Sunday, Trinity 15

Collect

God, who in generous mercy sent the Holy Spirit upon your Church in the burning fire of your love: grant that your people may be fervent in the fellowship of the gospel that, always abiding in you, they may be found steadfast in faith and active in service; 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

Lord God, defend your Church from all false teaching and give to your people knowledge of your truth, that we may enjoy eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion

Keep, O Lord, your Church, with your perpetual mercy; and, because without you our human frailty cannot but fall, keep us ever by your help from all things hurtful, and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings

Old Testament

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.’ So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, ‘In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?’ And Moses said, ‘When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.’

Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, “Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.” ’ And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked towards the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, ‘I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” ’

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.

Exodus 16:2-15

Psalm

1    O give thanks to the Lord and call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples.

2    Sing to him, sing praises,
and tell of all his marvellous works.

3    Rejoice in the praise of his holy name;
let the hearts of them rejoice who seek the Lord.

4    Seek the Lord and his strength;
seek his face continually.

5    Remember the marvels he has done,
his wonders and the judgements of his mouth,

6    O seed of Abraham his servant,
O children of Jacob his chosen.

Psalm 105

Epistle

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Philippians 1:21-30

Gospel

‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’

Matthew 20:1-16

Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 15

‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

What do you think when the landowner says this to those who are grumbling round about him? I think Jesus is challenging us to change the whole of the world order. He wants us to base the whole of our lives on generosity, an attitude which encourages us to divest ourselves of possessions. Envy does exactly the opposite – envy is grasping. It resents the state of affairs that it does not control. You can look at history as the playing out of the control in life. Sometimes it is a very greedy control, sometimes it is a laissez faire attitude.

The 1970’s exhibited a very generous attitude, with John Lennon’s “Let it be” as the theme tune of the period. It was a period when none of the hippies wanted to “take control” and anarchists were the biggest threat at the time to ordinary people and those wanting to control everyone and everything around them.

I think all those protests in the US pointed to this fact, and when you look at the reactions to the protests, you have to admit that control was foremost in some minds. Sending in the army to break up protests was the clearest indication of this. The most poignant example was the killing of students at Kent State.

But what were the protests about? It had to be that “letting be”. The giving up of control over others, had to be at the front of everyone’s minds who agreed with such heavy-handed tactics. One of the protests wide-spread through the United States was that of civil rights, and a more gentle movement you would never find.

A protest which was based on civil disobedience and passive resistance could never be threatening. Standing on the street singing gospel songs of liberation in the hope that all would become brothers and sisters – is that the sort of thing which should promote the very harsh reaction of arrests and baton charges?

The spiritual “We shall overcome,” sounded in the ears of everyone before the cracking of skulls and the screams of pain and fear. The hope of the gospel was the basis for that period of our lives, when we hoped that salvation would be universal and that hate and envy would melt away.

Isn’t this the vision Jesus offers in this parable of the landowner? He will hire anyone and pay them a fair price for their labour. The contract was for work and a day’s wages. Everything was tacitly agreed.

Everyone will have a living wage (that is what I reckon a day’s wages means) and no one will go without – I imagine that is what the notion of the welfare state means. The landowner is living out that ideal. By paying people a day’s wages whether they worked one or ten hours he is providing something other bosses don’t. Isn’t he being generous to everyone who had faith in him, that he would not short-change them? How many places have you worked that gave you that confidence? I know that I haven’t had many bosses who were that gracious.

But this is not a critique of the socio- economic system. Rather, I am exploring the attitudes of people in the system. I want to see how these words illuminate the gospel of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world, in our lives. How do they expose Jesus Christ to us today, here and now?

Today we are speaking about spiritual properties which impact how we interact with one another. Today we are making observations on morality, on love. Steve Taylor sent a note to me about his thoughts on last week’s reading which said in part, “There is a balance to be struck between individual liberty and corporate responsibility.” What is the balance Jesus sets up? I wonder: could it be that  Jesus taking a moral stand against greed here? Is he castigating the envy people have toward the lucky people among them like the jackpot millionaire who appears in our midst? After all they have not toiled for their fortune like the rest of us who have scraped together what little we have. We are envious, aren’t we? Years ago there was an extensive discussion of the politics of envy at a time when there was so much industrial unrest.

The landowner’s questions call into question the everyday attitude which accepts that the reason for any activity is self-interest. Everyone – that ubiquitous and anonymous “they” – says, “I am doing this for myself.” That is a very different attitude from what the landowner’s questions suggest. The landowner wants to do things for others. The questions exhibit Jesus’ selflessness. Generosity turns our usual attitude on its head, doesn’t it? After all, in business bosses want to keep everything for themselves, that profit motive. And on the shop floor, the workers are wanting more and more all the time because that is what their bosses do. Whenever anyone in the supply chain is generous, when people don’t worry about “profit”, the system shakes to its foundations and could finally collapse, don’t you think?

The landowner talks of “possessions”. What is it that belongs to him? The landowner is letting go of things here, isn’t he? He wants to be generous with “his possessions”. Who can prescribe what one ought to do with what has come into our personal care? Only the individual can do that. The consuming passion toward possession is enflamed in our economic system and culture, for example by the ads in the media and the pronouncements of our politicians. That passion permeates the whole of life.

But this is not a seminar on the capitalist system. I know a lot of things go through my mind when I think over the landowner’s words. There are a great many aspects to the questions he asks. From the very prosaic and selfish attitude, “Can’t I pay a man what I want to?” to the very complicated marxist critique of the capitalist system. – “A worker is entitled to a living wage and decent treatment because he has agreed to work for you. He is not merely a means of production. You don’t own the worker.”

These are very political statements and that is not the reason I am standing here, although the gospel does have an active, even a political, dimension. There are strands of Christian Theology which have their expression in active politics. They appeared in Europe with Marxist Theology and in South America with Liberation Theology. There are even strands of Existentialist Theology which impel us towards action. I think all the landowner is doing in his gracious generosity is just what Paul says, “Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

Amen

Sunday, Trinity 14

Collect

Almighty God, whose only Son has opened for us a new and living way into your presence: give us pure hearts and steadfast wills to worship you in spirit and in truth; 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

Merciful God, your Son came to save us and bore our sins on the cross: may we trust in your mercy and know your love, rejoicing in the righteousness that is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion

Lord God, the source of truth and love, keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, united in prayer and the breaking of bread, and one in joy and simplicity of heart, in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings

Old Testament

Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, ‘What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?’ So they approached Joseph, saying, ‘Your father gave this instruction before he died, “Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.” Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.’ Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, ‘We are here as your slaves.’ But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.’ In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

Genesis 50:15-21

Psalm

[

1    Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me bless his holy name.

2    Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits;

3    Who forgives all your sins
and heals all your infirmities;

4    Who redeems your life from the Pit
and crowns you with faithful love and compassion;

5    Who satisfies you with good things,
so that your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.

6    The Lord executes righteousness
and judgement for all who are oppressed.

7    He made his ways known to Moses
and his works to the children of Israel.

]

8    The Lord is full of compassion and mercy,
slow to anger and of great kindness.

9    He will not always accuse us,
neither will he keep his anger for ever.

10    He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.

11     For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his mercy upon those who fear him.

12    As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he set our sins from us.

13    As a father has compassion on his children,
so is the Lord merciful towards those who fear him.

Psalm 103

Epistle

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgement on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honour of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honour of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honour of the Lord and give thanks to God.

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God. For it is written,

    ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall give praise to God.’

So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Romans 14:1-12

Gospel

Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they how many times we were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’

Matthew 18:21-35

Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 14

Last week we heard about how we ought to help people who are in a bad way. Jesus said, ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.’ I talked last week about these delegations – today we heard that those delegations of love need to visit seventy-seven times, not just seven times when such an intervention is required. I think these two lessons from Matthew 18 have to be read together. It is a shame the lectionary separates them. I think it shows that Jesus’ approach to the sinner is never-ending just as it should be for us – we are to go to the sinner seventy-seven times. First he tells us that we have to go quietly to the other person and we have to keep going to that person who has claimed our attention because of misdeeds. We start out very simply then get more and more people involved in the process. We are asked to keep approaching the other and encourage change out of love, I would say.

