Harvest

Readings

Old Testament

Do not fear, O soil;

   be glad and rejoice,

   for the Lord has done great things!

Do not fear, you animals of the field,

   for the pastures of the wilderness are green;

the tree bears its fruit,

   the fig tree and vine give their full yield.


O children of Zion, be glad

   and rejoice in the Lord your God;

for he has given the early rain for your vindication,

   he has poured down for you abundant rain,

   the early and the later rain, as before.

The threshing-floors shall be full of grain,

   the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.


I will repay you for the years

   that the swarming locust has eaten,

the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,

   my great army, which I sent against you.


You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,

   and praise the name of the Lord your God,

   who has dealt wondrously with you.

And my people shall never again

   be put to shame.

You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,

   and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.

And my people shall never again

   be put to shame.

Joel 2:21-27

Psalm

A Song of Ascents.

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,a

   we were like those who dream.

2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,

   and our tongue with shouts of joy;

then it was said among the nations,

   ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’

3 The Lord has done great things for us,

   and we rejoiced.



4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,

   like the watercourses in the Negeb.

5 May those who sow in tears

   reap with shouts of joy.

6 Those who go out weeping,

   bearing the seed for sowing,

shall come home with shouts of joy,

   carrying their sheaves.

Psalm 126

Epistle

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

1 Timothy 6:6-10

Gospel

‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,a or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:25-33

Sermon on Harvest

Harvest is a unique time during the year. It is not something we moderns are very much aware of really, are we? With our supermarkets and modern storage systems, everything is flattened out into a constant supply. I can get an apple in or out of season, or a banana from the equator, and strawberries in December. There are lots of examples, aren’t there?

The one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, however, reflects a different time and sensibility, one that is in tune with the seasons and seasonality – we just have to look at the decoration of the church building throughout the year. At the moment everything reflects the growing season which culminates in this celebration, this feast of the harvest. It ties itself to an agrarian calendar and all that pertains to agricultural work, that fundamental supply of food to our tables. Today we are giving thanks for farmers and all the shops which supply our wishes. We have done this for years. We give thanks for farmers and the harvest. We depend on the farmers and how they store and present their produce on the shelves. We don’t have to battle the elements to provide food for the table. It all comes from storage somehow. We don’t normally go to the field to pick the produce for supper. We ourselves are not reliant on the summer sun and rainfall for our sustenance – just the shop. Our lives today are not dependent on anything precarious like the weather – or are they?

Lately, I hope that we have realised modern convenience relies on a great deal. We have to go to the shop, the shop buys its products from different suppliers, the suppliers rely on transport (as do we). This interdependency can be very complicated, and events on the news have proven this point. The web of human interaction has been highlighted by economic realities, hasn’t it? First, it was the shortage of carbon dioxide – we panicked about the possible shortage of food because of the use of CO2 in food production, let alone our drinks, then came the shortage of lorry drivers and the shelves in the shops seemed to have been affected. Finally, there was the lack of drivers delivering fuel, and the consequent panic buying at petrol stations, in spite of the fact that everyone said there was enough fuel – you may have passed by when there were cars snarling up the roads as they waited to fill up. And now the petrol stations stand empty waiting for deliveries, just like some of the shelves in the shops.

We should take heed of our dependency on each other. We should have learned this lesson from the pandemic. Unfortunately, “getting back to normal” actually seems to mean “selfishness” or  “being greedy again” to ever so many people.

In our epistle we read, “There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment.” I wonder whether we have thought about this sentiment at all during the isolation of lockdown, but especially now while we wonder about “getting back to normal.” The epistle goes on to describe the life of the discontent – it is not a very pretty picture, is it? When we think about our own lives, what do we imagine our lives to look like? The “great gain of godliness” – or are we so discontent that we want nothing to do with God? I wonder whether this discontent is the reason churches stand empty nowadays.

Being content – just what is that? Is it merely accepting whatever comes our way? Are we content with the way things are because we feel powerless to change the way those things are? Or are we too weak-minded to decide to change those bad things for the better.

This is not the christian way, though, is it? Christians have always hoped for something better, don’t we have stronger wills than the usual – we have always hoped for heaven, haven’t we? The social gospel is the embodiment of these ever-so-real aspirations. We believe passionately that salvation is for everyone, don’t we? So, I would say, we christians are never content. – We christians don’t blithely accept everything that comes our way. We intercede for others in prayer and in action, just like the good Samaritan. It may be just the encouragement a smile can give another person, or the full blown sacrifice of time and effort on behalf of someone else during our ordinary lives.

We christians are working toward heaven in every moment of our faithful lives. That is the “the great gain in godliness” – well, I think so anyway. The lives we lead which produce hope in the lives of others, isn’t that the source of contentment?

Farmers must feel the same as they work in the fields and with their stock so that the nation will be fed. That food in our belly allows us to have hope, don’t you think?

But at what cost? The environment has become a political football, and it is an issue which has had an impact on food production. Ethical behaviour in the provision of foodstuffs has come to the fore. The campaign for more vegetables in our diet is a case in point. More vegetables means a healthier life, but also more sustainable farming, less reliance on non-organic substances within the food chain. The husbandry of stock can be less intensive and more humane. The environment will win, and so will we, when the benefits of a new diet are felt. I am sure we know all these arguments – they have been on the media often enough, and our children are making the same points, aren’t they? Just like when we were young, we tried to change the world, now our children are acting as our conscience. Let’s listen. Let’s transform the earthly world into heaven. There is, after all, good theology to impel us in that direction.

Joel’s words are quite challenging, aren’t they? On the one hand Israel is in the midst of complaining about the harvest, but, on the other, the prophet tells us that the next harvest will be abundant. Joel’s words, “I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you,” echo the psalmist’s, “May those who sow in tears, reap with shouts of joy.”

If God can acknowledge his hurtful actions, in particular at the hand of his great army, all those insects which destroy crops, surely we should acknowledge our unbelief and begin a move toward God. –– We have touched on a great many things today, but harvest does touch every aspect of our lives, just as our faith should do. I hope we will see the network of all things that worship reveals today and every day as we intercede for the whole world and accomplish our good deeds in that world for the sake of others on this, our Harvest Sunday.

Amen

Worship on 19 September 2021

Sunday, Trinity 17

Jostling for Position

Call to Worship

At this time, in this place, let us worship God – with open ears ready to listen, and hearts ready to receive, minds willing to be challenged and attitudes given to God. Come, let us worship God as one.

Lord God, you call us to live our best lives – for you, with you, in you. We may sometimes pause to smell the coffee or the roses, but we are often too busy to take time to be aware of you – that you are with us, in us, and in those around us. Quieten our hearts now to recognise you in this place today. Help us to reach out to one another with love, care and compassion,so that we can all live our best life for you.

Amen

God who loves little children, we adore you. We drink in the wonder of your presence, the specialness of our relationship with you. You are far beyond our understanding, your love is greater than our greatest dreams. We worship you, our Lord and our God.

Amen

Hymn: The Servant King

1. From heaven you came helpless babe

Entered our world, your glory veiled

Not to be served but to serve

And give Your life that we might live

This is our God, The Servant King

He calls us now to follow Him

To bring our lives as a daily offering

Of worship to The Servant King

2. There in the garden of tears

My heavy load he chose to bear

His heart with sorrow was torn

‘Yet not My will but Yours, ‘ He said

This is our God, The Servant King

He calls us now to follow Him

To bring our lives as a daily offering

Of worship to The Servant King

3. Come see His hands and His feet

The scars that speak of sacrifice

Hands that flung stars into space

To cruel nails surrendered

This is our God, The Servant King

He calls us now to follow Him

To bring our lives as a daily offering

Of worship to The Servant King

Confession

Our response is – Lord, please forgive me, and teach me my rightful place in you.

Lord, please forgive me, and teach me my rightful place in you.

Let us consider how we jostle for position in our lives. …

Lord, please forgive me, and teach me my rightful place in you.

Jesus said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be last.”
Lord for the times I’ve put myself first, or argued with people,
because I think I know better or that I am better …

Lord, please forgive me, and teach me my rightful place in you.

For the times when I don’t want to be a servant
because I think I can do greater things…

Lord, please forgive me, and teach me my rightful place in you.

When I don’t recognise Christ in those around me
because I’m too busy looking out for myself …

Lord, please forgive me, and teach me my rightful place in you.

