Sunday, Trinity 6

Collect

Merciful God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as pass our understanding: pour into our hearts such love toward you that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

or

Creator God, you made us all in your image: may we discern you in all that we see, and serve you in all that we do; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings

Psalm

11    Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth;
knit my heart to you, that I may fear your name.

12    I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
and glorify your name for evermore;

13    For great is your steadfast love towards me,
for you have delivered my soul from the depths of the grave.

14    O God, the proud rise up against me
and a ruthless horde seek after my life;
they have not set you before their eyes.

15    But you, Lord, are gracious and full of compassion,
slow to anger and full of kindness and truth.

16    Turn to me and have mercy upon me;
give your strength to your servant
and save the child of your handmaid.

17    Show me a token of your favour, that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed;
because you, O Lord, have helped and comforted me.

Psalm 86

Epistle

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Romans 8:12-25

Gospel

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 6

Last Sunday was the first Eucharist here for over four months. We were an intimate, though socially distanced, congregation. One phrase from the mass resonated clearly with me – “bursting from the tomb” – that brought the isolation of lockdown to a symbolic end for me. Just as Jesus burst out of the tomb, so have we burst from our bubbles of singular isolation. (Our expanded bubbles may only embrace our next door neighbours, but we are now able to fulfill more fully the human essential of being-with others anew.)

Lockdown should have brought a new awareness of our world and our interaction with it. However, I am not sure whether the hard-won insights have stayed with us now that we have burst forth. Social distancing is a case in point. We all know that we can pass on this virus, don’t we? And yet when it comes to crowding together in the ways we used to,  for instance, the indiscriminate invasion of one another’s space like those scrums at the bar – images of which were on the news so frequently. When we were told we could all go out to the pub, we left the new knowledge of appropriate behaviour at home, as we would leave unnecessary baggage in the storage locker.

Gladly, we are more circumspect here in church, we are aware of what we have learned in our self-isolation and applied it in the new freedom we have been granted by the government. The Church’s more conservative breaking out of singular isolation should be applauded as we are showing that all life matters as we are being cautious in our social distance measures, giving space to our neighbours, and perhaps even sharing our bubble with other loved ones.

However, there is a lot of confusion about the direction our lives will take after the discombobulation of the past four months. It struck me, almost as strongly as the bursting from the tomb did last week, that an ad for an automobile expresses the very real disarray people feel today, for the climax of the ad blasts a tune from the band King Crimson, “Twenty first century schizoid man.”

I ask, why is this part of the lyric the high point of the ad, because that lyrical phrase blasting out makes me recall the pain of the song and of the time in which it came to fruition. The three verses juxtapose images against one another, with “Twenty first century schizoid man” as the last in each stanza. It makes me wonder about the confusion of this period of corona virus.

The parable of the wheat and the tares which we read this morning could speak to our situation, don’t you think?

I want to be able to understand this parable here and now in our own time, in terms which make sense to us as twenty-first century people, schizoid or not.

Here are the words to the song:

Cat’s foot iron claw

Neurosurgeons scream for more

At paranoia’s poison door

Twenty first century schizoid man

Blood rack, barbed wire

Politicians’ funeral pyre

Innocents raped with napalm fire

Twenty first century schizoid man

Death seed blind man’s greed

Poets starving, children bleed

Nothing he’s got he really needs

Twenty first century schizoid man

I don’t want to affirm the black picture of humanity that that song depicts, but I do wish to highlight the deep division we have in our minds when we go out into the world. Lockdown, I think, has taught us that we are very much linked one with another, like the wheat and the tares in the field. We are bound together because it is so difficult to determine who is what. I ask myself: Am I wheat or am I a tare?

As we develop we cannot be separated from one another. However, harvest is coming. Harvest is the time when we must determine who is who, what we are in our essence. Clearly, the poisonous tares must be eradicated, the good wheat will be taken into storage – eventually to make the bread we all require for life.

The wheat once scattered through the fields, once so confused with the tares, that wheat has been gathered together, perhaps stored for a time but it has been ground into the finest flour for our lives, some of the best wheat finds its way onto the altar to become the bread of heaven: it is the flesh we confess nourishes us because it is the presence of Christ here and now in physical reality, in that bread.

That is far away from this moment – the moment now, when we notice that the crop is mixed, when we see tares amongst the wheat. What are we to do? Do we tear the weeds from amongst the wheat now? No, we are told, do not weed out those tares because we might ruin what should become the harvest. Doesn’t this go against our grain? Surely we enjoy sorting things out, especially when we thing we are on the winning side.

