Yesterday I had the great privilege of leading and preaching at the service to mark the beginning of the Mayoralty of Cllr Chris Malpas at All Saints, Northampton. I’m his chaplain for the year. I’m already finding the role fascinating and stretching. I thought I’d post the notes my talk was based on here, in case they are of interest. The readings were Micah 4:1-4 and Matthew 5:1-12
I wonder, do you still like to learn? We’re told aren’t we that it’s good, important, crucial even, to learn, continually. We live in an age of lifelong learning. Continuing Professional Development, or in my case, Curate Training and Continuing Ministerial Development, is all the rage. If you’re fortunate enough to have reached the stage where you’ve retired from work, you can fill your time with new experiences and knowledge in the University of the Third Age. The opportunities for learning are endless. Knowledge is power, we’re told, and who wants to be powerless in this day and age (or any day or age for that matter?). Knowing things, knowing that we’re right, and, all too often, ensuring that others know that we are right, have become key touchstones of our age. We’re not good at being wrong either. On Monday I prayed for the first time at a Borough Council meeting. From the wrong place. The Mayor was very gracious and said it didn’t matter, but I didn’t like feeling that I’d got it wrong and turned what should have been a sombre moment into a game of Where’s Wally or Where’s Chaplain? I’ve learnt for next time now!
Our first reading this morning from the prophet Micah talks of a time when people will go to the house of God and he will teach them his ways. His ways of peace, of disarmament, of a new way of life for all. Now, as rose-tinted as my spectacles may be, I know that not everybody who has come here this morning will set much stall by what the ways of God may be. However, I would hope that there are none amongst us this morning who would not seek for peace in our families and our communities, locally, nationally and internationally. The words in this reading, well known as they may be, about turning swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, are challenges for us as people who lead. What are the swords and spears, literal and figurative of our day? How can we lead in such a way that we set an example of a new way of living, one of justice, peace and joy, for all? It is not weak to act justly, to love mercy and to walk with humility, whether you believe you do so with God or not. To lead as a servant is one of the strongest acts a person can perform.
One of my favourite things about Jesus and his leadership is that he, like me, wasn’t fashionable. I mean, just look at me. But still, moving on, listen again to some of the key lines from the reading Mayor Malpas gave to us just now. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. You might think that’s all well and good, that leaves the earth for those of us who aren’t weak, fragile or vulnerable. But no, blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth, we’re told. Later, we’re told that the merciful shall obtain mercy, and that peacemakers will be called children of God.
It’s not the most strident or tubthumping of manifestos is it. Not the sort of thing to get those popularity ratings sky-rocketing. It’s all too easy for people who pursue peace and justice for those they lead and serve as weak, to be taken advantage of. After all, this happened to Jesus. He was unfairly killed, so that the authorities could silence someone they considered an irritating, potentially dangerous political revolutionary. Except, of course, that it was in dying, giving up all of himself, that he gave each and every one of us the opportunity to have a relationship with God. It is only in this relationship that our lives can find their ultimate fulfilment, only in this relationship that we can be the people that we were always meant to be. God invites you this morning, whether for the first time, or again, to accept his gift of life in all its fullness, today. Walking with God, the leader of all, every moment of every day is an opportunity to learn again the privilege it is to live the lives that we do and to follow his example in pouring ourselves out for the good and benefit of all.
Leadership, of whatever sort, is always a sacrifice. It is costly. Those of you who hold office in the Borough, the County, or in any other civic role, will know that you give up a great deal to be who you are, in the roles you have. Thank you for the service you have given, and for that which you will give in the coming year. I pray for you that will learn the ways of God this year and that peace, justice and joy may be the hallmarks of our town.