The servant Queen and the King she serves

Matthew 20:25-28

“His simple message of love has been turning the world upside down ever since. He showed that what people are and what they do, does matter and does make all the difference. He commanded us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves, but what exactly is meant by ‘loving ourselves’? I believe it means trying to make the most of the abilities we have been given, it means caring for our talents. It is a matter of making the best of ourselves, not just doing the best for ourselves. We are all different, but each of us has his own best to offer. The responsibility for the way we live life with all its challenges, sadness and joy, is ours alone. If we do this well, it will also be good for our neighbours…we may feel powerless alone, but the joint efforts of individuals can defeat the evils of our time. Together they can create a stable, free and considerate society.” Said the Queen in 1975.

The point of marking the Queen’s 90th birthday in church – in a Nonconformist church for goodness sake! – is not some kind of sycophantic royalist parade, but to reflect upon the example of someone who is supreme governor of the Church of England, and who offers an example of Christianity that’s well worth us considering.

Our first reading reminded that “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant”, and that’s exactly what the Queen has done in her long life. Since 1952 The Queen has:
Conferred over 387,700 honours and awards.
Personally held over 540 Investitures.
Received over 3 million items of correspondence.
Hosted more than 1.1 million people at her Garden Parties.
Worked with 11 British Prime Ministers.
Been patron of more than 620 charities and organisations.
Undertaken over 256 official overseas visits to 129 different countries.
Attended 34 Royal Variety performances.
Opened 15 bridges in the United Kingdom.
Given over 91 State banquets.
Launched 23 ships.
Taken the salute at 63 Trooping the Colour ceremonies.
Sat for at least 139 official portraits.
Opened Parliament every year except for two when she was pregnant.
Owned more than 30 corgis.
And on top of all that at the age of 90, the Queen is a proud grandmother eight times over, with two great-grandchildren, and has 30 godchildren.

She is neither too busy nor too old to serve others. She is still at work for us as our servant.

Jesus’ concept of servant leadership challenges today’s concepts of power, authority, and control as the highest expressions of effective leadership. His concept of the leader as a servant reveals a pattern of leadership that embraces deep humility, disregards personal agendas, and puts others first. This, I think, is what we’ve seen so clear in her majesty, and what makes her leadership so distinctive.

During her Diamond Jubilee, she said “as I mark sixty years as your Queen, I dedicate myself anew to your service. I hope that we will all be reminded of the power of togetherness and the convening strength of family, friendship and good neighbourliness”.

This is an astonishing thing to say given the ethos our current world operates in nowadays, where so many seem to have a desire for quick celebrity status, fast food, disposable everything, and a need for immediate gratification in a time of far too much cynicism and short termism.

In contrast to Her Majesty’s message and dedication, we find that many of us are cocooning. Instead of sharing life with the neighbourhood, the community, and especially the church, too many of us are self-absorbed in our home entertainment centres, fitness equipment, computers, and the internet. Too many of our leaders are hiding behind the façade of perceived power and control, when in fact they face moral and spiritual poverty without any idea of where to look for healing.

It was reported by the media a few years ago that William and Catherine’s wedding would “be the biggest event in television history because there are no bigger celebrities in the world than the royals”. Actually it’s the quiet dignity of the Queen, her influence on others, and her servant approach to leadership, led by her Christian values, that truly set the Monarchy apart from mere celebrity status.

The Bishop of London recently said that “the monarch embodies a vocational approach to life, lived, not as a self-promoter with the hedonistic values of celebrity culture, but as a servant of God.”

The Queen is also acutely aware of her role with respect to other faith communities, and has said that “faith plays a key role in the identity of many millions of people, providing not only a system of belief but also a sense of belonging. It can act as a spur for social action. Indeed religious groups have a proud track record of helping those in the greatest need, including the sick, the elderly, the lonely and the disadvantaged. They remind us of the responsibilities we have beyond ourselves”. And this is the point. We have responsibilities to others beyond ourselves, yet too many folk end up serving themselves rather than other people.

During the Queen’s reign many customs and traditions have changed, values have altered, and we have more freedoms to enjoy, as well as new rules to follow. The roles of work, family, leisure, and faith have all altered, and rights for us as individuals seem at times to replace our duty to others and to the collective communities in which we live. Yet despite all of this change, sitting above it yet not isolated from it, remains Her Majesty, offering us her integrity, dedication, and example.

Underlying all this is the Queen’s profound faith, which is personal yet public. In her Millennium Christmas message she said, “The teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to live my life.” We hear the word ‘accountability’ a lot these days, especially in the media and often supported with hearsay, opinion, and speculation. Her Majesty’s example points us to a more profound way of life, one that is answerable to God, not to public opinion.

In the famous broadcast to the people of the commonwealth on her 21st birthday, the then princess Elizabeth said, “my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family.”

She has sacrificed privacy, rest, family life, and retirement in her calling, and has worked with unending dedication. I suppose the Queen is, to a large extent, the brand of Great Britain, and reflects all the reasons to believe in our future as a compassionate society. Her profoundly human touch, loving and unwavering service, and attention to others has given us a collective face to the world.

This is surely a time to celebrate, and to remember, but I’m sure the Queen hopes that we will do more than just celebrate her milestone. She will want us to remember that in times of economic crisis and social breakdown, it’s the importance of family, friends, and neighbours that counts. The Queen took an oath at the coronation that she would remain as Queen for the rest of her life. She has no retirement plans; she is still at work for us.

Her Majesty knows that “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” Whose servant will you be this week, this month, or this year?

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