Sermon for the Second Sunday of Trinity
10th Jun 2018
Sermon for Trinity 2 Year B
“He did not speak to them except in parables”
The telling of stories has always been with us and its beginnings are lost in the mists of time. We know the Bible to be not one book but many books, and also letters, diaries and eye witness accounts. But mostly the Bible is bound by the story of human salvation as we begin with Genesis and human origins right through to the dream in Revelation of the vision of a heavenly city, a New Jerusalem. ‘It begins in a garden and ends in a city’. But what drew me as a child to the Bible was the way in which its good stories are a vital part of what makes us human and what makes God God - Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Noah and the ark, David and Goliath, the Crossing of the Red Sea, the Witness of Job, and then in the New Testament the Raising of Lazarus all emerge out of a body of story-telling which provide for the endless telling and re-telling of the eternal and truths which govern our existence.
For the writers and readers of the Bible, are tracing the the history of human salvation. The statue of David in the Accademia gallery in Florence and the Mona Lisa in the Louvre , Paris are works of art which have an everlasting quality. They stand for the truth of our everyday existence as they marry their amazing reality with their understanding of the human longing for truth. They communicate a deep truth which has an everlasting quality. No amount of seeing and re-seeing, reading or re-reading can ever exhaust the meaning of what is being conveyed or intended. We see through what has already been provided for us to see, and we are delighted.
Of course there are so many aspects of human life that cannot be put into words. But that has not stopped us from trying! Words can convey so much. But what underlies language is also important. The deeper resonances. When Jesus speaks in parables, he is saying something to us that we already know. But we love a story, and a story is a very good way of communicating an important truth. Much of the early Christian witness was based on this kind of truth telling or direct witness. These stories were life giving.
When we look at the Gospels we are not looking at the strict biography of Jesus, even though the Gospels have biographical elements in them, and the four Gospel writers agree on many of the same happenings in the life of Christ. The Gospels treat biography as a necessary but it’s a secondary consideration. The first consideration is that the Gospel is theology. We are being told about God, and of how we see and experience God in the life of Christ. With this lies also the Gospel as Christian teaching, and Jesus likens the faith of the Christian to the planting of a mustard seed, the tiniest of the seeds, which may grow into a vast tree. The seed is a simple figure of speech, and paints a picture in the mind’s eye. This is far removed from ‘literal truth’ or ‘fundamental truth’. It does not treat the individual reader or listener as a foil or a dummy. It expects a human response which is direct and committed.
It became necessary in a recent exhibition of reliquaries and paintings at The National Gallery to state that such and such works of art were loaned from places of worship, Cathedrals and churches, and were therefore not to be solely regarded as art objects, but as objects of veneration. It is in this sense the when Jesus speaks in parables he is communicating in a language which speaks of this world but which also establishes the existence of faith and as that which reaches out beyond itself to find itself. It is part of our knowing and recognising but also it lies beyond this. But this also allows us to understand that we see not only with our eyes or our brains but with deeper instincts and an inner eye; the eye of faith.
The Bible can be regarded as just a type of religious text or it can be regarded as The Book of Life. If we choose the former then we relegate the Bible and its teaching to one of those posh volumes, with fake leather binding that you can order in instalments and sit on your shelves trying to look grand, never read, but largely ornamental. If we see the Bible on the other hand as a Book of Life, then there is no limitation. It may speak to us in our own lives as they are found. Many Christians I know supplement their church going and their prayers for a small booklet which can be easily ordered and which provides for daily readings from the Bible with brief commentaries. Many have discovered by these means that Bible is not relegated to the ‘dry as dust’ section but waters and nourishes and provides a seed-bed into which the mustard seed of our growing and perhaps hesitant faith may find watering and refreshment.
In speaking in parables Jesus is admitting the need for a deeper understanding of the truths of our existence. It was Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell who observed that
We live I believe in a world of surfaces.
The speaking in parables provides a way of apprehending what St Paul described as the ‘length, the breadth, the height and the depth’ (Ephesians 3.18) of our existence and to know it through a lifetime’s study and pondering. Jesus is the One who allows someone like TS Eliot to see this as a never ceasing from exploring over a lifetime. This holds for us the promise of finding that place where we started from, the place of our own origin and truth, and of arriving at that place perhaps for the first time.
To see the truthful things of God, whether or not embedded in mystery, whether seen through a glass dimly or whether enjoyed in the re-reading of old and worn parables, is for us the implantation of the mustard seed. In faith and in trust we pray that the Creator, the Giver and the Sustainer who is God will provide for our deeper understanding and for its increase.