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Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

27th Jun 2021


Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Trinity

 

The Healing of Jairus’ Daughter

 

He took her by the hand and said to her “Talitha cum” which means ‘Little girl, get up!’ and immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was about twelve years of age).

 

This morning’s gospel tells us of two of Jesus’ miracles, the raising of the daughter of Jairus, the synagogue leader, and the curing of the woman with the haemorrhage – the one who touched the hem of Jesus’ garments. Both miracles tell us about Jesus approach to the taboos of his day : the ones to do with the routine treatment of women as ‘unclean’, the ones to do with touch, and the ones to do with death or dead bodies. In certain parts of the world women are still regarded as at certain times unclean. In this part of the world there are less resources for the average citizen to cope with a death. It does not occupy the place it once had in relation to past observances and customs regarding the death and funeral rites. There is less common knowledge and less reliable custom. Many people no longer have a Christian faith through which death can be mediated. It is more unusual than it was in the life of families and particularly of communities. My grandparents on my father’s side had nine children of which five survived, four having died either in childbirth or in infancy. This was not uncommon a hundred years ago. My mother at the age of 6 was brought into the small parlour to see the body of her grandfather laid out in his coffin on a large dining table. In Hoxton as recently as the early 1980s a small group of local women attended every local funeral as professional mourners. They were always expected and always given an invitation to the wake afterwards. Their present helped to emphasize the closeness of the community. In the Caribbean community it is still customary to have an open coffin and in many cases to have a single woman come and sing over the coffin as it is lowered into the ground. Hence the phrase ‘it ain’t all over ‘til the fat lady sings’. But the final song, and the men and women of family and friends who fill in the grave rather than employed and anonymous grave diggers, give the burial a significance which would otherwise be missed or forgotten…of a real oneness of intention and a passionate commitment to the honouring of the dead person.

 

Jesus is a breaker of the existing social and religious taboos of his day and especially the ones governing the segregation of women and girls. In these two enfolding miracles of healing Jesus establishes new practices and new understandings. He breaks the taboos concerning their ritual impurity and establishes what would have been for the day a radical closeness and compassion toward those around him , and especially those in need, and he commends those who dare to step forward and ask for healing; commends them for the strength of their faith. The healing of the little girl is important in that her age is mentioned. She is twelve and therefore considered in those days to be of marriageable age. That a man, and especially a rabbi should hold her hand was considered taboo, and also that he held the hand of someone they believed to be dead. 

 

These writings secure a distinctively Christian Gospel which challenges and then transforms the existing Jewish tradition and its mores. It is important that the Gospels tell us not just about what Jesus did but about the essential character of the Christian message which emerged out of his life. For Jesus the existence of faith is not something seen to be commendable in the life of the individual, though it is that. Faith exists closely alongside the healing of those who are imprisoned and trapped as the customs of their society impede their lives and stigmatise them. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is for the healing of the whole person and of the giving of that freedom which is seen to be come from the Father as that life which is truly liberated and experience as eternal in the present. There is a ready relationship which is drawn out by Jesus’ healing acts which is the indivisibility of the soul with the body. No wonder then that Christian witness is always for life and for the living, while we are in this world. The Christian ministry from the very beginning was one which ‘held all things (including money) in common’ for the relief of widows and orphans, and St Paul writes today in his letter to the Corinthians on the delicate matter of raising the funds. Likewise  the founding of monasteries and hospitals for the sick and dying was a Christian staple in the early centuries, to be developed by Christian pioneers in more recent times in the forms of the Hospice Movement for the care of the Dying and the L’Arche Community in the care of the severely handicapped. Theirs is not just a work but also as for Christ in today’s parables a proclamation. It is the proclamation of the need to see the care and the healing of the sick and dying as the breaking of the age old taboos which would have such conditions swept under the carpet and placed out of town, like the old asylums.

 

In raising the little girl from the dead, Jesus puts a cap on those familiar words ‘old habits die heard’. This healing and the healing of the woman with the haemorrhage are ‘breakthrough’ events which take h our understanding of the need for healing into new levels of understanding. In the breaking of ancient taboos, Jesus is the One who makes it possible for all Christians, in all times and in all places, to understand the human condition as it is found, and of the abiding need for the receiving of his grace for the healing of our minds and bodies and souls. But this is something, as the poet says, which must emerge out of a life of faith ‘in the laboratory of the spirit’, but in the meantime we may be called to love that which the world rejects, as the hymn says “love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be”…

 

 

 

Emerging

 

Not as in the old days I pray,

God. My life is not what it was...

