubilee sets before us in nation and Commonwealth. St Paul implies that we should be so overwhelmed by the promise of a shared joy far greater than narrow individual fulfilment, that we find the strength to take the risks and make the sacrifices – even if this seems to reduce our individual hopes of secure enjoyment.
Moralists (archbishops included) can thunder away as much as they like; but they’ll make no difference unless and until people see that there is something transforming and exhilarating about the prospect of a whole community rejoicing together – being glad of each other’s happiness and safety.
This alone is what will save us from the traps of ludicrous financial greed, of environmental recklessness, of collective fear of strangers and collective contempt for the unsuccessful and marginal – and many more things that we see far too much of, around us and within us.
One crucial aspect of discovering such a vision – and many still do discover it in their service of others, despite everything –is to have the stories and examples available that show it’s possible.
Thank God, there are many wonderful instances lived out unobtrusively throughout the country and the Commonwealth. But we are marking today the anniversary of one historic and very public act of dedication – a dedication that has endured faithfully, calmly and generously through most of the adult lives of most of us here.
We are marking six decades of living proof that public service is possible and that it is a place where happiness can be found. To seek one’s own good and one’s own well-being in the health of the community is sacrificially hard work – but it is this search that is truly natural to the human heart.
That’s why it is not a matter of tight-lipped duty or grudging compliance with someone else’s demands. Jesus himself says ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me’, and that’s what is at the heart of real dedication.
This year has already seen a variety of Jubilee creations and projects. But its most lasting memorial would be the rebirth of an energetic, generous spirit of dedication to the common good and the public service, the rebirth of a recognition that we live less than human lives if we think just of our own individual good.
Listen again for a moment toSt Paul. ‘We have gifts that differ according to the grace given us … the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness … Outdo one another in showing honour … extend hospitality to strangers … Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another … take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.’
Dedication to the health and well-being of a community is all this and more. May we be given the grace to rediscover this as we give thanks today for Her Majesty’s sixty years of utterly demanding yet deeply joyful service.