God is our refuge and strength – Christ the King 2010

From the Litany (BCP 2004):

 Guard and bless our rulers, especially…

and grant that they may trust in you,

and seek your honour and glory.

When we pray for our President, we are not merely thinking of Mrs McAleese, or (in the other jurisdiction) of Betty Windsor: the Head of State is a representative person who embodies the nation as a whole. The State Prayers ask God’s blessing on our national life, and acknowledge that good governance is one of the greatest blessings a nation can have. Conversely, failure at the highest level really brings a country down. Jeremiah’s criticism of the false shepherds who have not cared for the flock is apposite – and when Ezekiel uses the same image and speaks of shepherds who feed themselves rather than the sheep, we realise that some problems are not new. Which is not much comfort.

 

The Litany bids us pray: “Grant that they may trust in you”. Our long history of the relationship of church and state makes us a bit wary about what that might mean in this pluralist age, when we acknowledge the freedoms of all citizens, of whatever faith, or none. What might it mean to ask that the State should put its trust in God?

It would certainly mean that we should stop putting our faith in certain other things.

 

 

We have been putting our faith in MONEY. The unremitting search for the extra bit of profit; the endless juggling of figures. I don’t know economics, so I can’t say much, except: what we should have known, money is a useful servant but a bad master. But those who had the responsibility to control the servant allowed it to take charge.

 

We have been putting our faith in DECEIT AND DELUSION. One realises that to govern often requires diplomacy, and as has been said, diplomacy is like lying, but to a better class of person. I don’t imagine that perfect honesty is easily mixed with politics. But the problem with propaganda and spin is that we end up believing our own lies and lose all contact with truth and reality. When that happens, the bonds of confidence and trust which are essential to democratic government are broken for good.

 

We have increasingly opted for SELF-SEEKING. Looking after Number One is natural enough, and to an extent is only reasonable. There is a healthy concern for the self, amour propre, as the French say, that we need in order to be concerned for others. But we have been living in a predatory society, where the people at the top have been feathering their nests – in some cases many many luxury nests across the world – without any concern whatsoever for anyone else. Who cares is the firm goes under, as long as I have salted my assets safely away? As a result, people and interest groups have been much less willing to consider the needs of others. “Snatch what you can, before someone else snatches it from you.”

 

Instead, we are to pray, “Grant that they may put their trust in you”. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble”, says Psalm 46. But trust in God is not merely a matter of emotional comfort, much as that might be needed. It might indeed be a sort of psychological and spiritual reinforcement, from which to tackle what lies ahead of us – “grant that they may meet the days to come with steadfastness and patience, not sorrowing as those without hope”.

But to trust in God is more than this. It is to build our personal life and our national life on what we understand to be God’s character and his will for the world. I am not suggesting that there is a blueprint laid down in some Scripture somewhere that is to be imposed on society willy-nilly. The Taliban’s Afghanistan illustrates what can happen when extreme groups claim to know God’s plan for society and succeed in having their way. But there are certain values on which most of us can agree, such as honesty, responsibility, compassion, justice…

  

So, to adapt William Blake’s poem, can we build Jerusalem in Ireland’s green and pleasant land? Probably not, because human effort in itself is fallible. As Joachim Neander puts it,

 Pride of man, and earthly glory,

sword and crown betray his trust;

what with care and toil is builded,

tower and temple fall to dust.

 Nonetheless, we can work towards it to the best of our limited ability. We cannot bring God’s kingdom in its fullness, but we can pray and work for it, and try to embody its values in our lives and our nation.

For Christians, the Kingdom of God is revealed, not in a political manifesto or a scriptural blueprint, but in the life and death, words and works, of Jesus Christ. Christ the King, whose throne is a cross of self-sacrifice; Christ the Good Shepherd, who reveals God’s love in his dealings with the lowliest. Christ the incarnate Word, whose mission statement reads:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord”. (Luke 4:18-19) 

To put our trust in God is to build our national life on Gospel values of unselfishness, integrity, mutual responsibility and co-operation.

A Prayer of William Temple.

Almighty God, you have entrusted this earth to the children of men, and through your Son Jesus Christ have called us to a heavenly citizenship; grant us such shame and repentance for the disorder, injustice and cruelty which are among us, that, fleeing to you for pardon and grace, we may henceforth set ourselves to establish that city which has justice for its foundation and love for its law, of which you are the architect and builder; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.

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