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Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity

4th Jul 2021


Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Trinity Year B

 

‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’.

 

 

The so called ‘God Particle’ has recently been discovered. It claims to be the particle upon which all physics rests, and can be thought of as the mainstay of all creation, without which it would never have existed. But it is interesting that the Name of God should be called upon in this way. A little girl asked her father this week ‘Who made the world?’  He explained to her about the God particle and was not sure whether the earth had been created by God or sprang up out of a kind of physical chain reaction, all on its own. So then, the little girl said, ‘So the particle made the world, then, didn’t it?’ whereupon her mother intervened to say to husband and daughter. ‘Yes but remember who made the particle…’ The mother was speaking of course from the point of view of faith, but which nonetheless takes us beyond the limits of what can be proved.

 

When Paul speaks of these things he reminds us, that however we might choose to describe God, there is the realisation that he is the provider of our existence. His presence is over all his creation and yet also beyond it. His influence is both unfathomable and yet present. Yung once famously said ‘Bidden or not bidden, God is present’. When we speak like this we are seeing faith as a kind of waiting, as a gradual awakening to the possibilities that God holds out for each one of us. But above all we exist in a relationship of receptivity. There is nothing we can do or accomplish that will increase God’s love for us his creatures. As his creatures our attitude both in prayer and worship and in life is one in which we offer him as the words of the Confession tell us ‘…ourselves our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and lively sacrifice unto God’. We empty ourselves in order to be receptive and to receive him.  It is in this way that St Paul reminds us that the power of God is made as he puts it ‘perfect in weakness’. The reminder is always given that we are, when all is said and done, very mortal, and our life’s experience belongs to our mortality, which is also our being in its natural and very vulnerable state.

 

This week I have encountered two experiences of this mortality at opposite ends of the age spectrum. The first is the experience of an old woman whose health is breaking down under the influence of her own age and a multitude of medical conditions. More and more questions are being asked about how much care she will need, and she now has to admit that she has become entirely dependent upon others to shape her day and provide for its basic needs, even to getting up in the morning. It is both terribly sad, and speaks of a life being reduced to less and less freedom. However the God particle might be described or designed, aging is built into the created order at every level, and there is no escaping the cycle of living and of the end to a single life, whether it be a human life or a leaf on a tree or an exploding, dead star. As one man put it ‘ageing’s not for wimps’. But because we are not living in a laboratory, but a world of life and love we do not respond to these things without being deeply affected by them. An experience of another person’s mortality is also and inescapably an experience which speaks of our own mortality and it leads us to embrace the message of these things not only with our brains but also with our hearts. For the one coming to the end of a life under conditions of great trial and suffering we would want to show the love and the understanding that we should like to receive. We would want to offer our care. Whilst the particle might explain the physics, it cannot explain the meaning of life in all its strange depth and fullness.

 

My other experience of mortality at the other end of the scale was of meeting a very small child whose daddy was taking her for a walk down Whidborne Street. The child was obviously not quite used to walking and though on her feet, she was still a bit wobbly, but seemingly delighted at this state of affairs. I spoke to her father and then held out my hand towards the girl for a handshake. At first she refused, a bit confused, took two paces, turned back towards me and held out her hand. There must have been a time, almost eighty years ago, when the sick and suffering old lady would have held out her hand and wobbled about on funny little legs which had started to walk.

 

In Jesus we believe that the divine compassion for all our lives has been made real and apparent. This is not like the scientists who speak merely of existence, however marvellously or exactingly they put it. The Letter of Paul reminds us of the power and purposes of God expressed in our human weakness and of the God who speaks to us in and through our humanity in all its facets and perhaps especially in the truthfulness of our own being, which is also the vulnerability of our condition.  ‘Bidden or not bidden; God is present’. This has been most powerfully expressed in the recourse to non-violent forms of demonstration and the refusal to answer violence with violence. But the anniversary of 7/7 must remind us that in the face of global terrorism non-violence, wherever possible will be matched by an absolute kind of watchfulness on the part of those who are tasked with the defence of peace. It will also call for a proper speaking out against false indoctrination and the barbarity of blind violence in all its forms and a willingness to fight the forces of such destruction tooth and nail. 

 

Finally, the saying about power being made perfect in apparent weakness may stand as a very proper message for the existence of this church as a messenger for the bringing of peace, in which so many visitors, week by week come into this holy place to be with God, to say prayers. We cannot tell what these prayers consist of; what is their shape and form and content, but we can tell that these prayers come from the heart, from the deepest part of the person, that place where God’s own love and influence may touch those places of our deeper vulnerability, and of our loving and longing, our most cherished hopes and our deep disappointments and frustrations.

 

It may suffice that these prayers are said, and their meaning and content are left behind in the form of a burning candle; a mark and sign of the reality of faith and the existence of another kind of God particle, one hidden and yet still very much alive.

 

The Bright Field

 

by R. S. Thomas

 

I have seen the sun break through

to illuminate a small field

for a while, and gone my way

and forgotten it. But that was the pearl

of great price, the one field that had

treasure in it. I realize now

that I must give all that I have

to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receeding future, nor hankering after

an imagined past. It is the turning

aside like Moses to the miracle

of the lit bush, to a brightness

that seemed as transitory as your youth

once, but is the eternity that aw