Sermon for January 29th, 2023
Commemorating King Charles the Martyr
Our Lord is at the height of his popularity when he delivers the Sermon on the Mount. There are thousands flocking to hear this Galilean preacher. And the vast mob of people that have gathered around Jesus have tremendous respect and admiration for him. They love him.
It won’t always be this way. Jesus knows that it won’t always be this way.
In his sermon, Jesus famously talks about all the people who are blessed in God’s eyes: the poor in spirit, those who are mourning, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the peacemakers, the persecuted. These people are blessed in God’s eyes. That’s what he says. That’s interesting.
But then Jesus says something even more interesting. He says, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
There is a prediction in that statement…and a warning. Jesus knows that the tide of public opinion is going to turn against him. He’s popular right now, but in a minute, so to speak, he won’t be. It’s sort of like our Palm Sunday ritual where the same folks who shout “Hosanna” at the beginning of the service end up shouting “crucify him” before the mass has ended. The mob that is adoring him right now is much the same way. They will soon enough be abandoning him or even be calling for his death and eventually the death of his followers. That’s the prediction in Jesus’s statement. The warning is implied: don’t go tying up popularity and public approval with God’s favor and blessing. They are not linked. There is no direct link between public approval and God’s approval, except for maybe sometimes a reverse link: sometimes God’s light is shining on and in, people that the world has rejected.
You see, we have to be very careful with things like popularity, and public approval and opinion polls, and yes, even votes. We have to be careful, because you see the public changes its opinion all the time. Popular one minute, unpopular the next. Ridin’ high in April, shot down in May. Popularity and public approval don’t necessarily have anything to do with what is righteous or blessed in God’s eyes. What the world considers to be wise on Friday afternoon, it will condemn as foolishness on Monday morning. To make matters worse, public opinion is not only fickle, it also has no mercy. Public opinion shows no mercy. Remember that. Remember.
Remember when you are deciding what to put your faith in, remember when you are deciding where to put your trust, and what to value. Remember that we do not worship a God of public opinion. Our God doesn’t do surveys, but our God does show mercy. Remember that. Remember that our faith is not built on what this world values, but on what God values. We are not measured by human standards, but by divine standards. It isn’t strength in the world’s eyes that ultimately matters, it is strength in God’s eyes. That is what it means to be blessed: to be strong in God’s eyes.
Today we commemorate someone who in the world’s eyes was very weak. Charles Stuart, otherwise known as King Charles the first of England, Scotland and Ireland, or King Charles the Martyr, was in many ways weak in the world’s eyes. Unlike his brother-in-law, Louis the 13th of France, Charles did not have absolute power and authority in his realm; English kings didn’t. It was a more limited monarchy. And historians, like the Monday morning quarter backers that they are, love to point out all the mistakes that Charles made with the authority that he did have. He did make mistakes, and like every human that has walked this earth except our Lord, he was a sinner who had serious flaws. In the world’s eyes, he was an imperfect man and an imperfect king. In the world’s eyes, he was weak. When public opinion turned against him, he lost a war and lost his head. So why remember him?
Because despite whatever flaws Charles might have had, he was also a man of faith. The Anglican faith to be exact. It was the faith of his father King James, to whom we owe the King James Bible. But Charles’s faith was not the faith of stripped-down puritanism; it was a faith with pomp and beauty and ceremony and tradition. It was a faith that he believed had been handed down through the apostles and through the bishops of the church and through ancient ritual and scripture. At one time, Charles’s vision of the Anglican faith was very popular, but you know how it goes with popularity. It’s fickle. There was growing opposition in Charles’s time to anything remotely resembling “popery.” It didn’t matter to Charles. He thought that his faith was worth fighting for. He thought it was worth dying for. On the scaffold before the crowd he declared:
I die a Christian, according to the profession of the Church of England, as I found it left me by my father.
He forgave those who condemned him to die and he proclaimed: I have a good cause and a gracious God. I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown, where no disturbance can be. No disturbance in the world.
Charles was not a perfect man; saints never are. But he was a man of faith. He was a man who put more trust in God than he did public opinion. He may have lost an earthly crown, but in exchange he gained a heavenly one. As our Lord reminds us this morning, such people are indeed blessed.