Sunday, Epiphany 2

Collect

Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new: transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace, and in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory; 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

Eternal Lord, our beginning and our end: bring us with the whole creation to your glory, hidden through past ages and made known in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings

Old Testament

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” ’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ Then the Lord said to Samuel, ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfil against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house for ever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering for ever.’

Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, ‘Samuel, my son.’ He said, ‘Here I am.’ Eli said, ‘What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.’ So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, ‘It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.’

As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

1 Samuel 3:1-20

Psalm

1    O Lord, you have searched me out and known me;
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.

2    You mark out my journeys and my resting place
and are acquainted with all my ways.

3    For there is not a word on my tongue,
but you, O Lord, know it altogether.

4    You encompass me behind and before
and lay your hand upon me.

5    Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
so high that I cannot attain it.

12    For you yourself created my inmost parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

13    I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
marvellous are your works, my soul knows well.

14    My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth.

15    Your eyes beheld my form, as yet unfinished;
already in your book were all my members written,

16    As day by day they were fashioned
when as yet there was none of them.

17    How deep are your counsels to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!

18    If I count them, they are more in number than the sand,
and at the end, I am still in your presence.

Psalm 139

Epistle

Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’

Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. They sing a new song:

    ‘You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,

    for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;

    you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
and they will reign on earth.’

Revelation 5:1-10

Gospel

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

John 1:43-51

Sermon on Sunday, Epiphany 2

In the Old Testament lesson we heard, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”

Events of late have, I think, confirmed these words. We do not hear people speaking of their vision for the future, rather they complain about how they have been hard done by, or they harp on about what they want now. Too many are silent about what should be. People are too keen on their own comfort – they want to luxuriate in rich meals and triple chocolate desserts, let alone drink quantities of champagne and schnapps. This culture of indulgence has overtaken everyone, particularly during this past Christmass season, hasn’t it? All the cooking programs, teaching us about luxurious recipes and talking of gourmet experiences near and far, have confirmed that we remain in what many parts of the bible castigate as “the world”. We have turned away from anything spiritual of late, haven’t we? The corona virus has seen to that.

I am afraid that we have become what we don’t want to be. People have acted on their basest desires and they have, as Paul said somewhere, not been able to do what they really should aspire to. They have not done the good they in their hearts know that they should do. I think we act on jealousy and hate too often. We want this or that, and we let such desires control us, rather than let the good intentions in us control what we do.

We should be able to see this happening all around us – I suppose we can see it when we look at the events of ten days ago in Washington, DC. There we have the concupiscence of humanity being acted out – it is writ large, as they sometimes say, don’t you think? Sadly, I have to reject what is happening in the land of my birth. With the words of the Collect I have to cry out, “Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new: transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace, and in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory.”

We have to acknowledge our very parlous state – we are in danger both without and within – clearly we are at risk physically and spiritually. The words from our collect should guide us through the fraught dangers of this new year. Last year was one where we all felt poorer than the poor because we were so restricted. We could not get our hair cut when we wanted, nor could we go to watch our favourite clubs play their fixtures. We have not been able to start our weeks by gathering to worship, nor could we finish the week off by meeting friends at the pub.

Life was not what we wanted it to be during the last year. We now fear that this coming year will be the same. We all felt we were deprived of everything we deserved. They want to say – Am I not worthy of a pint at the end of the week? Why can’t I see my friends when I want to? Surely I should be able to do anything I want. – Isn’t that the mantra of this generation?

But what do we deserve? Have we done anything that merits any sort of reward? I know that I have not. I may want to think so, but when I am more considered, I have to admit that I am deserving of nothing. I am that wretch of that famous hymn – lost and blind hoping to be found and truly see.

However, at precisely that moment – when I realise that I am worthy of nothing – at that moment, I can look at my life clearly and I can say that I have been blessed. So many good things have happened to me, this undeserving wretch. – I have to admit that grace has abounded in my life. If I consider my life carefully, I have to say that things have happened which have had nothing to do with my worth – both negative and positive – and they have shaped my life as I know it. Overall, I do not deserve what I have been given – in particular, the love which so many have shown. That is the miraculous in my life. That is what I have to shout about now in my confined life, this life restricted to four walls.

When Jesus asked, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?’ he was asking of something more fundamental than miracles.

