Sermon by Fr James Heard, Sunday 23 April, St George's Campden Hill, St George's Patronal Festival

Sermon by Fr James Heard, Sunday 23 April, St George's Campden Hill, St George's Patronal Festival

I heard a lovely story of a vicar who took his four-year-old son to visit a church which had a large gallery of statues with a number of saints.  His father asked his son which one he liked best. After a while looking at them, his son said that he liked the one with the toothbrush. ‘Toothbrush?’ asked the father, rather puzzled. Then he saw that his son was looking at St George and the dragon. Now, brushing teeth was big on his parental agenda at the time and so he didn’t want to tell him that rather than St George brushing the dragon’s teeth, he was actually thrusting a spear killing the dragon. So he went along with the dental account.

There’s not that much we know for certain about St George – what we do know is that he was a highranking Roman soldier in c.3 who stood up to the intolerance, prejudice and oppression of the Roman Empire. At a time when the Empire was trying to strengthen its position by squashing political, cultural and religious diversity, St George spoke out. He rejected the argument that people of different faiths were a threat to Roman security and interests, and he offered practical help to those who were being persecuted because of their beliefs. It was a radical stance to take – too radical in fact. Because of his stance, he was tortured and then executed.

If the extreme right wing political parties had anything to do with it, we wouldn’t have St George as our patron saint of England. St George was Turkish, which would probably have barred him from settling in this country. What’s more, we certainly don’t have sole claim of his patronage – because he’s also the patron saint Catalonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Germany and Greece. He is someone that has transcended geographical and culture boundaries.

We’ve inherited the image of St George slaying dragons – we have it represented on our icon and stainless window here at St George’s.
The dragon, of course, can stand for all sorts of things: destructive forces within ourselves, inner demons, as it were. Things that will, if we allow them to, control our lives.

Prince Harry this week has spoken very movingly about his world falling apart as he started to process the death of his mother, some twenty years after her death. He described how he endured two years of feeling “total chaos”. It’s been refreshing hearing this from Prince Harry, because it normalizes mental health issues, removing the stigma that still surrounds it. These dragons affect one in four people at some time in their lives.

Or dragons might be thought of as outside forces that threaten to corrupt or seduce – wealth, fame, power – the dragon Jesus battled with in the wilderness. Such dragons threaten the integrity of us as human beings, and us as a community.

One of the most powerful dragon we all face today was represented by Tolkien in The Hobbit. This dragon was so smitten with desire for gold that it had become on it another skin. Smaug the dragon, had quite literally put on an armour of desire, of gems and fragments of gold. The subtle and seductive dragon of gold, of a lust for wealth, is one we all have to battle with.

Jesus had something to say about treasure: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” That’s not to say we should avoid careful financial planning and that we shouldn’t budget. Rather, Jesus was warning of the danger that money can have when it becomes the focus of our deepest heart desires, our hopes and dreams. Jesus warns us of the trap of blind and endless consumerism, because the appetite of this dragon is insatiable.

But there are dragons. Dragons that demonize others: the last few years this has meant bankers with their colossal bonuses. Demonizing others has also included the long term unemployed and those who live on benefits. In our ever-increasing extreme rightwing politics in Europe, as well as other parts of the world, it has included demonizing foreigners coming over here and taking our jobs. Such dragons may be defeated not by sheer force or power – such dragons may only be overcome by the old but undefeated weapons of faith, integrity and truth. These are the things we are encouraged to battle.

When we listen to the news its abundantly clear that we still live in a world of dragons, but we also live in a world that includes saints. And what I mean by saints is not the types who ride in on white horses, but the sort who walk out into this world looking much like you and I.

The world needs people exactly like us who have been transformed, or rather, who are slowly but surely being transformed, by our Easter faith and the power of love. The world desperate needs us to love it, to nurture goodness within it as if it were indeed a precious gem or a fragment of gold. It needs us to believe and live the Easter message – the message that, in the end, love prevails over hate, that darkness cannot overcome light, that it’s life not death that has the final word. And the world needs us to sing songs loudly of hope and freedom. It needs us to live bravely for the sake of a gospel that would see all people set free. 

Today as we celebrate our patronal festival, we stand together to lovingly support those who struggle with inner dragons of self-hatred, and we stand together to fight against the dragons of sectarianism, exclusion, hatred. To stand for a God that knows no boundaries, whose love isn’t defined by national, culture or religious boundaries – a love that’s limitless.

Rev. Dr. Simon Mainwaring, 50th Annual Festal Evensong of St. George, St. Paul’s Cathedral, April 26, 2015
The Revd Canon Johannes Arens, Canon Precentor