Event Name Sermon given at Matins on the Fourth Sunday after Trinity 2016
Start Date 19th Jun 2016 10:00am
Description

The Venerable Andrew Tremlett, Canon in Residence

I have had the privilege of serving as one of the Canons here at Westminster Abbey for nearly six years. Before coming on interview, I had not—I think—ever been inside the building. I still pinch myself regularly when I stand by the Grave of the Unknown Warrior, or pray at the Shrine of Edward the Confessor, or gaze on the Cosmati Pavement, or sit in the silence of St Faith's Chapel.

However, despite these stunning spiritual treasures, there are two locations which continue to hold my attention, admiration, honour and awe. And neither of them are even inside the building.

In fact, you will have passed by them both on your way out this morning, and I can almost guarantee that a hardly any will have given them a second thought. I don't say that in any critical way. To be honest, that's part of the point of them.

The first you will undoubtedly have walked under as you came in this morning through the Great West Door. The second is the Innocent Victims' Memorial, of which I will say more in a moment.

Above the Great West Door stand ten statues of Martyrs of the Twentieth Century, commissioned by the Dean and Chapter in 1998: Grand Duchess Elizabeth, Manche Masemola, Maximilian Kolbe, Lucian Tapiedi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Esther John, Martin Luther King Jr, Wang Zhiming, Archbishop Janani Luwum, and Archbishop Oscar Romero.

I have spoken before about Oscar Romero.

Just a month before his assassination he talked about the severe pressure faced by the religious in his community:
"In less than three years, more than fifty priests have been attacked, threatened, calumniated. Six are already martyrs—they were murdered. Some have been tortured and others expelled [from the country]. Nuns have also been persecuted … There have been threats, arrests, tortures, murders, numbering in the hundreds and thousands … But it is important to note why [the Church] has been persecuted. Not any and every priest has been persecuted, not any and every institution has been attacked. That part of the church has been attacked and persecuted that put itself on the side of the people and went to the people's defense. Here again we find the same key to understanding the persecution of the church: the poor".

Just days after his appointment as archbishop, an event took place which shook Romero to the core. On 12th March 1977, Rutilio Grande, a progressive Jesuit priest and personal friend of Romero who had been creating self-reliance groups among the poor campesinos, was assassinated. His death had a profound impact on Romero, who later stated, "When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, 'If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path'". This was Romero moment of transformation: he urged the government to investigate, but they ignored his request.

Weeks later, Romero was assassinated on 24th March 1980 while celebrating Mass at a small chapel located in a hospital called "La Divina Providencia", one day after a sermon in which he had called on Salvadoran soldiers, as Christians, to obey God's higher order and to stop carrying out the government's repression and violations of basic human rights. According to an audio-recording of the Mass, he was shot while elevating the chalice at the end of the Eucharistic prayer.

Romero was beatified in a great ceremony last year.

In this series of sermons at Matins, which you can follow on the Abbey website, I am considering the nature of Christian Stewardship—how we use our resources.

'Stewardship' is our belief that human beings are created by the same God who created the entire universe and everything in it. To look after the Earth, and thus God's dominion, is the responsibility of the Christian steward.

Christian stewardship extends not only to our care for the natural order, for creation, but in a more earthly, mundane way, how we use our personal gifts and resources to the glory of God. And leading on from than that, stewardship is about our faithful handing on of the gospel in our contemporary society.

So I began a fortnight ago by considering financial stewardship; I moved onto our use of our talents and gifts; last week I spoke about our global responsibilities; and then finally, today about our stewardship of the gospel in today's society.

And in pointing towards the twentieth-century martyrs as, for me, one of the most significant parts of this Abbey, I am underlining a profound change which has been perceived gradually over the past twenty or thirty years, and which is now fully recognised and blindingly obvious. Namely, that the days of gentle Christian apathy, the tacit assumption that all will be well in Christendom, that the Church can afford to glide gracefully along without ever needing to explain its existence or purpose—those days, if they ever did exist, have long gone and perished.

If the Christian Steward is called upon to shoulder the burden of global responsibility; to use their time and talents to the glory of God; to share their financial resources by the discipline of tithing; and if the Christian Steward is also charged with trusteeship of the gospel, then Jesus Christ before Pilate is our pattern and model.

And that model is not one of a leisurely debate, a theological discourse over coffee, or even an hour contemplating a mystic religious poet.

The harsh reality which is beginning only now to confront the church in the West, but which has been evident for decades to our brothers and sisters in the East, is that part of the account we must give as Christians is for the hope of the gospel. And that for many Christians in many parts of the world, to do so is every bit as costly as giving our time, our talents, our money.

Nor is this being called to account limited solely to Christians, as the other monument I want to mention bears out.

The Innocent Victims' Memorial is again just outside the Great West Door, but this time to your right, closest to Victoria Street.

It is a circular stone set just above ground, with the inscription: REMEMBER ALL INNOCENT VICTIMS OF OPPRESSION, VIOLENCE, WAR. It is the place where many different groups, of all faiths and none, come to mark their respects and offer silent prayer. In recent years, it has become the gathering-place for Humanitarian Aid Workers in the United Kingdom who mark the United Nations Humanitarian Day with a wreath-laying ceremony to remember their number who have died in the course of their duties.

But it is the scriptural text which is so powerful. Sited right next to one of the busier streets in London, the memorial uses the quotation from Lamentations 1.12: 'Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?'

If the Twentieth-Century Martyrs tell us that the Christian Church is no longer—if it ever was—exempt from the vocation to articulate the faith through deed and word; the Innocent Victims' Memorial bids us do so on behalf of all humanity, whatever race or creed or colour or orientation.

In speaking up, giving an account, we are playing our part as Christian Stewards in the public and political spheres. The events of last Thursday, when Jo Cox, one of the elected Members of Parliament, was so cruelly murdered reminds us how dangerous—and yet how absolutely necessary—it is to give voice to the voiceless in public discourse.

But perhaps I can end with Martin Niemoller's famous quotation, which encourages us all as Christian Stewards, not only to witness to our own faith, but also to speak up for others:

First they came for the Socialists,
and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists,
and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak for me.

© 2017 The Dean and Chapter of Westminster

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