Sermon preached at the service to celebrate the centenary of the Order of the British Empire (24 May 2017) by the Very Reverend David Ison, Dean

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Sermon preached at the service to celebrate the centenary of the Order of the British Empire (24 May 2017) by the Very Reverend David Ison, Dean

The Dean looks at the work of the OBE and those who have received honours over 100 years, saying "Jesus Christ reminds us that honour is due, not to those who think highly of themselves, but to those who think highly of others."


What do hedgehogs and chocolate have in common? No, not an exotic recipe cooked up by a celebrity chef with an OBE; but chocolate and hedgehogs are two of a range of good causes, from athletics to young people, cited in awards from The Most Honourable Order of the British Empire.

A hundred years ago the First World War was raging; there was great demand to recognise those serving in the war effort, who weren’t eligible for honours or military medals.

Civilians, women, ordinary people from this country and around the world were working and dying on behalf of the British Empire, people without whom the war would be lost, yet whose service was not officially valued.

The need was clear.

But there were fears of confusion with existing honours.

There were doubts that respectable women could be called Dames.

There were anxieties about class - it was felt that if the King fell into the sea and was rescued by an Admiral, a Grand Cross must be awarded, but if a midshipman saved the monarch from the deep, he would get but an MBE.

But there was also a vision, to recognise service in peace as well as in war, to be truly open and international; a vision, supported by the common sense of King George V and Queen Mary, which over these hundred years has become a reality.

Our Grand Master has this year served the Order for 64 years, and its honours have spread across the world: from South Korea to South Africa, from Shetland to the Isles of Scilly, you’ll find award-holders from many different walks of life.

In media reports we read about honours for the already-famous, celebrities in sport, politics and the arts.

But Jesus Christ reminds us that honour is due, not to those who think highly of themselves, but to those who think highly of others.

Thousands of award holders quietly go on enriching our civic life and serving those in need, building the kingdom of God in love and care for others; and their awards often recognise, not only their individual efforts, but also the service of many others alongside them.

Alive today are over 120,000 holders of one of the five classes of award or the affiliated British Empire Medal.

Untold thousands of recipients have died and gone to their final reward; and we give thanks for their part in this century of service, as we commend both them and ourselves into the hands of God, who sets before us in Jesus the example of loving service, undertaken, not because it earns us honour, but because it transforms and enriches the lives of those around us.

Hedgehog conservation, chocolate making, sport and health, industry and the arts, charity and volunteering - we celebrate an amazing hundred years of honourable service, thanking God who gives us life, that we might use it wisely and well in loving God and our neighbour.

To all of you here who are part of the Order of the British Empire, to dames and knights, commanders and officers, members and medal holders, thank you for what you’ve given to this country and Commonwealth; and may we persevere in God’s calling to share the gift of our lives in service, love and praise.