A symbol of something greater


Sermon for the Memorial for Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

September 18th, 2022

She was not my mother, or my grandmother, or an aunt, or a distant cousin, or a relation of any kind. 

She was not a personal friend; I’ve never had tea with her; Never chatted with her by the fireplace. She never invited me into one of her homes, although I have been in almost all of them. 

She was not even an acquaintance. I never got to shake her hand. Never got to meet her or even see her from a distance. The closest I ever got was standing outside the very thick and heavily defended walls of Windsor Castle once when she happened to be at home.

She was not aware of my presence. She did not know my name.

As I am a citizen of the United States, she was not even my Head of State,

But she was my Queen. 

That is why this hurts so much. That is why this loss feels personal; like family. 

I know that I am not alone in feeling this way. As I have watched some of the ceremonial proceedings this week, I have noted the mass outpouring of grief, the tears, the crowds, the flowers, the lines of mourners waiting hours for just a glimpse of that casket draped with the Royal Standard. How many of those people standing in line to see that casket never got the chance to meet or even see the woman inside? But still they waited…for hours, they cried, they mourned, and they all probably felt just a little bit broken inside. Just a little bit lost.


Because she was their Queen.

Even though they never met her she was a part of their daily lives. Her picture was engraved on the money. Her initials could be found on banners and on post boxes. She was on the television every Christmas. Politicians, musicians, fashion trends, those things all came and went, but the Queen was always there. People around the world, people like myself and I’m guessing many of you here, people are not just mourning a remarkable individual that they never met. They aren’t mourning a celebrity or a political leader; they are mourning their Queen. 

The grief that is being felt isn’t just about the loss of an individual though, remarkable though she may have been; it is about the loss of a symbol. A living symbol.

I could stand up here for hours talking about the unique personal qualities of Elizabeth. Books have been written, and many more will be written, about this remarkable person. News commentators tomorrow will tell you all about the countries she visited, the world leaders she met, and the everyday regular people whose lives she engaged with. They may talk about her personality: her razor-sharp intelligence, her dry sense of humor and her inherent shyness. They may talk about her love of horses and Dubonnet and gin. People may talk about all of the many things that made Elizabeth such a fascinating individual, but none of that will explain the collective grief that is being felt by so many across the world. None of that explains the pain that so many feel on the loss of someone they never met.

It’s because we have lost more than an individual; we have lost a symbol. A symbol of so many things. A symbol of a country, that whether or not we are citizens, many of us dearly love. A symbol of Anglicanism. The most famous Anglican Christian in the world was the Queen, who lived her faith, our faith, quite openly and unapologetically. A symbol of the generation that lived through the war. A symbol of monarchy. A symbol of reserve, of grace, of dignity, of humility. She was a symbol of service and charity. She was a symbol of so many things and now she is the symbol of an era that we all lived through. The funny thing about symbols is that they always point to something greater than themselves, even when the symbol is a living person, even when being a symbol is your job. Elizabeth did that supremely well.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about Elizabeth as an individual, her greatest personal strength we might say, and what made her so well suited to her calling in life, was the extent to which she knew, knew, that none of this was actually about her. Elizabeth understood that she was a symbol. She knew that the crown and the palace and the gold carriage and the robes, she knew that all of this stuff wasn’t for her. It wasn’t Elizabeth that was really being celebrated; it was the monarch, the Queen. Elizabeth knew that. Of course, symbols are complicated things, especially when that symbol is a living human being, and people often project onto symbols negative as well as positive things that have nothing to do with the individual. To put it bluntly: you get blamed for things that are not your fault. Elizabeth knew that too. For better or for worse, when you live your life as a symbol of something greater, you have to continually remember that this is not about you. Elizabeth did that. 

I think that we often have some Disney-esque fantasies about what it means to be a King or a Queen. We think of fairytale princesses with fancy dresses and glass slippers, or we think of petty tyrants screaming “off with his head!” whenever their slightest wish isn’t granted. We think of grand ceremonies and throne rooms with people groveling at the monarch’s feet. Elizabeth knew that being the Queen had very little to do with any of that. Her personal wishes and desires were going to be superseded for most of her life. Elizabeth knew that being a symbol was not just about show; it was also a lot of hard work. Countless hours of sitting in her office reading and signing paperwork. Innumerable engagements: sitting with politicians whom she may or may not have liked or agreed with, supporting charities, visiting communities, marking events, and almost all of these things having to happen whether she felt like it or not. Elizabeth knew that her feelings, her opinions, her emotions, her personal likes and dislikes all had to take a back seat in her life, for her entire life, so that she could serve something greater. Her life needed to be about or point to something greater. That is what it means to be a symbol. It means being a part of, or representing something greater than yourself. Something bigger and more important than you. Monarchy, for Elizabeth, wasn’t a fairytale. It wasn’t about glass slippers; it was about sensible shoes. It wasn’t just diamonds and gold. It was endless, literally endless, hard work serving others. That is the opposite of the tyranny that some people imagine monarchy to be. 

