London Bridge is down – the code that acknowledges to the British Nation, the Commonwealth, and the world the death of Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand and her other realms and territories; head of the British Commonwealth of Nations, an organization of 56 sovereign states with a population of 2.4 billion people, among which 16 continue to acknowledge her as head of state.
The Queen is dead, long live the king! Elizabeth of gracious memory – her death sets in motion the constitutional processes ensuring the peaceful transition to her successor, now King Charles III. His is destined to be a significant reign – during which the style and appearance of the Monarchy will continue to evolve. The emotionally charged late Queen’s legacy must now be carried forward. We pray for King Charles III and Camilla, his Queen Consort, as they assume the burden of the monarchy at a point of significant uncertainty for the United Kingdom in an increasingly unstable world.
I have the good fortune to hold three passports – two of which request and require in the name of Her Majesty all whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary. I have been surprised by a sense of deep sadness following the death of the late Queen. Surprised in that sense of awakening to a loss akin to the loss of a grandparent – someone I may not have paid that much personal attention to while alive, somehow taking for granted they would always be there.
The death of Elizabeth II is an event of global significance because for so many around the world she embodied the values that have passed from most people’s experience of public life. The global coverage of her death and the colorful rituals of the accession of Charles III, remind us of our longing for stability and continuity, color and dignity. The medieval rituals proclaiming the new king by Garter Knights dressed in costumes that could have jumped from a deck of playing cards has not been seen for 70 years and now is for the first time seen by millions around the world. Yet, behind all the pomp the new king’s commitment to diligent service in public life commends itself to us all.
Today is also Homecoming Sunday at St Martin’s. When I first arrived in the parish Homecoming was marked by the production of a ministry prospectus and the excitement of a new cycle in the parish’s life. It’s interesting to reflect on how much has changed in 7 years. Yet, although clearly different now, Homecoming in 2022, marks what I hope will signify a full return to in person interactional parish life – though as a learning from the pandemic period I will continue to plug for as many Vestry meetings as possible to continue via Zoom (joke).
It’s always surprising to me how the three-year lectionary cycle uncannily reflects the themes and needs of the day. This year on Homecoming we read from Luke 15:1-10 with its linked parables of finding the lost. Fortunately, the gospel passage ends at v 15 thus excluding the parable of the prodigal son. This is a parable that deserves a separate occasion of its own.
Seeking the lost is for me a significant theme in contemporary church life. It reminds me that so much of our efforts now focus on preventing what remains from being further lost that we have little energy for searching out and restoring the lost. But having said that – there arises a question: what exactly do we think of as being lost? As we face a general demographic decline of institutional church going – no less so here at St Martin’s than more generally across the board, it’s tempting to envisage the loss of a remembered golden age of post war church going. The thing about memory however is the past is always selectively recalled –skewed and filtered through the anxieties of the present moment.
In this past week’s E-News, I endeavored, limited by space and reader’s attention span to articulate what can seem a rather complex connection between faith – as a present time action, and hope – as future expectation. Both impact upon each other, but what is often missed is the impact of the expectations of our future hope upon our current practice of faith – faith defined not as assent to propositions of belief, but as present time action. Alice Miller, the 20th-century psychoanalyst, and pioneer in the area of child abuse commented that we already are who we have been waiting for. Future hope is already here, present and embedded in our practice of faith as present time action.
Is our St Martin’s community growing or declining in numbers? I personally see evidence that St Martin’s numbers are holding steady. We evoke increasing curiosity among those whose first contact with church is now online. For many we may for the time being remain an online presence in their lives, yet new people are now showing up on Sunday mornings. Worship – once the barometer for a sense of numbers is no longer a reliable reflection due to changing social patterns of Sunday attendance among the membership. For me its less a matter of actual numbers and more one of inconsistent participation that remains an issue – but this is an issue better left to next week on Ministry Sunday.
On Homecoming I would like to suggest to us all that what has been lost is our confidence in faith as present time action. We’ve come to misperceive faith as about assent to statements about God. Thus faith becomes something we possess or don’t, something we accept of reject. By contrast faith is actually action, its what compels us to act. What we’ve lost is the confidence of faith as present time action – capable of actually making a difference in the world. This is faith as lived commitment as collaborators in the coming of the kingdom into a world so sorely in need of a reordering of priorities. The gospel message of seeking the lost is for me in this instance about the confidence to embody our faith at the everyday level of life – through the power of present time action.
As Episcopalians we often rebuke ourselves for our comfortable complacency. We are very happy with God, and we don’t expect God to make too many demands of us. This is an attitude that dilutes the energy of faith in us. The energy of faith lies in the belief that what we do here and now can and is building a future world for our children and their children that will be better than the one we inherited. The expectation of hope empowers our present practice of faith, while our crisis of confidence or lack of courage to hope weakens our belief in ourselves as the instruments of the change we long to see.
Faith as present time action involves cultivating a much-overlooked human quality – diligence. The parable of the lost coin is a story about the diligence of the woman who turns her house upside down in what amounts to the spring-clean of spring-cleans in search for her lost coin. She never doubted she would find it and on finding it shares the joy of its recovery with all her family and neighbors. The practice of faith may be personal but it is never private. The practice of faith is always social.
Diligence is the quality of focus on the task at hand. It requires of us confidence and consistency of effort. Diligence requires a persistent attention of body, mind, and heart – and in my experience, is a key quality often most displayed by women. In the masculine sphere of heroic action, diligence is easily eclipsed. Diligence has a quiet quality – its practice goes largely unnoticed. Diligence involves an attention to the details of relationship. It is a taking care in ordinary everyday circumstances. Diligence is a gentle competence in ordinary things. It’s an unsung characteristic of discipleship.
None of us needs reminding that in our media-driven world where news is now entertainment, diligence is not sexy, it is not sound bite-friendly. It mostly goes unappreciated in the clashing and discordant cacophony of the politics of bread and circuses. Diligence in public service and private life is no longer a quality our politicians aspire to – preferring instead the peacock display of self-serving egotism. Success is no longer measured by what is achieved but on the size of one’s twitter following.
I think so many of us mourn the late Queen’s death because although we may not have been able to put a name on it -for 70 years she has consistently embodied the quality of diligence. For her diligence was an essential attribute of her Christian discipleship – expressed through an unstinting devotion in the service of her people. Over 70 years of service it’s been estimated that The late Queen met and shook hands with the equivalent of a third of the UK population.
Through faith as present time action we set the direction of travel towards the future. The expectations of hope in turn strengthen our confidence in faith as present time action. The energy of longing expressed in our hope as future expectation flows backwards through the channel of faith -shifting and reshaping our perspectives and actions in the present. The future is still to come and yet the future does not wait. If we already are who we have been waiting for then the future is already here in the confidence of our faith and the quality of our diligence. Whatever we long for the future to bring, the future always begins now!
On this Homecoming Sunday we give heartfelt thanks for our St Martin’s community, reminding ourselves that we are a community renewing our confidence in faith as something that can move mountains – but perhaps only one stone at a time – which requires the quiet ways of unsung diligence – the gentle competence in ordinary things. Nevertheless our task at hand is to continue to work tirelessly to build up our common life. To proclaim the causes of peace and universal justice – which in our present state of climate crisis begins with championing environmental justice at home and abroad. On Homecoming we remember that it is only together that we can achieve more than anyone of us alone . We rededicate to God anew, our time, our talents, and our treasure. God of renewal – Hear us.