Such dedication to the other is not our normal behaviour, is it? In our usual busyness, we don’t have the time to devote to the other person, especially if we have been offended, or that other person is a “trespasser”. For instance, in our everyday, we say, “Hello, how are you?” But do we stop to listen to the answer? We are always on our way to something else, something “more important” than a conversation about that other person’s “how”. We believe we don’t have the time to sit down and really hear how that person is. We don’t listen to the spoken, but we also don’t listen for the silent tale the other is telling us then and there in response to our very banal question.

But we do have that time! Lockdown proved that to us, didn’t it? At least we all admitted we appreciated the time we were taking to be ourselves in isolation, the time we had to talk with others even if through the barrier of a windowpane. Why aren’t we continuing to do so? I want us all to take the time to listen and hear what the other person is saying to us when we ask, “How are you?” It seems we will have to slow down and be less busy to do that.

But that is not the reason this combination of lessons has leapt to the front of my mind. I think the dealing with sinners is what Paul is writing about as well, but his words do not deal with people who “sin” as such. Paul writes, “Welcome those who are weak in faith.” These are words which should encourage all of us. After all, anyone may be seen as weak and it could be that someone might welcome us. They might be making us a friend or just give us a smile to make our day a little brighter.

Welcoming those who are weak shows a benevolent love. After all, when we love someone, we do it just for the sake of love, don’t we? Love expects nothing. Love is a completely open attitude. We have to be without prejudice when we welcome the weak, don’t we? We have even shown this in “political correctness” haven’t we? Generally the insignificant have taken on real substance in the world.

Our bad attitudes towards minorities have changed, haven’t they? All right – we may not like the way these game changers have been introduced, but, I am sure, it has changed the way we think fundamentally. Do we ever use the pronoun “he” in the same way any more? No longer does “he” include everyone in the same way as that exclusive “he” used to. Are we not more aware of the “she”in the “he” today, so much so that often “she” becomes the generic personal pronoun in speech?

Our conscious attitudes, I would say, have changed because of the impulse of love, that agape which Jesus showed in his teaching and miracles and Paul extolled in his letters to the young churches. – The open self which loves, encounters every other person in the same way, so naturally the old normal, the everyday of being jostled by the “they” – that crowd which takes over our lives causing us to be too busy – the old ways of behaviour have been forsaken for a new normal, a way of life which arises from the solitude of being one’s own self. I hope that as we have risen from the isolation of lockdown, we will not return to those bad, old ways.

“Welcome those who are weak in faith,” Paul writes. I think he could be speaking directly to us in this covid world, but especially in a post-covid world. The weak in faith are the people who are not strong in themselves. They are afraid in their isolation, fearing the approach of the stranger as a possible introduction of that evil virus. – Such an attitude has been repeated so many times in the history of civilisation. Today’s fear is just as debilitating as the fear of AIDS only three decades ago, or the terror at the black death three centuries ago, or the anxiety at leprosy two millennia ago. We dread so many things, and they take over, when we are weak. As we are here in church, we say we are weak in faith, we hope to bolster our faith through confession, but we all know how this weakness affects the whole of our lives. We fear we cannot cope against the evil, great and small, which confronts us day by day.

I think that is why we fail in our being caring people: in other words, we sin, plain and simple. We are weak But there is nothing simple in our experience of our failure. It is always the most awful thing that has ever happened in human history. Every adolescent knows that – they can not go on because the weight of the world is pressing down so hard on them that they are afraid. They fear everything sometimes to suicide.

That is when the delegation of love should arrive. Whether the sympathetic singleton, the gracious group or the caring community, whatever the profile of the delegation, the weak in faith should feel supported in the hands of love. After all, who else but someone who loves dispassionately will approach the sinner seventy-seven times? That is the gospel message for today. That is what Paul encourages us to do for everyone, but especially those who are weak in faith. Welcome them, just as Joseph finally embraced his estranged family when he said to them, ‘ “have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.’ In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.’ I suppose that we need to encourage this ideal love – love of our neighbour, the stranger and the weak. We need to embrace them with kind words and reassurance. We have all been recipients of that delegation of love sent from the great congregation gathered around the throne of God in Jesus. We are now all encouraged to act on that love which transforms the world for all of us, from the chaos of despair into the cosmos of hope. We need to listen with those ears Jesus demands, so we will hear those tales without prejudice as they are told to us even though it is the ordinary, “How are you?” which elicits it.

Amen

Sunday, Trinity 13

Collect

Almighty God, who called your Church to bear witness that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself: help us to proclaim the good news of your love, that all who hear it may be drawn to you; through him who was lifted up on the cross, and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

or

Almighty God, you search us and know us: may we rely on you in strength and rest on you in weakness, now and in all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion

God our creator, you feed your children with the true manna, the living bread from heaven: let this holy food sustain us through our earthly pilgrimage until we come to that place where hunger and thirst are no more; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings

Old Testament

So you, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked ones, you shall surely die’, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life.

Now you, mortal, say to the house of Israel, Thus you have said: ‘Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?’ Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?

Ezekiel 33:7-11

Psalm

33    Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes
and I shall keep it to the end.

34    Give me understanding and I shall keep your law;
I shall keep it with my whole heart.

35    Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for therein is my delight.

36    Incline my heart to your testimonies
and not to unjust gain.

37    Turn away my eyes lest they gaze on vanities;
O give me life in your ways.

38    Confirm to your servant your promise,
which stands for all who fear you.

39    Turn away the reproach which I dread,
because your judgements are good.

40    Behold, I long for your commandments;
in your righteousness give me life.

Psalm 119

Epistle

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Romans 13:8-14

Gospel

‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’

Matthew 18:15-20



Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 13

The prophet utters these words, “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but I do in that the wicked turn from their ways and live.”

The death of the wicked – that is something everyone understands, isn’t it? All those bullies, the enemies of the state, the sinners who flout the law – these are the people we say are deserving of punishment. I bet at some point we have wished them all ill, perhaps we even anticipated with glee their demise. But why? Why do we fall into such an expectation for those we don’t like? After all, God speaks to us saying that there is no pleasure in the death of the wicked – and if God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, why should we? According to Ezekiel, God wants even the wicked to live – if they change their ways, he hopes that the wicked may be judged good because of their righteous deeds they will do.

So much of the OT tells of the absolute power of God in the condemnation of the wicked, much of the time the punishment resulting in the demise of the wicked. The wicked have been defined by the ancient Law, the Torah, and even the prophets have been known to utter threats of destruction over the enemies of God and his agents. All through any legalist system, the ultimate punishment is held out over us all – death awaits us, if we transgress. Stoning and banishing are common penalties for many infractions in the OT. Even today we have the same bloodthirsty attitude toward so many of our contemporaries who contravene the accepted norms of behaviour. How often have we watched the crowds outside of the courts as they wait for sentence to be passed on a malefactor? How often has the crowd bayed for blood when some sort of mercy has been shown on a convicted felon?

However, that is not how we ought to behave, is it? Aren’t we asked to imitate Christ, the perfect man who loved even those who crucified him? All are exhorted to take no delight in the death of a sinner. Our God speaks to his people through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The cross stands at the centre of history, dividing the Old from the New. With the Christ-Event, everything changes for us. In universal terms, the old ways of the lex talonis, where an eye was exacted as compensation for an eye, have been superceded. No longer does the legal framework of the law of death surround our lives. No, now there is an absolute freedom in the lex caritatis, the law by which we love God and one another. When Christ walked the world, the chaos was transformed into a cosmos. Life was imbued with value and meaning – love validates existence. Such a reality was anticipated in the OT, but it was incarnate in Jesus Christ.

In our lesson, Paul explicitly speaks of love of neighbour. He exhorts us to live in the new light, not the old darkness. The light is where we find Christ in the world, where there is the regard for others, where there is love. Paul’s whole message is about that transforming of existence from the flesh to the life of the spirit. In our lesson this morning we hear about the old ways and the new one. Paul wants us to live in that pure light, that light which blinded him on the road to Damascus, that life of the Spirit which is so very different to the old way of the flesh, where we descend into an anarchy of desires.

The words quoted by Matthew speak about how love works in difficult circumstances. When there are moments of hurt and pain, when people live in sin and affect others adversely, we are to go with friends to dissuade the sinner from that dreadful path. The gentle persuasion of love is the new path, not the harsh punishment of retribution and revenge. After all, don’t we all know that the big stick only falls on our own heads when we try to wield it?