How many trees have you sat under? Did Jesus see you there? On those terribly hot summer days, or those terribly wet days? Whenever we wanted shelter we sat under the tree. In that moment of protection, we are self contained and, probably, self satisfied. Certainly, Nathanael must have felt safe under his fig tree. He was certain that nothing could challenge him, nothing could shift him from his cosy seat. But he was wrong, wasn’t he? Jesus came and told him about his idling under the fig tree. In fact, I would say he
confronted
Nathanael with these words, ‘Do you love me because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?’

I don’t love you just because you saw me under the fig tree. I don’t believe in Jesus just because he said he saw me in my idleness under that figurative fig tree. The fig tree of the story becomes something else in our lives, doesn’t it? The fig tree, I think, becomes a symbol in our lives, a symbol through which we make sense of our lives. What trees have figured in your life? What symbolic trees enlighten you? – The tree of life, whether you name it as the tree in the garden of Eden or the tree on which our saviour was hung up to die for our sake – this tree of life plays a big role in our lives, whether we see ourselves sitting beneath it or not.

Another very significant figure in the history of mankind sat under a tree. Do you know who that was? There is Newton, but there is another who is just as significant. The Buddha sat under the bo tree as he moved towards enlightenment. The zen buddhist continues the practice of “sitting” – waiting on his entry into nirvana, much like the contemporary christian religious sitting in eager anticipation of the coming in glory of the Lord and King of this world.

Jesus continued, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ There is more in store for us than idling under the tree, isn’t there? I wonder what these greater things will be, don’t you?

Amen

Christ the King

Collect

Eternal Father, whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven that he might rule over all things as Lord and King: keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit and in the bond of peace, and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. 

or 

God the Father, help us to hear the call of Christ the King and to follow in his service, whose kingdom has no end; for he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, one glory. 

Post Communion 

Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by you be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Readings 

Old Testament 

For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. 

Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. 

I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken. 

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 

Psalm 

1    O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us heartily rejoice in the rock of our salvation. 

2    Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving
and be glad in him with psalms. 

3    For the Lord is a great God
and a great king above all gods. 

4    In his hand are the depths of the earth
and the heights of the mountains are his also. 

5    The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands have moulded the dry land. 

6    Come, let us worship and bow down
and kneel before the Lord our Maker. 

7    For he is our God;
we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. 

Psalm 95 

Epistle 

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. 

Ephesians 1:15-23 

Gospel 

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

Matthew 25:31-46

Sermon on Christ the King

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory’ – this phrase comes at an opportune time, because the magazine from the Reader Association had an interesting article about “The Son of Man”. Let me pick out the high points which should speak to us today on the Feast of Christ the King.

The author wrote that there are three types of saying about how the Son of Man will appear – first as the suffering servant, second as the judge at the end of days, and third, in line with today’s theme, as the King of Glory surrounded by angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. We understand the Son of Man through any one of these images, don’t we? Apocalyptic literature places the Son of Man on the throne of glory, at whose coming all will tremble because of the power and majesty surrounding him. Apocalyptic anxiety is exacerbated by the second image, that of the judge. And who would not shake in their boots in those last times when the judge arrives? That judge who will value the whole of our lives, both the seen and unseen parts. But then our angst should be further agitated when we see the weak and suffering in our presence – because when the slave stands before us, paradoxically, we should see our King. In the weak and despised we should see the King of Glory. This is the eschatological reversal, when everything is turned around, like the beatitudes.

Just as we see the Saviour in the past, in the when of the Incarnation and the Easter event. So I would suggest that all of life is the time of the apocalypse. The past prophesies for that future in which the judge and King will come. In the present  the poor are always with us as they stand before us, as Christ would in his time and in the future, as he does now in our imagination. Christ is in front of us as we remember and anticipate here and now. Every moment in which we live brings the past with it and the future to which it will go. This is what the some theologians would call, “the eschatological moment”, the now in which we see the reality of eternity all around us. We see reality whence it came and whither it will go – right now.

But let’s return to that Son of Man. There has been a current interpretation about the Son of Man which sees him as “just a human being”, frail and poor – in essence, the suffering servant writ small. He is far different to the heavenly King writ so large in flames on the clouds in glory. This view of the Son of Man is very widespread in theological circles. Many in this camp saw Jesus merely as a good teacher, a rabbi of rabbis, and a miracle worker. All that he did was accomplished as a mortal man, a fellow with no supernatural powers, but everything we ascribe to him was imposed by wishful thinking and the hope of a religious mania. However, there was a theological reaction to that limited view of Jesus, the man. It suggests that the figure of the Son of Man is more than “merely” a man, for although a man he had the face of an angel, though a man the name of God, the unwritten and unspoken name which we know as Jehovah was written on his forehead. Though a man he was also a miracle worker. This Son of Man is no mere human being, human though he was. This view of the Son of Man sees an extraordinary person, a divine presence in fact.

