Sermon for Festal Evensong – Te Deum and Benediction Sunday 4 November 2018
SERMON PREACHED at SOLEMN EVENSONG on ALL SAINTS SUNDAY 2018
by the VENERABLE MARTYN GOUGH, Chaplain to the Navy.
Thank you for the invitation to be with you this evening as you come to the end of your Festival. I am the Chaplain of the Fleet and the Archdeacon for the Royal Navy and to that end I am responsible for providing Chaplaincy to the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines and in doing so, manage close to 90 chaplains.â€¯â€¯
Being a chaplain in the Royal Navy and in the Royal Marines is predominantly about caring for the men and women of the Naval Service, of deploying with them. Our calling is priestly, pastoral and it is prophetic. Our role is priestly – saying mass, celebrating the sacraments, praying with them and leading them to faith. A lot of the daily task of the Chaplain is pastoral. Because we deploy without people, because we share all their lives, we sleep, we eat and work so close to them, they know us as the “friend and advisor to all on-board.” They know that the Naval Chaplain who comes with no rank, is there for them, is non-judgemental, and will listen in confidence to their issues. And finally, the role of the Naval chaplain is to be prophetic- to offer serious counsel, advice and support to Command.â€¯
Offering counsel and offering leadership, as I have the privilege to do to Command, means that the world that I liveâ€¯in is a risky world; there are significant and there are serious threats to our nation’s prosperity.â€¯This homily for All Saints is not and must not become an apologetic for the military. But living in a risky world, knowing what the threats are out there, knowing that the security, stability and prosperity of our nation may be under attack means that we need leaders who know how to lead, how to listen, how to respond, but ultimately, how to lead. But to lead well, there must be the ability to make good choices, moral decisions that will not only lead to a successful outcome but will ensure that the victory is not a pyrrhic one.â€¯
So, for me, good leadership is sound ethical leadership based on principles that are enduring. If we look at the leadership given by Paul to the Church in Colossae, as see in our second lesson this evening; we see Paul address a Church that is a mature one and one that is Spirit led, but Paul encourages them to be better, to seek more. He asks them to walk a worthy walk, one that is fitting to the Lord; to engage with society in such a way that the nature and power of God is evident to those whom they meet. but to walk in a manner that is consistent with and conforms to what God has done for us in Christ. â€¯The apostle describes four directions a worthy walk that pleases the Lord will take. Certainly, there are other Christ-like qualities every Christian should manifest, but these four illustrate the kind of character that should be found in a Spirit filled, Word filled Christian, one who desires to be a Saint.
We are therefore commanded to walk in a way andâ€¯in a manner worthy of the Lord to please Him in all respects. We are asked to walk in a way that will bear fruit in all that we do. We live wholesome lives in the light of the Saints andâ€¯not in the shadows as commercial Halloween.
We are asked to continually grow in the knowledge and in the love of God- this is a relationship and not an academic exercise.â€¯ Giving thanksâ€¯to the Father and that is why we are here to offer worship and not simply seek holy entertainment.â€¯ It was the author Paul Coelho who said this of those who seek to lead and those who seek to become holy.â€¯ “Those who are truly enlightened, those whose souls are illuminated by love, have been able to overcome all the inhibitions and preconceptions of their era. They have been able to sing, to laugh, and to pray out loud; they have danced and shared what Saint Paul called ‘the madness of saintliness’. They have been joyful – because those who love conquer the world and have no fear of loss. True love is an act of total surrender.”
In our journey we must do all that is pleasing to God and that as we know can tie us up into difficulty if we do not sing the proper narrative. Recently Archbishop Justin Welby on a visit to Nigeria, challenged the Anglican Church there to speak truth to power to those who lead and to do so in private; but, he challenged them to speak out in public if they failed to take heed. Thank God, we know that here in the West, Churches in the catholic tradition have always spoken truth unto power. It may be a shame that the same cannot be said when political allegiances affects your ability to call out what is wrong because one is afraid or unwilling to challenge that which had been previously supported. Next Paul calls upon the Church to thus be fruitful in all that it is called to be. Within this octave of All Saints we know that we almost use this as a catch all for those saints whom we know little about but within the Reformed tradition, all Christians are referred to as Saints and so we are all called to lead lives that are more than centred upon ourselves. I often remind officers and ratings that they have chosen to join an Armed Service- armed because they will, if asked, cause harm to the Queen’s enemies but also service – they put themselves on the frontline- they serve in difficult and dangerous places – and when you stand in the parade square in Camp Bastion as I did, and as you bid farewell to the body of a young lad from Leeds, two weeks into his tour and killed by a sniper or the Warrant Officer and father of 4 who was killed by a landmine whilst checking that young Afghan girls could get to school – you have to remind them of that calling – that they have been fruitful – they have tried to make a difference.
Finally, Paul calls upon them to increase in the knowledge and love of God. We all know that the more we look the less we know and the less we see. I was fortunate in spending the last year as a member of the Royal College of Defence Studies here in London, a time that I could catch up with Fr Michael. Here we looked at what are the principle challenges facing the world today. We were a truly international course and what amazed me was how active so many of these Admirals, Generals and Diplomats were in their faith. We looked at issues such as climate change, drugs policy, poverty, violence against women – and what became clear is that so often poverty is what causes ignorance and how ignorance leads to conflict and despair – increase in the knowledge and in the love of God.
Within the life of the Church, the liturgical cycle plays a significant role as it enables us to hang the life of our Lord within a calendar. I have another ceremonial calendar to follow with significant feasts, many of which will, for the Sailor, rival Easter and Pentecost. Soon we will commemorate Armistice Day and this year the centenary of the end of WW1. We too lay great store in commemorating our principal feast – The Battle of Trafalgar – alongside the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and the more recent Battle of Taranto in 1940- these give a sense of pride as we celebrate Nelson & Collingwood, Drake and Cunningham from the Italian Taranto campaign. These leaders may not have been outstanding Christians but for the likes of Nelson there can be no doubt of his deep and convicted faith and the care and concern that he had for the spiritual wellbeing of all his sailors. He strived for a worthy walk, he sought through his actions to be pleasing to God. And he continually gave thanks to God the Father as seen in the prayer he wrote on the eve of the Battle in October 1805:
May the great God, whom I worship, grant to my country And for the benefit of Europe in general, a great and Glorious victory: and may no misconduct, in any one, Tarnish it: and may humanity after victory be the predominant Feature in the British Fleet. For myself individually, I commit my life to Him who made me And may His blessing light upon my endeavours for serving my Country faithfully. To Him I resign myself and the just cause which is entrusted to me to defend Amen. Amen. Amen