Monday, 29 October 2018

The Spirit of Sir Walter

Isaiah 28: 14-16. God is laying a foundation stone in Zion - Jesus Christ - a sure foundation for anyone who trusts in Him for the salvation of our souls.
Ephesians 2:19-22. The whole church ("Ecclesia" - a gathering of people - not a building of stone) is built on the foundations of the apostles and prophets with Jesus of course as the cornerstone.
John 15: 17-27. The church is called out of the world. This is the essence of Holiness. Being Holy means being separate, being different and distinctive.
One of the curses of the modern church is that the urge to "fit in" and "be modern" and "not to cause any offense" whatsoever is that we become invisible, so indistinguishable from secular society that people are left asking, why bother?

I would not have thought four months ago that I would know quite so much about Sir Walter Raleigh or been present at so many things in his memory.

But being present, and indeed vicar of the church which he attended as a boy, and at which his dad was church warden have changed all that for ever.

In this short time, I have realised there are several points at which our life stories overlap – and I don’t mean because I like chips and a good cigar!

It wasn’t long before I learned that as a young man, Walter, along with others from this area travelled to France to fight alongside the French protestants in the bloody wars of religion in France. The French protestants were known collectively as the Huguenots - and I am of Huguenot descent – Martin Jacques - in the French pronunciation of my name.

Indeed there was a French Huguenot vicar of this very church - Daniel Caunieres, who went on to become chaplain to Lord Clinton at Filleigh near Barnstaple.. It is no wonder I feel at home.

And at this point I want to acknowledge and welcome the present Lord Clinton to our service today.

In these ecumenical days it is easy to overlook or sideline the real differences in Western Christianity that so impassioned people that Sir Walter to go and fight and endanger his own life in defence on what he believed to be the truth of the gospel.

Some of the essence and background of that passion is carried in our Bible readings today.

There is no mention of a divinely ordained priesthood in our readings. In fact you will find that there is only one understanding of a high priest in the entire new testament and that high priest is Jesus Christ himself.

So what was Sir Walter prepared to die for exactly?

He was prepared to fight and very possibly be killed to defend the notion that we have only the need for Jesus Christ as our mediator between ourselves and God – not a divinely ordained priesthood organised and directed from Rome.

He was prepared to die for the notion that we are saved by God’s grace alone made effective by faith. St. Paul’s great revelation buried by the church and re-discovered by Martin Luther – a re-discovery that set Europe alight.

We cannot earn or work our passage to heaven – a doctrine enshrined in the selling of indulgences by the Roman catholic church. When we repent and believe the good news we are forgiven and saved completely.

Sir Walter Raleigh laid his life on the line to fight for and defend these beliefs.

Beliefs that guide and underpin the Anglican church to this day and always will because they are simply the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sir Walter was also a great seafarer and adventurer, and I am also pleased to welcome representatives from the Royal Navy’s training establishment – HMS Raleigh in Plymouth.

Here too is some overlap with my life. I was once a recruit at HMS Raleigh myself. My naval career was very short and inglorious, but I trust that that same sense of adventure, spirit and bravery that characterised Sir Walter’s life is being exhibited in the lives of these young people with us today. 

The buccaneering spirit of Sir Walter Raleigh – his bravery – his adventurism – his willingness to fight and defend principles that he knew to be true – these are all qualities that we could all do with a little more of in this world.

On the day we commemorate his execution – which he faced with the same aplomb that he lived his life – let us remember our most famous son with affection and respect.

Let us also remember that Sir Walter while he would have shown due deference to the social order of the day out of political necessity would have willingly bowed to no-one else than his lord and master – Jesus Christ our Lord.

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