Sermon on Mayor’s Sunday 2019
The Revd Canon Chris Newlands, Vicar of Lancaster at Lancaster Priory
SERMON FOR THE MAYOR, Cllr DAVID WHITAKER AND COUNCIL OF LANCASTER – 2019
From Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and section known as the Beatitudes, which our new Mayor has just read for us, Jesus said:
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Just one line in what I believe is the most influential sermon ever preached. One line, but full of depth and meaning, and I want to reflect a little on what it means to be a PEACEMAKER in the world today, and how that prepares people to be CHILDREN OF GOD.
PEACE – there are many words for it in the world’s languages, but the one which Jesus would have known and used most often is SHALOM – a customary Hebrew greeting among Jews then and now. “Peace be with you” is a great blessing to share as people meet. SALAAM has the same meaning used by Arabic speakers in those same lands. Here in Church it has been adopted as a part of our liturgy as we say to each other, “Peace be with you!” and we reply “and also with you.” What finer thing can we wish to our friends, and even, dare I suggest, to those who are not our friends, even our enemies?
But the peace we wish for our neighbours and ourselves is not just the absence of war and conflict – (though we do pray for wars to cease and the destruction caused by fighting to be ended!) the true, deep peace is one which contains within itself harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquillity.
I’d like to reflect today on this sense of peace: in ourselves, in our communities, and in our wider context.
PEACE IN OURSELVES to begin with, for that is where true peace needs to reside if we are to be peacemakers and become children of God. Being at peace with yourself can be the work of a lifetime. Accepting who we are, our true nature, our limitations as well as our gifts can be the beginning of an inner peace. The attempts by some to be what others want them to be (rather than what they truly are), to conform to some expectation of someone else’s making can create an unhelpful pressure which in no sense assists in a person’s well-being and fulfilment of their true potential. “To thine own self be true” is a father’s last piece of advice to his son in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and it remains a touchstone of excellent advice today, as we still encourage our children to be the best versions of themselves that they can possibly be. Comfortable in their own skin, unashamed to be who they are, relaxed in the company of other people also are truly themselves, but different and complementary. At peace with themselves, and living in peace with others. Perhaps we are very fortunate to live in this generation, which may well be the first in which people are truly able to be themselves without fear of prejudice or condemnation. For our new Mayor, Cllr David Whitaker, to be able to stand up and to say that he is proud to be Lancaster’s first gay Mayor is a huge step forward, leading by example of being someone true to himself; a major role model for future generations showing that that is the first step to know true peace within, enabling him to be a peace maker.
The next stage is to be a PEACEMAKER WITHIN OUR COMMUNITIES. And again, David has led by example by supporting organisations that build the community in his ward and throughout the City of Lancaster. Organisations such as West End Impact and Out in The Bay have been working to combat poverty, loneliness, and isolation across the poorest areas of our city. David’s work in the caring profession has clearly made its mark on him and his care for individuals will now be called on to extend to care for all the citizens of this City, whatever their situation may be. His desire to choose Defying Dementia as his Mayor’s Charity for the year is also very significant, as he has chosen a cause close to the hearts of many of us who have lost loved ones to that terrible affliction. Lancaster’s University is at the forefront of developing a treatment for Alzheimer’s and the support of that work will be a most welcome contribution to the ground-breaking research and development to stop Dementia in its tracks. It goes without saying that a successful outcome to that research work will bring enormous PEACE OF MIND to families who fear losing loved ones before their time to dementia, as well as to those whose wholeness is taken away by that terrible disease.
And finally, I want to reflect on the wider desire for PEACE IN THE WORLD.
Christians continue to pray for the peace of the world; but we are also called to act to make our world a more peaceful place, beginning in our own communities and villages, towns and cities, and spreading to our own nation and beyond to bring a true peace in and between the nations of the world.
My generation, born in the 1950s, is unique in this country’s history. I have not had to do National Service, I have not been conscripted to fight in a war in a foreign land as my parents’ generation had to. The years of peace in Europe since the Second World War has been a tribute to the commitment made by the nations which had suffered so terribly through the effects of war – irrespective of who were the victors and the losers in the conflicts. For, as those who have experienced it know well, in war there are no winners, but only losers. The aftermath of war and the resolve to avoid armed conflict gave rise to the European Project which brought nations together with a common mind to air their differences and disputes in a system which sought to avoid armed conflict at all costs. That system has borne the fruit of peace for nearly 75 years – the longest time in which we have been spared the horrors of warfare.
We have learned in this time to value the common humanity which unites us all, beyond the borders of gender, ethnicity, race or nationality, and to value the diversity which makes us stronger.
However – the ugly head of a rising divisive nationalism is observed in many places across Europe and the world in this 21st Century. Though many of us do our best to recall the mistakes of the past in our annual Holocaust Memorial Day observances – to the end that we do not repeat them, there are those who seek to spread the lie which vilifies the strangers among us, rather than seeing the common humanity in all people.
The prejudice which is at the heart of much that is wrong in our society today has to be addressed if we are to move forward together as a community, a City, a nation. Prejudice because of the way someone dresses, the way they choose to present themselves to the world, cannot be allowed to justify hatred and violence. No-one should be vilified for their race or ethnicity as we should all focus on the different gifts each individual can bring, even if that needs to be nurtured. A person’s sexuality and the choice of who a person loves should not be a matter for condemnation or judgement – no one has ever deserved hatred or persecution because they have loved another person.
Hatred, Judgement, division, and any suggestion of racial superiority have no place in our society today. As the Mayor said in his speech on Friday in the Town Hall, “more unites us than divides us!”
If we can focus on those things that bring us together in our shared humanity, and if we can conquer (both within and without) those elements which foster hatred, we CAN build a community across the world in which SHALOM PEACE, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquillity can exist.
Starting with ourselves – may PEACE be in our hearts and minds, so that we may be at peace with those close to us and those far away from us.
Then, with that PEACE in our hearts may we allow that wellbeing to spread throughout our communities, throughout our land and the whole world.
That is the vision of the Kingdom of God, all under the just and gentle rule of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and it is no coincidence that he is known as The Prince of PEACE.
And may his peace reign in our hearts, our communities, our City, our nation and our world now and forever.