This was an odd week. Lots of things were going on. I had lots of little projects to complete. But I thought I was very organized so that I could get everything done on time. I even pretty well had my sermon written by Thursday morning. All I had to do was polish it up a little but before recording on Friday.
And then the news came that Queen Elizabeth had died that morning at the age of ninety-six. It changed my perspective on the week and suddenly my well crafted sermon seemed rather shallow and in appropriate. What I felt God nudging me to do was to take some time to reflect on the life of this amazing woman from a biblical perspective. Because, don’t forget, not only was she the head of state for Commonwealth, she was also the spiritual leader of the Anglican Church which is the spiritual home of 85 million Christians.
Queen Elizabeth II was one of the truly great people in the world, much loved not just by the people of Great Britain but by hundreds of missions around the world. She was one of the most gracious and most loved people on the face of the planet. For most of us, she has been the Queen of England and the Commonwealth for as long as we can remember.
I don’t need to talk about her many accomplishments and how she made such a difference. The media has been full of those stories since Thursday.
But I will say that I’m sorry that she gone. I personally admired her. In an age where world leaders are so often of questionable character and selfish ambition, she lived above the fray. We have learned not to expect too much of Prime Minsters and Presidents; that way they won’t disappoint us. The Queen, however, was different. Even though we came to expect a great deal from her in terms of her character, she never disappointed and, by her behaviour, demonstrated the epitome of grace and dignity.
What does mean to us today? And how can we see the Queen’s life through the lens of the Bible in order to glean something about how we are called to live?
I want to do that by reflecting on 1 Timothy 1:12-17 (NIV) which says this:
12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
To understand this passage, we have to understand something about the person who wrote it. This letter to Timothy was written by Paul just as were so many of the other writings in the New Testament.
Paul is one of the historical people in the Bible whom we know a lot about. Born Saul of Tarsus in Cilicia, he was a Roman citizen, educated at the foot of the great teacher Gamaliel. Paul was a tent maker by trade, a Pharisee by profession, a man zealous after the law and gifted with a heart felt desire to serve God.
Paul was the kind of guy you would want in your church. He was a real go-getting, a bundle of energy, always striving to share the message of God. He was the kind of guy who would be on the Church Board or the Vision Committee. He would get the grass in the church yard cut just in time to go to choir practice and then go home to prepare to lead Bible study the next day. This man was a singlehanded hotbed of inspiration. If we had half a dozen of him, we could change the world.
The only drawback was that he had this itty-bitty, little problem. It just so happened that, when Jesus came along, he took great exception to the new message being preached by this wayward carpenter from Galilee. And who could blame him? Jesus had declared publicly that he was the Son of God. How ridiculous can you get! He said that he would tear down the Temple and rebuild it in three days. What nonsense; the Temple in Jerusalem had taken decades to build at a huge expense!
At least Paul could take some comfort in knowing that this Jesus guy had met a fitting end, crucified on a Roman cross on the eve of the Passover festival. But the problem had not stopped with Jesus’ death on Calvary. His disciples had begun spreading the blasphemous claim that he had risen from the dead. Only a fool could believe that! Only an imbecile would fall for such unmitigated trash!
Paul made it his business to persecute the early Christians. He found out where they were, hunted them down, and paraded them before the Jewish courts for trial, judgment and sentencing. It seemed that he reveled in the work.
But then something happened to Paul. One day, on his way to Damascus to persecute the young church, he had vision that was so powerful that it blinded him. But in blinding his physical eyes, it allowed his spiritual eyes to see a new revelation. It was during that experience on the Damascus Road that Paul realized the error of his ways. He met the Risen Lord, came to faith in him and spent the rest of his life being the greatest evangelist the world has ever seen.
That is the story that Paul is telling Timothy. He is reminding him of the change that took place in his life. He had gone from being a persecutor of the church and a sinner before God into being the greatest advocate of the faith. How did Paul describe that experience? He said that he received mercy and that God had made him an example for others. We’re going to take a look at those two things; what it is like to receive mercy and what it is like to be an example.
RECEIVING MERCY AS AN EXAMPLE
Mercy. What an amazing concept mercy is. Mercy can be defined as the forgiveness that is received by someone who has no claim on that forgiveness. Let me say that one more time: mercy is the forgiveness that is received by someone who has no claim on that forgiveness.
Paul writes in Romans 3:23 that we all need mercy. He reminds us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That should not be a huge surprise because all of us know that make mistakes, that we blow it, that we hurt others either intentionally or unintentionally.
