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Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I have a friend and colleague who regularly posts thought-provoking memes and snippets on his Facebook page.  Last week it included a piece inspired by the American writer Stan Rushworth, an indigenous elder of Cherokee descent.  It described the differences Rushworth saw between a Western settler mindset of “I have rights” and an indigenous mindset of “I have obligations”.  The piece went on “Instead of thinking that I am born with rights, I choose to think that I am born with obligations to serve past, present, and future generations, and the planet herself.”

I’m been thinking about that a lot this week.  Every time there is a new story on the news about Covid restrictions, and I listen to the various people talking about their lives, of the impact it is having, I found myself weighing up that difficult balance – rights versus obligations.

And when we reflect on Jonah and the workers in the vineyard again we can hear that tension – my right to what I am owed, to what I think is fair, to what suits me against my obligation to serve God and work to the benefit of others.

The parables of Christ’s teaching often allows us to see ourselves in those parables, in different ways.  But of course, it is more comfortable to see ourselves in a certain light.  For example, it is more easier to see ourselves as the workers who come late to the vineyard but are rewarded equally, because that gives us the promise of a heavenly reward no matter how late we turn to Christ. 

It is much more difficult to see ourselves as the workers who have been working in the vineyard from the beginning.  These characters do not help our own image of ourselves.  Where the people without work are in need of mercy, the all-day workers, despite having been given exactly what they were promised, are envious, self-pitying, ungracious and ungenerous.  Who wants to see themselves like that?

And it is certainly not the way we want God to see us.  So this can be an uncomfortable parable.  

But through the vineyard owner role, Jesus is trying to tell us something about God.  The first is this: God understands what we are feeling.  He is even compassionate about those emotions – the vineyard owner calls the workers ‘Friend’.  He doesn’t get angry, but he does remind us that what we are feeling isn’t fair either.  Would we really deny others the gifts that we want for ourselves, and are happy to receive?  And, of course, the answer is ‘no’.

So how does this play out for us in our daily lives? 

Well, to return to that idea set out by Stan Rushworth, perhaps in this pandemic we have an opportunity to think about how we balance what we demand and what we give. 

So as we think about how life is changing, whether we are talking about the use of face coverings in church or the ability to go to the pub with our friends, or for example how our daily choices affect potential environmental damage, where is our focus?

Wearing a mask, abiding by physical distancing, reducing plastic waste or not driving if it isn’t necessary, these can all be acts of love.  They say ‘I take seriously your wellbeing’ and that of creation.  Yes, we might be inconvenienced, and have to change the way we do things, but we are not being done out of God’s grace, we are not being cheated.  God still offers us salvation, that is our reward.  

As workers in the vineyard we are called to two tasks: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ (Mt 22.37-40)

These are the obligations of every follower of Christ.

Amen.

(Artwork: ‘The Labourers in the Vineyard’ by Eugène Burnand)

Sermon for the 12th Sunday after Trinity

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Witold Pilecki was a Polish army officer who served during the Second World War.  A staunch Roman Catholic, he became part of the Polish resistance after Poland was occupied by Germany, and in 1940 he volunteered to be purposely arrested and imprisoned in Auschwitz. His mission was to organise resistance and to gain intelligence for the Allies. He was interned there between September 1940 and April 1943, when he was finally able to escape the camp and write his report.  

I could have told a lot of different stories with the same heart.  Nearly every saint’s story has this type of compassion for others, but I chose this story for today because sometimes when we think about saints it’s easy to go ‘oh well, they’re saints.  Of course they behave like that.’  

Pilecki hasn’t been canonised, but he is an example of  the type of self-giving, what we call kenosis, which is the calling of every Christian.  I mentioned that Pilecki was a devout Christian, and I think at the heart of his actions was a man who, even if he was afraid – and who would not have been – was also unafraid to give himself, to save others, because he was trying to live a Christ-like life. 

That is at the core of Jesus’ message today: Take up your cross and follow me. “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”  (Mt 16.25)

Jesus is talking about the things that we cling to that stop us from living our life in Christ.  They are the things we fear losing, and that fear means we become overly-focused on them to the point where they become our reason to live. 

They can be the obvious things like money and possessions, of security and control.  Other things include status, our reputation, any position of authority and influence.  These are all areas which feed into the picture we have of ourselves, which we use to build up our self-worth.

