St Francis, Terriers - All Saints (30.10.2016) Tony Dickinson

Do you like Marmite? Hands up if you do. Do you hate Marmite? Let's see how many there are of you.

I ask because Marmite politics, and Marmite politicians, seem to be the flavour of the month. You either love them or loathe them. Anyone who uses social media, especially people who go on YouTube or Twitter, knows how much loathing there is out there. From the way some people talk about politics and politicians, we might wonder if those four beasts rising from the waters of chaos in Daniel’s vision are on the prowl again.

The answer is that they almost certainly are. Those beasts stand for all the things the prophet knew was wrong with the world in which he lived – and which are still wrong in the world in which we live. He used the beasts as symbols of the chaotic forces of cruelty, intolerance, greed, overweening power and self-seeking. Those forces have never gone away. They lurk all around us – and within us – distracting from and destructive of everything that is good.

But they are not irresistible, and this morning Sara and David are signing George up for the resistance. It’s a ragbag bunch of people, and they go by a very strange name. They are called the Communion of Saints and they follow a man called Jesus of Nazareth. He’s the one who knows how to defeat those beasts. He told us how to do it in the reading we heard just now. The teaching he gave can be summed up very simply. Stop feeding them. Don’t get sucked into the games they play, where the prizes are wealth and power and celebrity.

If we do play by their rules, the beasts will feed and grow fat on our destructive energies, our rivalries and resentments, our jealousies and our anger. If we don’t, they won’t. They can’t. In the end the game the beasts play is a losing game. The closing words of our first reading say loud and clear that it is the resistance, the people Daniel called ‘the holy ones of the Most High’, who win. They are the ones who will ‘receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever - for ever and ever’.

Today we are celebrating those holy ones, and adding George to their number. In fact, George is a walking reminder of the resistance, because he bears the names of three of its leaders.

George, Saint George, the saint who watches over England, was a soldier in the Roman army, faced with the decision whether to get on in his career by treating his commander, the Emperor, as a god, or to remain loyal to the living God, in whose name he had been baptised and in whose name our George will be baptised today. The beasts said, “Get ahead. Worship the Emperor. You needn’t mean it.” But George said “No”, even though he knew it would cost him his life.

Francis, the saint who watches over this parish, lived 800 years after George. His father was a very rich man, and Francis was kept away from the darker side of life, taking for granted the pleasures, the parties, that his father’s money could buy. The beasts said, “Enjoy yourself. Make the most of your privilege. Forget everyone else. You’re all right.” But Francis said “No”. He gave it all up and joined the resistance, starting a movement which continues today.

And Sidney – well, the Sidney I have in mind would probably be very surprised to find himself in this company. He was a vicar who lived two hundred years ago. He had sharp eyes and an even sharper wit. He loved people and parties. He was sent out to a village in deepest Somerset, far from the city life that he loved. The beasts said, “Get out of here. Don’t waste your time on these people. Get yourself back to London.” But Sidney said “No”. In his years in Somerset he learned about farming and taught the people of his village how they could improve their land.

As Jesus reminds his disciples, it isn’t the people who possess power or wealth, good fortune or celebrity who receive the kingdom. It is the poor, the hungry, people who weep, people who are hated, abused and excluded, people who know how to respond with generosity to their abusers, not retaliation. These are the holy ones of the Most High. These are the people who will receive and possess the kingdom, because the energy that drives them is not the chaotic, destructive energy of the four beasts, but the positive power of the self-giving generosity of God, to whom...