We know that. Paul knew that. He knew he needed mercy. He had persecuted the church. Through his actions, Christians were hunted down, arrested, thrown in jail and kicked out of the synagogue. He had caused great pain in the lives of innocent people. And when he finally came to his sense, he was truly sorry for what he had done.
Paul writes that he received mercy but he also tells us that Jesus made him into an example for others to follow. An example of what? An example of what it means to receive Jesus into your life and to allow him to transform you from who you might be into who God wants you to be.
Paul has no hesitation airing his dirty laundry out there for all to see. ‘Look at me,” he sys, “I used to be a blasphemer, a persecutor and a violent man but now I am a child of God. Look at what Jesus did for me. He took my sinful life and redeemed me. By his suffering I am healed. By the mercy of God I am saved for eternal life.” What a testimony that is to the amazing love of God for sinners just like Paul. Of course, the implication is that if God can do that for someone like Paul, a blasphemer, a persecutor and a violent man, just imagine what God can do for you. Those thoughts have some justification, I think. They would have been a powerful testimony to the people who witnessed first hand what God did in Paul’s life. Truly, he was an example.
Receiving mercy, being an example. That was Paul’s life and he knew it. Receiving mercy and being an example is also seen, I believe, in the life and legacy of Queen Elizabeth II. What often gets forgotten is that she was not only the most recognized head of state on the face of the planet, she was also a profoundly religious person. She was not just the spiritual head of the worldwide Anglican Church. She held her Christian faith dear and practiced it consistently not only in her personal life but in the way she interacted with other people.
She understood that she was a child of God and that she had been shown great mercy. Like the rest of us, she had sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. She may have been an amazing woman, but she was also profoundly human and, like the rest of us, did things she was sorry for. She may not have aired that laundry out in public but we know she was not perfect. None of us is perfect, not even the Queen.
Despite all of her power, influence and wealth, she understood that there was nothing that she could do to save herself and so she had to turn to Jesus to cleanse her of her sin. And I know that I’m being a bit presumptuous because I don’t know the state of her relationship with Jesus. That is between her and God. But when I see her life and what she did and how she interacted with people, there are all sorts of strong indicators that she understood her need of forgiveness.
Not only did the Queen understand her need of forgiveness and mercy. By all accounts she was also a very merciful person. Anyone who has ever been around royals knows that there is a strict protocol that must be followed. And those who are around royals all the time understand those things. But then there are the majority of people who don’t have that constant contact and so don’t know the protocols. And so they make mistakes. They don’t call the Queen by the right title. They might touch her without permission. I’m sure that happened often but she never got upset by that. There was never an example of her getting all high and mighty and dressing someone down for breaking protocol. She understood that not everyone understands those things and graciously accepted others as they came to her.
The Queen received God’s mercy and she treated others with mercy. In doing that she was an example for the rest of us. She was an example in other ways too. Over her seventy year reign, she was an example of what it means to be a true head of state. She was gracious, humble and generous. Such a contrast to what we see in so many Prime Ministers and Presidents today.
We live in a world that has become very polarized. This is in no small part because politicians intentionally try to divide people in an effort to gain or retain power. The Queen was never like that. She was someone who kept above the fray. She found ways of bringing people together and saw her role as much as a servant as a sovereign. It’s really quite amazing that she transformed the British Empire that was built on military might and subjugation into the Commonwealth of Nations which is built on mutual respect and common interests. Rather than being unwilling subjects, the Commonwealth is now a voluntary organization of fifty-four independent countries in every continent comprising 2.4 billion people. That’s a third of the world’s population. Of course, that’s a bit skewed by the fact that India is part of the Commonwealth and by itself has 1.4 billion people. But that still leaves another billion even without India. I also think that it’s interesting to note that something like 94% of the people in the Commonwealth live in Asia and Africa. Most people in the Commonwealth don’t look like most people in Cottam. But that’s okay and demonstrates the impact of the Queen as a unifying force in a world that is deeply divided.
The Queen understood her need of mercy. And God has used her as an example of what it means to be an effective head of state.
But what does all of that mean for us? That question is not the least bit tricky. It means that we also need to understand our need of God’s mercy. And it also means that we should also seek to be examples to others by living out our faith in positive and practical ways in the world.