Once I would have asked 

healing. I go now to be doctored...

to lend my flesh as manuscript of the great poem

Of the scalpel. I would have knelt

long, wrestling with you, wearing

you down. Hear my prayer Lord, hear my prayer. 

As though you were deaf, myriads of mortals

have kept up their shrill

cry, explaining your silence by their unfitness.

 

It begins to appear

this is not what prayer is about.

It is the annihilation of difference,

the consciousness of myself in you,

of you in me...I begin to recognize

you anew, God of form and number.

There are questions we are the solution 

to, others whose echoes we must expand

to contain. Circular as our way

is, it leads not back to the snake-haunted

garden, but onward to the tall city

of glass that is the laboratory of the spirit.

 

 

R S Thomas

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Trinity

 

The Healing of Jairus’ Daughter

 

He took her by the hand and said to her “Talitha cum” which means ‘Little girl, get up!’ and immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was about twelve years of age).

 

This morning’s gospel tells us of two of Jesus’ miracles, the raising of the daughter of Jairus, the synagogue leader, and the curing of the woman with the haemorrhage – the one who touched the hem of Jesus’ garments. Both miracles tell us about Jesus approach to the taboos of his day : the ones to do with the routine treatment of women as ‘unclean’, the ones to do with touch, and the ones to do with death or dead bodies. In certain parts of the world women are still regarded as at certain times unclean. In this part of the world there are less resources for the average citizen to cope with a death. It does not occupy the place it once had in relation to past observances and customs regarding the death and funeral rites. There is less common knowledge and less reliable custom. Many people no longer have a Christian faith through which death can be mediated. It is more unusual than it was in the life of families and particularly of communities. My grandparents on my father’s side had nine children of which five survived, four having died either in childbirth or in infancy. This was not uncommon a hundred years ago. My mother at the age of 6 was brought into the small parlour to see the body of her grandfather laid out in his coffin on a large dining table. In Hoxton as recently as the early 1980s a small group of local women attended every local funeral as professional mourners. They were always expected and always given an invitation to the wake afterwards. Their present helped to emphasize the closeness of the community. In the Caribbean community it is still customary to have an open coffin and in many cases to have a single woman come and sing over the coffin as it is lowered into the ground. Hence the phrase ‘it ain’t all over ‘til the fat lady sings’. But the final song, and the men and women of family and friends who fill in the grave rather than employed and anonymous grave diggers, give the burial a significance which would otherwise be missed or forgotten…of a real oneness of intention and a passionate commitment to the honouring of the dead person.

 

Jesus is a breaker of the existing social and religious taboos of his day and especially the ones governing the segregation of women and girls. In these two enfolding miracles of healing Jesus establishes new practices and new understandings. He breaks the taboos concerning their ritual impurity and establishes what would have been for the day a radical closeness and compassion toward those around him , and especially those in need, and he commends those who dare to step forward and ask for healing; commends them for the strength of their faith. The healing of the little girl is important in that her age is mentioned. She is twelve and therefore considered in those days to be of marriageable age. That a man, and especially a rabbi should hold her hand was considered taboo, and also that he held the hand of someone they believed to be dead. 

 

These writings secure a distinctively Christian Gospel which challenges and then transforms the existing Jewish tradition and its mores. It is important that the Gospels tell us not just about what Jesus did but about the essential character of the Christian message which emerged out of his life. For Jesus the existence of faith is not something seen to be commendable in the life of the individual, though it is that. Faith exists closely alongside the healing of those who are imprisoned and trapped as the customs of their society impede their lives and stigmatise them. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is for the healing of the whole person and of the giving of that freedom which is seen to be come from the Father as that life which is truly liberated and experience as eternal in the present. There is a ready relationship which is drawn out by Jesus’ healing acts which is the indivisibility of the soul with the body. No wonder then that Christian witness is always for life and for the living, while we are in this world. The Christian ministry from the very beginning was one which ‘held all things (including money) in common’ for the relief of widows and orphans, and St Paul writes today in his letter to the Corinthians on the delicate matter of raising the funds. Likewise  the founding of monasteries and hospitals for the sick and dying was a Christian staple in the early centuries, to be developed by Christian pioneers in more recent times in the forms of the Hospice Movement for the care of the Dying and the L’Arche Community in the care of the severely handicapped. Theirs is not just a work but also as for Christ in today’s parables a proclamation. It is the proclamation of the need to see the care and the healing of the sick and dying as the breaking of the age old taboos which would have such conditions swept under the carpet and placed out of town, like the old asylums.