And finally there is clinging to life itself.  Life is precious and we should treasure it, but it is part of our journey, not our final destination. We are made for heaven, but if we forget or reject that then of course this life becomes what we cling to.  C.S. Lewis wrote “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’; aim at earth and you will get neither” (from ‘Mere Christianity’).

If we think of the 3 things that the devil tempted Jesus with in the wilderness – bread, angels to protect him, and all the kingdoms of the world, we can see that they are these same desires: to survive, possessions and status.  Was this experience on Jesus’ mind when he answered Peter’s rebuke in trying to prevent his death on the cross?  Did he hear an echo of those temptations, hence his reply: ‘Get behind me, Satan!’?

For ourselves, firstly we need to reflect on the things that we are afraid of losing – once we can pinpoint our stumbling blocks, then we can begin to let go of them. 

Secondly, we need to reset our minds on heaven. 
Following the end of the Second World War, Pilecki, again left the freedom of  Italy to return to Poland and report on the political situation under the Soviet-occupation. Instead of being hailed as a hero, he was arrested , tortured and sentenced to death.  After the announcement of his sentence he said “I’ve been trying to live my life so that in the hour of my death I would rather feel joy, than fear.”  He was 47 years old.

When we live to be with God, by letting go of our fear and living for heaven, we will come to realise, that without knowing it, we too have found our life, not lost it. 

Amen.

Sermon for the 11th Sunday after Trinity

(Romans 12.1-8, Matthew 16.13-20)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

‘Who do you say that I am?’

Someone once told me that their faith changed in a moment of revelation when they worked out who God was for them. 

At home with her cat, she realised that she picked the cat up when she wanted to, or if the cat clambered onto her lap, she would let it stay if it was a convenient time for her.  She would happily spend time with the cat, get comfort and pleasure, but when she was ready, she would put it down again.

And then she had her moment of revelation.  She had turned Jesus into God-my-cat.  God was only getting her attention when it was convenient to her, picking up and putting down God at a whim.  She was annoyed when God wanted something from her on a different timescale.  And so she had to re-evaluate her understanding of Jesus, and her relationship with him.  

So who do you say God is?

Is he simply a good man? A great teacher?

Lots of people think so.  They like his words when they are convenient, when they back up what they believe is right – and of course, Jesus told his followers to be kind, care for the poor and the vulnerable, to be righteous and thirst for justice.  Who doesn’t agree with that?

What do other people say?

Some say he didn’t exist.  But that’s not true.  As well as the New Testament there was evidence about Jesus in the ancient writings, by the Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius, and Josephus, a Jewish historian.  

So what is left?

When Jesus asked Peter to say who he though Jesus was, Peter, having heard Jesus preach and teach, and seen him heal and perform miraculous acts, spoke boldly.  ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’  

This is the answer at the heart of this question of Jesus’ identity.  C.S.Lewis summed this up beautifully when he wrote in ‘Mere Christianity’:

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Jesus knew that when Peter proclaimed him the Son of the living God, those words came from his heart.  Peter was the one who didn’t always get it right.  He wasn’t the visionary scholar that John was.  He wasn’t the zealous evangelist that Paul was.  But there was something in this man that led Jesus to say to him, ‘Peter’ (a word we know means ‘rock’), ‘you are to be the rock on which the church is built, and you will be given the keys to heaven.’ What an awesome gift and responsibility!

At some point in our journey of faith we each have to ask ourselves ‘Who is Jesus to me?’  This is not because Jesus himself changes, but our response to him will change, depending on our answer.  If in our hearts we accept Jesus as the Saviour of the world, the One who died to free us from sin and was raised to new life so that we might too live the risen life in him, then we cannot treat him like God-our-cat or a teacher of occasionally convenient, even bland, moral truths.  Who we say Jesus is will define our faith and our life.  

‘Who do you say that I am?’ says Jesus. 

(Artwork: Jesus Christ Pantocrator, a detail from the deesis mosaic in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul)

Sermon for the 10th Sunday after Trinity

(Romans 11.1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15.21-28)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Mercy.  It’s a big thing in the Bible.

“GOD be merciful unto us, and bless us” (Psalm 67.1)

“Let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them.…” (Isaiah 55.7)

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’ (Luke 10.36-37)

Jesus lived out that mercy.  You may wonder how that fits with our Gospel passage. It is certainly a passage we have to wrestle with.  The Canaanite woman demands mercy and Jesus seemingly rebuffs her, but she wittily replies, persuades him to act, and so her daughter is healed.  Recent biblical criticism has even suggested that Jesus was racist, and the Canaanite woman had to teach Jesus how to be more inclusive.