The injunction to leave everything in the fields until harvest should give us pause for thought in our judgement about tares and wheat. This injunction should allow us to be tolerant of all, because we are all being allowed to come to fruition, to become our ownmost possibility. Wheat or tares – and really, we have to ask ourselves, who is what, when we look carefully at our lives, when we inspect the whole of our lives, what we remember and what we have forgotten?

That is the moment of the harvest we await, when tares and wheat are separated, when chaff and wheat are winnowed apart, when the tares and the chaff are consigned to the devouring fire and the wheat is taken into storage for the benefit of another generation. Will we remember the chaff, or will we be nourished by that fine wheat which was saved for the future?

Re-evaluations of people are tricky: those we thought the founders of our way of life can be assessed radically differently by different generations – tares or wheat? We won’t know until that final harvest when all of us are separated into what we fundamentally are. We hope to be judged as wheat, but in our lives we are growing with the tares. But who is who?

The parable of the wheat and tares should give us pause in this schizoid period of the twenty first century. We must become whole again. Let us be wheat for the future harvest.

Amen

Easter 5

Collect

Almighty God,who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ have overcome death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: grant that, as by your grace going before us you put into our minds good desires, so by your continual help we may bring them to good effect; through Jesus Christ our risen Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

or

Risen Christ, your wounds declare your love for the world and the wonder of your risen life: give us compassion and courage to risk ourselves for those we serve, to the glory of God the Father.

Post Communion

Eternal God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life: grant us to walk in his way, to rejoice in his truth, and to share his risen life; who is alive and reigns, now and for ever.

Epistle

But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.

Acts 7:55-60

Gospel

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

John 14:1-14

Sermon on Easter 5

While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.

What strikes you when you hear these words? I don’t know about you, but I am all at sea, lost in amazement and wonder at Stephen’s love, his love of God in Jesus and the love Stephen is showing to those who evidently hate him. Why else would they have stones in their hands ready to hurl at him? But how could he die with that loud cry on his lips?

First of all, I cannot imagine myself praying to Jesus while stones and rocks fall down on me, when pain is all I feel and know. Can you comprehend that? I am sure you can understand that Stephen went down on his knees, under the blows of missiles falling upon him. You can also understand the loud cry of his soul. “Lord, receive my spirit!” Like those soldiers lying wounded on the battlefield crying out “Mother!” You would cry out for mercy as well, wouldn’t you? We all ask God for mercy in that moment of extremity, don’t we? However, would you call upon God’s mercy – would your last words be a blessing on those stoning you? Wouldn’t you in your last everydayness shout out a curse? Wouldn’t you condemn those who were hurting you beyond measure in your final moment? What would be the last words on your lips? – I don’t know that I could bless those who were stoning me. I would be tormented at that final moment (if my conscience could be wakened in such dire straits), because these words of Jesus would accuse me, “Bless those that curse you.” I would have failed in my duty of love at the last. I would be so unlike Stephen, the first martyr.

I am supposed to bless those who have condemned me, cursed me and are attempting to murder me, but can I? Like so many, I would be perplexed. I am just like Thomas. What am I to do when in that situation, where does life lead when the stones start hurtling their way toward my head – didn’t Thomas say to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Confusion reigns in my soul as I replicate Stephen’s end.

Jesus demands elsewhere, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?” Perhaps we do not know Jesus as well as we should. Are our hearts and minds troubled? He tells us not to worry, doesn’t he? Perhaps we are not as strong as Stephen as he cried out his prayer of loving compassion in his last moment.

Stephen is one man who knew where Jesus was going, isn’t he? AND Stephen was able to follow him on the way – he was able to pursue Jesus on that hard way of temptation and trial, the path that leads through moral debt and spiritual temptation every moment. Yet, just like the disciples, we ourselves blunder on in our own ways, often without any consciousness of our extremity, often without any conscience at all. Here we stand like Stephen amidst the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and yet we need to utter our final word. Will it be the curse of the crowd, or the blessing of the saint?

On the other hand, I wonder whether we are like Saul? Do we stand behind the crowd which rush into precipitate action towards the Stephens of our own time? Do we hold the coats of that throng as they throw away the life of an innocent with their stones?