The question for us is this – how do we fulfill the new law and act in the full wakefulness of a loving life? This is a question which we need to address every day. We should be able to do it on the big issues – turning around global warming and making black lives matter – but we need to do so in the everyday, the little things – improving another’s day by being pleasant or doing a good deed for its own sake. – There are so many things we can do, but do we do them? I know that I often do not. How often have I passed by that litter on the road? I should have picked it up to make the environment a little cleaner for everyone. I confess that I have failed in the little things, so what chance is there that I can get it right in the big things?

That is when the delegation from the great congregation arrives. They come to talk with us about what is right and good, but more importantly to support us in our weakest moments. Too often we don’t recognise when they come, as often they come quietly and insignificantly – the odd phone call, the passing conversation, the wave as they run by. You know, those moments that no one notices. That is the time of clarity and light, the everyday being with one another in our selves, when we do show what love means.

That is the problem for us. We have lived in the old ways too long, anticipating the destruction the law wreaks in our lives, that law of the crowd which delights in the consternation and even the destruction of another’s life. We need to change our ways, just as Paul says. We need to reconcile everyone individually one to another, an unending task. With six billion people on the planet, we really have to get a move on if global disaster is not to occur.

Perhaps this pandemic is our wake up call. Perhaps covid-19 is telling us “now [is] the moment for you to wake from sleep. Salvation is nearer now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.” We might have glimpsed this message during lockdown, but now it is the time to live out the reality which we know to be true – that reality which came very clear when we were in isolation, when the chattering of the crowd was silenced and we could think for ourselves. Unfortunately the crowd is back now, demanding our attention. The anonymous crowd is determining just how I ought to live by taking all my choices away again, those choices that were presented to me when I was isolated and alone. I, like you, came to revel in the world in which what I loved was there around me, my family and friends, the simpler life when the delegation of love from the congregation arrived and I made my own choice to love God and my neighbour as I love myself.

Amen

Sunday, Trinity 12

Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray and to give more than either we desire or deserve: pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask but through the merits and mediation of 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

God of constant mercy, who sent your Son to save us: remind us of your goodness, increase your grace within us, that our thankfulness may grow, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion

God of all mercy, in this eucharist you have set aside our sins and given us your healing: grant that we who are made whole in Christ may bring that healing to this broken world, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings

Old Testament

O Lord, you know;

   remember me and visit me,

   and bring down retribution for me on my persecutors.

In your forbearance do not take me away;

   know that on your account I suffer insult.

Your words were found, and I ate them,

   and your words became to me a joy

   and the delight of my heart;

for I am called by your name,

   O Lord, God of hosts.

I did not sit in the company of merrymakers,

   nor did I rejoice;

under the weight of your hand I sat alone,

   for you had filled me with indignation.

Why is my pain unceasing,

   my wound incurable,

   refusing to be healed?

Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook,

   like waters that fail.

Therefore, thus says the Lord:

If you turn back, I will take you back,

   and you shall stand before me.

If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,

   you shall serve as my mouth.

It is they who will turn to you,

   not you who will turn to them.

And I will make you to this people

   a fortified wall of bronze;

they will fight against you,

   but they shall not prevail over you,

for I am with you

   to save you and deliver you,

says the Lord.

I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,

   and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.

This is my name for ever, and this my title for all generations.

Jeremiah 15:15-21

Psalm

1    Give judgement for me, O Lord, for I have walked with integrity;
I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered.

2    Test me, O Lord, and try me;
examine my heart and my mind.

3    For your love is before my eyes;
I have walked in your truth.

4    I have not joined the company of the false,
nor consorted with the deceitful.

5    I hate the gathering of evildoers
and I will not sit down with the wicked.

6    I will wash my hands in innocence, O Lord,
that I may go about your altar,

7    To make heard the voice of thanksgiving
and tell of all your wonderful deeds.

8    Lord, I love the house of your habitation
and the place where your glory abides.

Psalm 26

Epistle

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.>

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21

Gospel>

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’

Matthew 16:21-28

Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 12

The prophet cries out in anguish,

I did not sit in the company of merrymakers,

   nor did I rejoice;

under the weight of your hand I sat alone,

   for you had filled me with indignation.

I think this lamentation from Jeremiah the prophet is echoed in our own time. How often do we cry over the folly of our contemporaries? We who have eaten of the Lord and tasted how good it was. How often we curse the greed of our own crowd! – We who know the generosity of the Lord to even the most despicable sinner. Do we ever cease to imprecate against the political savants who have led us into our present situation? We wonder, “why hasn’t anyone else fallen under the weight of the prophet’s indignation, that prophet who felt the hand of the Lord so heavy upon him?” He sat alone, with no company, prophesying the Lord’s condemnation to all who would hear. We sit alone amazed at the folly of the world around us. They laugh around us, with no thought for others or, seemingly, even for themselves. Alas, we sit alone and do not rejoice with our own crowd.

I think all of us have lamented the world in which we live, and it seems we can do nothing to transform it. Jeremiah sits alone under the weight of God’s judgement of humanity. He sits with a soul full of indignation awaiting the demise of those who do not see the world through eyes that seek only righteousness, through minds that probe for the good, or through hearts that love without counting any cost. He sits with no one by his side, just as we imagine we do here and now, lamenting the delay of the last judgement.

However, I have not decided to lament with Jeremiah. Rather, I want to declare my conversion.

Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? What will they give in return for their life?

I want to say that I have chosen the way of the cross and follow Jesus without any compunction, but I would be a liar. There are so many doubts we hold on to when we live in the world. Let us turn to Jesus’ words for a few moments to consider them afresh.

There is so much in these words that must be interpreted by ourselves for ourselves here and now. You and I must make our decision, just as the hymn resounds, “Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide.” That moment is now. Every moment is the moment to do what is right, what God expects, let alone what my neighbour requires.

I tracked down the whole of the hymn I just quoted because it is not well known on this fair isle. It is a hymn which is always at the back of my mind, because the Welsh tune, Ebeneezer, to which it is indelibly set in my mind, is a wonderful marching song. It provides the beat to which I wish to walk, let alone provide a sentiment which impels me on my journey. I often find myself humming the tune as I walk along. Listen to these words from the second verse :

By the light of burning martyrs,

Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,

Toiling up new Calv’ries ever

With the cross that turns not back;

This is the cross we would choose, always ahead of us on the road into the future, which is so very different to the life we lead here and now. That cross reminds us of the choice we have made for the good and the truth, despite the fact that evil prospers and our portion seems only to be the scaffold on which the future sways.

And, behind the dim unknown,

Standeth God within the shadow,

We are lost staring through that noose, in which a dim unknown is hidden. God stands within the shadow cast by the scaffold, the final judgement on our lives

Keeping watch above His own.

Even in that shadow God stands. That should give us hope, don’t you think? Despite the fact that evil prospers and wrong resides on the thrones of this world, we should peer into the gloom of what we consider the future.

This is a rather dubious place to be looking forward, as so many people have discovered today, after lockdown and the lack of a restart for many people’s working lives. They certainly look into the dim unknown within the shadow in front of which seems to stand a scaffold.

What are we to do? It is no good to be indignant, like Achilles in his tent, fuelling the fires of petty selfish wrath as we sit on our beds brooding on what personal vengeance we would like to wreak on the world where we don’t get our own way. Rather we should stoke the fires of righteous indignation – to see what is wrong all around us and to change our ways so that the good can be accomplished here and now. We have to sweep the evil off the thrones of the world and out of our hearts. We should no longer weep in our tents alone, because, as the hymn goes on, “the choice goes by forever / ‘Twixt that darkness and that light.”

We need to make that choice, to take up the cross of Christ. But here comes the confusion – what is the path we ought to tread? Where does Jesus lead us in our lives while he offers us the choice between the bloom or blight of our lives? That life in all its fullness which the bishop exhorts the diocese to live.

What is more – the words of that hymn echo the sentiment of the words from Jesus we read this morning. We have a choice to make for truth and good.

Then to side with truth is noble,

When we share her wretched crust,

Ere her cause bring fame and profit,

And ’tis prosperous to be just;

Then it is the brave man chooses

While the coward stands aside,

Till the multitude make virtue

Of the faith they had denied.