When I don’t understand what people mean, perhaps not understanding their feelings of fear …

Lord, please forgive me, and teach me my rightful place in you.

When I jostle for position, rather than being happy where you put me …

Lord, please forgive me, and teach me my rightful place in you.

Assurances

You challenge us, Lord, when we do wrong.
You get us to focus by using questions,
even though you know the answers.
Your image is present in each one of us.
When we confess our sins,
you are always there to forgive us.

We stand now, humbly in your presence. Forgiven.
Acknowledging that you, Oh Lord, are the greatest.  Amen

Thank you, Lord, that we can always find our place in you.
Thank you that we belong to you,
and no one can take that away from us.
We are secure in your loving arms.
We need never be afraid to ask you anything.
Thank you for the times we can meet blessing with blessing.

Amen

Collect for the day

O Lord, we beseech you mercifully to hear the prayers of your people who call upon you; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil them; 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.

Amen

Psalm 54

1    Save me, O God, by your name
and vindicate me by your power.

2    Hear my prayer, O God;
give heed to the words of my mouth.

3    For strangers have risen up against me, and the ruthless seek after my life;
they have not set God before them.

4    Behold, God is my helper;
it is the Lord who upholds my life.

5    May evil rebound on those who lie in wait for me;
destroy them in your faithfulness.

6    An offering of a free heart will I give you
and praise your name, O Lord, for it is gracious.

7    For he has delivered me out of all my trouble,
and my eye has seen the downfall of my enemies.

First Reading

James 3.13 – 4.3,7–8a

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Hymn: Breath on me Breath of God

1. Breathe on me, Breath of God,

Fill me with life anew,

That I may love what Thou dost love,

And do what Thou wouldst do.

2. Breathe on me, Breath of God,

Until my heart is pure,

Until with Thee I will one will,

To do and to endure.

3. Breathe on me, Breath of God,

Till I am wholly Thine,

Until this earthly part of me

Glows with Thy fire divine.

4. Breathe on me, Breath of God,

So shall I never die,

But live with Thee the perfect life

Of Thine eternity.

Second Reading

Mark 9.30–37

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

Some thoughts about jostling for position

Jostling for position

Sometimes when we strive for that great improvement, we jostle people about, don’t we? I am sure you can think of times when you jogged someone’s elbow to get closer to something you really wanted. For those who know about these things, I understand it is a common occurrence at the bar. I have even heard of little old ladies at the big sales nudging people out of the way with their umbrellas. For those of you who have run races competitively, you know about the jostling that happens when you are in the pack, and it can even happen among the front runners, which you may have seen at the Olympics.

I admitted playing lacrosse as a schoolboy a few weeks ago, and in that game there is a lot of jostling when you are going after a loose ball, and sometimes even when you are standing still waiting for something to happen. We have seen it on television when we watch the match of the day – either the Euros or the World Cup, or just when we are watching our favourite teams or even children at the local school. As two race toward the ball they are jostling each other for position to retrieve the ball and perhaps make the killer pass which ends up in a goal, one way or another.

Haven’t we all played that game? Haven’t we all striven to that point that we might have done just about anything to succeed?

That game is not just on the sports field. There are games being played out in board-rooms across the world, where one faction will do just about anything to get its way. We can even see it in Parliament when the questions in Prime Minister’s Question Time are being asked and answered. The innocent question about the schedule is asked and then the real question to expose some vulnerable aspect of the government is asked. Such a question raises an MP’s profile – to jostle the PM a little bit in the hope that there may may be a fall from the height of power so that that pesky MP might be able to step on that fallen political comrade to rise closer to the prize he covets.

People are jostling each other all the time because they believe their position is the only right one, and they want to force everyone to their way of thinking. We may have even seen this happen in our own homes with siblings and parents. I am sure we have all seen this in films, whether it is a business plan or a political stratagem, the proponent will use all manner of arguments to convince others, and sometimes they apply all sorts of ploys, “lies, damned lies and statistics” as someone has said. We even see some force their will on others by threats – the exposure of some peccadillo, a fist raised – what people would call “a gun to the head”.

The scale of the jostle changes, doesn’t it? – depending on how important people hold things. For the athlete, is the gold medal the prize beyond all others? Or does the true athlete realise that it is only how the game is played that matters? I mentioned this when I spoke at Purton when the Olympics were in full flight. We spectators were looking for wins and medals, weren’t we? That is how we were valuing ourselves. However, there are only three medals available in each of the disciplines. Whether it is on a bicycle or in a canoe, the commentators and everyone at home were wanting a gold medal. In the boxing ring or on the judo tatami, our wish was for our man or woman to land the killer blow – to take out every opponent and be the last one standing just like on the cover of this worship sheet. But I have to ask – What happens to the competitors lying in the dust?

As you know, I am a rather an odd fellow. – Rather than the win, I want to see a “beautiful game” played out before me, just as I want the game I play to be beautiful. Don’t we all want to see the best performance win in any competition, but most of all at the Olympics where the whole world gathers to see the best of the best and where we compete wholeheartedly, hoping for the best performance of our lives?

In the midst of the Olympics, we saw some who did not play that divisive, hurtful game of winning at all costs. I applauded those Olympic athletes who gave a heart-felt smile to congratulate their opponents on the completion of the events – like the woman archer whose arrow missed the mark but she smiled and walked over to her competitor to wish her joy, or Djokovic’s embrace of Zverev when he won so convincingly. I want to be able to do this at every moment of every day in my life. – Don’t you? Wouldn’t this be heaven on earth when the beautiful game of life is played to the rule of love? But heaven has not yet come to earth, has it? We still jostle for position and too often fail to keep the rule of love in our lives.

What do you think is going through the mind of Ali in the picture on the cover of our worship sheet today? Is he thinking about loving his opponent? Or is he proclaiming his greatness over the prostrate figure of his opponent? Has he spurned the humanity lying at his feet and even his own humanity in his triumph? What would we be doing in this situation? Would we be giving a hand to lift our opponent up, or would we be dancing around in our own little world being “the greatest”? Such a private dance does not speak of our playing any “beautiful game”.

Sadly, the picture tells me the latter story, the dance of the selfish greatest, but it does not mean it has to be the case. We can compete completely, yet still remain true to our rule of love which the Lord commanded. The game is the game and it comes to an end, but we live on after the final whistle, don’t we? We are athletes in a race to salvation which includes all our activities in life.

Have we been jostling or playing by the rules of the game, the rules of our Lord?

I would like to leave you with one last thought. If we are to play life to the rule of love, we might jostle people around us to do good things, maybe to love those around them, perhaps even to love our enemies. Let’s hope we can all play the game of life to the rule Jesus taught all his disciples, remembering we are counted amongst that number. That jostling toward love is the only jostling we should accept. Perhaps then we can proclaim that we are the greatest when we jostle and raise our opponents in love. The kingdom of heaven is here when the position we jostle for is that of loving one another.

Amen

Hymn: Brother, sister, let me serve you

1. Brother, sister, let me serve you;

let me be as Christ to you;

pray that I may have the grace to

let you be my servant too.

2. We are pilgrims on a journey,

and companions on the road;

we are here to help each other

walk the mile and bear the load.

3. I will hold the Christ-light for you

in the nighttime of your fear;

I will hold my hand out to you,

speak the peace you long to hear.

4. I will weep when you are weeping;

when you laugh I’ll laugh with you;

I will share your joy and sorrow,

till we’ve seen this journey through.

5. When we sing to God in heaven,

we shall find such harmony,

born of all we’ve known together

of Christ’s love and agony.

6. Brother, sister, let me serve you;

let me be as Christ to you;

pray that I may have the grace to

let you be my servant too.

Prayers

Let us pray for the world, thanking God for his goodness to all humankind.

Let us pray for countries, communities and individuals jostling each other. May they see what is truly good in life and strive to benefit each other, living lives of care.

Let us pray for our politicians as they jostle. Let their struggles be for their people, not themselves. May they nudge each other to do the good for themselves as for others.

Hymn:

God forgave my sin in Jesus’ name.

I’ve been born again in Jesus’ name

And in Jesus’ name I come to you

To share his love as he told me to.

He said ‘Freely, freely you have received;, freely, freely give.

Go in my name, and because you believe others will know that I live.

