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This Week's Sermon - "Public & Private people"  

There’s been something of a  furore in the Anglican Church in the USA.  It seems that the Primate of the Anglican Church, the Most Revd Frank Griswold, was seek sneaking off to attend a Roman Catholic Mass in his spare time.  Wearing blue jeans and a red plait shirt he said “I just wanted to be with Jesus.  So I received communion with the other 30 people there.”  He added he was finding it “sort of problematical to figure out who I am as a public person and who I am as a private person, when I am off-stage and when I am on-stage.” 

If you’re an Archbishop, that’s perhaps a particular problem - but, then, it is a problem for many of us.  Putting the clerical collar on puts me clearly in a role which makes people view me differently from the person next door.  But if I’m at a football match or a game of cricket or shopping I may well prefer to be with it and just be another person in the crowd.  School-teachers are notorious for not wanting to live near their schools so that in their leisure time they don’t keep bumping into their pupils.  The policeman doesn’t frighten people by wearing his police uniform off duty.  All of us indeed have different caps to wear on different occasions.  Sometimes we’re dad or our wives husband or a business colleague or a friend or a competitor.  Today, on this Civic Sunday some of you come wearing badges of office, visible or invisible as Mayor or Councillors.  And all of us view ourselves not just as individuals but also as Citizens of Market Deeping. 

Yet the Christian cannot push this too far, for we have to be true to ourselves and true to Christ.  It’s no good the clergyman appearing a model Christian and then being a hooligan at a football match or elbowing old ladies out of the way.  It ‘s no good the Christian being a model employee or manager at work, kind and considerate to staff and being an absolute swine at home.  We have to be true to ourselves and also true to our vocation.  That’s not always easy or comfortable for any of us. 

WE have some interesting examples in today’s readings.  First we heard about Elijah and Elisha.  Not the prophet Elijah was an old man and Elisha was the successor that God favoured.  We have an interesting account of the handing over of power and authority.  Elisha wants to be true to the Spirit of Elijah.  In the same way I as a clergyman want to be true to the spirit of the apostles and indeed of Guthlac.  Civic leaders want to be true to the spirit of those who have faithfully served this community in the past.  In the case of Elijah and Elisha, the mantle, or cloak of Elijah is of great significance.  After Elijah had disappeared into heaven in a whirlwind, he dropped his mantle.  Elisha picked it up and at once felt the Spirit of the Lord with him.  That Spirit which enabled him to cross over the water both physically and metaphorically.  And it is, of course, no accident, that Bob wears the Mayoral chain of office around his neck.  The mantle of Mayorhood.  The chain of office symbolises all that is important about the office and how it should be exercised. 

Of those people whom Jesus encountered in this morning’s Gospel some didn’t want to be bothered with his way.  They were happy as they were.  They didn’t want any challenge or trouble.  If they helped Jesus they may get the blame later, reprisals may be taken.  Better to tell him to go away.   Others did want to follow him, yet Jesus had to remind them of reality, had to help them work out the best way of coping with their particular situation.  Could they really lead a wandering life without home or possessions?  Had they really got their priorities right? 

How can we resolve the different hats that we wear?  How can we determine whether we have got it right?  What are the tests we can apply in our lives to see if we are in danger of hypocrisy?  To see if we have the balance right between being “off-duty” or “a private person” yet still faithful to what we proclaim in public. 

Paul gives us the clue in the second lesson that we heard - his letter to the Galatians.  True freedom, he is saying, is in service to one another.  This is true in our public roles and our private roles, though the opportunities may well be different..  he remind us that the law is summed up in “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.'”  Not seeking to take advantage or to exploit, not giving full range to ugly and destructive passions - enmity, strife jealousy, anger, quarrels, factions, drunkenness.  But rather measuring up to the fruits of the Spirit.  He lists these also:-   love, 
 joy, peace, patience,  kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 

gentleness, and self-control.”  Do we try and bear witness to these qualities in what we are trying to achieve in a public sense in our community?  Are our policies directed to these sort of qualities?  And furthermore, do we live up to them ourselves in our own lives both public and private. 

Now all of this is a tall order.  Certainly in the life of the Church we often fall short of our ideals.  Those negative and destructive emotions can and do from time to time creep into church life.  And so they do, of course, into civic life as well.  We are not perfect, the system is not perfect.  Yet surely the point of a Sunday like this, a Civic Sunday is that we try to put a sense of vision before our eyes.  We want to be proud of what we have achieved and what we are trying to achieve.  We want our community to bear the fruits of the Spirit.  We want to be good examples ourselves. 

Christ will support us in all of this.  He will put on us the mantle of his Holy Spirit, the Spirit that guides us into all truth, that helps us make right decisions.  We hope that no-one will expect us to be on duty for every minute of the time but that nevertheless what we are and what we are working for may harmonise and draw others towards the building up of the sort of community that we all want.  Amen. 



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