THE SERVANT QUEEN – A Sermon at Services celebrating the Queen’s 90th Birthday

St Mary’s Fordingbridge, Sunday, June 12th, 2016 (and in a slightly different form, at St Boniface, Woodgreen on the same afternoon)

 Canon Gary Philbrick

Mark 12:13-17

Lord, open your Word to our hearts, and our hearts to your Word.  AMEN.

It’s wonderful to gather here this morning, not only to celebrate the Her Majesty the Queen’s 90th birthday, to give thanks for her reign, and to remember the service she has given to this country and the Commonwealth, but also to celebrate her life of faith, and the service she has inspired in others.

She is a truly remarkable person, with a remarkable Christian faith, about which she has increasingly been able to speak in recent years.

Even on her 21st birthday, 69 years ago, as she spoke to the Commonwealth, she was could say, ‘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.

[HM the Queen, speaking to the Commonwealth on her 21st birthday, 1947].

I don’t know whether any of you have been watching Versailles, the BBC series about Louis XIV of France building the Palace of Versailles.  I’ve only seen the first episode so far, but it’s not particularly joyful watching!  Louis XIV, like Charles I of England, believes in the divine right of kings, and so is an absolute monarch – his will is law, and any rebellion against him is therefore rebellion against God.

My son and I cycled on a tandem to Versailles a couple of years ago, and we arrived there on a damp and gloomy day – we couldn’t see the Palace through the rain.  We cycled around the magnificent, but very formal, lake and headed towards the Palace, which appeared out of the mist as we got closer.  It is a magnificent sight.  But it is a symbol of oppression, of absolute authority, of the rule of the many by the one.  And a hundred years later that Royal House was swept away by the French Revolution.

That is not the sort of monarchy which has been lived by our Queen – and it is not the sort of kingship which was taught to us by Jesus, the model of the Servant King.  In his words and in his actions, Jesus showed how his role was to be the servant of all – he washed the feet of the Disciples at the Last Supper; he said ‘I come not to serve, but to be served’ [Mk 10:45].

There is a modern hymn by Graham Kendrick which we sometimes sing, called ‘The Servant King’, which begins:

From heav’n you came, helpless babe, Enter’d our world, your glory veil’d; Not to be served, but to serve, And give your life that we might live.

 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.

But it’s the last verse I’m particularly interested in:

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.

Jesus came to serve, and he calls us to be of service to one another.

The Queen has exemplified this life of service in the dedication with which she has served this country over the whole of her lifetime, and especially since her father, George VI, unexpectedly died at the age of 57 in 1952.  She has served this country as Queen longer than any other Monarch in our history, and has done so with utter dedication.

A wonderful book called ‘The Servant Queen’ has been produced to mark the Queen’s 90th, and Churches together in Fordingbridge & District has bought copies to be given away – they will be on the Churches’ stall at the Rec when we get there, and there are also a few copies as you leave the Church for those not going on to the Picnic.

Some will know that I had the privilege of attending the Maundy Thursday Service in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle earlier this year, in support of a friend who was receiving the Maundy Money.  It was really amazing to see how the Queen, as small and old as she is, and having done this about 62 times before, distributed the 180 red and white purses – 90 to men and 90 to women, the same number as the years of her age – how she distributed them so personally to each older person, meeting their eyes, smiling, sometimes saying a word or two, and with no sense of boredom or hurry.  It was a very moving occasion.

And so, as we celebrate her 90th birthday, and all the service she has given, it’s very appropriate that the focus of these celebrations has been on the many, many people in our communities who also, in much quieter ways, live lives of service to those around them.  Today – and I hope the weather is OK for them – 10,000 people are gathering in the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace for a celebratory picnic, all of them volunteers in their own communities.

We here have those who run coffee mornings and lunch clubs, those working in charity shops, those running the Foodbank here in Fordingbridge; we have those who care for disabled children, or elderly relatives, those who run guides and scouts, brownies and cubs; we have those who sit on the Parish Council, or care for our footpaths; we have young people who are volunteering, or travelling to other parts of the world to offer service there; we have those involved in charity fundraising, through Rotary, or the Lions, or in lots of other ways.  We are fortunate to have a high number of volunteers, who create the sense of community which we have in this place.  Without their time and commitment, all of our lives would be the poorer.

So we celebrate all the gifts which volunteers offer to our community; and we give thanks for their time, energy, imagination, empathy and commitment; and we give thanks for Her Majesty the Queen, and pray, as we shall do at the end of this service, that she may long reign over us.

I’ll finish with her words, from her 2012 Christmas Message:

…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 Christ.

It is my prayer…that his example and teaching will continue to bring people together to give the best of themselves in the service of others.  AMEN.

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