You know what tyranny is? Tyranny is being enslaved to one person’s emotions, opinions, and feelings. Tyranny is having your life completely centered upon and controlled by one person. No one else matters. Well I do think we are living in an age of tyranny, only the tyrant that is seeking to control our every thought and action isn’t a king or a queen, or a president or a premier, or a dictator. The most dangerous tyrants we face right now are ourselves. We are living in an age where people have become enslaved to their emotions and their opinions. We are told over and over, in every survey we are sent just how much our opinions and our feelings matter. Every online newspaper article has a comments section underneath, wherein we may share our oh so valuable opinions, regardless of how ill-informed they may be. We feel compelled to offer them more and more and more. Our own individual opinions, emotions and feelings have become so sacred to us that if someone should commit the heresy of having a different opinion, feeling, or emotion we cut them off and cut them down. They are now the enemy of the only person that matters: me. It’s tyranny. We live in an age of tyranny and the tyrant is often staring right back at us from the mirror. Yes, there are still the old-fashioned tyrants in the world that would steal our freedom and our lives, but we will never be able to fight those tyrants if we don’t first learn how to fight these tyrants, the ones inside. 

As our Western culture has been descending into a tyranny of individualism for decades, there all along the way standing in contrast to the culture around her has been a woman who has been the image, or the symbol, of the opposite of all that. Other than laughter and joy, we rarely witnessed her emotions. Her opinions went unshared. Her feelings were usually unknown. She was willing to talk about her faith, because that was bigger than her, but she rarely talked about herself. Week after week she sat down with prime ministers that she may or may not have liked, and listened to policy proposals that she may or may not have agreed with. You can’t do that if you are enslaved by your own feelings and opinions. You can’t really serve others. Elizabeth, in the way she lived her life and conducted herself was a constant reminder that we don’t have to give in to that tyranny. Whoever we are, at whatever station in life we are, we all have the power to live lives that are about more than just ourselves. We all have the power to be a living symbol of something greater. 

That was Elizabeth’s conviction as a public figure and it was her faith as a Christian. As Christians we are a part of something greater than our individual selves. We have a greater calling than just serving our own emotions, opinions and feelings. Like kings and queens, we too are anointed to be a symbol of something bigger. We represent and belong to a kingdom that is in this world, but not of it, and we are called to serve a king who promises us more than just victory on the battlefield, but instead gives us victory over sin and death. Elizabeth was anointed as queen over a very large kingdom, but she always knew that she served a greater king. None of this was about her. Well we serve that king too, and when we gather to mourn a fellow, faithful Christian, whoever it is, it is right for us to remember the hope that we have of that future day when the one true king will raise us up and set us free; even if that tyrant we are being set free from is ourselves. Someday we will know that although we are individually treasured by God, this whole story isn’t about us personally.

In British tradition, the monarch never dies. A king or queen may die, but the symbol of the monarch immediately lives on in the heir, the new King or Queen. It isn’t about an individual person, it is about recognizing that there is always someone greater than yourself to serve. Many people have said that there will never be another like Elizabeth, but I don’t think that that truly honors her legacy and the way she lived her life. She was a unique individual, but that wasn’t important to her. Her life wasn’t about her. What was important to her was being a symbol of something greater. That is why we have come together to mourn a woman that we never met. Because she wasn’t just a woman. She was something greater. She was our Queen.

She is gone. The Queen is dead. But the role she served, the living symbol lives on, just like she always knew it would. God save the King. 

On the death of Her Majesty


Dear Ascension Family,

Today is a day that we always knew would come, and yet never wanted to see. 

While the news of the death of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, does not come as a great surprise given her advanced age and recent illnesses, it is nonetheless an occasion of great sadness, not just for the people of Great Britain, but for people throughout the world. We are not simply witnessing the death of a great and remarkable woman; we are witnessing the end of an era.

