Sunday, Trinity 7
Merciful God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as pass our understanding: pour into our hearts such love toward you that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Creator God, you made us all in your image: may we discern you in all that we see, and serve you in all that we do; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
God of our pilgrimage, you have led us to the living water: refresh and sustain us as we go forward on our journey, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb-line, with a plumb-line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A plumb-line.’ Then the Lord said,
‘See, I am setting a plumb-line
in the midst of my people Israel;
I will never again pass them by;
the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.’
Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, ‘Amos has conspired against you in the very centre of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said,
“Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
and Israel must go into exile
away from his land.” ’
And Amaziah said to Amos, ‘O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.’
Then Amos answered Amaziah, ‘I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”
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.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, ‘John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’ But others said, ‘It is Elijah.’ And others said, ‘It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.’ But when Herod heard of it, he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.’
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.’ And he solemnly swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.’ She went out and said to her mother, ‘What should I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the baptizer.’ Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, ‘I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 7
Today is Sea Sunday, when we remember seafarers as they cross the water on the seven seas for us. Seafarers are essential workers, aren’t they? They keep goods on the move throughout the world. They can also bring people from continent to continent or island to island. We all know the importance of sea traffic. When the Suez Canal was blocked by that ship, everyone blamed the shortage of everything on that incident and we realised how important free movement on the oceans is.
We have heard of pirates. We all know the fictional swash-bucklers, don’t we? The Pirates fo the Carribean on the big screen sailing away into the sunset and all that. Real pirates, however, have been on the news, taking over cargo ships, and terrorist pirates have even taken over ocean liners and cruise ships. Seafarers must fear them as one of the very real dangers of the sea, just as much as drowning. The psalmist speaks of the tenuous nature of life wherever we find ourselves, land or sea.
Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no path to a city in which to dwell.
They were hungry and thirsty; their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. …
Others went out to sea in ships, conducting trade on the mighty waters.
They saw the works of the LORD, and His wonders in the deep.
For He spoke and raised a tempest that lifted the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to the heavens, then sunk to the depths; their courage melted in their anguish.
They reeled and staggered like drunkards, and all their skill was useless.
Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distress.
He calmed the storm to a whisper, and the waves of the sea were hushed.
They rejoiced in the silence, and He guided them to the harbor they desired.
The psalmist says sailors, like landlubbers, have seen the power of the Lord God, but they have seen it in the chaos of the deep. We can only imagine the power of the waves as we huddle together against the rain inside our houses – settled by the fire at home under the duvet. Being on board a ship that is being carried up to the sky and lowered down to the deep in troughs between two huge waves which dwarf any boat we might have ever been on, is not our usual experience, is it? We are on dry land. In comparison to seafarers, we really are flat-earthers, aren’t we? The surface we stand on does not gimble and whirl. We have never experienced our ground tossed and turned about. We have always stood on land which is stable and sure.
The sailor’s ground is the deck of his ship. It floats on those enormous waves which determine his direction. His captain must negotiate the course often against the elements – elements which could overwhelm the ship and all on her, goods, passengers and crew. We have no such worries as we walk to church on a Sunday morning. The nave of our ship is upside down on dry land and nothing can deter us from our goal. It may be uncomfortable in the rain and a hard blow, or in a sunny 30 degrees C, but we still have our feet on solid ground and we can continue on any course we wish. Our way is fixed to ground.
On the sea, when the storm comes, our ship becomes like a leaf on the wind, out of our control. We are driven whither the wind takes us, sometimes off course for a time. We have been thrown into the world and buffeted by something well out of our control. Like the captain, we must negotiate our course in life, a course which is strewn with distractions and frustrations, ever remembering that eventually we will reach harbour and anchor, even if we are overdue because of contrary winds and sea changes. And still the journey continues whether we have been able to take control or not.
I suppose the question we should ask has to do with our ultimate harbour. Have we charted our course home in spite of the stormy weather and obstinate seas? Have we that ultimate port in mind through the whole of our lives? Has it been marked on our charts and in our hearts? Have we been able to plot our position relative to it through the whole course of our journey?
Are the charts accurate? That is the next question to tackle. We have heard the Prime Minister talk of the “Road Map” – Brexit and Covid have each had a course discussed in Cabinet and vaunted in the press. But are the maps accurate? What is the end point on those maps? Is it merely an economic result? Or has the government charted a course to “the good life” – the life of the individual to pursue his or her own dreams, dreams which deal with his or her ownmost possibility as the philosopher would say, or one’s own Self as the psychologist might say. However, the preacher calls this ultimate goal of our dreams “heaven” and he reminds each one of us that is the final reality for everyone.
Whatever we call these dreams, our road map of hopes and expectations is revealed by deeds, all our turns on the way reveal how we have charted our course to our final haven, how we have kept our course fixed on our final possibility.
Our ship’s log records the results of all our struggles on the way – the storms which have pushed us off course now and again, the fair winds which have rushed us toward our haven. In our curriculum vitae we record how we may have been distracted by some particular thing on the way, or captured the goal at some point in our lives. Memory serves as our record, and we can only hope that others remember our good deeds. The ship’s log records how we recover from the storm as well. Do we resume our course once the bad weather has passed? That is the question we ought to ask. We all have bad spells at the tiller. We lose the pole star from time to time. How we rediscover that fixed point in our lives, that ownmost possibility, is what should concern us.
Confession and conversion are the words the theologians of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church have described how we behave when we recover our destiny within this freedom of action human life is. I think that is why St Augustine’s
Confessions remains a book of interest from generation to generation – for it tells the story of how a man navigates distraction and overcomes loss of intent and finally how he recovers the purpose of his life. I think you can say that book is his “ship’s log”. I would like to say we are all seafarers. Whether we use the language of the Church or the language of poets or sailors, we find ourselves describing our life’s journey over what Shakespeare called the sea of troubles. We reveal what our course is through the stories we tell of ourselves. We show what we conceive as our ultimate goal through our language and the significant events we narrate in the log of our lives. I can only hope our story tells that the haven of our ownmost possibility is the peace and love of heaven, the place which is very near, as Jesus taught from the beginning.