60th Anniversary – 3rd July 2022
Isaiah 60 :1–9 The glory of Zion; Matthew 6. 9–15 The Lord’s Prayer
- Introduction. My text for this morning comes from our gospel reading of the Lord’s Prayer, Matthew 6 v 10, “Your kingdom come”, a verse on the left side of my stole, with an inverted ‘v’ to make a multiplication sign such that 6 x 10 = 60. In recent years, the Archbishops have invited us, leading up to Pentecost, to pray “Thy Kingdom come”, to use the traditional form of the Lord’s Prayer. Prayer of course, as we align ourselves with God’s will, commits us to action. Later in this service and in all our services we pray together the Lord’s Prayer. The danger is that it becomes so familiar that we barely pause to think about the words we are praying. How do we understand ‘the kingdom of God’? Is it somewhere remote in heaven? Is it in process of coming here on earth? Or is it just something we look forward to in some unknown future at the return of Christ? Jesus often spoke in parables about the kingdom of God, as recorded by Mark in his gospel or the kingdom of heaven, as recorded by Matthew in his gospel. As background, it is helpful to look at the Old Testament concept of the kingdom of God and how this worked out, for this was the context in which Jesus was teaching.
- Old Testament. During the wilderness years, when Moses went up Mount Sinai, God said to him, “Tell the people of Israel, ‘although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’” (Ex 19 v 6). Within Israel, the priesthood to offer sacrifices, was chosen from the tribe of Levi. But this was a different priesthood. Every person in the whole nation was to be a priest, to represent God to the people of the other nations, so that they too might know the one true God. They were to be outward looking. This is brought out well in Psalm 67, set as an alternative canticle in the Book of Common Prayer, service of Evening Prayer and in Common Worship as a canticle on Thursday mornings. Just to quote two phrases from that illuminating psalm:
“O God be gracious to us and bless us, that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.” (from Ps 67 vv 1, 2).
“God shall bless us and all the ends of the earth shall fear him.” (Ps 67 v 7).
How though did this work out? Not very well. At the outset, the nation of Israel was to be different from other nations, in not having a visible king, but being a theocracy, ruled by the invisible one true God, who had made his presence known in his saving acts of the Exodus, in the parting of the Red Sea, as the Israelites left slavery in Egypt, his provision for the Israelites in the wilderness years and in the parting of the water of the river Jordan as they entered the Promised Land. But by the time of the prophet Samuel, they wanted to be like the other nations, they wanted to have a king. With warnings, God told Samuel to let the people have a king. In struggle for power, the nation of Israel became divided into two kingdoms, Israel in the north with its capital in Samaria and Judah in the south with its capital in Jerusalem. Especially in Israel, the kings married the daughters of kings of neighbouring countries and so introduced idolatrous practices. There were notable occasions when the evangelistic role of the nation became evident as in the reign of the King Solomon, when the Queen of Sheba visited him and was amazed at the national prosperity, the king’s wealth and wisdom. But by and large the Jewish nation became inward looking. Their unwillingness to have a more outward looking role, in a godly way, is epitomised in the prophet Jonah, who when commanded to go to Nineveh in modern Iraq, bought a ticket and set off in the opposite direction, by sea, for Spain. For 600 years leading up to Jesus’ time on earth, Judah and Israel were under foreign domination, firstly under Assyria, then Greece, followed by Rome. These occupying nations recognised the good moral structure of the Jewish people but also realised that the Jewish people posed a threat to rule of the occupying power.
- Jesus’ teaching. This was the background in which Jesus taught about the kingdom of God and in which he resisted attempts to make himself a popular king, to lead a revolt against the Roman occupying power. He clearly stated that his kingship was not an earthly kingship, of a particular people. When Dave was our postman, he would often show me, and perhaps you, photographs of his finds the previous weekend, using his metal detector – silver coins and artifacts from several hundred years ago. Before he retired, he promised to take me out with him sometime. Jesus spoke of the kingdom of heaven as being like a great treasure that a man found, re-buried, sold all his possessions, and bought the field to claim ownership of the treasure.
