St George's Day - Service & Reflection

As we can not gather together for our patronal festival this year, Rev. Mike and his family filmed a half-hour service at the Vicarage (including greetings videos from a number of parishoners). In addition, the reflection is below.

The liturgy - so you can join in - is HERE. The film is HERE.

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Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. 2 Timothy 2:7-9

One of the many things to have been affected by the pandemic is sport, including of course the Tokyo Olympics due to take place this summer. The International Olympic Committee have taken the decision - and no doubt the right decision - to postpone the Games until 2021. Whilst this gives some clarity to the athletes nevertheless it’s a bitter pill to swallow. They have training regimes which ensure they peak at just the right time, and a delay even of a few weeks let alone a year, can ruin everything. No doubt - right now - coaches around the world are rewriting the training programmes to ensure that their athletes peak not in 2020 but in 2021. What the athletes have to do, is to trust their coach. That what the coach says is for their benefit, is for their good, and will lead to them crossing the finish line. Keep trusting the coach will no doubt be the mantra for many athletes.

Today we celebrate the Feast of St George, a Christian who was killed for following Jesus in around 304AD. The Roman emperor took a dislike to the beliefs of Christians, and persecuted them viciously. No doubt Christians of the time would understand lockdown. Hiding in their homes not from a virus that might kill them but from a king who certainly would. And it was into this type of environment - of hardship and persecution - that Paul would write two letters to his friend Timothy over two hundred years earlier. In your liturgy, flick back up to that first reading which Victoria brought us. There is so much, just in this short passage that we don’t have time to unpack so I want us to hone in on just one line. And this one line will help us to answer a troubling question: Whenever we think about martyrdom - about Christians being killed for their faith - the troubling question we ask is ‘Why’?

Now, you often hear people use the word Gospel and by it they mean all sorts of different things. One might say ‘oh I like the Gospel, it reminds me to be a good person’. Another person might say ‘Oh I like the Gospel, it’s all about taking care of the poor’. Another person might say ‘Oh I like the Gospel it’s all about doing things your own way’. People were confused about what the Gospel was in Paul’s day too. So for our sakes - as well as for the people of his time - Paul outlines the Gospel in the verse I’ve put in bold (in the liturgy):

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel (2 Timothy 2:8)

Here it is folks short and simple. The Gospel is not be a good person: no one gets killed for that. The Gospel is not take care of the poor: no one gets killed for that. The Gospel is not just do things your own way: no one gets killed for that. Now don’t mis-hear me: once you believe the gospel, you will start to live a better life, you will start to take care of the poor. All those are good things, it’s just they’re not the Gospel. The Gospel is this:

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead

Here is a claim - here is a Gospel - which can get you killed. Notice first that word, Christ, it’s easy to miss it, as we often think of it as Jesus’ surname. But Christ is not His surname it is His title. Christ means King. When we say Jesus Christ we’re saying King Jesus. The Romans had a saying ‘Kaiser Kyrios’ - Caesar is Lord. And what the Christians believed flew directly in the face of that. When they were saying Jesus Christ what they were saying was: Caesar is not Lord; Jesus is Lord. Caesar is not in charge of the world Jesus is. And how do we know that Jesus is in charge? Look back at our verse:

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead

Here is the Easter story. Jesus was raised from the dead, and in doing so God made Jesus not Caesar, king or lord of the world. Now we can see why St Paul - and later St George - were killed for their faith. For they believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead and was ruling over all things. Such a claim troubles many people today. Boris Johnson is not in charge of our lives, Jesus is. Donald Trump is not in charge of our lives, Jesus is. And most troubling of all, we are not in charge of our lives, Jesus is. Say that in the wrong place and expect opposition! This is why Christians are killed for what they believe. For what they believe challenges the order of the day. Whether Roman dictatorship or Western liberalism.

So there is the challenge of this verse. However, there is also a comfort and a reason to persevere. For Jesus has been ‘raised from the dead’ and therefore there is hope. When pandemics come we see that people are not really in charge, we see the truth of that aspect of the Christian Gospel. And in times such as these, realising we are not in charge, we start to ask if God is in charge. We ask questions which people of George’s time - and indeed Paul’s time - must have asked too. And no doubt for George - as for all those suffering such hardships -the message they needed to hear was similar to the one I suggested for the Olympians; trust the coach - or to give the coach His name - trust Jesus. How tempting when facing persecution, how tempting when facing being arrested, how tempting when facing execution, to give up trusting the coach, to give up trusting Jesus. How tempting when the economy closes down when our friends get sick and when we lose a love one to give up trusting the coach, to give up trusting Jesus. But this is the Good News, this is the Gospel, this is what we, as Christians, believe:

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead

Jesus is King of the world and He has defeated death, and He will ensure that His children - He will ensure that those who trust Him - get through the difficult times through death and out the other side. St George trusted Jesus which is why he was willing to die for his faith. St Paul trusted Jesus which is why he was willing to die for his faith. And now, Paul and George look to you and to me. Will we trust the coach? Will we trust Jesus in good times and bad? Will we believe the Gospel the real and true Gospel, the Gospel which gives us hope as it tells us to:

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead

As I close, let me pray again that marvellous prayer - that marvellous Collect - with which we started our service, which reminds us to trust the coach, to trust Jesus, just as St George did. Let us pray:

God of hosts, who so kindled the flame of love in the heart of your servant George that he bore witness to the risen Lord by his life and by his death: give us the same faith and power of love that we who rejoice in his triumphs may come to share with him the fullness of the resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.