I wonder – is this the moment when Saul began his transformation? Is this the moment when Saul’s conscience is woken, when he finally separated himself from that crowd of condemnation with holy enthusiasm? Did Saul become Paul at this point of his life – when he was blessed with Stephen’s last breath?

I would suggest that we change with those moments of blessing through the curse of our lives – when we realise those random acts of kindness shown toward us and those we have given away ourselves. When Stephen’s last breath begged the Lord not to hold this vile act against the crowd, did Saul begin his journey to a new being in Christ, a person who could preach the love of God over all other attitudes, the love of God which transforms all life into care for the other and for self, just as Jesus commanded while he taught his disciples, those disciples who did not know where they were going? The experience on the road to Damascus was prepared for Paul as he held the coats of that dreadful crowd, when he heard Stephen’s voice of blessed reconciliation.

I would say that the moment of blessing is when hearts are changed. But are we fully aware of that transformation? When do we realise our destination, our ownmost possibility. We, like the disciples, ask  “where is Jesus leading us?” More likely, too often we don’t even want to know where we are heading. We hide in the crowd of unconsciousness, not aware of our destination until that moment of grace, and even then it may take some time for us to realise it, some time before we are aware of the epiphany in our own lives, just as Saul took time to become Paul.

As the light dawns and as the scales fall from our eyes, we have a new vision. – Our sight is transformed. That is our own Damascene moment, when everything drops away and we are alone with the vision of life in all its fullness. It is so very different to what we expected when we were in that crowd, isn’t it?!?

I think we have all understood this transformation now. Now that we have experienced the isolation of “the lock-down”. It has forced us to be alone. There is no distraction of constant contact, no retail therapy, no having more than we could possibly need. The controlling crowd is gone. Everything has been stripped away and we are living out our own lives of quiet desperation alone with no distraction.

The lock-down has forced us to reflect on the Whence and Whither, the perennial problems of life which philosophy and religion confront. Whence do we arrive and whither do we hasten? Why have I been thrown into this particular moment of time and space? How can I extricate myself from this torment of doubt and self-recrimination? Why does Stephen bless me as I curse and stone him to death? What is my end, when Stephen can commend me to God, even as I condemn him in his final moment under the weight of the stone I have hurled towards him? Stephen’s praying for me has called everything into question – whether it is my membership of the crowd or my isolation from everyone. Where I journey and how I do so, are ever before me because of that dying love, than which nothing is greater.

Many have said that they are dreaming more and vividly during the lock-down – perhaps the corona virus has given us back the aboriginal dream-time – when all will have visions, when the origin and destination of our journeys will be clarified. I think it may be the biblical promise of the prophet who said that all will dream dreams and have visions, when the holy spirit will enter into the world and breathe new life into all. When holy righteousness will be our everyday achievement. Let us not squander the inheritance we are being offered today, when Stephen has blessed us in spite of the evil we may have done.

Amen

First Sunday of Christmass

Collect

Almighty God, who wonderfully created us in your own image and yet more wonderfully restored us through your Son Jesus Christ: grant that, as he came to share in our humanity, so we may share the life of his divinity; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

Psalm

(1Alleluia.

Praise the Lord from the heavens;

praise him in the heights.

2Praise him, all you his angels;

praise him, all his host.

3Praise him, sun and moon;

praise him, all you stars of light.

4Praise him, heaven of heavens,

and you waters above the heavens.

5Let them praise the name of the Lord;

for he commanded and they were created.

6He made them fast for ever and ever;

he gave them a law which shall not pass away.)

7Praise the Lord from the earth,

you sea monsters and all deeps;

8Fire and hail, snow and mist,

tempestuous wind, fulfilling his word;

9Mountains and all hills,

fruit trees and all cedars;

10Wild beasts and all cattle,

creeping things and birds on the wing;

11Kings of the earth and all peoples,

princes and all rulers of the world;

12Young men and women,

old and young together;

let them praise the name of the Lord.

13For his name only is exalted,

his splendour above earth and heaven.

14He has raised up the horn of his people

and praise for all his faithful servants,

the children of Israel, a people who are near him.

Alleluia.

Psalm 148

Old Testament

Samuel was ministering before the LORD—a boy wearing a linen ephod. Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice. Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, “May the LORD give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the LORD.” Then they would go home. And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favour with the LORD and with men.

1 Samuel 2.18–20,26

Epistle

As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3.12-17

Gospel

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.

