St. George’s Day Parade 2015
Tonbridge School Chapel
Good afternoon – It’s a real privilege to be leading this service here this afternoon. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Paul and I am the Vicar of St Mary’s Church in Hadlow. For the last six months I have also been an assistant Cub Scout leader in Hadlow.
Although I have only been Woggled Up for six months as a family we have been involved in Scouting and Guiding for many years. I was a cub and a scout as a boy, my daughter was a Rainbow, Brownie and is now a Guide and my son was a Beaver and is now a Cub. And so she doesn’t feel left out my wife was a Queens Guide.
This is actually our third St. George’s day parade here in Tonbridge. At the first one we weren’t quite sure where to drop off the children and we didn’t know where anything was or how it worked. The whole thing sort of took us by surprise from start to finish. The second year we thought we had it sussed. We dropped off the children in the right place and then nipped into Pizza Express, got a table by the window and watched the parade go past whilst eating our lunch. I don’t mind admitting that we felt a little bit smug watching everyone walking past outside whilst we tucked into our Sloppy Guiseppes. We probably thought that we would do that again this year.
And then, somehow, this happened. I can’t even think about what I might be doing at next year’s parade…
The theme for this year’s service is Friendship. To be honest I wasn’t 100% sure what friendship had to do with St. George, the slayer of dragons, but then I thought a little bit harder.
Has anyone seen the ‘How to Train your Dragon’ films? I haven’t seen the new one yet but I saw the first one a few years ago.
For those of you who don’t know “How to Train your Dragon” is set in a Viking village somewhere in Scandinavia, sometime in the Dark Ages. And this village has a problem. It keeps being attacked by swarms of dragons of all different sizes and shapes who keep stealing all the livestock and burning down all the houses.
Because of this rather inconvenient situation everyone in the village has to become good at fighting and killing dragons. The people in the village who are most respected who are the ones who are best at killing dragons and, as you might expect, the chief of the village is the biggest and fiercest of the Vikings who has dispatched the most dragons.
Life in that village has been going on in much the same way for seven generations – the dragons steal the livestock and burn the houses while the Vikings do their best to kill them.
But the Chief of the Village has a son. Anyone remember what he is called? Hiccup, and Hiccup is, frankly, a bit of a disappointment to his Viking dad. Hiccup is not big and strong like the other Viking boys, he is clumsy and uncoordinated and just seems to get in the way and cause trouble for everyone when they are trying to fight off the dragons.
But Hiccup has something that most of the other Viking boys don’t have. He has brains. And he invents a machine which is designed to capture and bring down the most feared and dangerous of all the dragons – the Night Fury.
One night, while the village is being attacked, Hiccup fires his new invention at a passing Night Fury and he sees the dragon crash into some nearby woods. Hiccup knows that if he can show his father that he has killed this most feared of creatures that he will prove himself as a Viking, he will win the love of his father and the respect of his village. This is his moment to become a Viking man!
So Hiccup sets off into the woods to find the Night Fury his machine has brought down, to kill it and to bring back proof of what he has done. Eventually he finds the black dragon wrapped up in thick ropes and weights and looking as though it is dead. Hiccup draws out his knife to cut out the heart of this beast. But, at that moment the dragon opens its eyes, they look at each other and Hiccup just can’t bring himself to kill it – despite all the good things that would happen if he did, he just can’t do it. And, instead, he cuts the ropes and frees the dragon.
When asked later why he couldn’t do it Hiccup says that when he looked into the dragon’s eyes he could see that the dragon was just as frightened as him.
That is only the first ten minutes of the film and, without giving too much away, Hiccup and the dragon become friends and this unlikely friendship leads to a big change in the relationship between the humans and the dragons. And that friendship, and all that followed, was because they looked each other in the eye and Hiccup was brave enough to defy the culture of his village by having compassion on a fellow scared creature.