Like the merely human view of the Son of Man, this other view was all based on biblical evidence, even if they were non-canonical books. These views were supported by those texts which did not make it into the Bible as we know it today. Those texts show these two views of the Son of Man, both at the same time almost. So we need to look a little further.

Here we are going to get a bit theological … Now I would like to consider the language we use to speak about things that are significant for us.

Do we always use language which merely denotes this or that. Do we always speak of the hammer prosaically as when we say “The hammer is on the bench”? No, I don’t think so. Some of us might remember “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” about which the Beatles sang. That hammer was something different, wasn’t it? There are other hammers, aren’t there? Some people speak of the law as the hammer of justice, don’t they? There are cultural references to hammers which have nothing to do with that hammer lying on the bench – if we were Norse we would think immediately of Thor, wouldn’t we? There are many ways of speaking about things, and we have encountered them in the bible. From the very beginning people have used language in different ways – they have used similes, metaphors and symbols to convey their message. Some of these even obscure meanings – in other words, they hide what is being said. However, we hope they can be deciphered. We hope that when we interpret them, everything will be clear to all. The meaning is there in front of us in similes, metaphors and symbols, if, as Jesus says, we have ears to hear.

Similes are the easiest to understand, for they say something is like another – “a hammer is like a lump of stone” (it hurts if you drop it on your toe). It is simple substitution. It means what it says. “Her kiss was like a butterfly’s wing brushing my cheek.”

Metaphorical expression is a substitution as well, one thing suggests another. Jesus speaks of something as something else. This substitution is not equivalence. A metaphor makes us think of the implications of what is being said. It engages us to participate in the relationship it describes. There is comparison but there are implications to the significance of that comparison. The parables of the kingdom do exactly that. The stewards in that kingdom are judged by what they do. The implication of those stories suggest something greater than what the words denote.

Then there is symbolic language which we use from time to time. This is obviously different again, although there is the quality of simile and metaphor about this sort of language, but there is something more to it. There is a connection with a meaning which is not part of what is spoken. In simile and metaphor everything is provided. However, in symbol, the meaning is elsewhere, the significance has to do with something outside of itself. There is a transcendence to its immanence. The symbol is here in the world, but points beyond itself participating in that elsewhere.

So, when we use the phrase, “Son of Man” we are using symbolic language. “Son of Man” is a simile and a metaphor, but more importantly it is a symbol which draws us to something greater than itself. It reveals a universe of  meaning, if we let it.

This is all very apposite, for next week we begin Advent when historically the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church contemplates the four last things. Essentially the Church is considers eschatology during Advent. The apocalyptic Son of Man signifies in his symbolic manifestation a very real human being in the world – something we really should be looking forward to.

Amen

Sunday, All Saints

Gospel

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:1-12

Sermon on Sunday, All Saints

As part of our Collect for today, we prayed

“you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord”

Who are these elect, that fellowship? I think they are the people who have faith and live out that faith in their ownmost being. They have no doubt that their lives have been knit together in a communion that is impenetrable by the dictates of everyday concerns, a fellowship which cannot be dissolved by “the world, the flesh and the devil” about whom the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church warns us. They have become the mystical body of the subject of our faith, Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Christ becomes the head of these saints and the saints become the diverse parts of Christ’s body. They become the localised incarnations of this mystical body. – So began my meditation for these thoughts on All Saints Day, celebrating the Hallows of last evening.

Who do you think the saints of blessed memory are? For me they are the collection of good and beautiful people remembered by their local communities, congregations gathered of everyone in the parish who recall the best of themselves. However, parishes include in their number some who are hard to take, as well as those who are all sweetness and light. I began to think the saints are just like all of us, some gentle, some spikey. And so I was reminded of St Augustine of Hippo and St Ignatius of Antioch because of their recent feast days. I have to say that they are just two of the more difficult people I know who have been canonised and remembered by the Church who have been celebrated from long ago. – Years ago my local priest preached on precisely this point, and he made me realise that not every saint is just goodness and light. He made me look at Ignatius anew, so that I could see that Ignatius was a very difficult fellow. Obsessed with martyrdom, he forced himself on the secular powers that were persecuting the Church in such a way that they could not ignore his bating them to kill him as he wanted to be killed – for the sake of his faith. He wanted to be a martyr to a faith that opposed the order of the world, opposition even unto death.