 

In raising the little girl from the dead, Jesus puts a cap on those familiar words ‘old habits die heard’. This healing and the healing of the woman with the haemorrhage are ‘breakthrough’ events which take h our understanding of the need for healing into new levels of understanding. In the breaking of ancient taboos, Jesus is the One who makes it possible for all Christians, in all times and in all places, to understand the human condition as it is found, and of the abiding need for the receiving of his grace for the healing of our minds and bodies and souls. But this is something, as the poet says, which must emerge out of a life of faith ‘in the laboratory of the spirit’, but in the meantime we may be called to love that which the world rejects, as the hymn says “love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be”…

 

 

 

Emerging

 

Not as in the old days I pray,

God. My life is not what it was...

Once I would have asked 

healing. I go now to be doctored...

to lend my flesh as manuscript of the great poem

Of the scalpel. I would have knelt

long, wrestling with you, wearing

you down. Hear my prayer Lord, hear my prayer. 

As though you were deaf, myriads of mortals

have kept up their shrill

cry, explaining your silence by their unfitness.

 

It begins to appear

this is not what prayer is about.

It is the annihilation of difference,

the consciousness of myself in you,

of you in me...I begin to recognize

you anew, God of form and number.

There are questions we are the solution 

to, others whose echoes we must expand

to contain. Circular as our way

is, it leads not back to the snake-haunted

garden, but onward to the tall city

of glass that is the laboratory of the spirit.

 

 

R S Thomas

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Trinity

 

The Healing of Jairus’ Daughter

 

He took her by the hand and said to her “Talitha cum” which means ‘Little girl, get up!’ and immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was about twelve years of age).

 

This morning’s gospel tells us of two of Jesus’ miracles, the raising of the daughter of Jairus, the synagogue leader, and the curing of the woman with the haemorrhage – the one who touched the hem of Jesus’ garments. Both miracles tell us about Jesus approach to the taboos of his day : the ones to do with the routine treatment of women as ‘unclean’, the ones to do with touch, and the ones to do with death or dead bodies. In certain parts of the world women are still regarded as at certain times unclean. In this part of the world there are less resources for the average citizen to cope with a death. It does not occupy the place it once had in relation to past observances and customs regarding the death and funeral rites. There is less common knowledge and less reliable custom. Many people no longer have a Christian faith through which death can be mediated. It is more unusual than it was in the life of families and particularly of communities. My grandparents on my father’s side had nine children of which five survived, four having died either in childbirth or in infancy. This was not uncommon a hundred years ago. My mother at the age of 6 was brought into the small parlour to see the body of her grandfather laid out in his coffin on a large dining table. In Hoxton as recently as the early 1980s a small group of local women attended every local funeral as professional mourners. They were always expected and always given an invitation to the wake afterwards. Their present helped to emphasize the closeness of the community. In the Caribbean community it is still customary to have an open coffin and in many cases to have a single woman come and sing over the coffin as it is lowered into the ground. Hence the phrase ‘it ain’t all over ‘til the fat lady sings’. But the final song, and the men and women of family and friends who fill in the grave rather than employed and anonymous grave diggers, give the burial a significance which would otherwise be missed or forgotten…of a real oneness of intention and a passionate commitment to the honouring of the dead person.

 

Jesus is a breaker of the existing social and religious taboos of his day and especially the ones governing the segregation of women and girls. In these two enfolding miracles of healing Jesus establishes new practices and new understandings. He breaks the taboos concerning their ritual impurity and establishes what would have been for the day a radical closeness and compassion toward those around him , and especially those in need, and he commends those who dare to step forward and ask for healing; commends them for the strength of their faith. The healing of the little girl is important in that her age is mentioned. She is twelve and therefore considered in those days to be of marriageable age. That a man, and especially a rabbi should hold her hand was considered taboo, and also that he held the hand of someone they believed to be dead. 