Sermon on First Sunday of Christmass

I would like to consider the substance of our collect prayer for today. We have prayed, “Almighty God, who wonderfully created us in your own image and yet more wonderfully restored us through your Son Jesus Christ: grant that, as he came to share in our humanity, so we may share the life of his divinity.”

Does this prayer really make sense to us who live in this age of science and demythologised religion? In other words, does this make sense to us contemporary Anglicans? Do we really understand that we are created in the image of God? Or more fundamentally that God has had a hand in our very creation, that God has formed us in our mother’s womb and fashioned our very sinews? And then the question arises, what is our ultimate goal? I would suggest that we are face to face with the thorny theological problem of original sin and how humanity stands before the abyss. The one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church places humanity outside of the Garden of Eden where there was a holy innocence, but points us on to heaven where there is salvation.

Our prayer accepts the fall of humanity from this ‘wonderfully created image’ into the mortality of sin. However, I wonder who really believes original sin is his or her ownmost reality. Finally in our prayer there is the assurance that we have been redeemed in such a miraculous manner so that the corrupt image within us, so defaced by sin in our very generation, has been restored to the true image of the divine in the event of Easter. The whence and whither of life is the heart of our thoughts as the new year begins.

The philosopher once described human life as “brutish and short”: we do have lives into which we are thrown with no explanation. I am sure we remember our teenage years, when we were exploring the meaning of life ever so privately. It was the time when we explored religion and our connection with any transcendent reality. Some of our contemporaries gave up on organised religion. Some did not. We were all confused, weren’t we? We had to make sense of life, and we felt so all alone. Life was certainly brutish. We were thrown into the welter of life, wondering about “where it was all at”.

We still have no “user’s manual” for life – we are just supposed to make all the right decisions. Or, so it would seem if we were to accept popular culture as a cue to the map of the world we inhabit. However, I don’t believe that. Do you think we have to stumble in life, bouncing from one situation to another, fumbling for the right decisions?

After all, if we are created in this divine image, how can we do anything badly? But on the other hand, if we are incarnate in a sinful body and mind, how are we to do anything well? These are the horizons of the maelstrom into which each human being is thrown. We founder in the storm of choices we must make – we have so much around us distracting us as we search for a way out of the terror of life.

I would like to suggest that Christmass is one of those events guiding us in the chaos of life. As the Feast of the Incarnation, it comes to our rescue to create a symbolic cosmos, where we find answers to the imponderables of the “whence and whither” of human existence. In Christmass we find the perfect expression of the divine becoming flesh just like us, don’t we? That is what all of our carols tell us, don’t they? Time and again we sing that we want to be like the child in the manger, meek and mild, obedient and good. We want so desperately to proclaim Joy to the World because the Lord has come. Today’s symbolic representation is presented in our reading from the gospel. It shows us the Chist-child in his father’s temple, that temple wherein we ourselves should dwell. For aren’t we just like the man Jesus, stranded in life making our way to God?

On reading this collect, the existential dilemma each one of us experiences has been drawn to the front of my mind, for here we are in the temple contemplating the human condition. I feel we are compelled to go to first principles as we consider the Feast of the Incarnation. I have to be honest with myself as I contemplate life, the universe and everything.

I became a human being with my birth. I was thrown into a world where I must choose the right and the good. I stand alone at the abyss without a user’s manual, but I have hope. I hope to live a good life. But how?

We always come back to the philosopher who has set the existential dilemma in front of us in the prosaic language of choosing the right course of action. His considerations, I feel, are reflected in our religious language. In the gospel we are set the mystery of Jesus innocently asking Mary and Joseph this question, ‘shouldn’t I be in the temple, “my father’s house”’? The question of the wherein we dwell confronts us starkly as we read this biblical passage and apply it to life as we know it. Do we dwell in the house of the Lord? Or do we sully our nature by immersing ourselves in the bloody filth of sinfulness, that life so far distant from the good and the right, that an angel bars our way back to it?

The prophets have always stood with us in this desert in which we find ourselves. They stand right by us in the decisions we make on the brink. We are in a wilderness and we have to see whether the tradition of prophets and religion makes sense to each one of us individually. I am convinced that we want to tread the path to glory, to release the grace within, to become that image of the divine fully human. This, I think, is the mystery of incarnation.

By being fully human, I become fully divine, all accomplished through grace.

I suppose Paul has expressed what this human divinity or divine humanity really is – “Over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Paul has given us a hint as to what the divine is in our daily lives in these few words. Let Paul provide some direction in the chaos of the new year’s eve.

Amen