Sermon: William Temple

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will temple

Image:  William Temple by Philip de Laszlo

My favorite William Temple quote says, “Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself one way or the other at all.”

Temple is relatively new to our calendar of saints. He died in 1944 after having served as the Archbishop of Canterbury for only a few years. He was described in a poem by Ronald Knox:

A man so broad, to some he seem’d to be
Not one, but all Mankind in Effigy.
Who, brisk in Term, a Whirlwind in the Long,
Did everything by turns, and nothing wrong.
Bill’d at each Lecture-Hall from Thames to Tyne,
As Thinker, Usher, Statesman, or Divine.

Although he was successful at many things, it is for his teaching and preaching that he is best known. It is reported during one service that he led a congregation in the singing of the hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” by Isaac Watts. At the last verse Temple asked the congregation to stop and said, “Now, if you mean [the words] with all your heart, sing them as loud as you can. If you don’t mean them at all, keep silent. If you mean them even a little and want to mean them more, sing them very softly.” The organ began to play the final verse and two thousand voices whispered:

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

In our Gospel reading today we read, “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” The Word became flesh and true love was born into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. What Isaac Watts states in that last verse is that if the universe and all that is in it were his, it would still not be enough – it would be too little to give – in exchange for the love that is Jesus; and therefore demands everything of him: his soul, his life, his all.

Therefore, William Temple was challenging his congregation with those words. If you give your all for God, holding nothing back not even life itself, then boldly sing out those words. If you have no intention of giving any part of your life for the love of Christ, then keep your mouth shut. However, if you want to mean them. If you’re trying to mean those words, then whisper them. It’s a bit like Archbishop Michael Ramsey said regarding prayer. There will be days when you can pray, but there will also be those days when you can’t, so on those days, pray that you could pray. Temple is saying to us, if you are not giving your soul, your life, your all for the love of Christ, but you want to, you desire to, then whisper the words.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

I think we would all like to boldly sing out that verse, but I suspect for many of us it is only with a faint whisper that we can join in. My prayer for you and for me is that tomorrow, we might all just be able to whisper them a bit more loudly. In the meantime, we must rely on grace to cover the difference.

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