But racism is a sin, and let’s remember first and foremost, Jesus was without sin. 

Such idea comes when passages from the Bible are taken out of context.  If we look at the whole of Matthew’s Gospel, we will see that prior to this event, Jesus had already been healing Gentiles – the Centurion’s servant (Mt 8.5-13) and the Gadarene demoniacs (Mt 8.28-34) being two examples – and he was constantly moving in and out of Jewish territory, back and forth across the Sea of Galilee.   

So this is not an event about traversing ethnic boundaries, or an excluding Jesus learning to widen his mission. 

Instead Matthew’s telling of this event shows a continuation of two themes – faith and mercy.  When Jesus spoke to the Centurion, and they discussed authority, Jesus said of the  Gentile, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.” (Mt 8.10)

And he taught “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (Mt 7.7). 

Basically, the Canaanite woman was doing just that – showing persistent faith and receiving mercy.  In the encounter, she didn’t deny what Jesus says about salvation, but entered into it.  However, she started by shouting, a very aggressive position to take against this holy man.  

It’s understandable because she’s distressed, but she’s being demanding, ignoring what Jesus is doing or saying to others, being, frankly, rude.  Only later does she calm down, and show Jesus respect and act like someone asking, not demanding, mercy.  

This reminds me of the incident with the woman caught in adultery, John Chapter 8.  I imagine that as a scene where a group of highly agitated elders dragged a struggling woman into where Jesus was teaching.  Against their demanding of answers and shouting questions at Jesus, he said nothing but bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.  Only when he is ready does he engage with them, and not at all in the way they expected.

Likewise the Canaanite woman’s attitude changed as she knelt and said “Lord, help me”, then goes on to develop Christ’s metaphor which includes herself and her daughter, and does so with respect for the Jews as God’s chosen people of Israel.

Furthermore in Matthew’s recording of the encounter, it’s clear that the disciples were with Jesus.  They even wanted to get rid of her, because she was causing a scene.  What is more likely than the woman teaching Jesus about inclusivity, is that through the woman, her faith and that continuation of the theme of mercy, Jesus was teaching the disciples about inclusivity.  

Their behaviour was being challenged by his earlier teaching of the Golden Rule: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you: for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7.12) Basically Jesus has getting the disciples to think about that powerful question – ‘who is my neighbour?’  Surely it couldn’t be this woman? 

This foreigner? 

This person of another religion? 

This embarrassing, scene-making, desperate mother?

But who is the one who showed persistent faith?  It was the Canaanite woman.

And who is the one who showed mercy?  It was Jesus.

In Isaiah, God says “Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.” (Isaiah 56.1).  God wants us to care for the poor and the afflicted.  Not just in fine words, but practically.  

We have an empty faith if we stand by looking down at a beaten stranger and said ‘Oh, I’m so sorry for you.  I shall stand here and pray for you, that you’ll be looked after, and heal quickly.’  

What does mercy look like to the injured of Beirut?

To the refugee in a dingy off the cost of Dover? 

To those whose lives have forever altered by Covid-19 with its impact on health, education and employment?

Be faithful.  Show mercy.  Do to your neighbour as you would have them do to you.  That is the discipleship of Christianity. 

Go and do likewise.    

Amen.

(Artwork: The Woman of Canaan’ by Michael Angelo Immenraet, 17th century)

Sermon for the 9th Sunday after Trinity

1 Kings 19.9-18, Matthew 14.22-33

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The majority of Christian preaching and teaching is what we can call spring or summer Christianity, the rightfully joyful and positive approach to God and the scriptures.  

Every Christian goes through a springtime of faith; that feeling of freshness as new ideas blossom into growth.  Naturally summertime follows, when our faith is in full flower, and the fruits of the Spirit are producing good works in our life.  

However, we don’t often talk about those times when our faith feels more like autumn – when everything seems to be fading, or falling apart like leaves dropping from the trees; or indeed the icy blast of winter when all seems dead, when we know in theory that life is buried beneath the barren landscape, but it feels hard to believe. 

To pretend that these times don’t happen is to do a great disservice, to ourselves and to other Christians.  After all, if we’re not honest with ourselves about how we feel, how can we ask God for help, and how can we help others Christians in their times of trouble?