As I said before, we live in a deeply divided world. It’s divided by the news media, by political movements, by intolerance and by the inability and unwillingness of people to seek common ground and common good. And sometimes we get caught up in that. I have seen people post stuff on Facebook that surprised me because of its vitriol and divisiveness. Sometimes I know these people well and wonder whatever got into them that they would post some hateful things. And then I look back at some of the posts that I’ve made over the years and realize that people might just be thinking the very same thing about me. I haven’t always been kind. I haven’t always given people the benefit of the doubt. I haven’t always sought to bring unity to a situation. But it’s at those times when I remember my own need of God’s mercy.
Like you, I blow it. I make mistakes and I hurt people either intentionally or otherwise. And sometimes in the process of all of that, I get hurt too. Not only do I need mercy, I need to show mercy.
One thing I always appreciated about the Queen is that she never used her position in such a way to push a particular political or ideological agenda. She always kept herself above the fray and never, from her position of power, shared her political views. We might guess what they were but we really don’t know.
And to be honest, I’ve always tried to do the same thing in ministry. I think many of you have a sense of where I might lean politically and ideologically but you won’t ever really hear that from the pulpit because I happen to think that the pulpit is a very small version of a royal throne. Like the throne as it was used by the Queen, the pulpit is best used when it avoids divisive political and ideological agendas and rather is used to focus on the common faith that brings us together.
That faith is full of love for each other, generosity for those who have less and mercy for all who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That is the example that we, as children of God, are called to live and share in the world.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come to you, O God, in this time of new beginnings. The summer is officially over. Schools are back in with students, teachers and staff all doing their work. Vacations are, for the most part, over. Junior Church is back today with more families in church. We are truly blessed to be here in your presence to honour you and give you praise. That you that we have been fed by your love and washed in your gracious mercy.
What a day to remember your mercy. We are so different than you. Your mercy is endless. Your ability to forgive is beyond measure. By comparison, we hold unto grudges and mete out our compassion in small doses. Remind us, O God, of your mercy for us so that we can be an example of mercy for other. Remind us, once again, that you are the Great Life Giver. In you we trust.
We offer our thanks for life in all its goodness. We thank you especially today for the life of Charles Osborne who died on Tuesday and whose life we celebrate. Thank you that you mourn the death of one as surely as you mourn the death of thousands and that you are with the few who grieve even as you are with the millions.
We also give thanks for the live and legacy of Queen Elizabeth II and all that she meant to the world. We also pray for King Charles III as he takes up the throne. Give him strength, wisdom and courage to do the right thing.
God of Goodness and Grace, we rejoice that your character and ways do not change. Help us to remember and appreciate that we are special to you and that you have plans for each and every one of us. When we feel discouraged, incapable, or inadequate, help us to remember that you have fully equipped and prepared us to do that which you have called us to do. You are with us along every step of our journeys. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us and so we pray these words in his name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
September 11, 2022 / Proper 19 / Pentecost 14
Psalm 14; Jeremiah 4:11‑12, 22‑28; Luke 15:1‑10; 1 Timothy 1:12‑17
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: Come, let us rejoice in God our Creator,
for we have been richly blessed with the abundance of the earth.
ALL: Come, let us worship the one who saves and redeems us,
who takes away our fear and fills us with hope.
ONE: God be with you.
ALL: And also with you.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
We come, O God, seeking your help as we grow in love and understanding of you. We come with a desire to discover the wisdom of your Word for it is the measure of truth. Speak to our hearts as we give you our full attention. Your love is great and your strength is mighty. Your hands are gentle and your compassion is sincere. We come to worship seeking to grow deeper and more mature in our relationships with you. Speak your Word, O God, that we may listen and be healed.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Mercy, you have shown us the way of forgiveness and peace but we fall into sinful habits. We try to strike out at those who have harmed us. We forget that you have told us to turn the other cheek. Give us the courage to reject the offenses that other cause and to respond as you respond to us, with unconditional love. We want to follow the leadership of your Spirit in all things. Though it is difficult to exemplify your character and your way of doing things when we are hurt, insulted, or in pain, help us never to betray our faith in Jesus by striking out in anger. Give us strength and wisdom to walk you road.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
No sin is so great that God’s mercy can not overcome it. No pain is so deep that God’s grace cannot bring healing. God offers us new life when we confess our sins. Our lives are turned around and we can walk in the light of God’s amazing love.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Our gifts are but tokens, representations of what you have given to us. We give them to you in faith as you have given them to us in faith. Give us the wisdom to use them for your purpose.
We have come to find God and God has been found. God has come to find us and here we have been. Let us now go to share the Good News of God’s salvation, the Gospel of love, joy and peace.