 

These writings secure a distinctively Christian Gospel which challenges and then transforms the existing Jewish tradition and its mores. It is important that the Gospels tell us not just about what Jesus did but about the essential character of the Christian message which emerged out of his life. For Jesus the existence of faith is not something seen to be commendable in the life of the individual, though it is that. Faith exists closely alongside the healing of those who are imprisoned and trapped as the customs of their society impede their lives and stigmatise them. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is for the healing of the whole person and of the giving of that freedom which is seen to be come from the Father as that life which is truly liberated and experience as eternal in the present. There is a ready relationship which is drawn out by Jesus’ healing acts which is the indivisibility of the soul with the body. No wonder then that Christian witness is always for life and for the living, while we are in this world. The Christian ministry from the very beginning was one which ‘held all things (including money) in common’ for the relief of widows and orphans, and St Paul writes today in his letter to the Corinthians on the delicate matter of raising the funds. Likewise  the founding of monasteries and hospitals for the sick and dying was a Christian staple in the early centuries, to be developed by Christian pioneers in more recent times in the forms of the Hospice Movement for the care of the Dying and the L’Arche Community in the care of the severely handicapped. Theirs is not just a work but also as for Christ in today’s parables a proclamation. It is the proclamation of the need to see the care and the healing of the sick and dying as the breaking of the age old taboos which would have such conditions swept under the carpet and placed out of town, like the old asylums.

 

In raising the little girl from the dead, Jesus puts a cap on those familiar words ‘old habits die heard’. This healing and the healing of the woman with the haemorrhage are ‘breakthrough’ events which take h our understanding of the need for healing into new levels of understanding. In the breaking of ancient taboos, Jesus is the One who makes it possible for all Christians, in all times and in all places, to understand the human condition as it is found, and of the abiding need for the receiving of his grace for the healing of our minds and bodies and souls. But this is something, as the poet says, which must emerge out of a life of faith ‘in the laboratory of the spirit’, but in the meantime we may be called to love that which the world rejects, as the hymn says “love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be”…

 

 

 

Emerging

 

Not as in the old days I pray,

God. My life is not what it was...

Once I would have asked 

healing. I go now to be doctored...

to lend my flesh as manuscript of the great poem

Of the scalpel. I would have knelt

long, wrestling with you, wearing

you down. Hear my prayer Lord, hear my prayer. 

As though you were deaf, myriads of mortals

have kept up their shrill

cry, explaining your silence by their unfitness.

 

It begins to appear

this is not what prayer is about.

It is the annihilation of difference,

the consciousness of myself in you,

of you in me...I begin to recognize

you anew, God of form and number.

There are questions we are the solution 

to, others whose echoes we must expand

to contain. Circular as our way

is, it leads not back to the snake-haunted

garden, but onward to the tall city

of glass that is the laboratory of the spirit.

 

 

R S Thomas



Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity

20th Jun 2021


Sermon for Trinity 3 Year B     “He did not speak to them except in parables”

 

 

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 John speaks of Jesus speaking in parables, he is saying something to us that we already know. 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 witness. The truth telling was of lives which had found their reason for being in Christ; Gospel. 

 

So many of the bestsellers lists are of books of biography. The word ‘bio’ and ‘graphy’ aiming to combine two contrasting elements -  that of life as it is lived;  and the setting down of that life graphically, descriptively, in words. When we look at the Gospels we are not looking at the 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 are just that, they are ‘gospel’ and the aim of they treat biography as a necessary but secondary consideration. The first consideration is that the Gospel is theology. It tells us 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 this morning 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. This of course is a simple figure of speech, and paints a picture in the mind’s eye.  It sets forth the Christian teaching in a way which gives the individual space and scope to imagine and to assimilate. This is not dictation. It 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 unpredictable, like the parable of the rich young man whom Jesus advises to sell all he has. The Gospels do not tell us whether he goes on to do this!

 

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 good stories are for the growing child as well as the adult a vital part of come to terms with 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, the raising of Lazarus all emerge out of a body of story-telling which provides the scale and the scope for us to imagine these as not just quaint stories.  Rather, they communicate in the endless telling and re-telling, the eternal and priceless truths concerning our existence. For the writers and readers of the Bible, they trace the patterning of 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 salvation history of which the Bible speaks. And these works can only be understood when both are realised. They stand for us as ‘real presences’ which 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.