St John of the Cross called this “the dark night of the soul”, and St Therese of Liseux, a 19th century Carmelite nun wrote to her sisters, “If you only knew what darkness I am plunged into.”  Letters by Mother Theresa released after her death show she too suffered spiritual dryness, and on retiring Pope Benedict said that whilst he never felt alone, it did sometimes feel like God was asleep.

It is often times of personal trouble that leads to spiritual crisis.  In our first reading the prophet Elijah had run away following his victory over the prophets of Ba’al.  He feared for his life as Jezebel sought to find and execute him.  Elijah hid in a cave, feeling very much alone, frightened and lost.  He had done his best and it didn’t seem to be enough.

But God was there, speaking not in dramatic wind or powerful earthquake or blazing fire, but a gentle whisper.  Out of the loneliness, God made his presence known, giving new instructions, comfort and strength.

And then in our Gospel reading we have Peter, frightened by the storm but seeing Jesus across the water and wanting so badly to follow him, that he risks getting out of the boat.  He begins well, but falters and sinks into the water.  He is a drowning man, in more ways than one.

And out of the storm and the wind and the waves Jesus reaches out and takes hold of him.  He is safe in the arms of Jesus, and the wind ceased.   Jesus is God in the peace and calm.

But what about in the here and now?  After all, these stories are 2 and 3 thousand years old.  Do they have any relevance for us today? 

In lockdown there has been plenty of discussion about how the Christian faith has grown online, with people discovering new ways to pray and form community.  And that’s wonderful.  But I know other people have struggled – with prayer, with not being able to gather in their church buildings, wondering ‘Where is God in all this?’

Well, what if I told you that every day the Word of God, Jesus Christ, was still bringing people back from despair.  Would you believe me?

Over the years I have visited people who are dying.  Sometimes they’re barely awake or in pain, but I’ll sit with them and pray, Psalm 23 or the Lord’s Prayer.  And I have seen ragged breathing become calm and peaceful, and gentle smiles as the words etched on their souls were said for them.

We never know when times of trouble will strike us.  Summer can become winter in the blink of an eye, without sense or reason, or it can creep up on us like a malaise when we are not looking.  Winter is never the end because spring will return in time, but these times, just like a season, can’t be rushed.  Even though we want to, we can’t press fast-forward and skip the earthquake, wind and fire of feeling we haven’t done enough, our faith isn’t strong enough.  

So if you do ever find yourself in that situation, please remember this – God cares deeply for each and every one of you.  And when we are least expecting it, we will find that God will reach out his hand into the sinking depths and bring us to new life.  

Amen.

(Artwork: ‘Hand of God’ by Yongsung Kim)

Sermon for the 8th Sunday after Trinity (Lammas)

Isaiah 55.1-5, Matthew 14.13-21

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I wonder, what was Jesus doing at the feeding of the five thousand?  I mean, beyond simply providing a basic packed lunch for those who had come to hear him speak.  

What deeper meaning was Jesus trying to show the people?

Was this the miraculous fulfilment of those wonderful words of Isaiah – “Those of you who do not have money, come, buy and eat!” And “You will enjoy the food that satisfies your soul”?

That sounds marvellous doesn’t it?  Think of the most glorious picnic.  What food and drink would you include?  Would you choose old favourites like something from Enid Blyton – all scones and ham sandwiches, scotch eggs, and lashings of ginger beer?  Or would it be like one of the feasts from Harry Potter – tables groaning under the weight of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, treacle tart, trifle, and butter-beer?

All of this pales into comparison with the messianic banquet that Isaiah prophesies.

Or, if we go back to the shores of Galilee, in the simple sharing of bread and fish do we see a foretelling of Holy Communion, the main act of worship of the Church?

Time and time again, we will come back to bread.

And this leads us nicely to that fact that today we are celebrating Lammas Day. ‘Lammas’ is a very old word; Lam, meaning loaf, and mas for the service, and and it’s a thanksgiving for the first-fruits of the wheat harvest.  It is, literally, a Loaf-mass.  

At our Harvest Festival in October we say thank you to God for all the good gifts of the seasons, and we focus on sharing those gifts with those in need.  So we bring tins and packets to give to the Food Bank.  

But, Lammas has its focus almost entirely on God.  This is a celebration where we thank God for the start of the harvest, and we acknowledge  how much we need God.