- Pearl of great price. I have here a painting of a dhow, the traditional Arab sailing ship, under construction, painted by a Bahreini artist, Orrayed. I bought the painting when Julia and I and our first son Philip, were living in Bahrein in the late 1960s. Up until about the 1930s, at the appropriate time of year, a fleet of dhows would go out to the pearling grounds, with free divers going down to the sea bed of the shallow Gulf sea to find the pearl-bearing oysters and bring them up to their own ship, to have the pearls extracted and then sorted by quality and size into the captain’s chest. I have such a chest. When the Dhows returned to the harbour at Manama, the merchants would be there to select and buy the good pearls. In another parable Jesus likened the kingdom of God to a fine pearl that of great value, for which he sold all he had in order to buy the pearl. To enter into a relationship with God through Jesus in the power off the Spirit is indeed to find a great treasure, a precious pearl. That is certainly an important aspect of the Kingdom of God. In quite a different parable Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to yeast that has a hidden work in making the whole batch of dough to rise to make good loaves of bread. As Christians we have a role in society to influence it for good. The Kingdom of God is both personal within us and is the development of God’s rule in society as a whole, to make society just, peaceable and loving. Jesus also speaks clearly about the end of the age when the kingdom of God will be fully established at his return.
Personal. On a personal note, it was whilst we were in Bahrein that I heard God’s call to full-time ordained ministry. I conducted a number of services in St Christopher’s Church, the Anglican church in the Bahrein capital of Manama, and now a Cathedral, in the Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East. Also, I was often preaching at our RAF Chapel in Muharraq, where I was serving in the RAF. It was on Easter Day 1970 at the RAF Chapel, after I had been assisting our Chaplain with the service, that the Chaplain’s wife said to me afterwards, “Christopher have you thought about being ordained?” I felt a strong conviction that this was of the Lord and so began my path to being ordained in Rochester Cathedral in June 1976. I have been in Rochester Diocese ever since. I have though always been keen on shared ministry, by both ordained and lay ministers. When I went Leigh in 1980 as Vicar, there were no Readers in the parish and when I left, we had four Readers, without much effort on my part; they just seemed to appear. My own call to be a Reader went back to about 1956 when I was a member of a mission team lead by The Rev Ken Prior in Bidborough as part of a mission working for two weeks in Tonbridge and surrounding villages. After I had led a children’s service, Ken said to me “You should seriously consider becoming a Reader”. After appropriate training, whilst serving at RAF Marham in Norfolk, I was admitted and licensed as a Reader in Ely Cathedral in early July 1962, 60 years ago. I subsequently served St Alban’s Diocese in the parish of Cranfield whilst I was studying at the College of Aeronautics, now Cranfield University. Then, when posted to the Ministry of Defence in London, I was licensed to Christ Church Chislehurst, before going to Bahrein and completing my RAF service on the staff of the RAF College at Cranwell in Lincolnshire.
- Isaiah. I now turn to Isaiah, that first reading from Chapter 60, beginning, “Arise, shine, for your light has come. The glory of the Lord rises upon you.”; the chapter on the right side of my stole with the light shining out. Isaiah writes this in terms that fitted well with the restoration of the nation of Judah, following their period of captivity and exile in Babylon. It would therefore have been understood well by his immediate hearers, in terms of salvation of their nation. We interpret it in terms of the coming of Jesus, who quite explicitly, in the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth, read from the next chapter, beginning, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”. Jesus then commented, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4 v 21). When commissioning the apostles, following his resurrection, Jesus says, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The Church is the instrument of establishing the kingdom of God, of bringing the light of the gospel to the ends of the earth. Thank God that there is not, to my knowledge, a country in the world without a Christian presence. Probably N Korea is the only country without an organised church. I have in my travels had the privilege of worshiping with the Christian Church in China and Japan in the East, The United States, as far as Seattle, in the West and many countries in between, in Africa and Europe.
- Our response. Our response will generally be more local, here in Hadlow, in Tonbridge, and perhaps wider afield in our own country. Let us not be despondent that numbers in our Church here are low. God has given each of us gifts to use in his service, within the life of the local Church, within the community of the village, within society on a wider basis. Having our Church building open each day from today, will be symbolic of us being open to society. I am pleased that we have enough volunteers to start that but perhaps one or two reserves would be helpful. I have the privilege as an engineer of working with colleagues all over the country, all over the world. What are your gifts and how are you using them? Without overloading ourselves, let us all work and pray for the kingdom of God to be enlarged here in Hadlow and wider afield.
Thank you for your support and encouragement on this day and on many occasions. God bless you.