St Sigfrid’s Day Sermon – Gareth Miller

St Sigfrid’s Day

15 February 2021

Completorium (Compline) with the Diocese of Växjö.

I Faderns och Sonens och den helige Andes namn. Amen.

It’s usually a mistake to try and tell jokes or funny stories to people from another culture, but I’m going to take the risk! I’ve been reading a very amusing and interesting book by someone called Sandi Toksvig. I don’t know if you know her in Sweden? She’s a comedian, and she’s half English and half Danish. The book is a kind of autobiography, and she tells how, as so often happens with public figures, people come up to her in the street and start talking to her as if she’s a friend. One day she was getting some money out of a cash machine and an old lady came up to her and said,

“You’re Sandi Toksvig.”

“Yes, I am.”

“Do you know what I like about you?”

“No.”

“Well, what I like about you is that you’re not a specific shape!”

Well, I’ve been trying to find out a bit about St Sigfrid, and what I’ve discovered is – he’s not a specific shape. It’s actually very hard to work out exactly who he was. I consulted my good friend Saint Google, who says that what can be said about him for sure is very little – which makes myjob easier! There are many many theories, some in conflict with each other. Was he Archbishop of York, as one source suggests? Probably not!

What we can be fairly sure about is that he came from England some time after the year 1000 and evangelised the Swedes, especially in Götaland and Svealand. So it’s nice to know that the English did something right! I did come across a Life of St Sigfrid by that ever-reliable source, Anonymous! It says King Olof sent a message to the English King Ethelred asking him to send a person to teach the Christian religion to the Swedes. The English king called together a general synod of priests, but no one could be found willing to submit to such a dangerous venture, because (and I quote) ‘everyone knew the ferocious nature of the Swedish people, and fear seized their hearts!’ Only after three days did Sigfrid, a pious and learned man, stand up and offer to go. And the rest, as they say, is history. After all his travels he came to Växjö and perhaps founded the cathedral, and died there and is buried there; and there’s a lovely statue of him by Peter Linde outside the cathedral. I was also very pleased to learn that he was canonised by the only English pope, Adrian IV, Nicholas Breakspear, who himself had spent time in Sweden before his election.

What are we celebrating today? Well, we’re celebrating a strong affinity between the people of Sweden and the people of England. It was 99 years ago, in 1922, that the Church of England and the Church of Sweden entered into communion with each other. In 1992, the mainly Lutheran and Anglican Churches of north and western Europe came together formally in the Porvoo Communion. We give thanks for that. We give thanks for the link between the Diocese of Oxford and the Diocese of Växjö. Especially today between the Akeman Benefice and the Mönsterås och Fliseryds Pastorat.

I cannot speak for everyone, but many people in the UK are sad that we have left the European Union – and it’s more important than ever that at a time when nationalism and populism are raising their heads again, churches are taking steps to emphasize our common traditions, our common inheritance of faith, our common humanity, our identity in Jesus Christ.

I wonder if you’ve heard of the Archbishop of Canterbury? In Sweden you have the Archbishop of Uppsala – in England we have the AofC. The present one is called Justin, Justin Welby. But a few years ago he discovered that the man he thought was his father was not in fact his father. His real father was a man called Mr Montague Brown! They asked him “How do you feel about your identity? Has it been undermined?” “My identity, he said, is found in Jesus Christ.” Today, wegive thanks that whether we are Anglican or Lutheran, British or Swedish or whatever, our identity is found in Jesus Christ.

I would like at this point to pay tribute to our dear departed friend, Alf Johansson, for his vision and energy in setting up our link. I would like to thank Magnus for picking it up and developing it so enthusiastically. So far we have only met on Zoom, but thank goodness for the technology, and it has been a real joy to join Mönsterås and Fliseryd every Monday for Morning Prayer. We look forward to visiting you as soon as it becomes possible. “What I like about you is that you are not a specific shape!” What shape are you? Are you a fixed, rigid shape? Or, like St Sigfrid, are you a bit fuzzy at the edges? Jesus calls disciples of all shapes and sizes. He wants to shape us, not into rigid, doctrinaire apologists, but into open, flexible and adaptable people. We grow through mixing with other cultures, other denominations, other religions, other sexualities. By deepening our knowledge of one another, we become conformed to the image of God, shown to us in the icon of Jesus Christ. Do not be conformed, says St Paul, to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the  will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. That’s the calling, and it’s a demanding one. That’s what our link, our fellowship, should be about. Pray that we may grow together, that we may be enriched and encouraged by one another’s faith.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not flag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality.

Amen.

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