I was recently asked to preach at the Annual Civic Service in Marlow Parish church. It was an invitation that I accepted for a number of reasons - an opportunity not to be missed, the challenge of speaking to a gathering of people who represented not only Marlow Town Council but Windsor and Maidenhead and Henley too. Add into this mix of people the Attorney General (MP for Marlow) and the High Sheriff of Buckingham-shire and you realise that it was a golden opportunity for the voice of the church to be heard.
I am pleased that, in a time when the church is so often marginalised in matters of local government, Marlow's successive mayors and elected councils have taken the view that this annual service is firmly fixed in their very busy calendar. They have also been keen to invite their counter parts from neighbouring towns.
The recently-retired team rector of Marlow was a member of the town forum which met to consider matters of interest or issues affecting the town and its residents. Again it was important that the church was involved in local thinking and I hope this will continue when a new team rector is appointed.
When I was considering my address for the service, I was asked by the Mayor to focus on the new civic year ahead. Choosing the readings that would give me the biblical authority to base my address on was the first step and from a short list of 'possibles I went for Isaiah 42:1-9 and Romans 12:1-18. You might like to look them up.
I posed the question 'what motivates people to offer themselves for public service'? Was it a genuine desire to make a difference in society, something about fairness, justice and equality? Public service is never an easy path to tread, so asking what prompted them to 'put their head above the parapet' allows opportunity for reflection.
Christians are called to a life of service which is perfectly modelled in Jesus Christ. Isaiah gives us the description of a servant who is gentle in spirit - 'a bruised reed he will not break and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out'. Leadership requires strength of character, but a strength far removed from power-wielding aggressiveness. The reading from Romans speaks about behaviour - of humility and using our particular gifts for the benefit of others.
Micah reminds us that the motivation for our Christian service should be 'to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God'. However, we choose to exercise our gifts, we have the perfect example of the servant leader in Jesus. As we approach the beginning of Lent maybe we can all reflect on what motivates us in our various walks of life. If we can develop our spiritual relationship with God then we can easily understand what is required of us. With renewed confidence we can then move forwards in faith and service.