"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other." John 15:9-17
Today we dedicate this new standard to the glory of God.
The Union flag is a powerful symbol. It is the symbol of our national identity.
We think of the red, white and blue visible at international sporting events proudly unfurled by British sportsman and their fans when we win a race or competition.
Without intending to put anyone else down it gives a warm feeling to see someone with whom we identify do well.
Above all, the Union flag is associated with the Monarchy, with a British presence around the world through our embassies and especially with our armed forces whether they are fulfilling peace keeping duties as part of the UN or in times of war defending our country and its citizens.
We may be rightly proud of our standard, especially when it is used on Remembrance Day parades around the country honouring the memory of those who gave their lives for this country in war.
But how do we avoid it becoming debased in the unhealthy nationalism as we see in the activities of the right wing National Front or drunken football hooligans?
In our prayers we dedicated this standard to the glory of God.
We have asked almighty God to inspire us to carry out with a single heart and devoted purpose the high aims for which you are joined through the British Legion.
So may we accomplish this high aim? How should we view this standard?
May I suggest three ways in which our Union flag itself may teach us how to carry it and maintain a God honouring identification with our Queen and country.
1. At the centre of our Union Flag, unlike most other countries is a cross.
That is because at the heart of our national inheritance, our history, our culture, our laws, our values, no matter how multi-cultural or multi-ethnic or secular we become as a nation, at the core of our historical identity is a faith in Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
From the very earliest days of the Christian era, first the Romans and their Anglo Saxon slaves found meaning and hope in Jesus Christ as Christian missionaries visited these shores, and then the Celts, the Vikings, Danes, Normans and others who came to share these lands. At the centre of our standard is the cross. It is there to keep us mindful of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who gave his life to save us, not just his friends but his enemies. If we keep Jesus Christ central in our lives, in our morals, in our behaviour, in our hopes we will free ourselves from an unhealthy nationalism. At the centre of our standard then is a cross. Second observation
2. At the Centre of our Standard are actually Three Crosses
During the Crusades, St George became the patron saint of England, and his cross, blood red on white became the English emblem. The patron saint of Scotland is St Andrew, and his emblem, a white diagonal cross on blue, forms the ciountries national flag. When in the 17th Century James 6th of Scotland became James 1st of England he ordered the two crosses to be combined, forming the first Union Flag of "Greater Britain". St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, and when the United Kingdom of great Britain and Ireland was formed in 1801 he was represented on the Union Flag by a red diagonal cross on white. Thus was formed the modern Unon Flag of the United Kingdom. Strictly speaking it is only when the Union Flag is flown at the jackstaff in the bows of a Royal Naval vessel that it becomes the Union Jack.
The fact that our standard is made up of three crosses reminds us not only of our history as a nation, but is also a lesson in how it is possible to bring together people who in previous centuries fought each other. Not withstanding the legitimate aspirations of the Irish, Welsh and Scottish for greater autonomy, the Union flag bears a lesson in working for a greater unity.
For under the banner of the cross, Jesus Christ brings people together, and makes them his friends, his family. Jesus said, "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."
At the centre of our standard then is a cross. At the Centre of our Standard are Three Crosses.
3. At the Centre of our standard is our own Cross
Jesus said, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last. This is my command: Love each other."
The fruit of the great sacrifice made by your fellow servicemen who did not return from war are the freedoms we enjoy as a nation. We must never take them for granted or forget the great sacrifice borne to maintain them.
Jesus calls us all to follow his example of self sacrifice, to take up our own cross and follow Him. That means being prepared to die daily. To stand up and be counted as a Christian calls for courage of no mean order. To stand for morality in an immoral society, for kindness in a cruel society, for honesty in a corrupt society, means exposing one's defences to the enemy's weapons of ridicule, logic and cunning. Unthinkingly people sometimes assume today that to be religious is effeminate. To dare to stand fast in the Christian faith, however, calls for a degree of courage not all are prepared to assert. It is a fact that world-wide more Christians have died for their faith in this century than in all the previous ones put together. Opposition may be overtly physical, it may be subtle and psychological. Both call for courage. We do not know what the future holds. We know that human nature has not changed. We know that some world leaders do not share our commitment to peace and justice, freedom and democracy. In the past few weeks there have been threats to peace in Kosovo, North Korea, Afghanistan, Sudan, Congo, and those are just a handful of places that have made it into our newspapers. Hence the need for constant vigil. That is why the service of the British Legion is needed now more than ever. Today we look back as we lay up this worn out standard, and give thanks for the past work of the British Legion.
But in dedicating this new standard we look forward to the future, trusting God to equip us and prepare us to serve Him and if necessary sacrifice our lives for Him and those we hold dear. And our standard reminds us of this high calling.
For at its centre is a cross, three crosses, perhaps our own.
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
Let us pray.