Ignatius is only one of the saints obsessed with just a single aspect of the expression of the faith. We can easily find many more.

With these thoughts about the irascible who are among the numbers of the cloud of witnesses and among our own number, I began to wonder whether we should re-evaluate “the blessed saints” but we might begin to doubt “all [their] virtuous and godly living” – just as we have begun the revisionist historiography of all our secular “heroes”. After all we are now toppling their statues from places of exaltation in our civic lives, just as the statues of Stalin and the Shah were shattered when those revolutions occurred. Now our own statues are being dumped off their plinths, even in Bristol. However, this revision of history is not new – didn’t George Orwell tell us all about it? – Haven’t we seen it throughout our own lives as our leaders are lionised in one decade and vilified in the next? Perhaps this even happens from week to week.

We have celebrated saints from the beginning of human history, haven’t we? Saints are not just a christian preserve. There are heros in non-christian cultures who stand in places of honour and as examples for them just as our saints do for us. Those heroes are sacred and secular, for we have our own heroes today – those men and women we hold in awe – they could be our political leaders, they could be the very good person who lives just down the lane. They could be people no one else notices, but each of us sees their value – a worth for each of us alone, as examples of living well and moving toward an exalted goal.

Today we are more self-critical and conscious of what is right, aren’t we? No longer do we tell stories about what the philosophers call “classes” – for instance, those jokes about “blondes”. We are politically correct nowadays because fundamentally we want to treat everyone well, just as we remember all the saints with joy and reverence. We actually want to celebrate every other person as a saint, don’t we? This is redaction of another for the right reason – to remember them for the good we can recall of them, that they might act as a guide to heaven, where they hopefully go ahead before us.

Every culture has its own revisions to make, don’t they? We must continue to, as that collect from last Sunday says, “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” the lives of the saints, not with an uncritical eye, but with an eye ever open to what is right and good – two things to which the everyday world is very often blind. This is proper revision, an investigation of reality to reveal the essential character of life, what lies beneath the changes and chances which beset us, those slings and arrows of Shakespearean tragedy which beset us.

The revisionist mission is the task each one of us as we become the hagiographer of our contemporaries – we become the person who recalls the life of a particular saint for their own community. We must all participate in that work, for we must all tell the stories of the people in our community, remembering them with fondness (as we do tomorrow on All Souls Day). We can recall the prophetic figures among us, telling our friends about the message they have lived out. Perhaps we have in mind a contemporary Ignatius, someone who was so difficult that we did not appreciate them as they lived among us, but now that they are gone before us we recall their lives with more compassion and love than we shared with them while they were with us. We must love our neighbours as we love ourselves after all.

I want this revision, this recollection of people around us to happen now, while we have the chance to tell those around us about the virtues we see in their lives. I want us to strip away the evil in life to expose the holy as it is lived around us. That is the way we will find the saints among us. Perhaps someone will find in each one of us some good to be preserved in a collective memory so as to guide the community into the future. This revision is what we do daily when we recall the day just past and adjust our intentions for the day to come. Naturally, my meditation for today finally returns to the petition of the Collect as we look forward to remembering All Souls tomorrow.

“grant us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living that we may come to those inexpressible joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you.”

Amen

Feast of St Luke the evangelist

Collect

Almighty God, you called Luke the physician, whose praise is in the gospel, to be an evangelist and physician of the soul: by the grace of the Spirit and through the wholesome medicine of the gospel, give your Church the same love and power to heal; 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.

Readings

Old Testament

They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days.

Acts 16:6-12a

Psalm 147

1    Alleluia.
How good it is to make music for our God,
how joyful to honour him with praise.

2    The Lord builds up Jerusalem
and gathers together the outcasts of Israel.

3    He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up all their wounds.

4    He counts the number of the stars
and calls them all by their names.

5    Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
his wisdom is beyond all telling.

6    The Lord lifts up the poor,
but casts down the wicked to the ground.

7    Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make music to our God upon the lyre;

Epistle

As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Do your best to come to me soon, for Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry. I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will pay him back for his deeds. You also must beware of him, for he strongly opposed our message.