All pow’r is giv’n in Jesus’ name

In earth and heav’n in jesus name

And in Jesus’ name I come to you

To share his pow’r as he told me to.

He said ‘Freely, freely you have received;, freely, freely give.

Go in my name, and because you believe others will know that I live.

God gives us life in Jesus’ name

He lives in us in Jesus’ name

And in Jesus’ name I come to you

To share his peace as he told me to.

As we leave

In all that we do this week, let us take that moment to look into the eyes of the people around us. They are all part of our community, so let us pray that God will bless them as they go about their lives, lives they share with us.

Let us go out into the world
to shine with the love of God,
to listen with the ears of Jesus,
and to speak words of kindness and hope to everyone we meet.

Amen

Trinity 15

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

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!

Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.’

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.

For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

Isaiah 35.4–7a

Psalm 46

1    Alleluia.
Praise the Lord, O my soul:
while I live will I praise the Lord;
as long as I have any being,
I will sing praises to my God.

2    Put not your trust in princes, nor in any human power,
for there is no help in them.

3    When their breath goes forth, they return to the earth;
on that day all their thoughts perish.

4    Happy are those who have the God of Jacob for their help,
whose hope is in the Lord their God;

5    Who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them;
who keeps his promise for ever;

6    Who gives justice to those that suffer wrong
and bread to those who hunger.

7    The Lord looses those that are bound;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind;

8    The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous;

9    The Lord watches over the stranger in the land;      he upholds the orphan and widow;
but the way of the wicked he turns upside down.

10    The Lord shall reign for ever,
your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.

      Alleluia.

Epistle

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

[ For the one who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’, also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgement will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement.]

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

James 2.1–10[11–13] 14–17

Gospel

From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’

Mark 7.24–37

Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 15

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear! …’

These words from the prophet should speak directly to us today, even though they were spoken about three thousand years ago. Why? Why do I quote such an old saying? I think “fearful hearts” belong to us today, don’t you? With the last two years spent in COVID isolation, and with the fear of terrorists of the last few weeks, we know fear, don’t we? We continue to fret that the worst might happen in the next few hours – to us.

But Isaiah’s words are read out to us today. We need to hear his message of “comfort” – we need to hear that we can be strong and go boldly. Like Captain Kirk on his beloved Enterprise, we are enjoined to go boldly into the future, “where no one has gone before.” It is not just space which is the final frontier. No, there is another frontier – it is in time. The present is the border which surrounds us, the future and the past are cut off from us. The past has gone and will never be recovered or relived. It has passed and lies outside our grasp, but we can remember. The future is to come. It is to be hoped for, or perhaps dreaded depending on our fears. Spatially, what is beyond our reach, remains just that, and we have no control or experience of it. But what is at hand can be manipulated or handled. We have to admit that we are bounded in space and time, and the unknown can paralyse us with fear.

We all know this to be true, don’t we? We are afraid to make any decision because we wonder “What if …?” That question enters our minds and incapacitates us. “What if …?” becomes the stop sign for our lives. I think that is why insurance is so popular nowadays. It puts our minds at rest, there is no “What if …?” when we are insured, as all the ads tell us. Insurance is the panacea for our fear of the unexpected, the impossible of our everyday lives.

The future faces us and we have no control over its accidents, do we? That is the unknown country we have to enter. The future is not our everyday experience. Rather than insuring against the unknown, I think we ought to embrace it – no matter what will happen. Ernest Shackelton did so when he went to the Antarctic, didn’t he? The unknown loomed over him murderously but he survived because he embraced the situation and was able to overcome the frozen world which had taken so many other lives. Shackelton’s embrace was strong as life and took him into an unknown future, a future which included other trips to the Antarctic.

Such is the future, such is everything just over the horizon. It is for us to overcome those boundaries of our lives. We must be able to say to our friends – or indeed anyone who would talk with us – “Be strong, fear not!” More importantly, we need to say this to our very own selves – Fear not, μη φοβου, just as Jesus said two millennia ago.

And we need to do the same with the past. The past will be with us forever, but we can do nothing to it. We can only do something about it. We need to learn lessons from the past. Isn’t the saying, “The person who does not study history is bound to repeat it.” And not every episode of the past is something which bears repeating – but it does mean that we should be able to avoid the despicable in life if we learn from our past, individually and collectively.

We need to sing with Edith Piaff, “Je ne regrette rien” – that all that has passed is the past, out of touch, but remembered without regret for the future because we have learned from it. The song also goes on to say that we will treat everything the same. Doesn’t Paul also tell us to do that? Doesn’t Jesus’ example on the cross teach us this lesson?

‘Be strong, do not fear!’ Isaiah’s words echo through history, especially the history of the church, but I think they echo through the whole of history, in fact I think they echo all the world’s religions and philosophy. But religion, not philosophy, talks about our ultimate hope.

He will come and save you.’

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.

These are the words Jesus reads from the scroll when he began his ministry. He speaks about our very own hope – our hope for the future, when our saviour will come with glory and might and power, to  which all the events of healing attest.

Jesus opens the eyes of the blind, both the literally blind and those who will not see. Jesus lets people hear what is real, about which the lame dance and the dumb sing with joy. Jesus has accomplished miracles for so many. I am sure that Jesus has accomplished miracles for us here today. Don’t we all have hope for the future? That is the miracle we all want – a future in which we will be saved. A future in which we hope. So who has that hope? Who has experienced that miracle?

Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

This is the miracle we all hope for, isn’t it? That our eyes and ears are opened, that we would speak plainly to everyone we meet. Last week I went on about mission and conversation. All of that is predicated on the clarity of vision and hearing, on this miracle of hope, of any miracle which transforms our lives one way or another. – And miracles need not be the stopping of the sun in the course of its daily route, nor the equally extraordinary changing of the natural world, the curing of infirmity or withering fruit trees. I think the greatest miracle is that we can touch each other’s lives in some way – that we might care profoundly for another person. This care is the love I have always spoken of, the foundation of all we do.

We began with words from nearly three millennia ago, and now we are talking about love, that extraordinary openness to another, something within everyone’s capacity as a person.

Today we are hearing something in the present which assures us of our future because of what has happened in our past. We are no longer paralysed by fear.

Who else can do that, except someone who has experienced the miracle of God in their lives? Aren’t we the people who are free to act for those whom we love?

Amen

Sunday, Trinity 14

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 now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you. You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!’ For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?

But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children –

Deuteronomy 4.1–2,6–9

Psalm

1    Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle?
Who may rest upon your holy hill?

2    Whoever leads an uncorrupt life
and does the thing that is right;

3    Who speaks the truth from the heart
and bears no deceit on the tongue;

4    Who does no evil to a friend
and pours no scorn on a neighbour;

5    In whose sight the wicked are not esteemed,
but who honours those who fear the Lord.

6    Whoever has sworn to a neighbour
and never goes back on that word;

7    Who does not lend money in hope of gain,
nor takes a bribe against the innocent;

8    Whoever does these things
shall never fall.

Psalm 15

Epistle

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.18In fulfilment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James 1.17–27

Gospel

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’ He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

    “This people honours me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.”
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.’ For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’

Mark 7.1–8,14,15,21–23

Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 14

The Collect for this Sunday is all about mission, the conversion of the world to the way of Christ.

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.

What a noble aim – to bear witness to the Christ! However, is this the one thing the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church fails to do? In its defense, I suppose mission is the most difficult activity the Church undertakes. The way of Christ is as diverse as there are members of the Church, don’t you think? Don’t we all believe we are the true recipients of how a christian should live? Every one of us is a true believer, aren’t we? Each one of us believes he or she is the embodiment of the message of salvation.

Who would not believe themselves to be a proper christian? This is the Church’s hubris, I think. The Church as an institution becomes the monument, not the how, of a person’s life. The Church becomes the building, the hierarchy – anything but the way the faithful people in themselves keep the faith. As such, the Church becomes a thing which does not engage with the world in which it finds itself – a major obstacle to all mission.

Human being loves to objectify in its life. I am not how I live, but I am labelled, I am an object – a gardener to some, a computer nerd to others, a failure to all my teachers, a wonderful son to my parents. I become an object to each of those people, something they can put their hands on, some thing they can place in their world so that I am set there never to move about and cause difficulty.

However, is this really what people are, these mere objects of experience – those things manipulated for one’s own ends? To put it in this context – Am I really only the fellow who appears now and again to lead worship in this place, and disappears into oblivion when not here?

