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…