The Reverend Margaret Legg
The new £1 coins; have you got used to them yet? My son’s not too keen. When I asked him why he replied, ‘I don’t like change!’ Well, 10 years ago I had to get used to change, when I stepped out of the front door for the first time wearing a dog collar and clerical garb, to walk through the park to St James Sussex Gardens for my Deaconing. I felt the eyes of each person I passed were boring into me. Now I’m glad to say that self-consciousness has gone.
Change is not on the agenda for the chief priests and Pharisees. They are just livid. They’ve realized Jesus was referring to them in his parables, and today wehave their reaction. Fine, one can almost hear them thinking, you consign us to outer darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing and of teeth – the fate of those who did not attend the Wedding Banquet (last week’s gospel) – we’ll get our revenge.
With malice in their hearts, they set their trap. Is it right to pay taxes to the emperor? If he says no, they can denounce him as spiritually unworthy, someone who does not respect the higher of God. But if he says, we should not be paying taxes, then he could be arrested by
the Roman authorities for inciting revolt. The tax revolt of Judas Maccabeus, was relatively fresh in the memory and they would certainly not welcome a repeat of that.
So with this gospel, I was quite nonplussed when Steve suggested at the beginning of the week that I should preach on highlights of my 10 years at St John’s! I had mentioned that last Wednesday, St Luke’s Day, marked my Deaconing and the following Sunday – today - my debut at the Parish Eucharist.
‘Reverend Peggers,’ he exclaimed, in his own inimitable way,
‘10 years! And you’re preaching, what a gift!’
Personally, I couldn’t see any connection and it took a while for the penny (or should I say, denarius !) to drop!
The gospel speaks of Jesus’s generosity of spirit and generosity is a good summary of my experience at St John’s. For one thing, Jesus rises above the gross insult in the Pharisees’ question. For Jews, as clearly stated in the 2 nd Commandment, images, including human images, are a ‘no-no’. Roman Emperors claimed divinity and worship. The inscription around the image of the Emperor Tiberius, on the coin brought to Jesus, declares him to be the son of a god. It reads: ‘Augustus Tiberius, son of the divine Augustus’. The irony is of course that the tricksters are actually looking at the face of God when they look at Jesus, who is God made flesh, God incarnate.
Our queen knows better. Around her image is the inscription:
ELIZABETH II DG dei gratia RG regina FG fidei defensatrix
meaning "Elizabeth II, by the grace of God, Queen and Defender of the Faith". She knows
whose minister she is and from her authority derives. For another thing, everything belongs to God. ‘All things come from thee and of thine own so we give thee’ are introductory words that can be used before the collection is taken. We are but stewards of creation. We cannot separate the secular and the sacred, they are all of a piece.
No wonder Steve had a quiet word with me one year in to my time here, after I’d presided at the Eucharist just 2 or 3 times.
'Margaret,' he asked, 'Are you aware that you begin each service by cutting out God?'
‘Never!’ I responded.
‘Yes, you do! You cut out ‘The Lord be with you’ and greet the congregation with a ‘Good Morning’. This is not a Board Meeting!’ I was totally unaware of doing it.
Now we have a lot of bad emperors these days:
Emperors who are notorious for their selfishness, their lack of care for their people, their full treasuries and their full prisons. North Korea, Zimbabwe……
Emperors who hold sway in Hollywood, who expect to be given what is not theirs…..
Emperors in the guise of people traffickers, to whom those in their care give, often are forced to give, their passports and ID’s. In reality, they are giving up their freedom.
Life under Emperor Steve is, I am glad to say, nothing like that! Not that it’s an easy ride. As a training incumbent, Steve expects the highest of standards. Nothing escapes his eagle eye, but in my experience, the critique is done with a generosity of heart.
‘Have you time for a coffee, Margaret?’ And you know something’s up.
‘That sermon you preached last night…How can we help you get over your nerves?’
(After I’d smiled and giggled when I led a Lent Evening Service for the first time.)
Presiding at the Monday evening Eucharist, I had processed in about 2 yards when I heard Steve’s voice:
‘Haven’t you forgotten something?’
Indeed I had – the chasuble – the green garment the President of the Eucharist wear - Antonio is wearing one this morning. So I solemnly processed out, and returned a few minutes later, suitably clad.
This generosity trickles down and is picked up by the team. Brutus, who left 2 years ago, was a past master at very discreetly prodding me with his elbow if I forgot something. And at whispering. Once I forgot to genuflect after the Prayer of Consecration. I could hear a very quiet hiss, but carried on regardless. The hissing became a syllable: Gen, gen, gen. Then it dawned on me and I dropped to my knees in the nick of time.
It’s been a very happy 10 years here, but generous as I find St John’s to be, nothing matches the boundless generosity of God, who gives us creation to enjoy and to care for, who gives us our lives and who gave us Jesus, to open the way to life with him in eternity. How can we bear that in mind each day? Well, I would take a leaf out of the book of an Irish nurse I know, who once remarked, in her lovely Irish lilt: ‘When I wake up each day, instead of saying: ‘Oh God, it’s morning, I say ‘Good Morning, God’’.