For three centuries the White Ensign has flown only from ships of the Royal Navy. It was the flag flown at the Battle of Trafalgar because Nelson was Vice-Admiral of the White Squadron. But when the three-squadron system was abolished in 1864 (the other two squadrons were the Red and the Blue), the White Ensign became the jealously-guarded flag of the entire Royal Navy. Today however restrictions on its use will be lifted to mark the 200th anniversary of the battle and the Navy is encouraging businesses, householders and public institutions to fly the ensign over the weekend. They want us to share the celebration of a victory of which, in a way, the whole population was a part.
Perhaps today we might reflect on any triumphs we’ve had. Recalling specific achievements or overall success can make us feel good. Often we have needed the support and help of others and there may be ways of enabling them to share the celebration with us or at least of letting them know that what they’ve done is appreciated.
There may also be times when we feel we’ve contributed to someone else’s success or to an effective piece of work but the fact wasn’t recognized. The apostle Paul, writing about the way Christians should work together, used the analogy of a body in which crucial but apparently insignificant parts were treated with disdain.
It’s worth taking the opportunity, when it arises, to express our appreciation of those whose support has helped us become what we are and achieve what we have. We might also be grateful that, even if it’s not recognized and may seem insignificant to us, we’re all able to contribute to the general good.
Oxfam has asked people to be more selective about what they donate. Many donations are apparently just "rubbish" – a box of assorted false teeth, for example, was given last week to the charity's store in Wimbledon. It costs the charity half a million pounds a year sorting, storing and getting rid of unsuitable donations such as broken electrical items or worn out clothes.
So some goods can be recycled while other items deserve simply to be dumped. The nineteenth century saw a similar attitude to recipients of charity. Some deserved it and some didn’t. This is not a philosophy Oxfam would endorse today. It’s the complete opposite of the attitude Jesus had to people. If anything he tended to prefer the company of those who society would have been happy to dump – first century ‘trash’, prostitutes and tax collectors.
Perhaps today it’s worth checking our attitude to other people. Making judgements about other people’s worthiness is often instinctive and often made on limited information. But allowing such judgements to influence how we treat people is something over which we have more control; we might do better to put our censoriousness on one side and try Jesus’ approach of seeing value in everyone.
Gloucester Cathedral is seeking faces for their new gargoyles. For £2,500 your face, sculpted in stone, could peer down from the buttresses high up on the cathedral’s roof. Your face might become disfigured by the elements but it will be there for a very long time.
Perhaps this is what will attract candidates. Their faces will be part of a building which goes back nearly 1000 years and will probably always be there. They will be built into the fabric of history.
We don’t need to pay £2,500 for this privilege. Each of us is already part of history. Each of our actions, throughout our lives, has made a difference to the way the world has moved forward. None of us is insignificant – we all make a difference.
Today’s decisions and actions will affect not only the people around us and what happens tomorrow, but also, in a less obvious way, the progress of the whole world’s life. Let us be glad that we can make a mark in history, not in stone but in the flesh, and accept the responsibility this brings to give of our best.
A new reality show has just produced a winner. Until Saturday, a Croatian website www.stado.org allowed viewers to view seven sheep 24 hours a day, feeding and interacting with each other. Over the 10-day Stado (herd) show, a public vote gradually eliminated all but the victor who will have a poem written in his honour. It’s reported that those voted out might be eaten.
Whilst not new, the idea of using farm animals to satirise human behaviour still has punch. Jesus may have been doing it too, when he compared human beings to sheep. If so, he was doing it rather more affectionately. Far from denigrating the people who behaved in a sheep-like manner, he wanted to let his hearers know that each of them mattered profoundly to God.
Few of us, if watched by others over a ten day period, would not exhibit ovine behaviour. There are many things we do about which we feel foolish and which we hope haven’t been noticed. Perhaps today we can be glad that the one who is aware of all we do won’t vote us out for our unattractiveness or uninteresting behaviour but treat us all with equal honour.