 

It became necessary in a recent exhibition of reliquaries and paintings in one London 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.

 

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 and human states as 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. But nonetheless 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 intrust we pray that the Creator, the Giver and the Sustainer who is God will provide for the increase.

 

R.S. Thomas (1913–2000)

 

Via Negativa

 

Why no! I never thought other than

That God is that great absence

In our lives, the empty silence

Within, the place where we go

Seeking, not in hope to

Arrive or find. He keeps the interstices

In our knowledge, the darkness

Between stars. 



Sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity

13th Jun 2021


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.



Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity

6th Jun 2021


Sermon for the First Sunday of Trinity Year B

 

Today on this First Sunday of Trinity we begin to return after the great feasts of Trinity and Pentecost and to ‘the wearing of the green’. This colour will symbolise for us ordinary humanity, our humanity, as we stand  before God in need of the divine understanding and mercy. I think of the refrain from ‘It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, O Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer’. As a vital part of this ordinary humanity we rightly speak of the existence of the soul and the soul’s health. For Chrstians that has meant a humanity which is both ‘outward and visible’ and ‘inward and invisible’. We address God in words that cannot always be spoken. There are all the exterior things to do with the running of our lives and then there are those things which are inexpressible : our loves and our longings and our hopes. It is in this way that Paul can speak of our outward and inner natures and declare that 

“…even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day”

2 Corinthians 4.19.

 

To be ‘In Christ’ for Paul is to be most fully alive in the acknowledgement that we are body, and soul. The outer and the inner person is fully acknowledged.

 

One of the Prayer Book Collects (for Lent 3) reads:

Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Jesus’ meeting with so many of those he comes to heal begins with a simple throwaway line or a basic question ‘Zacchaus come down, today I must dine with you”’ he says to Zacchaeus in the tree, and to the demoniac ‘What is your name? To the widow of Nain he says “Do not cry”. As a healer, Jesus is the one who ‘sees into’ the humanity of the person and stays with it before ever the healing is carried out. The healing acts are inseparable from the human encounter and the arrival at a place of mutual and indeed spiritual, understanding.  We are made to love and to be loved. That loving may show itself in ‘being with’ a person rather than anything good we feel we might be doing on their behalf or in the words we speak.

 

At theological college one of our tutors was rather eccentric. He was a big man and always seemed to be in a hurry. He once visited one of our students who was full of a terribly fluey cold. She was a strong northern woman and also a chain smoker. The tutor came to visit her, and feeling a bit awkward asked her whether she’d like a cup of tea? She said ‘Yes’ and he went and got the tea, and then sat next to her bed and fidgeted and asked her whether she had any biscuits? She said yes, there, over by the bread bin. She remembers this visit not so much by anything that was said, and even least by her tutor’s social skill, but that as he listened to her intently, he proceeded to devour the whole packet of biscuits right in front of her! Ever since, she has found the memory of this visit delightful because it was so characteristic of him. He knew how to be himself even when he found it difficult to be himself. 

 

Disposer supreme, and judge of the earth,

Who choosest for thine the weak and the poor,

To frail earthen vessels and things of no worth,

Entrusting thy riches which ay shall endure.

 

There is an icon of the sixth century which features a famous saint, martyr and abbot, Menas, given the charge of his community as Abbot by Christ himself.  In this depiction Jesus, unusually, puts his arm around Menas in an encouraging gesture. This icon is shown by the Taizé community of young people as an icon of reconciliation and of friendship with Christ and it is charming in the details of the outstretched and embracing arm. The figures in these icons have large heads, eyes and ears but small mouths and noses. That is because the head, the eyes and the ears were considered more spiritual than mouths (gossip) and noses (too sensuous). But this is an encouraging icon because of its humanity and for us the prevailing truth of the Christ who is with us even and especially when we may not realise this. He is the one who underwrites our frail humanity and actively seeks our reconciliation with the Father through ‘his presence and his very self’. The divine ‘arm’ really is placed around us.

 

We may feel God’s presence as a guiding and encouraging one, one we can come to trust and to know despite and because of ourselves. Let us, then be the most ordinary people we can, and to love the ordinary and ordinary humanity, particularly in the God-given capacity to show love not just as a feeling but as an active response which emanates from the source of all love, God himself…



 

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