Although most of us are citizens of the United States of America, and we are members of the Episcopal Church, our shared tradition and history as Anglicans, means that we have a familial relationship with our brothers and sisters in the Church of England, of which Queen Elizabeth II was the Supreme Governor. It needs to be said that in addition to being an extremely influential head of state in world affairs, Her Majesty was a serious and committed Christian who lived her faith openly in front of the world. Her annual Christmas speech has consistently been a powerful witness to her faith in Jesus Christ. Her stability and sense of duty, in both civil and religious affairs, in good times and in bad times, have been an inspiration for so many. I can only pray that for those of us who may be wondering, “where do we go from here?” that her life may serve as an instructive example. 

The British system of democracy is different than the American system. Prime Ministers may come and go, but the Monarch remains a constant throughout his or her life. It is a system that values stability in the midst of change. I have always found that to be very comforting, because in a world that is constantly changing we all need stabilizing forces in our lives. Queen Elizabeth was certainly that. I also think that there is something to be said for having a head of state that is not a political figure, but one instead that seeks to be a symbol of national unity. Queen Elizabeth was that too. I suspect that although Her Majesty’s earthly service may have ended, her life will be teaching us lessons in leadership for many years to come.

Our prayers at this time are offered, first and foremost for the soul of Queen Elizabeth, that the Lord will welcome his servant into his heavenly kingdom; secondly, for her son Charles, who now ascends the throne as King; for the Queen’s family, during this time of great personal loss; for the people of Great Britain and of all the Commonwealth Nations; for Anglicans throughout the world; and finally, for all those who mourn the passing of a great woman who touched the lives of so many. 

A memorial service to mourn for and celebrate the life of Her Majesty will be scheduled at Ascension in the near future at a date and time to be announced. 

Our parish was founded during the reign of Queen Elizabeth’s great, great grandmother Queen Victoria. Her 63 year and seven month reign was the longest of any British monarch, until it was surpassed by Queen Elizabeth in 2015. Even the greatest kings and queens of this world come and go though, and now Elizabeth, who has lived a life of service to others may rest in peace and receive her reward. What gave Elizabeth strength in this life, was knowing that no matter what throne she sat on or what crown she wore, she always served a greater King. 

May that King, the King of Peace and the King of Glory, comfort us all now.


Fr. Kevin Morris

People who make bad choices


Sermon for September 4th, 2022


Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 1
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

In our passage from Deuteronomy this morning, Moses has come to the end of the road. The end of the road for him at least. Moses is near the Eastern shore of the Jordan river, not far from Mount Nebo from which in the distance you can see the mountains of Jerusalem. We are told that he is 120 years old. He has had the most epic life. Saved from death multiple times. Raised in Pharoah’s court. Reborn in the desert as a prophet. He has stood in the very presence of God. He has witnessed unimaginable miracles. And finally, he has led God’s people to the promised land. 

We know that it hasn’t been an easy journey though. Despite the miracles, despite their covenant with God, these people that Moses is leading have wanted to turn back every step of the way. On foot the journey from the shores of the Red Sea to the shores of the Jordan River should take about 10 days. It has taken them 40 years! 40 years of complaining and turning back to Egypt. 40 years of turning away from the God that was saving them. Moses has been through it with these people; he knows what they are like. So, in his last speech he makes it very clear to them: God and salvation and life and the promised land are this way. Death and curses and slavery are that way. Choose life. Choose a relationship with God. Choose blessings and the promised land. Moses implores people one last time, to make a good choice. Then he steps down and begins to hand leadership over to Joshua. 

But before Moses dies, the Lord pulls him aside and has another talk with him. And this is a part of the scripture that you don’t hear this morning. The Lord said to Moses: “you are going to die soon and be gathered to your ancestors, and these people that you led, they are going to break the covenant again. They will forsake me. They will go chasing after other Gods. This will make them weak and they will suffer because of it.” 

Now you might be thinking, “gosh, poor Moses. How depressing to think that he has come through all of that only for God to tell him at the last moment that it has all been for nothing. What is the point of urging people to make good choices, when you know that they are going to make bad ones?” But God says something very revealing to Moses. God says: “For I know what they are inclined to do even now, before I have brought them into the land that I promised them on oath.” God already knows that his people are going to turn away from him. God knows that these people will break his commandments. God knows that they will forsake him and go chasing after other Gods. God knows this, and he still leads them to the promised land anyways. 