Imagine the people sitting and listening to Jesus teach.  They had come to him because they needed to hear him speak, and because they needed healing.  And once he had finished they had nothing of their own – they need nourishment in body as well as in the soul and in the mind.

Think of the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Give us this day our daily bread…’ (we are saying, ‘we need, we depend on God’).

And in the Eucharistic Prayer: ‘We break this bread to share in the body of Christ.  Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread.’  

And we come to church  because we need God.

I invite you today, before you have lunch, to take a moment and think about your life and say thank you to God, for God’s generosity on which we thrive, remembering all the gifts God has given you.

It is out of that bounty we become God’s workers in the harvest, showing the fruits of righteousness in our lives.  We get to share those gifts with others, just as the disciples saw Jesus do on the shores of Galilee two thousand years ago.  

And having given thanks, joyfully follow the Lord, knowing that when our days are done, we will join Christ for all eternity at the heavenly banquet.

Amen.

Sermon for the 7th Sunday after Trinity

1 Kings 3.5-12, Psalm 119.129-136 , Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, yeast, treasure, a merchant, a net.

Which one stands out to you?  Which connects with your idea of heaven?

And when you hear the words of Jesus, do you feel that it is a challenge to your heart or to your head?  By which I mean, do his words present to you a challenge about your motives or your imagination?

Today I’m going to focus on two of these parables – the hidden treasure and the fine pearl.

The surface meaning is abundantly clear.  Jesus is telling us that the kingdom of heaven is a prize of great worth, beyond measure. 

So far, so obvious.  

But having been told this by Jesus, and understood its meaning, it returns to us to ask ‘Well, how have I responded to that promise of a great prize?  Have I acted like the merchant or the person who buys the field?’  

And this is where the straightforward parable begins to challenge us, either in our heart or our head.

If you are a pragmatic person, you might hear this parable and being to imagine how this might play out in reality. 

What would it be like to trust in Jesus so completely that we sell everything we own in order to follow him, for the promise of this treasure?  Realistically we  may think – what would we live on?  Where would we live?  How would we survive?

Very few followers of Jesus take this challenge literally, and the ones that do are extraordinary people.  We call such people saints, and they are outstanding examples of trust and of faith in action.  

One such person was St Francis of Assisi, a wealthy young man, who renounced his family’s money to serve God. 

Another example is St Maximilian Kolbe, interestingly a Franciscan friar.  He had been arrested by the Nazis for sheltering Jews and was sent to Auschwitz.  Following the disappearance of 10 prisoners, the camp commander ordered 10 men to be starved to death.  One of the ten men chosen cried out ‘My wife, my children’, and Maximilian Kolbe volunteered to take his place.  He literally gave everything to follow Jesus, to obey his commandments, ultimately for that prize of the kingdom of God.

So, if we don’t do those sorts of things, what does that mean? 

Are my motives lacking? 

Or is my imagination just not big enough?  Because my mind cannot grasp just how awesome this prize is, that it is worth giving everything up for. 

Is this one of those moments when doubt and fear creeps in and shrinks what we think God is offering?  If only I could glimpse this pearl, this treasure in a field, so that I could get a feeling of what it is – then, would I become more like Francis, like Maximilian Kolbe, like the merchant? 

How do I pursue a treasure I simply cannot imagine?

These questions are not asked negatively, but because sometimes we need to hear the parables on more than one level, and by re-framing the story it might bring us fresh insight into our faith.  There is nothing wrong with taking time to think through our motives or how we imagine God, and to check whether we have let our doubts or fears prevent us from following Jesus in an even greater manner. 

I imagine that neither Francis nor Maximilian Kolbe knew how they were going to respond until the moment was upon them.  Their response came out of grace, touched by the words of Jesus, and we, like them, may find that when our moment comes, we too will give everything for the kingdom of heaven. 

Amen.

(Artwork: ‘The Parable of the Hidden Treasure’ by Rembrandt’)

Sermon for the 6th Sunday after Trinity

Romans 8.12-25, Psalm 86.11-17 , Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8.25)

Patience is a virtue.

But – is it one you have?

Have you struggled with lockdown, the endless days, waiting for a lifting of the restrictions?

Has it given you any new insights to the 100 days Noah spent in the Ark?  Or the 40 years the Hebrews spent wandering in the wilderness?  Or the empty, painful days between Good Friday and Easter Sunday?

As the psalmist prayed in Psalm 13, “How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever?”

Patience, says God.