At my first defence no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.

2 Timothy 4:5-17

Gospel

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”

Luke 10:1-9

Sermon on the Feast of St Luke the evangelist

“You called Luke the physician, whose praise is in the gospel, to be an evangelist and physician of the soul: by the grace of the Spirit and through the wholesome medicine of the gospel, give your Church the same love and power to heal.”

These words from the Collect should guide our thoughts for today, the Feast of St Luke the Evangelist. Haven’t physicians been foremost in our thoughts for the last nine months. Those in that “front line” have been appreciated by the population’s clapping at the very beginning and prayed for by the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church day and night, as they struggle to bring health to those struck down by disease in today’s covid pandemic. Physicians themselves must be praying to St Luke for the gifts he had been given so long ago, to allow them to heal the sick in body and mind. I think we pray for all doctors to become physicians of the soul as well, distributing that holy medicine of hope to all their patients.

I rushed to Wikipedia to give me some further information as background on St Luke. The article I found had an interesting discussion of the historical accuracy of Luke–Acts. Some scholars suggest that it is as good as it gets for information in any history book, while others argue that the purpose of his writing is evangelistic, not historical at all, and so taints it for historical accuracy. I think a road down the middle of these two opinions should be taken.

I think Luke does provide some details which are accurate, but there are some things that are not “scientifically” reliable. One of my teachers took this route as well, for he said that Luke follows the method of all historians of his period. Using all the material at hand, he assembled it to make his point. In other words, he was able to inform the audience he wished to influence with the facts as he had them. My teacher said that Luke was not statistically correct in all he said and he may have had a bad chronology, but he could be relied on for geographical detail, and perhaps the biographical detail. Luke’s purpose in writing the gospel and the book of Acts was one of an evangelistic mission to a mixed audience, Jewish and gentile.It was a Hellenistic audience – in other words, they were Greek for all intents and purposes. The themes and motifs used are more of the culture in which Judaism found itself in the first century of the common era, the syncretistic world of the time, where there was a mixing of all people no matter where they came from. Culture is never as pure as we think it is or ought to be. Every culture borrows from their neighbours and those with which they come into contact.

I think you will find Luke as syncretistic as you would find the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church in that period. All became grist for the christian mill. The religions of the area contributed to the stories, symbols and ritual of christianity.

The christian mill was, as one saint wrote, the jaws of the lions in the arena which ground the bodies of martyrs to the finest of flour for the bread of life offered at the Eucharist. That bread and wine becomes for us the medicine of immortality, the body and blood of Christ. This is the offering Luke continues to make to us, as he did for his contemporaries. And so we come back to the evangelist Luke. Ancient writers called this man a physician: it would seem that such an attribute is well suited, for his use of language is quite sophisticated, not as complicated as the letter to the Hebrews, nor as simple as the language of the gospel of John. Early on in the history of the church, the literary heritage was established.

This author was well respected as a source of its own story. He recounts much from earlier sources and then speaks with authority about some of the history. As our reading from the book of Acts makes clear. There is a significant change in the person speaking in the narrative. Up to chapter 16 it is a third person narrative and in this chapter the first person plural, the “we”, is introduced. “We immediately tried to cross over …” and so on. Many have taken this to mean that Luke was one of the 72 disciples named in the gospels. Or some have seen that Luke has used an eye-witness testimony to the events described in the Acts of the Apostles. Whatever stance we take on who this Luke is relative to Jesus, we must  acknowledge that Luke has given us an account of the ministry of Jesus and a history of the origins of the church. There is an authority we recognise in his writing, even if it uses the forms and manner of the Hellenistic time in which he lived.

Why does the narrator’s voice change at this point in the story, after that vision he describes of the man calling them to Macedonia? Such a vision is a major event in the mission to the gentiles and it allows us all to join in it, doesn’t it? Such an event and its significance is also a reason for this early historiography to be called into question. “After all,” they ask, “how can you believe a story that depends on the supernatural for its validity?”

That is the question that is asked, when any christian speaks of their faith and the Easter–Event. Let us short-circuit that discussion now with the statement that major events in life do determine how we tell our story, and those major events are couched in terms that make sense to our contemporaries and to ourselves wherever we find ourselves.

These considerations of how we tell our story – in other words, the language we use and the symbols we employ – are conditioned by our setting, witnessed by the fact that many of our biblical scholars are elucidating scriptures today by looking at the setting in which the particular texts were written and the audiences for, and to, whom they were composed.

