Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity
18th Jun 2017
Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity Year A
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them”.Matthew 9.38
We are reminded this morning that when Jesus calls his disciples, he calls them from the larger perspective of his own compassion for all humankind. And though we see Jesus through the eye of faith, as through a window, we nonetheless come to know that Jesus’ calls from us too a compassionate response toward others which is to be practical; a job of work, an action.
I sat in this church yesterday afternoon, gazing at our east window. I looked up to it rather like contemplating a work of art. I wondered what this window was telling me? I marvelled at the age and the duration of the glass with its 125 years letting in the light and illuminating the sanctuary. After its recent cleaning it now reveals the faint green shadows of a large tree outside to the left, a part of the terracotta colour of the building opposite, and its own border of bejeweled greens and purples and ambers.
George Herbert, a poet and hymn writer, allows us to catch something of the Christian vision in his hymn ‘Teach me my God and King’. It echoes the words of the Lord’s Prayer which ask that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven:
A man that looks on glass
On it may stay his eye
Or if he pleaseth through it pass
And then the heavens espy.
What a different sight has revealed itself to us this week in the charred, burnt edifice that was once a happy home to 120 families. Grenfell House in Kensington. It now stands as a rebuke, a sign of death as well as a cemetery in the sky. It stands for horror and devastation. No heavens here but the sign of a kind of hell. A sign which now stands black and forlorn and colourless against the London Summer sky. Its glass is all blown out and reveals the charred skeleton of the building beneath. This is now become a death trap and a resting place for the remaining dead.
The awful truth cannot be denied, nor is there any easy explanation of the nature of such tragic events as this, even though explanations as to its cause will be rightly demanded. Where lies any possibility of human hope in all this? It must surely exist in the present. For within a burning, cavernous hell, men and women of the fire services and others went in, went back, returned to save lives, and many lives were saved by the bravery of those who were as they say ‘only doing their job’. And then on the ground, many concerned individuals, community minded groups of people from mosques and churches and individuals from near and far gave of their compassionate best to help, to shelter, to feed, to counsel, to provide places of kindness and generosity amid all that chaos. And out of this terrible situation came the writing on a great white board, containing expressions which seek to bless, to offer prayers and solidarity and tender thoughts. There are also expressions of anger and of incredulity and of profound grief, and the grief was heeded in an event, a vigil of grief, in the nearby church gardens of St John’s, Notting Hill, where people of all faiths could gather. The Vicar spoke of an experience of counselling others in grief in which the colour of green was the most significant. Some seeds of hope have been sown this week in Kensington by brave souls even while others are experiencing what might seem like the death of their hope. The contrasts are most telling but human compassion remains a balm which may always be applied with care to open wounds.
Jesus comes to us this morning in the call of his disciples. His calling is primarily to a Gospel of work in the willing response to God’s love. In the midst of human suffering and human devastation God is present and God is compassionate, and this morning his Son Jesus Christ sees the crowds and has compassion for them in the full reality of their lives. He calls the disciples and, you and me into the very orbit of his own sacred heart, to be willing agents of the divine love. The window out of which the Church looks upon the world is the one which will reflect the compassion of the One who has called us out of darkness and into light. This is a call which draws from us that which we are often so reluctant to accept and to give : the gift of ourselves for the life of the other. But it is so hard. But Christ bids us, in our own situations and in our own way, to respond. Many have unhesitatingly acted without a moment’s thought. The disciples of Christ are called to respond in similar fashion, summoned to the Gospel as a work of active and selfless compassion. Called to bring the Kingdom of God’s love near.
"Let there be a silence that is full of blossoming hints" says the praying poet Elizabeth Jennings. Let there be a love and a compassion which is transforming of the human condition, no matter where and how it is found. This is of course not a Christian message alone, but it does emerge most emphatically out of the life of Christ. We have seen so much evidence this week of how terrible tragedy can call forth real depths of self-giving which stand for the reinstatement of our common humanity as a life giving pièta. Even in life’s ruined state, may the light of love and compassion continue to shine through the darkest of places, and may the Kingdom of Heaven be realised in them.