Friendship can sometimes start in the most unpromising of circumstances but always has the potential to change the world we inhabit. Let me let you into a secret: most people, most of the time, would rather be friends than enemies – but sometimes we need to have the courage to look into each other’s eyes and recognise a fellow scared creature and offer compassion to one another rather than slay each other just because that is what the world might expect.
Let me tell you another story about friendship and one that also involves some good scouting ingenuity.
Actually you have already heard the story, because it was read to us from the bible a few moments ago.
On the face of it, it is simply a story about Jesus healing a paralysed man. I say ‘simply’ but of course healing someone who is paralysed is a pretty amazing story in itself, which is why people are still talking about it 2000 years later. But it is not the healing that Jesus performs on the paralysed man that I want us to think about today. I want us to think about the actions of the paralysed man’s friends, and what they may mean for us as people, as friends and as Scouts & Guides.
Being paralysed in the 21st century is, of course, extremely difficult. However, there are now all sorts of devices to help people be as mobile as possible such as wheel chairs, hoists and stair lifts, we have all sorts of drugs and therapies and we are still a reasonably civilised society in which we don’t let people starve to death just because they are disabled. There are all sorts of political points I could make there but I shall restrain myself.
But just think how different and how much harder it would have been to have been paralysed in Israel 2000 years ago. A paralysed person would probably have had to beg, or rely on charity from friends or family to survive, and in order to get around a paralysed person would have had to have been carried. If you have ever tried carrying another person you will know that it is not an easy thing to do, even if there are a few of you. And to cap it all, in that society a paralysed person may well have been blamed for causing their own condition – people may well have thought that he must have been a very bad person and that his paralysis was a punishment from God. So if it is hard being paralysed in today’s society it must have been 100 times harder then.
But despite all that it is clear that the paralysed man in today’s reading had a group of loyal friends who looked after him and wanted him to get better. The man and his friends had obviously heard that a miracle worker called Jesus was in town and that he was curing people of all sorts of conditions.
The paralysed man may have said to his friends – “let’s try and get to see this man Jesus – it may be my only chance to ever be healed and to walk.”
And so his group of friends put the paralysed man onto a mat – probably a mat of woven reeds – and they carried him and pulled him and dragged him on this mat all the way to the house where Jesus was. We don’t know how far they had to move him but whether it was 100 yards or 10 miles there can be no doubt that it must have taken a huge physical effort to get him there.
But when they got to the house where Jesus was, what did they find?
The place was absolutely packed! There were so many people there it was simply impossible to get through the door.
They could have simply sat outside and waited. They could have given up and gone home. But no, these men wanted their friend to be healed so desperately that they got him up onto the roof of the house, which must have been difficult and then, get this, they dug a hole through the tiles and the roof. Let me just emphasise that – they dug a hole through someone’s roof. I don’t know about you but I might be a little bit peeved if some visitors did that to my house.
And then they must have tied ropes around their friend and his mat and lowered him through the hole and into the room below. It must have been quite terrifying for the paralysed man but he trusted his friends and I can only assume that his friends must also have been Scouts because those knots held!
And when Jesus saw the man on the mat he had compassion on him, he healed him and the man rose from his mat and went home praising God. What a transformation – the paralysed man entered that crowded room by being lowered through the roof and he must have been terrified. After a brief encounter with Jesus he is on his feet praising God and is able to leave under his own power through the door. A life transformed – but he only got into the presence of Jesus because of his friends – the friends who carried him to the house, dragged him up onto a roof, dug a hole through the roof and lowered him on ropes through the hole.
Friendship has the power to change the world we inhabit.
So if we are going to slay any dragons this year let them not be Night Furies but be the dragons of shyness or reticence or self-consciousness or unfriendliness or suspicion or any of the other things which stop us being friends with one another – sometimes we all need friends to carry us when we cannot carry ourselves and sometimes we all need to be the friends who drag the mat and dig the holes and ties the ropes to enable our friends to be healed and get back onto their feet. The more friends we all have the better we feel and the world becomes a better place one friend at a time.