Saturday, September 01, 2012

The Queen's Duty - and Ours

Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
The Messenger
September 2012

The Queen’s Duty – and Ours

Last month many of us enjoyed watching the Summer Olympics held in London. It’s always amazing to see what these remarkable athletes are able to achieve – how they are able to push the limits of human strength, endurance and grace. Many people noted the contrast between the London games and the extravaganza in Beijing four years ago. While the Chinese clearly wanted to demonstrate that they are now a major world power, the British had less to prove. Their more easygoing and quirky attitude was best seen in the idiosyncratic opening ceremony featuring everything from Mary Poppins to Mr. Bean to a celebration of the National Health Service.

For me, the highlight of the opening ceremony was the short film that featured James Bond (Daniel Craig) arriving at Buckingham Palace to escort Queen Elizabeth to the games. I’m sure many of us were surprised and amused that it really was the Queen – surely the most unexpected “Bond Girl” ever – who turned from her desk and greeted 007 with a perfectly delivered, “Good evening, Mr. Bond.”

The Olympics and the Queen’s film debut capped off the Diamond Jubilee - a landmark year in her life and the life of the British nation. Even people who think it’s silly, wasteful and undemocratic to have a monarchy in the 21st Century have expressed respect for the way the Queen has carried out her responsibilities since she inherited them 60 years ago – at the age of 25. In reading different commentaries on her long reign, one word repeatedly leaps out: duty.

On her 21st birthday, then Princess Elizabeth broadcast a speech in which she said, “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.” Addressing Parliament this past March, she renewed her long-ago commitment, saying, “I rededicate myself to the service of our great country and its people now and in the years to come.”

Despite the luxuries of royal life, I’m sure there have been at least some days when she craved a “normal life” – to be freed from the ribbon-cuttings, meetings with politicians, conversations with strangers, and the media’s focus on her family’s frequent foibles.  Yet, over the decades the Queen has faithfully done her duty and shows no sign of giving up her responsibilities.

So, what does the Queen’s dedication to duty have to do with us? Today the word duty is usually associated with military service – but we have clear and important duties as Christians.

When a child is baptized the parents and godparents are asked, “Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?” They answer, “I will with God’s help.” And at every baptism the congregation is asked, “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?” We answer, “We will.” We may not think of it this way, but we are promising to do our duty to support, educate and encourage the newly baptized.

But, our duty is greater even than that. The Baptismal Covenant is about proclaiming our faith but it’s also about committing – with God’s help – to do our duty. We promise to do our duty in continuing in the life of the Church, in resisting evil, in proclaiming the Good News, in loving our neighbors as ourselves and striving for justice and peace among all people.

Despite the joys of the Christian life, maybe there are days when we crave a “normal” life – to be as materialistic as the rest of society, to look out only for ourselves and those closest to us, to demonize or ridicule those who are different or who simply disagree with us and to hold on to our grudges. It’s very tempting – and I know all too well that I don’t always live up to my duty as a Christian.

Fortunately, the Church offers lots of reminders of our duties – and also absolution when we fall short. The Church also offers many opportunities for us to carry out our duties. One simple, small but significant way to carry out our Christian duty is by remembering to buy food and place it in the Food for Friends barrel in the lobby. In a sermon last month I challenged us – dared us – to fill the barrel to overflowing each and every week. Considering that on average 300 people come to our Sunday services, this should be no problem. We haven’t quite managed that yet, but of course many have been away on vacation.

Now that summer is drawing to close, maybe we can rededicate ourselves to our Christian duty – rededicate ourselves to loving God and loving one another  - rededicate ourselves to giving generously, beginning when we walk into church and share our bounty with the poor and hungry. The reward is the life that God has always hoped for us: a royal life greater than the Queen or any of us can imagine.