They have always said, Justice is its own reward, as we would concur that so is with goodness and truth. Our choice to take up the cross provides no riches nor fame. After all, that choice only sent Jesus to Calvary. But why did we not see what Jesus saw as the scaffold sway before him, just as it does before us, offering only faith through the dim shadows of a future. That is the point at which the brave choose for that light.

Lockdown should have woken us to this choice before us. It should have given us resolve. Lockdown should have been a radical restart for the whole world.

Amen

1    Once to ev’ry man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision,
Off’ring each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
‘Twixt that darkness and that light.

2    Then to side with truth is noble,
When we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit,
And ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses
While the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue
Of the faith they had denied.

3    By the light of burning martyrs,
Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever
With the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties,
Ancient values test our youth;
They must upward still and onward,
Who would keep abreast of truth.

4    Tho’ the cause of evil prosper,
Yet the truth alone is strong;
Tho’ her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong:
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above His own.

“Lowell, James Russell, LL.D., was born at Cambridge, Massachusetts, February 22, 1819; graduated at Harvard College, 1838, and was called to the Bar in 1840. Professor of Modern Languages and Literature (succeeding the Poet Longfellow) in Harvard, 1855; American Minister to Spain, also to England in 1881. He was editor of the Atlantic Monthly, from 1857 to 1862; and of the North American Review from 1863 to 1872. Professor Lowell is the most intellectual of American poets, and first of her art critics and humorists. This is his only hymn.” (source:https://hymnary.org/text/once_to_every_man_and_nation#fulltexts). Hymn tune Ebeneezer by Williams)

Trinity 10

Collect

Let your merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of your humble servants; and that they may obtain their petitions make them to ask such things as shall please you; 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

Lord of heaven and earth, as Jesus taught his disciples to be persistent in prayer, give us patience and courage never to lose hope, but always to bring our prayers before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion

God of our pilgrimage, you have willed that the gate of mercy should stand open for those who trust in you: look upon us with your favour that we who follow the path of your will may never wander from the way of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings

Old Testament

Thus says the Lord:

Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,

all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant—

these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;

their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;

for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,

I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

Psalm

1    God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,

2    That your way may be known upon earth,
your saving power among all nations.

3    Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.

4    O let the nations rejoice and be glad,
for you will judge the peoples righteously
and govern the nations upon earth.

5    Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.

6    Then shall the earth bring forth her increase,
and God, our own God, will bless us.

7    God will bless us,
and all the ends of the earth shall fear him.

Psalm 67

Epistle

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

Romans 11:1-2, 29-32

Gospel

[Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?’ He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ Then he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’]

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

Matthew 15:[10-20], 21-28

Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 10

He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’
She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’

With these two verses we can see the transformation of a world view. This story confirms the elevated position the Jews felt they owned over against the peoples round about them – even the Canaanite woman acknowledged it! This food they enjoyed was not to be cast down to the dogs, those who did not sit at the table with them, that kosher table on which all the legal nourishment had been laid out. Those rules and regulations were most important, separating the Jew from Gentile. Dogs will eat anything, as we dog-owners know all too well, proof of which is given every time we walk the pleasant paths around the village.

Dogs are indiscriminate, everything will pass their lips. They eat with unbridled enthusiasm anything that attracts their nasal attention. Dogs are so very different to us, we prepare and keep our food just so. Food is never prepared from spoiled produce. It is always served on clean plates and eaten with a certain decorum.

The Jewish food laws make this very clear. A Jew can only eat when food is prepared and presented in a certain way. All food that passes a Jew’s lips is kosher. Today even we gentiles prefer those perfect dishes, don’t we? All the cookery shows prove that point, I think – everything is cooked just so and presented ever so nicely.

Here we are, then, at table, sharing our properly prepared food, keeping the dogs at bay, making sure they don’t put their muzzles on, and slobber all over, the table.

No one wants dogs at the table. They have their place on the floor away from our food. This is what Jesus is saying here. The Jews are at table and here is the manna being presented to them. Only they are worthy of this fine, kosher food. No one should cast this precious food to the dogs.

Jesus is here saying that he is presenting himself to the Jews for they are the children worthy of that divine nourishment which he is. Jesus is a good Jew, isn’t he? He knows the place of his people in the order of things, of the special relationship between the God of all creation and this remnant of a people which is faithful.

However, Jesus is castigated by a Canaanite woman even though she acknowledges the special place of the Jews. She tells Jesus in no uncertain terms “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall!” We don’t mind when the dogs lick up the floor, do we? I know that in my house anything that makes its way to the floor is lost, our mobile vacuum cleaners will make short work of it.

I don’t mind when they shoot in to gobble up the crumbs that fall. Why sometimes our dogs will jostle us as we prepare our food for their own benefit. But to cause us to drop food is unacceptable. We get rather upset at that – and rightly so. There is enough for all of us, so we should not be anxious and greedy. We assure the dogs that their bowls will get filled, don’t we?

Maybe that is what Jesus is acknowledging with this story. The gentiles will get their fill from the Lord’s table. The crumbs will fall when the children have taken their nourishment. I think this is the message Paul is proclaiming as well. Didn’t we read Paul’s letter where he says there is neither Jew nor Greek before God in faith? Isn’t Paul extending the nourishment of God’s Word to everyone?

The world had become a smaller place with the Roman Empire – and how much smaller is the world today with the expansion of this electronic web! The good news became a universal message. Jesus and Paul have both proclaimed that everyone will enjoy the bounty of the table of the Lord. It is up to us to share it.

These riches have nothing to do with incense, myrrh and gold, but everything to do with righteousness, justice and mercy. The message of the two commandments – the laws of love – is to be shared without constraint as the basis of a new world order.

We almost overturned the old order with lockdown, when we learned about the values of generosity toward, and care for, the other as we kept ourselves to ourselves for the past few months. But, alas, the old ways have crept back in again, bad habits have re-established themselves as we listen to the unthinking crowd, the selfish ‘they’ which determines how we act collectively.

But I digress. – This distribution of that excellent food from the high table of the Lord is what should exercise us, as it did that Canaanite woman. How are we to treat the dogs of our generation? What will we give them to eat? What will nourish their souls?

Why did Jesus not answer her at all when she cried out in her anguish for him to heal her daughter? She was shouting at him. Why did he not answer? He spoke to his disciples because they wanted her to be gone – they no longer wished to hear her vociferous petitions for his merciful treatment. However, instead of telling them to send her away, he tried to explain his silence and inaction – that he was sent to the lost sheep of Israel. The Jews were the target of his mission, those who were chosen by God from long ago.

He turns to that woman, that Canaanite woman in the region of Tyre and Sidon and tells her that he is not going to feed dogs with what he has for “the children”. Yes, Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of Israel, but now everything seems to change – now he expands his target, the world is to be nourished. The Canaanite woman has expanded the campaign. Whether this is a change of plan or just the final revelation of the universal message of salvation, is a matter for the theologians of every age. We do need to remember the hungry dogs roaming all around us, just like that poor Canaanite woman’s daughter tormented by demons whose mother shouted at the Lord.

We have to be like that Canaanite woman, I think. We have to raise a fuss because of the suffering all around us. We must shout aloud until everyone has been treated for their maladies, until even the dogs have tasted the crumbs from the table. Jesus proclaimed with this miracle that all the world is God’s creation, a creation which he will tend. This story tells us that we are all worthy now. Jesus’ spiritual nourishment will find its way somehow even to the dogs which were once considered unworthy of anything.

Amen

Sunday, Trinity 9

Collect

Almighty God, who sent your Holy Spirit to be the life and light of your Church: open our hearts to the riches of your grace, that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in love and joy and peace; 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

Gracious Father, revive your Church in our day, and make her holy, strong and faithful, for your glory’s sake in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion

Holy Father, who gathered us here around the table of your Son to share this meal with the whole household of God: in that new world where you reveal the fullness of your peace, gather people of every race and language to share in the eternal banquet of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings

Old Testament

At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’

He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’

1 Kings 19:9-18

Psalm

8    I will listen to what the Lord God will say,
for he shall speak peace to his people and to the faithful, that they turn not again to folly.

