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St George’s Day / Reflection

Old painting of Saint George and the dragon

St George’s Day 2023

Reading: John 15:18-21

Image: ‘Saint George the Dragon-Slayer’ by Georgios Klontzas

This morning I have a heavy heart, in fact not just that, I am angry. 

You will have perhaps heard the news that the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda has now passed and will probably be given royal assent in the next few days. 

Now, we may have differing views on this and that is ok, really. But mine is one of sadness and anger. And then I read today’s reading and it seemed fitting. There seems to be such hatred towards ‘the other’ in recent times.  Jesus said: 

If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you

I am not sure how much comfort that will be to those facing deportation but to those who heard it when John wrote it, it would have been a reminder to stand firm, to be faithful, no matter what. Similar to what we have been hearing in our Revelation teaching on Sundays. It’s interesting that we have been looking at that and all its references to martyrdom and today is St George’s Day – a Christian martyr. He died in the 3rd C, beheaded for refusing to recant his faith. It is said that at news of his death thousands of pagans converted to Christianity and even the Empress Alexandra of Rome, who was subsequently martyred also.

You know I don’t usually focus on St George – I’m not a fan – not of him, but of what he has come to represent, a symbol of all that is ‘good about England’, and how we need to protect our little Island with him as a heroic soldier, as some kind of nationalistic hero. This is not the 1940s.

But it’s so ironic. St George was a Christian martyr – he fought for God (now there is plenty we could say about the crusades which I won’t now but) he is a Saint because he died for his faith, not because he was fighting for England.

We too are first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of heaven, our true king is Christ. Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t support our King or the gov – I’m not saying that at all – Jesus said give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. But first and foremost what did Jesus teach? He taught us to love our neighbour, to love one another. He taught us to share with those in need. He taught us to challenge prejudice and hatred. To love God with all of ourselves.

Our identity has to be first and foremost in that.

We don’t get to live here in the UK because we are special, it’s just a matter of circumstance. Perhaps we were born here? or were able to come here for work? Or our parents are British – any number of reasons, but we don’t deserve it per see. 

Why do we get to live in a country that is largely safe, largely economically secure? Where our human rights are protected, where largely we are currently not at risk of war or conflict? Because of circumstance. It is as simple as that.

Our neighbours are not just those sat next to us, or live on our street, our neighbours that we are called to love, are all God’s children in all God’s kingdom. Who for some, because of a matter of circumstance live in less safe and secure places in the world.

You know St George isn’t even English. He was from Palestine (and with Turkish heritage too). And he usurped the current patron saint of England when soldiers coming back from the crusades shared about this martyr they had heard about and the cult that had grown up around him. Isn’t it ironic that England’s patron saint was from a nation that is currently under siege and our own government refuses to help.

If we have never faced hatred, Jesus’ implication is that we have lost out! He said to his disciples: you are not of this world – I have chosen you out of this world. In the beatitudes he says: ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’.

Ours too is the kingdom of heaven and what does that mean for us? I’m not saying we should all go out there and seek to be hated but I wonder how often we actually stand up for our faith? Or for what our faith leads us to believe is right? 

This sermon this morning may not make me popular with some of you, I realise that. Hopefully not as much as hatred! But it is what I feel at the core of my being. We are called to love, we are called to embrace others, to share what we have been blessed with, to stand alongside the persecuted.

So if we want St George as our hero, then let’s follow him as a faithful man, one who fought for God, whose heart was so fixed on Christ that he was wiling to die. Let us too be willing to stand up and speak of our faith in all seasons and circumstances.


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