That objectification of people is necessary, however, isn’t it? Don’t we have to say “Hello” with its implied “Good-bye” when we meet people in the street? Perhaps we ask how they are, but we don’t expect anything more than the “Oh, I am fine,” which we normally hear in response to that innocent question. We don’t expect to listen to a long description of the lows and highs of the day so far, do we? Otherwise, would we ever make it to the baker so we can pick up the loaf of bread and get back in time for lunch?

It is precisely this possibility of an unintended, profound conversation with everyone we meet which makes life so very interesting. Instead of the unhearing of the everyday greeting, perhaps we should be listening profoundly so that we can hear under the “Oh, I’m fine” the subtext of what is really happening in the other person’s life. And then engaging with that undercurrent. Perhaps that is the Church’s mission – our very own mission – for life.

I was listening to QI and they were discussing language. The use of “Yea” and “Nay” as emphatic answers to questions was discussed in a very amusing way.

Then came a discussion of how the use of double negatives has become an awful thing. “I can’t get no satisfaction,” is an example.  The logician and the pedants would say the double negative is not to be used. This empirical, logical state of affairs is only a recent phenomenon, with the rise of science and the philosophy of linguistic analytics. One in that group of philosophers, made the remark that two positives don’t make a negative. He said this at a symposium in New York upon which a voice from the back of the room piped up “Yeah, Yeah” to prove the point. So the double negative and double positives do make sense and are real responses to the world.

When we objectify language, as do the linguistic philosophers, we make a mockery of its life, its living, changing quality. Language has to evolve, though we often don’t like the neologisms constantly being introduced, but sometimes we ourselves take up the new words and meanings in our own speech.

But how do we know about this life of language? – By listening. By allowing all of our words to blossom before us.

This is precisely what we have to do in our conversations as well. We have to listen to the double negatives to hear the real meaning behind them – and we have to listen to the double positives and hear whether they actually are assents to a state of affairs or a denial of everything.

When the person we meet says, “All is well,” should we take that as an objective fact? Or do we have to interpret the way it was said? Was there a real joy in the tone, or were the words forced out as a something expected without any intended meaning to them? Does it dismiss us or does it invite us into dialogue with the person whose eyes we gaze into however fleetingly?

This is the missioner’s dilemma. When the evangelist proclaims the gospel of love leading to universal salvation, what do the two positives really mean when they echo back to his or her ears? Does the hearer assent with joy, or are the listeners merely walking on by without any engagement in the dialogue the missioner hopes to open up with them?

We have seen this happen with those people who give out the WatchTower door to door, or less frequently nowadays when the person stands there on the street corner proclaiming their version of the gospel of repentance and acceptance, that gospel of salvation we all believe to be the world’s, not a gospel belonging only to myself.

Mission is the joyful sharing of meaning, neither an assent to anything nor a dissent. Mission is the dialogue every greeting can become. I think that is the reason we pray our collect today – to remind us of our humanity in the person of the Christ. To call to mind the divinity possible in the world through the faith, hope and love the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church espouses in its very real life shared in worship, whether sacramental or not, whether in the eucharist or in morning or evening prayer. From worship we travel forth to engage with everyone we greet. Joyfully we listen to the meaning shared in every conversation on the road to our final home, our ownmost possibility, together.

Amen

Sunday, Trinity 10

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

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.

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 16.2–4,9–15

Psalm

23    So he commanded the clouds above
and opened the doors of heaven.

24    He rained down upon them manna to eat
and gave them the grain of heaven.

25    So mortals ate the bread of angels;
he sent them food in plenty.

26    He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens
and led out the south wind by his might.

27    He rained flesh upon them as thick as dust
and winged fowl like the sand of the sea.

28    He let it fall in the midst of their camp
and round about their tents.

29    So they ate and were well filled,
for he gave them what they desired.

Psalm 78.23–29

Epistle

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said,

    ‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.’

(When it says, ‘He ascended’, what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Ephesians 4.1–16

Gospel

So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’ Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” ’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’

Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

John 6: 24 – 34

Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 10

Our gospel reading is a very difficult one for many. Jesus is asking a probing question about why people believe. By extension, as we read this story, Jesus is asking us why we believe. – So, why do we believe?

Many will tell about the miracles in their lives which have convinced them of God’s grace and reality – the child born, the spouse of their dreams, a cure for an illness. The list can go on, don’t you think? However, the stories from our time are nothing when compared to the miracles of the bible, healings of lame, blind and deaf, feeding five thousand with just two fish and five loaves, turning water into wine, even raising the dead, and yet we still consider all sorts of our own experience as divine manifestations.

But then there are people whose “miraculous” are the disasters which have rendered their lives inexplicable – spouses  disappearing, cancer, alzheimers, children dying. There are so many extraordinary things in life that confuse and depress. These experiences can take any joy out of life. So much so that some might think there is no divine providence guiding the path of homo sapiens sapiens.

These are the two poles of human experience, happiness and despair. These are the poles between which we are suspended for the course of our life. We travel between disaster and joy. We have to make sense of this tightrope walk. What do we say to ourselves as we precariously venture above that abyss swinging from one pole to the other? We are like the manic depressive who is exceedingly happy one moment and depressed to suicidal rage at the next moment. We just don’t really understand these things, do we? We are confused by our very real experiences.

How can the one God Almighty, so distant from my life as I live it, intervene in my life with a miracle? How can the all-loving God remove himself and cause, or just let, disaster happen everywhere around me, or visit mayhem upon me? These two questions are part of that continuum in which we find ourselves. We have been thrown into the world and we will orient ourselves towards something. The miraculous is the obvious choice to make because it stands out from everything else in our experience. Either it binds us to something greater than ourselves, or it oppresses us so much that we are crushed by it into nothingness. This is the oldest question of human experience.

Our readings today speak about the miraculous in the life of Israel and at the time of Jesus. The quails and manna are the OT equivalent to the gospel miracles of feeding the five thousand, aren’t they? Both sets of recipients of the miraculous food mistake where it comes from. The Israelites attribute the manna and quail to Moses, the Jews ask Jesus himself for that bread and water everlasting. Neither group thank God for his generosity. They all see the men in front of them as the source of the miraculous. But Moses and Jesus deny themselves as the origin of the sustenance, as they just happen to let the glory of God shine through them. Jesus says in our gospel reading, “this is the work of God” and Paul reminds us that Moses wears a veil because the glory of God was shining in his face and the complaining people of Israel could not bear such a sight.

This is just one of the mistakes people make, isn’t it? That they take something as something else. We do it all the time. We mistake a weed for a flower and, when we let it go to seed, the garden is inundated with plants we don’t want for the next seven years, as the saying goes. We sometimes take the bad for the good and vice versa in our lives, when we might avoid such errors of judgement if we just stopped to think. But we do it all the time. We all know we do, don’t we? We let the everyday rule our ownmost possibility – we enjoy fripperies when the salvation of our souls should be the real aim of our lives. We too often take weeds as the most valuable of flowers.

At the moment the Olympics have taken over. We are looking for wins and medals. That is how we are valuing ourselves. However, there are only three medals available in each of the disciplines. Whether it is on a bicycle or in a canoe, the commentators and everyone at home are wanting a gold medal. In the boxing ring or on the judo tatami, our wish is for our man or woman to land the killer blow – to take out every opponent and be the last one standing. What happens to the competitors lying in the dust?

I am a rather an odd fellow. Rather than the win, I want to see a “beautiful game”. That is my miraculous. Don’t we all want to see the best performance win at the Olympics where the whole world gathers to see the best of the best and where we compete wholeheartedly hoping for the best performance of our lives?

When I was at school playing lacrosse, the coach said the team who played well would win. It was skill and sportsmanship that makes the victory – the score is ephemeral. We live out our sport day by day, like the judoka who has learned from his discipline about life and those lessons contribute to the good life. It is not the win of competition that is the aim. They would rather share with those ’round about them. The aim of the founder of that gentle way was this complete person. He says the judoka learns about the whole of life through training in the discipline of the gentle way, the body is strengthened, the mind is sharpened and wisdom is gained when all are put together. Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, and John Ogden, my lacrosse coach, were of the same mind. If you “cheated” when you played the game, you would be found out by the referee initially and also your opponents, then the crowd watching the match would know. Finally, you would realise it. You would lose your self respect, the most devastating of all losses.