9    Truly, his salvation is near to those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.

10    Mercy and truth are met together,
righteousness and peace have kissed each other;

11    Truth shall spring up from the earth
and righteousness look down from heaven.

12    The Lord will indeed give all that is good,
and our land will yield its increase.

13    Righteousness shall go before him
and direct his steps in the way.

Psalm 85

Epistle

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that ‘the person who does these things will live by them.’ But the righteousness that comes from faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ down) ‘or “Who will descend into the abyss?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?

‘The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart’

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’

Romans 10:5-15

Gospel

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

Matthew 14:22-33

Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 9

Walking on water – that is something we all dream of, isn’t it? It is something all the superheros do. When we realise that we are ordinary mortals, we are bitterly disappointed – we are not able to do this miraculous feat – it is so far beyond our own mortal capabilities. So whenever we use the phrase “walking on water”, we are talking of the impossible for ourselves. Such a perambulation is for the gods who might walk among us. Don’t we, after all, know that no one can walk on water?

Peter was in that boat floating on the waves which had battered the boat about and had driven it far out onto the lake. He cried out in fear because he saw Jesus approaching: Jesus was “walking on the lake”. The disciples in the boat thought they were seeing a ghost. Wouldn’t you? After all, who do I know who walks on water? But Jesus told them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” It really was Jesus walking toward them on the surface of the lake. He was not swimming, nor was he up to his waist in the water wading,  but he was walking normally toward the boat – Jesus was walking on the water. Wouldn’t you think you were seeing a ghost and cry out with fear?

But, if they listened, there were words of comfort as they screamed their terror. “Take heart.” Jesus declares, “It is I.” He explains, “Do not be afraid.” He assures them. There was no ghost on the water. It really was Jesus. There is no reason for fear. After all, their friend and teacher, Jesus, approached them. Don’t we all know this, here in this boat as we float together in the confusion of our lives? We do if we listen to this voice, this voice which calms us and the stormy lake so that we can look at things as they really are.

And, lo and behold, Peter is saying to Jesus, “If it is really you, command me to come to you on the water. After all, you are my miracle worker – I should be able to do anything you ask.” This is the sort of thing we might say, isn’t it? I might say, ‘Well, I can’t possibly do this sort of thing, but if I have to,
if you command me
, then I will do it.’ Peter is saying that it is not in his power to walk to Jesus on the water, but he will do it because he will surrender himself to Jesus. He will do what is required of him. Don’t we all want to do that? We all march to the beat of the drum, the crowd’s fascinating rhythm or maybe the beatnik’s bongo. Peter takes up Jesus’ cadence on the water, and so can we.

So far we have only looked at the first part of this miracle story. Our faith, our trust, in the one calling us to him is the import of this part of the story. Jesus commands us in a very different way. He does not coerce us to obey. He does not compel us to do anything. Instead Jesus draws us out of ourselves to do something we don’t think we can. Jesus calls Peter to walk to him. In itself, this is nothing, but the path is not one he would choose for himself, because it leads over the deep and disturbed water of that very large lake.

Walking on the water, this is well beyond our ordinary capabilities, isn’t it? Why, I am not sure it is even within my powers extraordinaire. After all, I am not the superman of legend, neither of Marvel comics nor of Nietzschean imagination. I am a mere mortal called to do something I fear I will not be able to do. I am called to walk toward Jesus.

That is something no one admits to. Do we ourselves even within these four walls admit that we have tried to walk on that water which separates us from God? So, what is this miracle story all about? We don’t know about walking over that abyss between ourselves and that ultimate other – why, often we cannot close the gap between our lovers and friends – let alone spring from the precipice of our doubts into the arms of God!

So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus.

Haven’t we all done this at some point in our lives? Haven’t we all got out of ourselves and started towards Jesus? We have all started walking on that symbolic water, walking over the abyss of doubt.

But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out,

What we don’t note in our steady walk toward Jesus is the strong wind blowing about us nor the waves billowing about, for we are focussed on our goal. Nothing distracts.

However, Peter gets distracted – he starts to notice everything about him and he loses his way. Peter begins to sink below the surface of that water. Peter has lost his way. He now roams a stormy and most dangerous place, where we could be lost forever. In terms of psychology, it is the unconscious, where all the unknown of life is stored. It is no wonder, as Peter sinks into the sea, he cries out in fear.

No wonder Peter calls out, “‘Lord, save me!’” We understand this, don’t we? Aren’t we all afraid of that collective unconsciousness? Should we dive into the darkness of ourselves? I think we are afraid to do that. However, it may not be necessary, especially if we allow ourselves to be caught up by Jesus as Peter was. “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him.” – Let us not be distracted. We do not want to sink into that abyss below our pathway. We do not want to be castigated for unfaith as were the disciples. Peter here is asked, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’

We are asked the same question – why are you listening to the distracting noise of the wind and the splashing of the waves? The path is clear, but you have no faith. Do not concern yourselves with the storms around you! Jesus says. Concern yourself only with that goal, those hands which will raise you up out of the chaos of distraction. You only have to return to the boat with that other of supreme worth.

When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

I hope we can say with the disciples, “Jesus is the Son of God”. I hope we can stand in that boat floating on the deep of doubt and trouble and be calm. Jesus’ voice calls to us through all the turmoil of life, that foaming sea into which we sink if we become distracted away from that voice of conscience. That is the voice that has been speaking through the whole of lockdown. We must not lose the ears to hear.

Amen

Sunday, Trinity 5

Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified: hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people, that in their vocation and ministry they may serve you in holiness and truth to the glory of your name; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

or

Almighty God, send down upon your Church the riches of your Spirit, and kindle in all who minister the gospel your countless gifts of grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion

Grant, O Lord, we beseech you, that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by your governance, that your Church may joyfully serve you in all godly quietness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings

Old Testament

10    For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,

    making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

11    so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,

    but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

12    For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;

    the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

13    Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;

    and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Isaiah 55:10-13

Psalm

1    Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion;
to you that answer prayer shall vows be paid.

2    To you shall all flesh come to confess their sins;
when our misdeeds prevail against us, you will purge them away.

3    Happy are they whom you choose and draw to your courts to dwell there.
We shall be satisfied with the blessings of your house, even of your holy temple.

4    With wonders you will answer us in your righteousness, O God of our salvation,
O hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.

5    In your strength you set fast the mountains
and are girded about with might.

6    You still the raging of the seas,
the roaring of their waves and the clamour of the peoples.

7    Those who dwell at the ends of the earth tremble at your marvels;
the gates of the morning and evening sing your praise.

8    You visit the earth and water it;
you make it very plenteous.

9    The river of God is full of water;
you prepare grain for your people, for so you provide for the earth.

10    You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges;
you soften the ground with showers and bless its increase.

11    You crown the year with your goodness,
and your paths overflow with plenty.

12    May the pastures of the wilderness flow with goodness
and the hills be girded with joy.

13    May the meadows be clothed with flocks of sheep
and the valleys stand so thick with corn that they shall laugh and sing.

Psalm 65

Epistle

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Romans 8:1-11

Gospel

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’

‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 5

The growing of a crop (flowers or vegetables) and how the harvest comes, are things we cannot penetrate. It just happens. All we know is that seeds grow wherever they land, in either good or bad soil, or even no soil at all, but we do not know why, nor how, all this living and growth happens. It seems we can make no sense of it except with help. This parable from the gospel is rather perplexing, isn’t it? Don’t we, like the disciples, wonder why Jesus taught in parables? Jesus replied to them that people listen but do not hear, much the same lesson that Isaiah gave in another place, in words that still apply today, I suppose. Jesus, however, relented and explained this parable for his followers, according to our reading. — This explanation of the parable might allow us to think we can understand everything – why, we might even think that we have secret knowledge. It is hidden in the parable and we, in this hubris of ours, consider ourselves the only people who understand. The one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church fought against this tendency in the beginning, when they fought against the gnostic heresy, and this battle has been rekindled in my lifetime. There is no secret knowledge, the Church says, there is only public faith and belief, so we proclaim today that salvation belongs to all who believe.

However, the notion of secret knowledge has always been a lure. Whether it is the solution to a quadratic equation or a probability conundrum, or maybe it is how to brew a love potion, or perhaps even the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, this secret knowledge tempts us away from the humble life of belief, separating us from the simplicity and open-ness of faith.