And it is patience that Jesus is talking about in the parable of the wheat and the tares.

This is one of a number of parables about the kingdom of heaven.  The man sowed “good seed”, later identified as wheat.  

Then an enemy came into the field and planted weeds, or tares.  This plant, Lolium temulentum, cause terrible trouble for the farmer, because it is so similar in appearance to wheat.  In fact it can only be identified easily when both are ripe.  And it’s critical that it is removed as soon as possible, because if the two are milled together the flour will be spoiled.

The farmer’s servants suggested pulling the weeds up, but the farmer knew that the roots are intertwined, and besides they all look the same at that point!  The farmer is content to wait patiently, and later a different group of people, the reapers, will come along and separate the wheat from the tares during the harvesting, so ending the parable with a portrayal of the final judgement where the good people are separated from the bad.

The growing season requires patience.  Jesus spent time with people who were considered good and bad (religious elders and tax collectors).  There were times when he was questioned about why he did so.  Should not a respectable religious teacher only spend time with the pure and holy?

So we are gently warned not to judge others.  They might look like tares, but could be wheat in the growing.  They might present as good wheat, but at heart they are not.  We are all intertwined.  The judgement of God will take place at the end, but it will not be in our hands, as the servants of the God, but in the hands of the reapers, those appointed by God for the task.

The church is made up of all kinds of people.  It always has been, and it always will be.  Let us be wary of anyone who calls for purity within a community, or of deciding that we can decide who is righteous.

For now, let us continue simply to grow. 

Patience will allow good growth to shine forth. 

Patience will help difficult times to pass. 

Patience will focus our hearts and minds on God.

So let us ask our Lord, to be with us and give us patient hearts in this time of waiting and longing, that we may learn to trust and hope in Jesus, our rock and our salvation.  And may we be true to what we profess, ready to stand and give an account of our lives before Christ at the end of days.    Amen.

Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Trinity

Isaiah 55.10-13, Psalm 65.8-end , Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23

There are 7 missing verses from today’s Gospel which interrupts the Parable of the Sower.  They contain a conversation between Jesus and his disciples where he explains  why he uses the parable method of teaching.  Without the explanation that comes in the 2nd half of the passage, the parable was opaque.  It required the listeners to think about what Jesus was talking about, and to reflect on it over a period of time, and in doing so the message would develop in the listener’s mind.  As Isaiah poetically puts it, God’s word like a seed, takes time to take root and grow into understanding.

Because we’ve heard this parable many times, we already know the symbolism, and therein lays the danger.  How easy it is for us to stop listening, stop reflecting.  What do we do with this parable?

Well perhaps we should start with ourselves.  Each of us is the ground, ready for God’s Word to fall upon us; and our lives – how we behave, our thoughts and words and deeds – are the reflection of our life with God, the growth and the fruit.

If we take time to look at our lives from that angle, we might see what type of ground the seed has fallen into.

Furthermore, as any gardener will know, once you know the type of soil you are dealing with, you can make adjustments so that it is better prepared for planting.  So a clay soil might have organic matter added for improved drainage, for example.

What preparations do we need to make for God’s Word to take root in us?  

Jesus gives us a few examples:

Lacking of understanding –  well, if that connects with you, then perhaps study would help, a Bible course or reading a commentary, providing netting over our spiritual lives so God’s teaching isn’t ignored.  It can mean sitting with a passage that we struggle with, letting ourselves soak in the scriptures, and asking God for the gift of wisdom.

Or the shallow roots that wither in times of trouble – defend against that with daily prayer or by joining a prayer group.  This is a task of preparation as well, thinking through difficult questions before trouble occurs.  Then when difficulties do arise, the tricky questions around suffering or grief have already been thought through.

And the thorns of the world and wealth?  Well, most of us need to do some weeding in our lives from time to time, making sure we’ve got our priorities in the right order.  And this hazard reminds us that the gardening of the soul,  just like that of the flowerbed or allotment, is not a one-off task.  We must be vigilant and on-going with the stewardship of our souls.  It means taking seriously Jesus’ teaching on sharing wealth, showing mercy and loving God and our neighbours.

This week let us each take some time to reflect on the ground of our souls and our growth in Christ.  

What pruning, weeding, and nurturing could you ask God to help you with so that the Spirit blossoms and bears even more fruit in your life?

We ask this in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

(Artwork: ‘The Sower’ by St John Everett Millais)

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