To love is to know God

Civic Service Address – 20th June 2021

St Mary’s Church, Thorpe

1 John 4: 7-16, Mark 10: 35-45.

What a time to be Mayor of Runnymede! Like so many who have just got on with the job, Elaine, you have had to adapt to a challenging and changing situation, and I know it hasn’t been easy for you, but we are all delighted to be here in person and on zoom today and thank you for your hard work on our behalf, representing this Borough and being so loving and dutiful at this time. Not a usual Mayoral innings. Down the years a good number of Councillors who have lived in and represented Thorpe and have been Mayor.

I’m told that once a local farmer in Thorpe held the title of Mayor – well, he was outstanding in his field.

What is success right now? And how could we possibly measure it right now? For there is no doubt we continue to live in challenging times and perhaps the full impact of Covid is yet to be felt on our economy, wider society, and even local government. Most of us have had to change our ways of working, some have adapted to working from home, some have been in isolation for long periods of time while shielding and others have lost their income, business altogether. Many have lost loved ones, and I know all our hearts go out to the many who are now alone, and all who have had to grieve at this time. They have carried a very heavy burden, especially last year during the first lockdown.

Very few people have been untouched by the pandemic we continue to experience, but in response to so much suffering we have also seen some of the best of people. A new spirit of Neighbourliness, kind words and dutiful care for friends, relatives, and many others has marked this period positively.

New friendships have formed, and community has, to some extent been strengthened. It hasn’t all been bad. Just perhaps, we are learning what it is to live in relation to others once more, at a time when our society needs more than ever to re-discover a sense of common life and what it is to love others.

Our first reading from the first letter of John, begins by addressing his readers as "beloved," a word which evokes community and love woven together. He then mentions both love and God three times each; first we are to "love one another," which means living out in action our generosity and support. Then we love one another because "love is from God." We have all witnessed the outpouring of love, not least from faith groups and many other charitable organisations who have kept the show on the road.

Then there is a third aspect of love which John suggests relates primarily to faith, that the person who genuinely loves God has "been born of God and knows God,” for the person who is "born of God" lives by faith and lives out their faith practise. Surely, to serve others is to serve God’s presence in their lives.

John, writing to Christians living through a time of great personal trial and persecution, explains how true, godly love is found in our hearts, central to a person's life. This living out faith in love is a sign of being born again. For those who absolutely love God, act on that love towards other people and it is their God given vocation. And this is because love is from God, for true love involves acting, not just feeling.

For the past 18 months, our Borough Council and the various teams of people who work to serve those of us who are blessed to live in Runnymede, have been focussed on the needs of the most marginalised of our community as they have sought to keep us all safe in what has been an extraordinary time of challenge.

And we must pay credit to their willingness to get on with the job and go above and beyond, repeatedly. In partnerships with many charities including Runnymede Foodbank, and many faith groups, we have worked together in this Borough to meet many and various needs during lockdowns, from the sick to the housebound, families in need and children, the elderly and vulnerable and many, many more.

This essential work continues, not least among those struggling with their mental health and the impact of their recent experiences. Many have quietly got on with caring and loving behind closed doors, day after day and all of this reflects the sentiment found in our second reading from Mark’s Gospel, when Jesus challenges his followers not to look for places of honour, but rather to always serve others first. Humility is a marker of many great faiths, and central to the Christian understanding of leadership too.

Clearly, Covid continues to transform society and we are not quite sure what things will look like in the future, as we learn to live with this new disease. What we do know is that we need to be humble, to accept that change is inevitable and to always look to the needs of others first, seeking to serve and not be served.

This requires our hearts to be open to loving others, without judgement, in an open spirit of acceptance and then with hearts full of love we move to action. Covid will come and go, and there may well be more times to come when things are challenging, but the love we have for others must never cease. As St John reminds us, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7)

Father Damian Harrison-Miles, June 2021

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