In other words, we, like Luke, need to be speaking in the first person plural about the significant events of our lives, that we should be offering our contemporaries that medicine we have taken in this pandemic to give us peace of mind and the beginnings of a healthy attitude toward our selves and neighbours, that love for God, ourselves and our neighbours.

This is the medicine we should be offering to everyone we meet, so that health may be theirs. We pray in the words of the Collect that we – the Church today – may have that power to heal the whole person that medicine of immortality which St Luke shared with the world when he wrote his gospel and the history of the acts of the apostles. Let us become evangelists to our contemporaries as Luke is to us.

Amen

Sunday, Trinity 15

Collect

God, who in generous mercy sent the Holy Spirit upon your Church in the burning fire of your love: grant that your people may be fervent in the fellowship of the gospel that, always abiding in you, they may be found steadfast in faith and active in service; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

or

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

Post Communion

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

Readings

Old Testament

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

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

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

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

Exodus 16:2-15

Psalm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 105

Epistle

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

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

Philippians 1:21-30

Gospel

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

Matthew 20:1-16

Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

Sunday, Trinity 14

Collect

Almighty God, whose only Son has opened for us a new and living way into your presence: give us pure hearts and steadfast wills to worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

or

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

Post Communion

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

Readings

Old Testament

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

Genesis 50:15-21

Psalm

[

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 103

Epistle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romans 14:1-12

Gospel

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

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

Matthew 18:21-35

Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

Sunday, Trinity 13

Collect

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

or

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

Post Communion

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

Readings

Old Testament

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

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

Ezekiel 33:7-11

Psalm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 119

Epistle

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

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

Romans 13:8-14

Gospel

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

Matthew 18:15-20



Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

Sunday, Trinity 12

Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray and to give more than either we desire or deserve: pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

or

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

Post Communion

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

Readings

Old Testament

O Lord, you know;

   remember me and visit me,

   and bring down retribution for me on my persecutors.

In your forbearance do not take me away;

   know that on your account I suffer insult.

Your words were found, and I ate them,

   and your words became to me a joy

   and the delight of my heart;

for I am called by your name,

   O Lord, God of hosts.

I did not sit in the company of merrymakers,

   nor did I rejoice;

under the weight of your hand I sat alone,

   for you had filled me with indignation.

Why is my pain unceasing,

   my wound incurable,

   refusing to be healed?

Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook,

   like waters that fail.

Therefore, thus says the Lord:

If you turn back, I will take you back,

   and you shall stand before me.

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

   you shall serve as my mouth.

It is they who will turn to you,

   not you who will turn to them.

And I will make you to this people

   a fortified wall of bronze;

they will fight against you,

   but they shall not prevail over you,

for I am with you

   to save you and deliver you,

says the Lord.

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

   and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.

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

Jeremiah 15:15-21

Psalm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 26

Epistle

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

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

Romans 12:9-21

Gospel>

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

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

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

Matthew 16:21-28

Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 12

The prophet cries out in anguish,

I did not sit in the company of merrymakers,

   nor did I rejoice;

under the weight of your hand I sat alone,

   for you had filled me with indignation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By the light of burning martyrs,

Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,

Toiling up new Calv’ries ever

With the cross that turns not back;

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

And, behind the dim unknown,

Standeth God within the shadow,

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

Keeping watch above His own.

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

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

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

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

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

Then to side with truth is noble,

When we share her wretched crust,

Ere her cause bring fame and profit,

And ’tis prosperous to be just;

Then it is the brave man chooses

While the coward stands aside,

Till the multitude make virtue

Of the faith they had denied.

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

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

Amen

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

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

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

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

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

Trinity 10

Collect

Let your merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of your humble servants; and that they may obtain their petitions make them to ask such things as shall please you; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

or

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

Post Communion

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

Readings

Old Testament

Thus says the Lord:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

Psalm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 67

Epistle

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

Romans 11:1-2, 29-32

Gospel

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

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

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

Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

Sunday, Trinity 9

Collect

Almighty God, who sent your Holy Spirit to be the life and light of your Church: open our hearts to the riches of your grace, that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in love and joy and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

or

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

Post Communion

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

Readings

Old Testament

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

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

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

1 Kings 19:9-18

Psalm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 85

Epistle

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

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

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

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

Romans 10:5-15

Gospel

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

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

Matthew 14:22-33

Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen