Charity – It’s in a Freemason’s DNA
2 Chronicles 6:12-34; 1 Corinthians 13
Once more it is a great privilege to stand up here again in the pulpit of this magnificent church of St. Mary the
Virgin in Calne and address a few words to you at the Annual Church Service for the Freemasons in Wiltshire; especially, for the first time, as your new Provincial Grand Chaplain. It is so lovely to see so many of you here this afternoon and in such fine voice too.
Last year I spoke to you about how easy it is to have preconceived ideas about people before really knowing them and how this is certainly true in the context of Freemasonry where people outside of our organisation have become very suspicious of our Order and, thereby, its members and have often judged us through lack of any real knowledge and understanding. I have been delighted therefore to observe how, over this last year we, in this particular Province, have opened up our doors and displayed ourselves at so many summer events throughout the county and had charity fairs inviting many of the charitable organisations in the county to come and meet with our Provincial Executive and Charity Steward. Let us hope this continues for many years to come.
You may have noticed that our hymns and readings this afternoon have very much majored on the theme of charity and this is no co-incidence. They were carefully chosen with this in mind. One of our recent strap-lines has been “Wiltshire Freemasons – proud supporters of charity; it’s in a freemason’s DNA”. I guess for many those words conjure up collecting tins, alms pouches and the giving of monies to worthy causes and that is certainly part of it. Over the years we have supported the local hospitals in Swindon and Salisbury with teddy bears for sick and traumatised children; monies to the Air Ambulance; to the homeless through Alabare; therapeutic items to Victims Support and many other fantastic gifts and monetary donations to a wide variety of good causes – not to mention looking after our own widows and less fortunate brethren. Indeed at each and every one of our meetings sums of money are donated through our alms and raffles to be placed in our benevolent funds for such charitable purposes.
When a new candidate for freemasonry is initiated it is an important part of the ceremony to remind him of the wants of others by divesting him of every item of wealth on his person so that he can experience what it feels like to be without money or wealth and need the support of others - but charity is more than just that - as I would like to discuss with you today.
Today we chose two very well-known pieces of scripture. Our Old Testament reading this afternoon, given by our Grand Superintendent, was taken from the very lengthy prayer of dedication of the First Temple at Jerusalem by King Solomon – yes it was only an extract – I did spare you the full prayer which would have greatly exceeded the length of this sermon! Those of you who are familiar with this reading will know that it comes after a great description of the construction of the Temple upon which a great deal of our ritual is founded. For example Chapter 2 contains a description of the preparations for its building including entering into an alliance with King Hiram of Tyre for the provision of materials – especially timber; Chapter 3 contains a detailed description of the construction works themselves and Chapter 4 the internal furnishings of the Temple and finally in Chapter 5 the Ark of the Covenant is brought into the newly constructed Holy of Holies. Indeed those first chapters are primarily concerned with the materialistic aspects of the building of God’s House – the fabric and the contents.
We now turn to Chapter 6, part of which was read today, which is a description of the dedication of the Temple to God without which it would still, for all its finery and expensive furnishings simply be a beautiful building. The dedication is to consecrate and remind the people of Israel that the first and foremost purpose of the Temple is not as a memorial or icon to King Solomon himself and the vastness and splendour of his Kingdom (he had also had built a splendid palace for that purpose) but to honour Jahweh, or Jehovah, the God of Israel. The prayer is also a sort of “code of conduct” for the people placing God at the centre of their lives and that by observing and obeying his commandments we should live in harmony with each other. This is even extended in Solomon’s prayer towards foreigners. This then is why the Temple at Jerusalem became such an intrinsic part of the daily devotions of the Jewish people to God and why its destruction and there Exile was such a catastrophe. It was “in their DNA”.
Our second reading, so beautifully read by our Provincial Grand Master is incredibly well known and is probably the most popular reading at a church wedding. It was whilst listening to our former Provincial Grand Master giving an explanation of the Certificate for the Ancient and Accepted Rite in his role as Inspector General of that Order that it came to me that although this reading is so well known I wonder do we actually understand what St. Paul is saying?
I purposefully asked our Provincial Grand Master to give this scripture reading in the words of the old Authorised Version or King James Bible Version – indeed those of you in possession of a Masonic Bible will find that it is written in this old style. The reason I did this was because it uses the word “charity” which St. Paul describes as being the greatest of three Christian attributes – the other two being Faith and Hope. Those of us who are Christians are asked by Paul to pursue these three – Faith, Hope and Charity – they should all be in our “DNA”. Paul tells us that without these we remain spiritually immature even if we display the gifts of the Holy Spirit – even if we speak in tongues, even if we can prophesy, we can have much faith and hope but without charity we are nothing.
I rarely use the King James Version today – indeed the Bishop of Salisbury prefers that the New Revised Standard Version is used by the ministers. My preferred version is in fact the New International Version. If you open this passage in either of those versions you will not find the word “charity” anywhere on the page however hard you might look. It has been replaced by another word. That word is “love”. “Faith” and “Hope” remain but “Charity”, described in the King James Version as the greatest of the three has gone – replaced by “Love”.
The reason for this is that the original word used was the Greek “agape”. So what is the difference between the translation into charity or into love? Generally when agape was used to describe the vertical relationship between Human and God it is the word “love” which was used (our love of God and God’s love of us) but in a more horizontal relationship between Humans (manor woman towards their neighbour) agape was translated as “charity”.
Unfortunately the English language uses just one word “love” to describe four different Greek words for love having entirely different meanings – for example we can we say “we love ice cream” (storge), we can say “we love our family or our fellow brethren” (phileo); we can say we love our partner (eros) or we can say we love God (agape); but as explained, agape can also mean that same unconditional love that gives us which we should extend to our fellow brothers and sisters. This is because Christ teaches us to love ourselves as he loves us – in other words that love of agape; and to be charitable or have a love which is selflessly committed to the well-being of others. For a further explanation of these different loves C.S. Lewis wrote a book entitled simply “The Four Loves”.
This agape is something which I recently saw well illustrated recently in one of our own Masonic Lodge. A member had been able to attend his lodge for some years due to personal difficult family circumstances but things had improved a little to enable him be present at his lodge’s installation meeting and take a small office. His words, during a toast to the visitors I think said it all – despite his absence his return was greeted by a love and fellowship such as he felt he had never been away and he felt an overwhelming feeling of warmth which such unconditional love brings. That is true agape and that is exactly as God loves us – whatever we have done and wherever we have been – and which he expects us to display. For another example from scripture we can read the story of the prodigal son. At some time or other we all become prodigals but it is how we treat those who return which shows our true agape.
I want to end, finally, with just a short thought for the future. When I agreed to take on the role of Provincial Grand Chaplain I informed the Provincial Grand Master that I wanted to ensure that all lodge chaplains understood the importance of their role – after all in rank it comes immediately after the wardens. That is because United Grand Lodge recognised the importance of maintaining the good spiritual welfare of its members. I therefore want those of you who are chaplains to know just how incredibly important your role is – it is not just about saying the opening and closing prayers or grace at the supper table – it is also to work in conjunction with the almoner and charity steward in ensuring the spiritual well-being of the brethren - just as chaplains in hospitals, in the workplace and other institutions are there to support others within their secular environments.
Brethren may often struggle with their physical and mental health or with their finances and these struggles can put those brethren in a dark place. Here the chaplain can be on hand for a friendly word, a comforter and a true friend assisting the almoner in his more practical help. I therefore intend that there should be a series of sessions for all chaplains to listen to others in that role and obtain the resources necessary to fulfil this important task.
So in conclusion, let us constantly remind ourselves that charity is more than just giving money – it is loving others unconditionally as God loves us. May “charity” continue to be in our DNA.
Preached at the Parish Church St. Mary the Virgin, Calne, Wiltshire for the Wiltshire Freemasons’ Annual Church Service