That is a revelation about the character of God and it is a revelation about the kind of covenant he has made with his people. God is giving life, showing love, saving and blessing people that he already knows are going to betray him. God already knows. But God does it anyways. This isn’t tit for tat; this isn’t a contract between equal partners. God may want his children to make good decisions, but his love for them and his commitment to them is not contingent upon that. God is leading people into the promised land that he already knows are unworthy of that blessing. That is a revelation to Moses that is greater than the commandments themselves. 

In fact, this little conversation that God has with Moses, far from being discouraging, was probably very encouraging to him. You know, when Moses gives that speech that you heard this morning: “I set before you life and death; choose life,” you know that weighing on Moses’s soul must have been the knowledge that these people who he has been leading for 40 years are incapable of consistently choosing life. Moses knows that these people don’t have a history of making good choices. Moses knows that. He wants people to follow the commandments. He knows that the commandments are given for their benefit. He implores people to make good decisions, but in the end we see that that is not what his faith is built upon. Moses’s hope, Moses’s faith, is in God’s saving love for his people and as he is about to end his journey God shows him that that is a hope that is well founded. 

You know, some people think that religion and religious leadership is just about convincing and teaching people to make good choices. Well if that were the case then this would be a very depressing job indeed. People don’t make good choices. Even people that have seen and witnessed God’s saving grace; Even people that know the Lord and have made a covenant with God; even God’s people make bad choices. They break the commandments; they bow down to idols and chase after other Gods; they forget what God has done for them. They love other things more than they love God. God’s people have never been very good at holding up their end of the covenant. 

In our prayer book, I am sure most of you know that we have this thing called the baptismal covenant. People who are being baptized recite the creed, or the record of what God has done for us, and then they respond to a number of questions that we have added on: Will you continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers? Will you persevere in resisting evil? Will you proclaim by word and example the Good news of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons? Will you strive for justice and peace? And of course the people respond to every question: “I will, with God’s help.” And every time I hear that response, the crusty old priest inside of me wants to shout back: “no, you won’t! Who do you think you are kidding?!” I’m no amateur at this. You are going to break a number of these commitments, not to mention several of the commandments before you get back to the parking lot. If religion, specifically this religion, if this was simply about imploring you to make a good choice when confronted with decisions that lead to either blessings and life or curses and death; if religion or faith was simply about morality and ethics, then this would indeed be the most depressing job, and I don’t know how long I could do it. I think that’s why so many clergy and religious leaders end up getting burned out and quitting. It is probably why so many people in the pews give up on faith too. The moment we start putting faith in human decision making instead of in God’s grace we are setting ourselves up for a huge disappointment. In the gospel this morning, Jesus says that if we want to be his followers that we need to love him above all else; more than our families, more than our comfort, more than our possessions. Now I have to remind myself that most of the people that Jesus is talking to, aren’t willing to do that. Not yet at least. They aren’t ready to make that choice. But he still loves them anyways. He still offers them forgiveness and eternal life even though they are in no way prepared to be as faithful to God as God is to them. There may be a covenant at the heart of our faith, but we must always remember that it is in no way an equal one. 

Moses wants the children of Israel to choose life and blessing; Moses wants them to be faithful to God, but he shows in the end that that is not ultimately what his faith rests upon. Moses’s faith is not in people’s ability to make good choices; Moses’s faith is in God’s will to save people who make bad ones. With that faith, Moses can die happy and content, knowing that his faith and his life’s work has not been in vain. 

Before Moses dies he does two things: he writes down the law and gives it to the priests and tells them that every seven years it needs to be read out so that every generation is taught to know and fear the Lord and to respect his commandments. The people need to be instructed and encouraged to make good choices. But the people need a little bit more than that. They need a song. They need a song that will remind them of the wonderful things that God has done for them. They need a song that will proclaim God’s love for people who make bad choices. So Moses writes down a song that the Lord had given him and one verse goes like this:

“A faithful God without deceit, just and upright is he; yet his degenerate children have dealt falsely with him, a perverse and crooked generation.”

I can only hope that that was set to a catchy tune, or that it rhymes in Hebrew more than it does in English. It may not make you want to stand up and clap, but it is good news. It is a reminder that our faith is in God’s goodness, not our own wisdom. Now we need to hear God’s law. We even recite it here once a year and we ask God to incline our hearts to keep it and to write these laws on our hearts. We should be encouraged and we should encourage others to make good choices, but we need to remember that God already knows that we won’t do it. Not consistently at least. Our faith is not about God’s love for people who make good choices; our faith is about God’s love and God’s grace for people who make bad ones.