Those life coaches, I would say, were teaching the same message which Jesus and Moses were handing on to their followers – and to us today. Every move we make, every step we take, will be seen against the standard of the best in the sport and life. We play by the rules and do our very best and everyone benefits. New heroes are lifted up and we benefit from their examples. As christians, our hero was lifted up on the cross. What an example we have there! There is no mistaking what is good in that life given for the salvation of all. The rule we follow is our Lord’s, the rule of love.

We can all experience the value of the good in this life for ourselves, because we can live it out, following that rule. We can look toward that miraculous example of the cross which will lift us from any doldrums we may languish in. Christ will raise us out of the abyss we are in danger of falling into.

But we have to see and hear. We have to look to Christ, or to these modern heroes who are living out the best in life for our sakes just as we live our our own lives for others.

We must treat victory and defeat just the same. In other words we follow our rule of life, and live it out, for the rule of our life is its own reward. The miraculous is the everyday life we lead, the miraculous of loving one another and thereby God.

I applaud the Olympic athletes who give a heart-felt smile to congratulate their opponents on the completion of the events – like the woman archer whose arrow missed the mark but she smiled and walked over to her competitor to wish her joy, or Djokovic’s embrace of Zverev when he won so convincingly. I want to be able to do this at every moment of every day in my life. Don’t you? Wouldn’t this be heaven on earth when the beautiful game of life is played to the rule of love?

Amen

Trinity 8

Collect

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: graft in our hearts the love of your name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of your great mercy keep us in the same; 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

Generous God, you give us gifts and make them grow: though our faith is small as mustard seed, make it grow to your glory and the flourishing of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion

Lord God, whose Son is the true vine and the source of life, ever giving himself that the world may live: may we so receive within ourselves the power of his death and passion that, in his saving cup, we may share his glory and be made perfect in his love; for he is alive and reigns, now and for ever.

Readings

Psalm

1    The Lord is my shepherd;
therefore can I lack nothing.

2    He makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.

3    He shall refresh my soul
and guide me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4    Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5    You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;
you have anointed my head with oil and my cup shall be full.

6    Surely goodness and loving mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Psalm 23

Old Testament

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Gospel

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

Mark 6:30–34,53–56

Prayers

Let us pray for the world and let us thank God for his goodness.

Let us pray for the shepherds of flocks of all descriptions, from farmers and herdsmen to heads of households. May they all make decisions from selfless love for the sake of those others for whom they care.

Let us pray for the Queen, her government and her loyal opposition – that their deliberations will produce righteousness and justice for all. We pray for our local officials whose focus is ourselves.

Let us pray for our bishops, Rachel and Robert, as pastors of pastors and our shepherds in the faith.

Let us pray for all around us, that we all may have oversight of our neighbours, that we will step up to help when help is needed.

Let us pray for the ill, those whose bodies, minds or spirits are compromised in any way … … … .

Let us pray for those who have died recently and those whose years’ mind falls at this time.

Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 8

It seems that I have always been with you on this day here in Minsterworth, on a Sunday when The Good Shepherd is the theme. Most poignant is the psalm, but there are two verses from the other readings which I would like to consider this morning with you. The first is from the prophet:

“I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.”

These words are apt for any time, aren’t they? We all hope for shepherds over us who are able to assuage our anxieties. Life is so difficult with the pandemic and there is a great political discussion about the lifting of covid restrictions as a matter of law. I believe everyone is a bit confused, just like those sheep scattered all over the place in space and mind. Is the epidemic over and does everything become as it used to be in 2018? We are looking for leaders who will guide the nation in courage and hope – leaders who will care for each and every single person in the country in this year, 2021 – post covid. We want shepherds who are inclusive, so inclusive that no person will feel dismay or fear and that every person will be a very real part of the common weal.

These words of Jeremiah are an aspiration for every age and every nation, let alone the theocracy which Israel has always considered itself to be. Israel was a land where God was the ruler, and the king was the representative of the divine. No wonder Jeremiah utters those words about the shepherds who scatter their flocks. It is no wonder that he condemns such people in positions of authority and responsibility so comprehensively.

Can’t you just hear Jesus saying these same words about shepherds, especially after he has castigated the leaders of the people. “Dens of thieves” and “mouths like sepulchres” are phrases that come to mind instantly about the leadership of Israel in his day. We can probably tar our own leaders with the same sorts of phrases, because our leaders have scattered and confused us. Our leaders have destroyed our hopes and aspirations, it seems.

But I can also hear the promise of good shepherds, just as Jeremiah prophesied, echoed in the condemnations Jesus made. For wherever there is a curse in the prophets there is also a blessing. The blessing here, when the bad shepherds are condemned, is that good shepherds will come – at some time. I see Jesus in this prophetic tradition – one of the prophets who describe the people’s misdeeds, call them to repentance, and promise the Day of the Lord. Jesus has condemned the evil of his generation, he warns of the Kingdom of Heaven as the Day of the Lord being so very near that all should change their ways – and he describes the Kingdom as a promise to those with upright hearts of faith, with “ears to hear”.

“Jesus had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”

“Jesus had compassion” – that is the key to everything. Shepherds without compassion are shepherds capable of scattering and destroying their flocks. They do not have the care of the flock in their hearts to find the one lost sheep of the one hundred in their charge. Jesus contrasted the true shepherd with the hireling elsewhere. The hireling runs away from danger – the hireling has no commitment to the flock he has been given, just like those bad shepherds who destroy and scatter.

Jesus did not just condemn and hope for the best, as our political leaders always seem to do. No, Jesus taught them many things. They needed to have a proper hope and to have the means to achieve the best. The best for faithful people is not just a dream – it is a reality to be created here and now.

This is that “realised eschatology” which the social gospel embodies, that the final possibility of heaven can be made a concrete reality here on earth. The martyred saints have all given their lives to accomplish the feat of heaven on earth. The saints who have fallen asleep taught about the coming of the kingdom into the individual’s life, that salvation is attainable through faith and good works.

When we look around at the world, we see such disarray everywhere. What do we feel? Last Sunday saw one such event to highlight the lack of direction in people’s lives. When the England football team lost the final of the Euros, what did we hear on the news? – The result was announced on Radio 3, I hasten to add, so even I knew about it. – All the news broadcasts described the devastated feelings and they interviewed fans all over the country in their deep disappointment. What did you feel when you heard the news, or watched the final moments of the penalty shoot-out? Did your world collapse? Did you feel like lashing out at those who failed to score their penalties? Or were you just so happy that the team had played so well?

What do you feel for those who were interviewed on Sunday night and Monday morning? I, for one, was bemused by the reactions of so many fans. I suppose, like Jesus, I have some compassion for them because they are a bit lost. They don’t know what they are going to do now that the Euros are over and their expectations have been dashed. But things will get back to “normal”, won’t they? But what is that “normal”? What will you do now that the government has removed all the restrictions?  Will you be able to function amongst all the new-found freedom given us because of the lifting of the severe, corona virus and legalistic restrictions? Are you without direction now that there are no more rules to tell you what you have to do?

However, isn’t this the “normal” everyone wants? No more rules and regulations to determine what I am permitted to do. I can now go unmasked wherever I want and I can hug whomever wishes to hug me. That is the normal everyone has been talking about for so long. Now it is here. Will we be able to deal with it? Or will we be lost like those scattered sheep of whom Jeremiah spoke? Jesus has compassion for us as we bumble along in what everyone is calling “normality”, because he knows the normal of the everyday world should be the fullness of life he has offered the world through his life – and that is not doing whatever we want. The fullness of life is the offering of care to each and every one we meet. We are to become the good shepherds. Each and every one of us is to be the king – the humble king and shepherd – who would give himself up for the other in their distress. Perhaps we should set our sights on being good sheep, sheep who follow the good shepherd into the Kingdom. Perhaps we should aspire to become like the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and grants peace.

Amen

Trinity 7, Sea Sunday

Sunday, Trinity 7

Collect

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

or

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

Post Communion

God of our pilgrimage, you have led us to the living water: refresh and sustain us as we go forward on our journey, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings

Old Testament

This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb-line, with a plumb-line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A plumb-line.’ Then the Lord said,

‘See, I am setting a plumb-line
in the midst of my people Israel;
I will never again pass them by;

the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.’

Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, ‘Amos has conspired against you in the very centre of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said,

“Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
and Israel must go into exile
away from his land.” ’

And Amaziah said to Amos, ‘O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.’

Then Amos answered Amaziah, ‘I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”

Amos 7:7–15

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 85:8–13

Epistle

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:3–14

Gospel

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, ‘John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’ But others said, ‘It is Elijah.’ And others said, ‘It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.’ But when Herod heard of it, he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.’

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.’ And he solemnly swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.’ She went out and said to her mother, ‘What should I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the baptizer.’ Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, ‘I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

Mark 6.14–29

Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 7

Today is Sea Sunday, when we remember seafarers as they cross the water on the seven seas for us. Seafarers are essential workers, aren’t they? They keep goods on the move throughout the world. They can also bring people from continent to continent or island to island. We all know the importance of sea traffic. When the Suez Canal was blocked by that ship, everyone blamed the shortage of everything on that incident and we realised how important free movement on the oceans is.

We have heard of pirates. We all know the fictional swash-bucklers, don’t we? The Pirates fo the Carribean on the big screen sailing away into the sunset and all that. Real pirates, however, have been on the news, taking over cargo ships, and terrorist pirates have even taken over ocean liners and cruise ships. Seafarers must fear them as one of the very real dangers of the sea, just as much as drowning. The psalmist speaks of the tenuous nature of life wherever we find ourselves, land or sea.

Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no path to a city in which to dwell.

They were hungry and thirsty; their soul fainted within them.

Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. …

Others went out to sea in ships, conducting trade on the mighty waters.

They saw the works of the LORD, and His wonders in the deep.

For He spoke and raised a tempest that lifted the waves of the sea.

They mounted up to the heavens, then sunk to the depths; their courage melted in their anguish.

They reeled and staggered like drunkards, and all their skill was useless.

Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distress.

He calmed the storm to a whisper, and the waves of the sea were hushed.

They rejoiced in the silence, and He guided them to the harbor they desired.

The psalmist says sailors, like landlubbers, have seen the power of the Lord God, but they have seen it in the chaos of the deep. We can only imagine the power of the waves as we huddle together against the rain inside our houses –  settled by the fire at home under the duvet. Being on board a ship that is being carried up to the sky and lowered down to the deep in troughs between two huge waves which dwarf any boat we might have ever been on, is not our usual experience, is it? We are on dry land. In comparison to seafarers, we really are flat-earthers, aren’t we? The surface we stand on does not gimble and whirl. We have never experienced our ground tossed and turned about. We have always stood on land which is stable and sure.

The sailor’s ground is the deck of his ship. It floats on those enormous waves which determine his direction. His captain must negotiate the course often against the elements – elements which could overwhelm the ship and all on her, goods, passengers and crew. We have no such worries as we walk to church on a Sunday morning. The nave of our ship is upside down on dry land and nothing can deter us from our goal. It may be uncomfortable in the rain and a hard blow, or in a sunny 30 degrees C, but we still have our feet on solid ground and we can continue on any course we wish. Our way is fixed to ground.

On the sea, when the storm comes, our ship becomes like a leaf on the wind, out of our control. We are driven whither the wind takes us, sometimes off course for a time. We have been thrown into the world and buffeted by something well out of our control. Like the captain, we must negotiate our course in life, a course which is strewn with distractions and frustrations, ever remembering that eventually we will reach harbour and anchor, even if we are overdue because of contrary winds and sea changes. And still the journey continues whether we have been able to take control or not.

I suppose the question we should ask has to do with our ultimate harbour. Have we charted our course home in spite of the stormy weather and obstinate seas? Have we that ultimate port in mind through the whole of our lives? Has it been marked on our charts and in our hearts? Have we been able to plot our position relative to it through the whole course of our journey?

Are the charts accurate? That is the next question to tackle. We have heard the Prime Minister talk of the “Road Map” – Brexit and Covid have each had a course discussed in Cabinet and vaunted in the press. But are the maps accurate? What is the end point on those maps? Is it merely an economic result? Or has the government charted a course to “the good life” – the life of the individual to pursue his or her own dreams, dreams which deal with his or her ownmost possibility as the philosopher would say, or one’s own Self as the psychologist might say. However, the preacher calls this ultimate goal of our dreams “heaven” and he reminds each one of us that is the final reality for everyone.

Whatever we call these dreams, our road map of hopes and expectations is revealed by deeds, all our turns on the way reveal how we have charted our course to our final haven, how we have kept our course fixed on our final possibility.

Our ship’s log records the results of all our struggles on the way – the storms which have pushed us off course now and again, the fair winds which have rushed us toward our haven. In our curriculum vitae we record how we may have been distracted by some particular thing on the way, or captured the goal at some point in our lives. Memory serves as our record, and we can only hope that others remember our good deeds. The ship’s log records how we recover from the storm as well. Do we resume our course once the bad weather has passed? That is the question we ought to ask. We all have bad spells at the tiller. We lose the pole star from time to time. How we rediscover that fixed point in our lives, that ownmost possibility, is what should concern us.

Confession and conversion are the words the theologians of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church have described how we behave when we recover our destiny within this freedom of action human life is. I think that is why St Augustine’s
Confessions
remains a book of interest from generation to generation – for it tells the story of how a man navigates distraction and overcomes loss of intent and finally how he recovers the purpose of his life. I think you can say that book is his “ship’s log”. I would like to say we are all seafarers. Whether we use the language of the Church or the language of poets or sailors, we find ourselves describing our life’s journey over what Shakespeare called the sea of troubles. We reveal what our course is through the stories we tell of ourselves. We show what we conceive as our ultimate goal through our language and the significant events we narrate in the log of our lives. I can only hope our story tells that the haven of our ownmost possibility is the peace and love of heaven, the place which is very near, as Jesus taught from the beginning.

Amen

Trinity 6

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

He said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.

Ezekiel 2:1–5

Psalm

1    To you I lift up my eyes,
to you that are enthroned in the heavens.

2    As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,
or the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,

3    So our eyes wait upon the Lord our God,
until he have mercy upon us.

4    Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.

5    Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of the arrogant,
and of the contempt of the proud.

Psalm 123

Epistle

I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

II Corinthians 12:2–10

Gospel

He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Mark 6:1–13



Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 6

“And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.” Why could Jesus do “no deed of power”? After all, he was now where he grew up and two weeks ago we heard about Jesus commanding the storm to cease on the water, didn’t we? What do you think happened in the intervening two weeks?

I think there is a  “willful unknowing” amongst the people in his hometown. Surely they have heard of Jesus’ reputation for miracles – those “deeds of power”? So why don’t they allow those deeds of power to happen amongst them? I think the power of the crowd is at work, just as it is at work amongst us. They wanted everything to be just as it was, no change in anything.

After all, a “deed of power” is something that changes everything – forever. A miracle in your life demands that you make a fundamental change in your life. If your withered hand was made whole, wouldn’t you shout about it? If you were on a boat and the storm ceased at the words of Jesus, wouldn’t you want to let everyone know? When you love someone with all your heart, mind and strength, hasn’t there been an essential and existential change in your life?

I was watching one of those crime dramas of which I am so fond, and the bereaved father said, “We must not let revenge or vengeance determine our course of action. We must let hope provide the way we should move forward.” One of the cops who heard that said, “I don’t know whether I could forgive if my child had been killed.” That father had experienced the miracle of a loving child and so his life had changed.

No one can understand that in the everyday world, can they? We all want that “justice”, don’t we? We all want the perpetrators of crimes to pay, don’t we? We all want our justice to be complete and swift for those who would carry out heinous crimes, don’t we? How can anyone cry out for calm and understanding or plea for forgiveness, when a loved one is killed so barbarously? However, in this drama, this is exactly what happened, but this is not what anyone would expect in the normal course of events.

But I think this is exactly what should happen in these situations. After all, didn’t Jesus say as he was being tortured to death, “Father forgive them – they really don’t know what they are doing”? Maybe the words of that bereaved father reflected those last and more well-known words of Jesus.

Why did Jesus say this? If we remain in the mind-set of the crowd, we can never understand it, can we? The crowd has never forgiven anyone anything. Vengeance, which is the Lord’s alone, is what the crowd seeks, and that crowd wants to mete it out. We see this in films all the time – in the cowboy films there is the lynch mob, in the gritty urban dramas there is the crowd protesting and rioting on the street in front of the police station. The police try to defuse the situation so that justice may work itself out by arresting and bringing the guilty to court for judgement. The guy in the white hat rides into the situation and stands tall against the unthinking mob baying for the blood of the accused.