All of us are aware of this, aren’t we? This secret knowledge, this knowledge that makes us so different from the mass of humanity, could give us airs and graces beyond our humanity. We might think we are better than others because we have this very special knowledge. And so we fail to learn the significance of the meaning behind the parables which we hear. Sadly, it would seem that we have fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah about the people of Israel, and what Jesus feared for his disciples and believers in years to come. Jesus decries: “this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes.” We are condemned all because we think we have secret knowledge, because we think our special knowledge makes us so very different from everyone else.

But the wizard, Harry Potter, does not think himself better than anyone else, does he? He has special knowledge, knowledge which his teachers have freely given to him and his fellow students. It is all there, ready for them to use for good or ill. Similarly, Jesus teaches everyone the same. He uses parables because he wants everyone to be “on the same page.” – That book we read is not one which the hermeneuts own for themselves, a book which they hide away, as they say that no one else can read what is really in it except them. However, Harry Potter is just like everyone else, he has learned all the lessons the teachers have taught, but he is extraordinary because he has not been changed in his fundamental being – he is still humble and honest at heart, Harry is still self-deprecating and forthright in every situation. He has not raised himself above the crowd, but he distinguishes himself from the crowd by being himself. This is no mean feat, something I think Jesus emphasises by speaking as he does.

Parables are what places us all together in the same situation and without distinction. Parables are so often a blank wall at which we stare for far too long. I suppose that is why we let those questionable specialists con us into thinking we cannot understand anything for ourselves. We hide in the crowd of unknowing and play dumb. We let the self-proclaimed experts hoodwink us to follow them because they know Greek and can translate the ancient text. We let them take charge of the meaning of the texts for their own purposes when the meaning of the texts should be our own. I would rather say that we need to struggle with the text for ourselves, grasping the nettle of understanding with our own hands.

I think we should see parables as ciphers, that blank wall, through which we grasp ourselves and the world around us. So let us consider the parable we have been given this morning for ourselves.

What should our focus be? In this parable what is important? Should we concentrate on the sower? Is he being profligate and wasteful with the seed – broadcasting it on good soil and all that bad ground, where there are only rocks, and brambles and thorns, and perhaps even no soil at all? Who is this rather poor sower of the seed, who would cast it everywhere in the world, rather than holding back seed from all those bad and unprofitable areas?

Or should the seed itself take our attention, this precious seed which will spring forth and grow strong and yield a harvest? Or is it the ground into which the seed falls which should take our attention, all of those good and bad places where this seeming magical seed will land? – Where should we turn our attention in this parable? There are so many ways to approach this parable, aren’t there? No wonder we abrogate our responsibility to search for the meaning of the parables for ourselves. We think it so very difficult to come to grips with parables for ourselves. We would rather let the experts, like the NT scholar, Joachim Jeremias, do all the hard work of applying the parable to our lives here and now, so we can handle it at a far remove without any cost to ourselves.

I say that is much too easy – to let someone else make up our minds for us. I would want us to take the harder route, where we have to confront the meaning of the parable for ourselves, where the parable becomes our own. Of course, we may come to the same conclusions as so many others, those hermeneutical scholars included, but the dialogue we have had about the parable with our friends or even just privately in my own head, is the thing, the experience of teasing out the meaning  is the crux, not merely holding on to the bare explanation of the parable. That is what makes knowledge real and meaningful. Of course, it is so much simpler to have knowledge we can recite by rote, never having had to struggle with it. It is easier to follow the crowd and comply, but it is far more rewarding to make things your own by being yourself and living by that faith which is hard won. When we finally understand the parable alone or in dialogue with others, we can value everyone with their own opinions equally and life is valued at its fullest, as Jesus promised.

Amen

Trinity 4

Collect

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that with you as our ruler and guide we may so pass through things temporal that we lose not our hold on things eternal; grant this, heavenly Father, for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

or

Gracious Father, by the obedience of Jesus you brought salvation to our wayward world: draw us into harmony with your will, that we may find all things restored in him, our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Post Communion

Eternal God, comfort of the afflicted and healer of the broken, you have fed us at the table of life and hope: teach us the ways of gentleness and peace, that all the world may acknowledge the kingdom of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings

Old Testament

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!

    Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!

Lo, your king comes to you;

    triumphant and victorious is he,

humble and riding on a donkey,

    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim

    and the warhorse from Jerusalem;

and the battle-bow shall be cut off,

    and he shall command peace to the nations;

his dominion shall be from sea to sea,

    and from the River to the ends of the earth.

As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,

    I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.

Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;

    today I declare that I will restore to you double.

Zechariah 9:9-12

Psalm

8    The Lord is gracious and merciful,
long-suffering and of great goodness.

9    The Lord is loving to everyone
and his mercy is over all his creatures.

10    All your works praise you, O Lord,
and your faithful servants bless you.

11    They tell of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your mighty power,

12    To make known to all peoples your mighty acts
and the glorious splendour of your kingdom.

13    Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom;
your dominion endures throughout all ages.

14    The Lord is sure in all his words
and faithful in all his deeds.

Psalm 145

Epistle

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.

Romans 7:15-25

Gospel

‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,

“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;

we wailed, and you did not mourn.”

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’

At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 4

Now that the pubs are open, and we can get our hair cut and, further down the list of the governments priorities, places of worship are open again, aren’t we relieved? Here in Slimbridge we will be worshipping together next Sunday – with all the regulations and guidance in effect, of course.

However, aren’t we weary after all the time we have been locked away? We have been in camera, as the lawyers would put it, or as we would say, “behind closed doors”. I suppose we are like the apostles at the first Easter. I would say that we, like them, have all been in dialogue within our homes about the things that really do matter to us. We have talked at length with our cohabiters about that all-important meaning of our lives, haven’t we? We have found that many of the ephemeral concerns of life have fallen away. We have had to do “straight talkin’” with our nearest and dearest – and we have discovered just how dear those near to us are, haven’t we?

Perhaps we have been depressed at the world being just too far away from us, beyond the window pane. But we have also learned about just how close reality is, just a window pane away. (A friend confessed that he now understood why his dogs went wild when people walked by, and I think we now all understand that.) We have, in fact, been perplexed about the world and reality. We aren’t really sure what reality is in light of the changed and enclosed world.

Now we are further confused. With the dismantling of the lockdown everything is being overturned again. We are not sure what is right and what is wrong – what we should do and from what we should refrain. Like Paul,

When I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. … I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

The problem of being in that dark place is the problem of being behind closed doors, so I wonder whether we have been private for too long. Everything has been turned around, nothing seems certain. I would even dare to say, we don’t even know what is right and wrong. At least many of the social verities of the past have been called into question. Should I be safe with a two metre bubble, or is the one-metre social distancing really right? When do I get to hug my dearest friends? What should I be doing to “Save Lives” as the government slogan had it only four weeks ago.

Meanwhile, I have been watching a lot of television – there are so many cop shows! The more I watch, the more I am convinced that the lockdown should have helped us solve the problem of murder. We should have come to realise that life is what matters, not the commandeering of power, nor the accumulation of wealth, nor is it sex – even though money and sex are supposed to be the only two motives for murder according to one of the many trailers for the mystery channel. However, the lockdown has revealed that motives are many and involve the whole of one’s intentions.

I think that looking at only money or sex as motive of action is really a “dumbing down” of interpersonal reality, just doing what my teachers called “methodological reductionism” – that is to say, reducing why someone does everything to one of those two motives. I think it is really time to think about motives all over again and realise the many things in our lives that are important and, when they are distorted, how things do go awry, and we have to call in the detectives to help us sort out why things have gone so badly, even to the point of breaking the law. Let’s not dumb down – let’s make reality as complex as we have discovered it to be in our lockdown. Our nearest and dearest have revealed themselves as very perplexing, and we have had to come to grips with their puzzling reality as we have remained in our bubbles of isolation with them.

