Bishop Michael Marshall at St George's Church, Patronal Festival 24th April 2016

Bishop Michael Marshall  at St George's Church, Patronal Festival 24th April 2016

‘Jesus says, ‘’Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.’’ Or in the New English Bible translation: ‘’Blessed are those who know their need of God, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.’’ (Matthew 5)
You and I live today, in what is sometimes called a ‘’celebrity culture,’’ where celebrities in sport, theatre, music, pop or whatever are worshipped to the point of idolatry, with many aping the clothes their celebrities wear, their life-style and make-up, and even the way they speak. Their behaviour has become the bench mark for a seemingly happy, fulfilled life in an age which is hollow and empty, experiencing an inner and deeper sense of emptiness, longing to belong.
But you and I in the culture and context of our glorious worship this morning, on this your Patronal Festival are celebrating the witness, life and martyrdom of St. George your Patron  saint, in whose life – what little we know of it – true glory replaces glamour, and where passing fads and fancies and trivialities are replaced, as the hymn says, by ‘’solid joys and lasting pleasures’’ – for we in the ‘’communion of saints’’, along with St George are children of another culture and citizens of another Kingdom – the Kingdom of heaven.
For you see, saints and martyrs, like St. George, who we are celebrating today are the very opposite of heroes and celebrities. They don’t need to impress anybody, because they’re just too busy seeking to express the love and grace of God with which, as channels of grace, they are filled, busy filtering that love and witnessing to that love and to the glory of God to a spiritually hungry and loveless world, seriously in danger of altogether losing the plot.
Sometime ago, I was talking to John Lill, the well-known concert pianist. He told me how, for an hour before he goes on the concert platform, he insists on being alone in the Green Room – how he empties himself of his own ego, precisely so that he can be a ‘channel’ (his word), through which the spirit of Beethoven, Mozart or whoever can be transmitted right through him – or as that craggy old St. John the Baptist put it, you remember, ‘’I must decrease so that he, (Jesus) may increase.’’ Or as St. Paul said, ‘’Not I, but Christ in me.’’
So today on this, your glorious Festival Day, we celebrate with thanksgiving St George, – one of those countless men and women throughout the ages who keep the rumour of God alive in their respective cultures precisely by being counter-cultural. As St. Paul says: ‘’Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’’
But notice we celebrate the Saints: we don’t worship saints like secular celebrities, - neither do we try to copy them – for God doesn’t go in for cloning. Each of us is unique and precious to God: even the ‘’hairs of are head are numbered’’ says Jesus, - admittedly more of a miracle in some cases than in others!
No! We celebrate the saints in thanksgiving to God because God is glorified IN – but better still – THROUGH these men and women, like your patron Saint, St. George. It’s as though they reach that point in their lives where they have finally seen the bankruptcy of self-sufficiency and all attempts to pull themselves up with their own, moral shoe-strings. They have finally – often at the end of their tether – reached that point for whatever reason, when, like the recovering alcoholic on the first step to recovery who says, (Step One) ‘’I am powerless over alcohol,’’ (or whatever happens to be our particular addiction – booze, money, erotomania, drugs, work, gambling) ‘’and in my powerlessness reach out to a higher power.’’ Yes, - like the first beatitude and that first step which needs to be experienced – ‘’blessed are those who know their need of God.’’ Yes, the saints with a capital S are supremely the people of the first beatitude on that first step to recovery, resurrection and a new life.
Such men and women are a pretty rum bunch, - these saints of God if you start looking AT them, rather than THROUGH them. You see, they’ve reached that point when they no longer seek to be self-made men and women worshipping their maker! They’re the very opposite of course, of people who are full of themselves, precisely because saints don’t strive to be self-sufficient precisely because  of the all-sufficient, amazing grace of God. (In fact they come to see  times of breakdown, as opportunities for God to breakthrough: when we’re finished God can begin, a new beginning, without end).
And you know, the ultimate test of the true church of God is not so much whether it can help to make good and nice people better, but rather whether it can make morally fragile and flawed men and women like you and me – holy.
But holiness is something so very much more than just goodness. You can be born virtuous and basically good, (if you happen to have the right genes and a loving family upbringing), or indeed you can possibly acquire goodness, if you try hard enough; or even, like Shakespeare’s greatness, you can have goodness thrust upon you, from other people’s projected expectations of you (we clergy suffer from that). But you can’t acquire holiness: there’s no such thing as DIY holiness! Yes, indeed, holiness – (and when you see it you can’t possibly mistake it) – holiness, like that other chemically elusive, divine attribute, ‘’grace,’’ is the raw material from which saints are made, but it is supremely, from start to finish a gift: It is indeed, as we sing, truly ‘’Amazing Grace!‘’ It’s essentially God working in you and through you, like clay in the hands of the potter. Our part is simply to put our life in his hands, as he will shortly put his life in your hands at Communion.
So you and I, if we are to grow in holiness must open up to God – open our hands and hearts to God (of if not, have our hearts broken open) – whether from  unrequited love, moral failure, perhaps or even from  disappointed hopes of our children, our stocks and shares, our ambitions or whatever; - a thousand and one circumstances can bring us to that point (even at the last minute, near death, as with the penitent thief on the cross) when finally, all defences are down, and when, brought to our knees and indeed to our senses – its then – yes then, when that first beatitude of my text, or the first step to recovery breaks in with the new life, new freedom and new energies of the resurrection life; when, together with those countless men and women, throughout the ages who have finally known their need of God, not just as a nice extra or to top up their achievements, -  but no, truly know, from experience as a matter of life and death – so that, at last, God has finally got a foot in the door of your heart, your life and mine. ‘’How else except through broken heart, may Lord Christ enter in?’’ wrote Oscar Wilde in the Ballad of Reading Goal.
And that’s the first step as a disciple or forgiven sinner who is on the way to becoming a saint of God – a saint in the making, for that’s what we all are intended to be – saints in the making.
For you see, Saints, either with a big S or a small s are fundamentally forgiven, forgiving sinners, (that’s the bottome line, as we say), who prove that the resurrection of Christ is true and that it works? For my belief in the ‘’forgiveness of sins’’ and the ‘’communion of Saints’’ binds both clauses of the Creed necessarily together, with the hope of resurrection and a new beginning. It’s a package deal: the last three clauses of the Creed belong together: I can only ‘’believe in the Communion of Saints,’’ because ‘’I believe in the forgiveness of sins’’; and I can only ‘’believe in the resurrection’’ to new life as a forgiven, forgiving sinner in the process of becoming a saint – a truly, fully human being. That’s the living proof that God’s grace really is all-sufficient, bringing the gift of new life out of death; victory out of defeat and failure; freedom out of the prison houses of our addictions and compulsive behaviour. That’s good news, in fact, I reckon, the saints are the best news going!
And all that  because they know, these men and women we call saints with a small s or a big S – they know, more surely than they know anything else, and often from bitter experience, when all else has failed – yes, they know their ‘’need of God’’ in time and for eternity, and they are not disappointed of their hope. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia, AMEN.  

Holland Park Benefice