Would we dare stand with them as they called for calm and peace, as Jesus did when he was woken from his sleep on that stormy sea? Would we dare raise our voice for justice as the crowd calls for revenge at crimes committed.

I experienced exactly this on 9/11. I was at a conference near Boston when the news was broadcast. The talking heads on the television were calling for total war against all those people who could possibly do such awful things. Even though no one knew anything about the events, just that the twin towers were burning, destroyed by something unimaginable at that moment. I was the only one wanting to remain calm – I questioned the crowd’s call for blood. The crowd and I were at odds. Who was right? If this had been a vote, there was no question I was the only vote against the motion. Was I right or wrong? What should we have done? Investigate and determine the truth – or – strike hard and swift with the might of the American, military-industrial complex? I will always think the former, but, alas, it seems the crowd always takes the latter alternative – the automatic, unthinking reaction to events.

Sometimes a harsh response is required, but need it be immediate and without reflection? Why don’t we all require of ourselves a moral reaction to events rather than merely thoughtless activity? Can we stand up against the faceless crowd in times of fear? Can we be calm and peaceful?

Like the wind and the sea in the miracle story, our minds are racing and not under control. Our timidity comes to the fore and we do not want to stand up against the crowd – all our erstwhile friends who are letting their passions control their deeds.

“Take courage” says Jesus to us. We need to have “the courage to be” as the preacher once wrote as the title of a collection of sermons. The preacher exhorts all to a thoughtful life, a life that values faith, hope and love.

Today is the Fourth of July, Independence Day, significant for those with close connections with the United States. The Episcopal Church in the USA, a sister church in the Anglican communion for whom we pray through the year prays this collect today for the country:

Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

To act “in righteousness and peace” – is what Jesus and the preacher want us to do, to have the courage to be what we can be.

All too often that aspiration is not what the crowd wants. The mob bays for blood in fiction and in fact. How can we withstand that crowd? I say with courage.

With courage deeds of power can be accomplished. We can do miraculous things, just as Jesus did. We may not be able to still the storm, but we can act in righteousness and peace as in that collect – we can take away the terror of being in a whirlwind, we can nurse the sick, we can be with others in a profound way – and those, I suggest, are the miracles we can  and should do. Love is the one thing which is always within our capacity. With love we can overcome the unbelief of the uncomprehending crowd. Love is the deed of power, that miracle we can all accomplish. Love is a deed of power for that another person’s life. And that is a miracle.

Amen

Sunday, Trinity 4

Collect

Almighty God, you have broken the tyranny of sin and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts whereby we call you Father: give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service, that we and all creation may be brought to the glorious liberty of the children of God; 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

God our saviour, look on this wounded world in pity and in power; hold us fast to your promises of peace won for us by your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Readings

Old Testament

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:

‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

Gird up your loins like a man,

I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

    ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

Tell me, if you have understanding.

Who determined its measurements—surely you know!

Or who stretched the line upon it?

On what were its bases sunk,

or who laid its cornerstone

when the morning stars sang together

and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

    ‘Or who shut in the sea with doors

when it burst out from the womb?—

when I made the clouds its garment,

and thick darkness its swaddling band,

and prescribed bounds for it,

and set bars and doors,

and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther,

and here shall your proud waves be stopped”?

Job 38.1–11

Psalm

1    O give thanks to the Lord, for he is gracious,
for his steadfast love endures for ever.

2    Let the redeemed of the Lord say this,
those he redeemed from the hand of the enemy,

3    And gathered out of the lands from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

23    Those who go down to the sea in ships
and ply their trade in great waters,

24    These have seen the works of the Lord
and his wonders in the deep.

25    For at his word the stormy wind arose
and lifted up the waves of the sea.

26    They were carried up to the heavens and down again to the deep;
their soul melted away in their peril.

27    They reeled and staggered like a drunkard
and were at their wits’ end.

28    Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.

29    He made the storm be still
and the waves of the sea were calmed.

30    Then were they glad because they were at rest,
and he brought them to the haven they desired.

31    Let them give thanks to the Lord for his goodness
and the wonders he does for his children.

32    Let them exalt him in the congregation of the people
and praise him in the council of the elders.

Psalm 107.1–3,23–32

Epistle

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,

    ‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you,

    and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honour and dishonour, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see – we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return – I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.

2 Corinthians 6.1–13

Gospel

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’

Mark 4.35–41

Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 4

“Rebuke” – how often do you hear that word? I wonder if you have ever used it. Or – Have you ever rebuked anyone? It is something you never hear of nowadays, unless you are reading the bible, that is.

My online thesaurus gave me some alternatives to the word, “rebuke” – to berate, to chide, to lambaste, to reprimand, to scold, to have words with, to remonstrate, to reproach, to upbraid, to criticise, to castigate, to chasten and to chastise. All of those meanings are part of “rebuke” and I think we should understand the range of meaning in that word.

I am sure we have all “had words with” someone who upset us in some way. We may have scolded a child. Undoubtedly, we have berated a sporting villain who had fouled someone badly. Many of our contemporaries remonstrate others on social media one way or another. Why we may even reproach ourselves for our own bad behaviour! All of these experiences feed into the meaning of “rebuke”. – This venerable word, however, does not make it into our contemporary vocabulary, but its meaning is a real part of our own experience.

A “rebuke” is the stock in trade of the prophets. How many times do we hear of God reprimanding his people through the word of a prophet? How often does God upbraid Israel? How great is the chastisement when the Hebrews have fallen by the wayside on that path to the promised land!

Jesus took on this prophetic persona himself, when he called the priests in the temple, “Hypocrites”. He “rebukes” the Jews of his time, and with good reason. His contemporaries have polluted the streams and rivers of righteousness and justice. They had forsaken that high path to the mountain of God and fallen into the mire of a dissolute life, one which has forgotten to dwell on the final cause of all creation, their God. Jesus rebukes them all in so many places. And here in this short passage we hear Jesus criticising his own disciples for their fear. “Don’t you have any faith?” he asks. Then he turns to the storm and commands peace and stillness with his rebuke. The winds abate and the sea calms.

We have all heard this story so many times, but I think it deserves further consideration about its significance for our lives. – Jesus was asleep at the back of the boat, comfortable in the stern on a cushion in the midst of this raging storm. His disciples feared for their lives and criticised Jesus for his casual attitude in the midst of the heavy seas and high winds. They woke him with the plaintive, “Don’t you care about us?” They wondered about this man’s feelings toward them, these men who had left everything to follow him. Had they hitched their wagons to the right star? – Here they were at risk on the water in the midst of a storm and that man was asleep!

Don’t we all feel this when the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune come down so hard upon our heads that we despair? Aren’t we like the disciples when we begin to wonder, “Why?” We are in our own storms, aren’t we? Collectively, we are now in the midst of this never-ending pandemic. Personally, we are in our own dark places. And what do we do? We rebuke others – the prime minister and his cabinet for not dealing with things so that we can carry on with our affairs as if nothing has changed in the world. We revile our contemporaries for their callous disregard of health and safety. And so on … but whatever we say nothing changes.

We do not stand in our own boats to rebuke the wind, do we? We do not say, “Peace, be still!” to the seas of troubles in which we sail individually and collectively. For we do not have the faith to do so, but Jesus did. Jesus rebuked the elements and they obeyed him – “they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” That puts us in our place, doesn’t it? Our faith is so measly that we don’t dare to act. Instead we chide our saviour into a miracle, something that shows how worthy he is for our respect and honour, how worthy he is of our worship.

Each of us understands the delicacy of life when we stand there alone in the silence of the whirlwind like Job, don’t we? That moment of clarity when we see our lives as that maelstrom of experience good and bad, those storms which surround us normally, which embrace us in a way that can crush us, if we do not have resilience, if we do not embrace our being thrown into life just as it is, just as Jesus was.

That storm into which we are cast can overwhelm us, just as the covid crisis has done in this past year. It is a storm which is not abating. This storm seems to extend beyond our capacity to cope, doesn’t it? With lockdown being extended so that we cannot do what we want to for another four weeks, we are assaulted yet again by an outrageous fortune which we must conquer for ourselves. We ask, when will this storm cease?