When things go wrong, I think we would agree that things are confused, that our motives are very mixed, that the aim of our lives can change from time to time and that three or four things can confuse in such a way that “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” We realise that it is not just the accumulation of wealth any way we can get it, nor merely the comfort of another’s arms, that are the reasons we do the things we do. The philosopher has spoken of “being-with” as one of the fundamentals of humanity, and the other’s arms and money are symbols of that human reality, of how we touch each other’s  lives. The cynical detective may be right in that sex or money are clues to see motives in life, but the really good investigator sees that essential trait of being human – that bonding with another – is really the reason we do so many things, and the binding with others in love is the finest expression of humanity.

Paul knows the complexity of his life: after all he was a Pharisee among the Pharisees, he knew the Law and kept it, why he even held the coats of the crowd which stoned Stephen. Saul knows what is right, but does he do it? I am convinced that his whole life is trying to achieve that ultimate being-with – the being-with of the faithful with God. That is the motive we must look for in our own detection, both in our own lives and in the lives of those around us. But who is this God whom we pursue with such earnestness? The theologians have always said God is that beyond which there is nothing. If we can touch it, then it is not God, it is merely an idol. The theologians have been proved right, haven’t they? In our lockdown we have learned this lesson of God’s transcendent reality at the very least.

But now, I fear, the idols are being moulded again, the ads have taken over the great thoughts of lockdown for their own ends. Amazon, once understood for its impersonal, goods-only approach, has become a place where the workplace has become a collegiality and caring environment which considers the other, customer and worker, as its primary goal. But are we to believe that? After all, these delivery companies have grown exponentially, and all the practices of the past are still in place, for example, zero-hour contracts. But to listen to the ads we would have to believe differently, wouldn’t we? Are we being deceived, or do we hope that those words actually do reveal that life in all its fullness has been achieved in the workplace?

Let us listen to our own words carefully. I have always been concerned with the corona-virus mantra. What is the prime motivation? Did the mantra really tell that story of life in all its fullnes, that life we have discovered in lockdown? My question will always be – has “the way of the world” overtaken all the lessons we have learned?

We have learned about the life in all its fullness in lockdown, how love is the ultimate motivation for all of us. I hope we will never forget our lockdown and lose our love for God, one another  and ourselves, now that we can burst out of the bubble of isolation to enter the everyday world.

Amen

Pentecost

Collect

God, who as at this time taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

or

Holy Spirit, sent by the Father, ignite in us your holy fire; strengthen your children with the gift of faith, revive your Church with the breath of love, and renew the face of the earth, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion

Faithful God, who fulfilled the promises of Easter by sending us your Holy Spirit and opening to every race and nation the way of life eternal: open our lips by your Spirit, that every tongue may tell of your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings

Old Testament

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

“In the last days it will be, God declares,

that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,

   and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

and your young men shall see visions,

   and your old men shall dream dreams.

Even upon my slaves, both men and women,

   in those days I will pour out my Spirit;

     and they shall prophesy.

And I will show portents in the heaven above

   and signs on the earth below,

     blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

The sun shall be turned to darkness

   and the moon to blood,

     before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Acts 2:1-21

Psalm

24    The sun rises and they are gone
to lay themselves down in their dens.

25    People go forth to their work
and to their labour until the evening.

26    O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
     the earth is full of your creatures.

27    There is the sea, spread far and wide,
and there move creatures beyond number, both small and great.

28    There go the ships, and there is that Leviathan
which you have made to play in the deep.

29    All of these look to you
to give them their food in due season.

30    When you give it them, they gather it;
you open your hand and they are filled with good.

31    When you hide your face they are troubled;
when you take away their breath,
they die and return again to the dust.

32    When you send forth your spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth.

33    May the glory of the Lord endure for ever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works;

34    He looks on the earth and it trembles;
he touches the mountains and they smoke.

35    I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
  I will make music to my God while I have my being.

Psalm 104

Epistle

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:3-13

Gospel

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” ’ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

John 7:37-39

or

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

John 20:19-23

Sermon on Pentecost

I wonder whether anyone remembers the Beatles’ song “All’ zusammen nun” – sorry, I should have said, “All together now.” I hope you will excuse my speaking in tongues. This is a wonderful sentiment even if it came from those “long haired crazies” as some castigated that pop group in the ‘Sixties. With that in mind, let’s begin in earnest considering these words from Acts:

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.”

How can we understand this statement today? Each of us has been isolated since well before Easter, alone in our houses, without personal contact with our extended and dear families, nor with our friends and colleagues. How can we understand being “all together in one place”? – We certainly haven’t been singing that Beatles’ song. That is not to say nothing has happened in the world – the Prime Minister has been struck down with this contemporary plague and he recovered, the economy has suffered and we are now in the midst of another deep recession, many countries are lessening their controls of movement both within and between their international borders and the relaxation of isolation is happening here. Significantly, people have seen how relevant others are in their lives, and how their lives depend on others. There has also been a lot more graciousness in dealing with one another in the little things. More importantly, I think, we have been dreaming more and those dreams have been very vivid. Why, some might say that we have had visions about life! I am sure we have taken our dreams a little more seriously, don’t you?

We have, in fact, all learned so much by being alone – but are we going to lose all that acquired wisdom by returning to the bad old ways, from those days before “lock down” when the pursuit of profit, the bullying tactics of the marketplace in every sense, took control of our lives? I say we should keep this control of our lives now that we are no longer locked up in the artificial, coercive bubble of the crowd. – Now that we have been given the time and space through self-isolation to lay hold of our lives for ourselves, we should not let go. Or will we give our lives back to that crowd which takes them over? Will we abandon the gracious living we have been able to experience in lock down, when we even applauded the work of the NHS? I don’t think that we are happy with what this bullying, anonymous “they” does with our lives, are we? The question is – What are we doing with the lives we have made for ourselves now? Do we really want to submit to the crowd’s sinister influence again? Or do we pursue what is good for life in all its fullness, something, I think, the crowd does not do?

Jesus cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” ’

This cri de coeur should shake us up. When Jesus proclaims that he can satisfy human thirst, he speaks to that fundamental yearning we all know, doesn’t he? His lesson is always new – it is revolutionary – his message overthrows the bad, old ways. Instead of bottling up the living water within our selves, we should be letting it flow out from our inmost selves to all and sundry. Just as the rain falls on the just and unjust alike, we should be sharing that living water, not choking on it. We should be watering the lives of others so that life will abound in them just as it does in us. I have to say it is a gift we have to share, wouldn’t you?

This cry of Jesus should call us out of the crowd’s old ways of self-absorption, of worrying about my own cares alone, that selfishness everyone recognises in others, but we never see at the very depth of our own selves. Jesus is telling us that our hearts are no longer the hard stones found in the wilderness. I am sure you remember that from those rocks God once let water flow, once Moses struck them with his staff! Isn’t there hope for us now? Aren’t our hearts being shaken by the loving spirit? Can’t our hearts be transformed from the stones of the desert wasteland into the waters of the garden of delight? Can’t the garden of Eden be found in our lives again? – At the heart of that garden rise and flow the four great rivers. Every Friday night we can hear about the paradise garden which Monty Don has created and extols on Gardeners’ World. There water is always flowing to the ends of the world which he has created for us all to enjoy. That water is a balm for healing – that living water will satisfy our essential thirst which Jesus addresses, that thirst for what is good in life. That living water is symbolised in our gardens with our water features and becomes actually real in our lives when we have a true faith. It wells up from within and flows out.

If we slake our thirst at the true water, that living water, which Christ offers all who would go to him to drink, then our lives would be transformed. Instead of an external control bullying us into submission, instead of bowing to the pressure of the crowd, we would offer our hearts up to all who would near us. As I have said before, when we love, we love all. We would be “all together” in a very different way – one of a sharing love, not the selfish domination of the crowd. We would be offering others the living water as Jesus does for us. When we offer life in all its abundance, when we offer that life of our hearts, when that living water flows out to others, then everything is changed.

We read, “All were amazed and perplexed.” When we all eventually come together, won’t we be amazed and perplexed? We will have to make friends anew because everything has changed – we will have to open our hearts afresh to let that living water of love lap over all around us – we will have to foster the amazement and perplexity of everyone being together again.

