Friday, November 21, 2014

The Honour of the Crown

The Reign of Christ (Year A)
23 November 2014

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Propers:  Ezekiel 34.11-1, 20-24; Psalm 100; Ephesians 1.15-23; Matthew 25.31-46

Click here to listen to the Sermon as preached at the 10.00 a.m. Eucharist on the 23rd.

         In recent years I have been pondering what it means to be an immigrant.  You see, I have been an immigrant twice in my life.  When I was a year old, my mother and I travelled the Atlantic to join my father in the United States.  Although my physical connection with England was a brief one, the reality of being the son of an English mother has always been part of my life.  I remember very well the tension of living with my grandparents in England for a year in 1960 while my mother, sister and I waited for housing so that we could join my father in Germany.  I went to an American school, but I was different from my classmates; I knew all the words to ‘God Save the Queen’ while everyone else was singing ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee’.
         When Paula, David and I emigrated to Canada in 1987, we faced the challenge of moving to a country so very much like the United States in many outward ways, but so very different.  To this very day I experience being an ‘immigrant’.  Friends here in Vancouver will say something that reminds me that I am not a native-born Canadian.  Friends in Toronto will say something that reminds me that I am a Westerner.  Family in Colorado will say something that reminds me that I am no longer an ‘American’.
         Our law student daughter, Anna, introduced me to a concept that reminded me once again of being an immigrant, of the differences between the United States and Canada.  She spoke about a person in the legal community she had met who, in her words, brought ‘dishonour to the Crown’.  Her comment was made in passing, but, as I was preparing for today’s sermon, her words came back to me.
         In the United States the highest authority is the Constitution.  All political, military and legal officials pledge to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.  But given that in many states judges and prosecutors are elected, politics inevitable colours the interpretation of the Constitution and the prosecution of those who threaten the well-being of the people.  There is probably no more political process in the United States than the appointment of federal judges, despite every effort to maintain some semblance of judicial neutrality.
         But here in Canada we have the notion of the ‘honour of the Crown’.  This phrase has often been used in reference to the relationship between First Nations and the government of Canada.  It is the duty of the government to maintain the ‘honour of the Crown’ in its dealings with First Nations.  This responsibility began with the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and its principles regarding the rights of First Nations in Canada.
         Now I am under no illusions regarding how politics and partisanship can influence the judicial system in Canada.  But I am intrigued by the notion of the Crown as being above politics and partisanship as the guarantor of the ‘common good’.  When any government acts solely for partisan advantage, it dishonours the Crown.  When any government delays justice for any citizen or group of citizens or, dare I say, resident non-citizens, it dishonours the Crown.  Indeed, the honour of the Crown may actually require a government to act contrary to its platform in order that the common good be served and justice ensured.
         At the heart of today’s celebration of the reign of Christ and the words we have heard proclaimed from the Scriptures is the notion of the ‘honour of the Crown’.  But for us this crown is not the Queen but our Servant Lord who has lived, has suffered and has been raised to enable all God’s children to be free and to become who we truly are.
         Ezekiel speaks out against those shepherds, those leaders of the people of Israel, who have only served their self-interests, leaving the poor and needy to fend for themselves.  In so many words God says, ‘You have dishonoured me; I will not permit it to continue.  If you will not do justice, then I will.’
         The writer of the letter to the Ephesians reminds his audience that, despite all appearances to the contrary, the Roman empire is not, in fact, the true sovereign of the universe.  True sovereignty is found in Jesus son of Mary and Joseph, the rabbi from Nazareth whose teaching subverts every notion of power that exists.  Even more, the writer dares to proclaim that you and I, baptized into the body of Christ, bearing the name of Christ, we are the continuing presence of this Servant Lord.
         And in a parable so familiar to us and to our neighbours, so familiar that we can freely use the image of ‘sheep and goats’ and have it recognized by most speakers of English, we are faced with judgement.  The honour due to our Sovereign finds its expression in feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked and visiting the prisoners.  All this would have been so confusing to Matthew’s first audience; in their experience sovereigns were honoured by receiving gold, silver, subservience, not by their subjects going out into the streets, into the neighbourhoods, into the dark places of the world.
         We need not look far in our time to find those who seek self-interest above the common good.  We need not look far to discover emperors who would demand our loyalty even as they are willing to sacrifice the dignity of human beings on the altar of power.  We need not look far to discover closed groups who only care for a select few rather than for the many.  But we are not such a people.
         As the Christian year is drawing to an end, this celebration of the reign of Christ is our liturgical pledge of allegiance.  All that we do in this eucharist has but one aim:  the shaping of a Christian people committed to maintain the honour of God by serving the common good of all humanity in whatever way our time, our talents and our treasure allow.  For this is the honour God seeks.  But this is the honour we are capable of rendering.  Amen.

1 comment:

Felicity Pickup said...

re "The honour due to our Sovereign finds its expression in feeding the hungry ..." Thank you for articulating this concept which I've felt but couldn't have voiced. Now it's 'official' in my mind.