We panic on the seas of our troubles, don’t we? We have no faith in ourselves or our neighbours for help in our situation. We despair. This is the point of no return. We stand at a point where there is an abyss all around us and we must choose – we must choose to live.

I just mentioned Job. He is in precisely this situation of the maelstrom of troubles. – His life is in tatters, his family has all been killed off, his riches have been stripped away, even his health is being crushed with boils and pain. He is, we imagine, at that same point at which we stand in the midst of all our sufferings and anxiety. He stands in innocence and faith and chooses to live. Even his comforters cannot diminish his belief in his own innocence because they can not see how such suffering can come down on the pure and righteous.

The reading from Job talks of the whirlwind, that great maelstrom surrounding him – all of Shakespeare’s slings and arrows of outrageous fortune assaulting him in his faithful innocence. This turmoil is completely beyond the power of any individual to control. The psalm speaks of the storms on the sea. At the behest of God, they arise and the waves rise to heaven and dip so low into the earth. Only those who travel on the great waters know the real power of the storms which God calls into being. All of our readings today speak to the human condition, that thrown-ness of the individual into a world which is capricious – we are thrown into the environment of chance and change that has no intention of making anything normal for any of us.

“The wind goes where it will.” That is what we think. There is no human control over the stormy wind, is there? The wind comes and goes without any by your leave. Storms rage and quell of their own accord, how can we think we can do anything with the whirlwind?

We can make things less extreme. By moderating our behaviour, we may make the climate, our environment, less dangerous. If we were to live by the rule of Christ’s law, the winds of change will be a “gentle breeze” as Seals and Croft once sang. Perhaps the jasmine sweet will be in our lives as the Spirit enters our hearts, when we respond to the call of God, when we hear the rebuke in the silence at the centre of the whirlwind and finally act our love of our Lord God and neighbour.

Amen

Sunday, Trinity 3

Collect

Lord, you have taught us that all our doings without love are nothing worth: send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love, the true bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whoever lives is counted dead before you. Grant this for your only Son 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

Faithful Creator, whose mercy never fails: deepen our faithfulness to you and to your living Word, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion

Loving Father, we thank you for feeding us at the supper of your Son: sustain us with your Spirit, that we may serve you here on earth until our joy is complete in heaven, and we share in the eternal banquet with Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings

Old Testament

Thus says the Lord God:

    I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar; I will set it out.

    I will break off a tender one from the topmost of its young twigs;

    I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain.

    On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it,
in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar.

    Under it every kind of bird will live;
in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind.

    All the trees of the field shall know
that I am the Lord.

    I bring low the high tree,
I make high the low tree;

    I dry up the green tree
and make the dry tree flourish.

    I the Lord have spoken;
I will accomplish it.

Ezekiel 17.22–24

Psalm

1    It is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord
and to sing praises to your name, O Most High;

2    To tell of your love early in the morning
and of your faithfulness in the night-time,

3     Upon the ten-stringed instrument, upon the harp,
and to the melody of the lyre.

4     For you, Lord, have made me glad by your acts,
and I sing aloud at the works of your hands.

12    The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,
and shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon.

13    Such as are planted in the house of the Lord
shall flourish in the courts of our God.

14    They shall still bear fruit in old age;
they shall be vigorous and in full leaf;

15    That they may show that the Lord is true;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

Psalm 92.1–4,12–15*

Epistle

So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord – for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

[ Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.]

For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

2 Corinthians 5.6–10 [11–13]14–17

Gospel

He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’

He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

Mark 4.26–34



Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 3

Passages from the prophets excite me, especially when they are full of imagery I can understand. Particularly poignant are passages which liken the divine to gardening, or arboreal, services, as Ezekiel and Mark do today. Who would not feel some sympathy with a God who wants to create a paradise on “the mountain height of Israel”? After all, who does not understand the desire to shape the wilderness into a garden, by letting some trees fall by the wayside and bring others to full fruition? Who is not thrilled by the image of a great cedar as the purpose of the creator God, an image which takes on the meaning of God’s people shaped and cared for by a most solicitous gardener?

There are times in my job that I feel that inspiration, when I have been able to shape a garden so that plants will flourish and their owners feel a joy where they live. When I mow lawns,  I feel I am presenting gardens at their best, green and pleasant as the land in that great hymn.

Watching all the news programs and commentaries on the health of the nation during lock-down, it was apparent that people need green spaces around them for their sanity. This is a lesson which must penetrate the whole of our lives. We must plan to have that good space around us, not just survive in boxes without souls. Such an outlook makes my job so much more rewarding. I feel I have helped produce that new creation in the environment of my customers.

The imagery Ezekiel uses is similar to the language that Jesus uses in the lesson from Mark we read for today. Again we come to agriculture for our re-presentation of our ownmost selves. Ezekiel says God will plant his domain at the heart of Israel, in the heights. Jesus speaks more plainly with his parables, “The kingdom of God is like …” or “The kingdom of God is as if …”. A famous NT scholar wrote a book called The Parables of the Kingdom. It has been the resource for many a sermon and a text on which many a theologian has pondered, let alone been quizzed on when in training.

It is an important book because it took seriously the literary critical method of reading the gospels, and it propelled the discipline of “form criticism” which is the notion that we use formulae in speaking and writing which give our words certain implicit meanings.

A parable is a way of speaking about something by clothing it in different language conventions. Today we have heard about the kingdom hidden in the verbal garb of a field being sown with seed and its subsequent harvest. We have also heard about the kingdom through the image of the mustard seed and its maturation into a tree.

Parables are signs pointing to something else, like the signs which announce Slimbridge on the various roads in the area. They tell us about Slimbridge – where to turn and how far it is away, for instance – they are merely signs about Slimbridge perhaps causing us thoughtful anticipation of the real thing. Ezekiel and Jesus employ parabolic language.

When we speak of the garden of God, paradise or Eden, we paint a picture which limits us to its expression of a something else. A parable makes you think about the subject. Here we have to think about the Kingdom of God through the imagery of a field or the mustard seed. Ezekiel’s planting of a forest in our minds also forces us to think – maybe about how we can bring about this paradise of fruitful trees.

With this in mind, wouldn’t you say that language is the problem of life? We can say one thing and mean another. We can speak about this and really be talking about that. Or, for instance, we can talk of love and mean it completely. In other words, we can speak in a manner that ties our language with what and how we have experienced life. —

And in other situations, we can lie.

Why? Why do we pervert language in this way? Why do we hide things with our words which will ultimately be revealed? The hidden will be seen in the light of a final judgement of our lives, if not the divine, juridical sense, at least by our conscience.

Let’s leave this negative use of language for private discussion and personal reflection. —

Rather let’s address this question – How can we use language positively? How can language bolster our lives with speech? How can we help others in their times of need, when a good word would raise them to a height from which they could launch themselves into the productivity of goodness? We know this positive use of language is possible because it has happened to ourselves – don’t we know this deep down in our hearts? The kind, “Good morning – how nice to see you!” does go a long way to cheer us up, doesn’t it? When someone stops to hear how things are going, I know I feel a lot better. Those few minutes of positive use of language, that pleasant conversation when we are not in the best place, does everyone the world of good. The banal courtesies of the day can and should be elevated to engagement in the life of the people with whom we stand in conversation. In so doing, we raise language above the everyday, unconscious chattering of the crowd. It is not longer talk just about the weather. The weather can become that parabolic entry into life when people converse with intent.

Prophets and poets use language in ways that are very different to ordinary, everyday expression. These writers are poetic in their use of imagery, some are prophetic, calling on the conscience of each individual to stop inhumanity and focus on the divine in life.

Through language we can transform our ordinary lives into an extraordinary lived experience, the Existence which the philosopher exhorts all people to embrace, and, in the words of the theologian, the full life Jesus offers to all who believe in Him, the word of God incarnate. It is possible that the power of our simple words can save the world, if only we would speak in truth.

Perhaps we should start thinking parabolically and so transform everything we say into a new language. I think we should try to acquire that new speech. I wonder whether George Orwell was hinting at this in his book 1984 – that spoken words are so very powerful – to bless or to curse as the bible says. Perhaps we can speak in a new way, a way that will reveal the kingdom in our spoken parabolic lives just as Jesus did.

Amen