For those of us who have a habit of The Church in its one holy catholic and apostolic character, our amazement will not disable us, for we will be so glad to see so many join us again, as new and renewed friends. Our hearts will be opened and love will flow like the water from the stones. However, we will be perplexed because we have been away for so long. The legal obstacles of gathering are being dismantled, but will we have become too comfortable in our loneliness? This will cause our perplexity, for the legalistic crowd has forced us into the isolation of a crowd. Social morés and the expectation of peers have always brought us to heel, haven’t they? I think we all “go along” with the crowd in some way, don’t we? The crowd, I think, really does impose its will on us: don’t you?

However, we don’t like this state of affairs, do we? In our inmost hearts, we don’t want this oppression of the crowd. “They” cannot control my heart, from which wells this boundless life, this love, this agape. The source of this living love, what, I think, Jesus called “living water” – this Life in all its fullness expands infinitely in order to supply us all so that we can share forever. This is what the Holy Spirit does with our lives, while we celebrate it today and every day in The Church,  – it pushes us out toward others who thirst, just as we thirst, for that water which will satisfy forever. Isn’t that what love does? When we love, we are unstoppable – we have infinite energy for all the things we want to do for everyone surrounding us. Love drives us, like the Holy Spirit, to dismantle barriers, to share joy, to experience life in all its fullness, to live life with others – not isolated and alone, but all together now.

Let us celebrate the birth of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church today, Pentecost. Let us share that mystical potion of living water with anyone who comes our way, when we are truly “all together in one place.” Let us share the loving Holy Spirit freely as the Church has always done on this, its birthday and every day, “all’ zusammen nun”.

Amen

“Low Sunday” – Easter 2

Collect

Almighty Father, you have given your only Son to die for our sins and to rise again for our justification: grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness that we may always serve you in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

(or)

Risen Christ, for whom no door is locked, no entrance barred: open the doors of our hearts, that we may seek the good of others and walk the joyful road of sacrifice and peace, to the praise of God the Father.

Post Communion

Lord God our Father, through our Saviour Jesus Christ you have assured your children of eternal life and in baptism have made us one with him: deliver us from the death of sin and raise us to new life in your love, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Readings

Old Testament

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, “Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians”? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’ But Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.’

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.’

The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, ‘Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.’

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.’ So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them:

‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;

horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.’

Exodus 14:10-31, 15:20-21

Psalm

1    Preserve me, O God, for in you have I taken refuge;
I have said to the Lord, ‘You are my lord, all my good depends on you.’

2    All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land,
upon those who are noble in heart.

3    Though the idols are legion that many run after,
their drink offerings of blood I will not offer,
neither make mention of their names upon my lips.

4    The Lord himself is my portion and my cup;
in your hands alone is my fortune.

5    My share has fallen in a fair land;
indeed, I have a goodly heritage.

6    I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel,
and in the night watches he instructs my heart.

7    I have set the Lord always before me;
he is at my right hand; I shall not fall.

8    Wherefore my heart is glad and my spirit rejoices;
my flesh also shall rest secure.

9    For you will not abandon my soul to Death,
nor suffer your faithful one to see the Pit.

10    You will show me the path of life; in your presence is the fullness of joy
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

Psalm 16

Acts

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him,

“I saw the Lord always before me,

   for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;

therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;

   moreover, my flesh will live in hope.

For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,

   or let your Holy One experience corruption.

You have made known to me the ways of life;

   you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”

‘Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,

“He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.”

This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.

Acts 2:14, 22-32

Gospel

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

John 20:19-31

Sermon on “Low Sunday”, Easter 2

In the normal course of the Church year, this Sunday is called “Low Sunday”, because everyone took time to recover from the rigours of the great fast of Lent and the joyful feast of Easter. Today must have the record low of all years since the founding of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Church attendance throughout Europe is at zero. There is no great congregation to celebrate the risen Christ together – only virtual gatherings. It is the “lowest Sunday” because of the corona virus. The lows we have reached have induced a new terror. Everyone’s fears have become real in the light of this disease – no one is immune, even the Prime Minister has succumbed. How can we be anything but “low”?

So, how can we rise? How will we resurrect ourselves from the low of this Sunday? I wonder, will the good habit of Church attendance be re-established when our forced isolation has been eased? Will we return to the building to worship and rejoice with each other when the ban on every congregation, small or great, has been lifted?

I hope we will gather in greater numbers – I don’t think we should remain low, because of this lack of being with one another. We should be learning self-sufficiency even if our being-with is deficient. It is only through being-with- one-another that we develop and learn. The lessons I want to understand from this politically enforced singularity focus on moral behaviour and good manners – two things which, I think, belong with each other, as they reflect each other. They show themselves in our actions toward one another. Morally, we understand ourselves only in relation to those ’round about us. Our morals must reveal themselves through our manner of behaving toward one another.

I think this time of isolation should teach us about how we should behave when we do get to embrace and greet one another in love, the love of people saved, the love of people grieving.

How can we consolidate our graciousness toward each other, how can we show our moral care for the other, except through good manners when we are with one another? The social distancing we have been practising has relieved us of the burden of any close caring contact. It is much harder to look someone in the eye to express any care, when you are two metres apart. How can we pass the peace apart from signing and bellowed speech, when we cannot touch each other, when we cannot reach each other’s heart through the nuanced modulation of speech? Good manners, I think, confirms the moral space we create for each other – the handshake affirms it, our tone sustains it – the embrace of the peace symbolises and substantiates all we believe about the love of God and one another.

“In great fear they cried out to the Lord.” In these times of the virus, when we are keeping ourselves to ourselves, as prescribed by law, don’t we cry out in our anxiety? The anxious hearts today reflect the hearts of the people in medieval Europe during the time of the Black Death. How are we to keep ourselves “safe”? How can we avoid the virus and the sinister dangers of depression and despair – those maladies which can insidiously root themselves into the heart of our lives? How can we be healthy when we are no longer with others in a positive manner? Haven’t we become hermits all too easily? This life of isolation has become the norm for so many of us. It has not really affected how we are deep in ourselves. Dropping contact, staying six feet apart has not changed some of us, has it? We shop remotely, we stay at home – no change there. Has this enforced separation really changed us fundamentally? I know that I am as comfortable now as I was before the “lock down” of this legislated isolation. But even though I have not felt so very different, it has made me realise my deficiencies – how negatively I have experienced life. Now I realise just how dismaying my life has been. Now I know the low manner of my life.

And surprisingly it seems that these negative ways of being with one another just seem to appear all of a sudden. We haven’t seen them coming, have we? They are like “the leaven of malice and wickedness” – quietly taking over the course of our lives, without our even noticing the direction our lives have taken. All of a sudden we realise what we are, where we have been thrown. I suddenly realise how spiteful and mean I have always been. What are we to do when we wake up to those realisations about ourselves, when those scales of unseeing fall from our eyes? How can I remain so despicable, as I recognise myself for what I am? How can I be so wicked, especially in this Easter season, when our Lord gave himself up on the cross, and now leads us to the joy of  salvation?

Our destination of heaven has been revealed in the old, old story. The Easter garden is where we understand just what our ownmost possibility is. But when our feet are mired in the clay of the garden, and we see clearly just what we are, then we come under the spotlight of our ownmost possibility. That finality stares us in the face. What are we to do?

Like the Danish theologian, we stand on a precipice, there is no safe place to retreat into – we are exposed and alone, isolated ultimately – we must make that leap of faith into a future of infinite possibility one way or another. At the focus of all time, I must choose – as the old Welsh hymn has it – between truth and falsehood to become what I should be, the culmination of my ownmost possibility, or live the ultimate lie. I reckon the lockdown has given us that  reality of our ownmost possibility.

The existential nihilists might say that this virus has forced us into the limits of who we are, and we must confront the nothingness of our existence. But that would give us no exit from the banality of an earthly life into any of the joyful mansions of the Father’s Kingdom.

We must leap into the bright future of Christ’s promise. Lent was when the government bans on gathering together, the closing of shops and pubs, the social distancing all took hold. We christians have been able to overcome the limitations of governmental recommendations because of our faith, let alone with the marvels of electronic communication.

What is our isolation today when compared to the isolation of Jesus on the cross in those last moments of Good Friday? The old, old story does not end there, in spite of some biblical scholars’ opinions. The old, old story continues in our hearts, where our faith lives. Not in the lowliness of our fear, but in the gracious love of Christ and one another which joins us together even if we are all two metres apart.

Amen