Trinity and the Sundays following



Homilies by Rev. David Shaw

A series of short homilies reflecting on the readings for our Sunday services


fifth sunday after trinity

readings: Genesis 25,19-34; Isaiah 55, 10-13; Romans 8, 1-11; Matthew 13, 1-9 & 18-23

The Good News Bible has this particular gospel reading sub-headed as ‘The Parable of the Sower’, and its context and content certainly seem to suggest it is a parable, but when read in its full form the text seems to be something more or a prophesy even. Jesus can be seen speaking to the disciples and instructing them in their future role and mission.  So a further question springs to mind, who was this discourse from Jesus meant for?  Is it this meant for the crowd Jesus was speaking to, or as something quite specific to the disciples?  The fact that the writer of Matthew effectively tells the story twice would seem to indicate that he wasn’t sure either!

Whatever it was, it was almost certainly inspired by the situation.  To me it shows a picture of Jesus in the boat with this large, expectant crowd in front of him, and then looking up sees a lone sower on the hillside. I can’t recall how many times that sort of thing has happened to me in my ministry.  Often when having thought through what I was going to do in a service I become very conscious of someone in front of me and seeing their pain or joy suddenly puts a whole new slant on what I was going to say, as it has done for countless preachers and ministers through the ages.  What we say is not text bound, but circumstance and people bound, as we see the readings coming to light in the people there.  That is what makes the writing of a sermon in isolation so much more difficult, and often so irrelevant.

In our gospel reading Jesus sees the sower, and sees it in the context of the people in front of him, crowd or disciples.  But what he tells them in the story is obviously not correct, for who on earth would waste good seed on rocky ground, or amongst thorns or on ground that would be trampled down by people constantly walking on it (and that is without pigeons and rabbits!)?  Certainly they wouldn’t, and we wouldn’t.

But God does.  That is the heart of this passage, God cannot be made into a human, super or not. God does not sow for want of return or reward, but out of love for his creation.  God does not choose to love, He is love, and real love has no limits.  Everything in creation  is given its chance, nothing is lost in our human ideal of efficiency.  To understand God’s ways we have to let go of our human perceptions including those of fairness, of right, of earned reward or privilege, or even of being left out, as God grows his kingdom on earth.

Certainly it begins to make sense of the Abraham, Sarah situation, where if we read the complete account, including their questionable actions in their days as Abram and Sarai (Gen 12), to survive when famine overtook the land, or indeed in their treatment of Hagar and Ishmael which we have already come across in our Sunday readings.  We can’t ……..but God can!  And such is God’s love that he always will.  Even when Jacob, in today’s Genesis reading, takes untimely advantage of the situation Esau finds himself in, we find a God who will act where we as ethical humans would struggle.  No wonder Paul, in today’s reading, probably his most noble writing, stands amazed at what we can do with God’s love, and how little we can do without it.

And this is the essence of the sower story being important to the disciples, and is the heart of the message they will proclaim.  It is not for them to question, or to admonish the motive of the sower.  It is simply the instruction for them to do likewise, to proclaim a love that is beyond our understanding, beyond sometimes our own acceptance and that of the world.  It is the heart of priesthood.  Certainly it would be nice to be well-liked, appreciated and even acknowledged, but those things do not matter. Letting the world know of that great love that is theirs as well as ours, is what we are called to do.  Don’t forget, as Christians we are all that royal priesthood (1 Peter 2, 9), a priesthood to proclaim the abundance of God’s love.  We are not called to be the sower choosing what to sow, or where to sow it.

Taking on that role of priesthood will, on occasions, put us at odds with the world simply because the world cannot understand its values.  The heart of Christian ministry is to the poor, the marginalised and the needy, rich or poor. Where does that make any sense in our world view?  Our ministry is to the perpetrator just as much as it is to the victim.  Does that make any sense in a world where there is so much hurt caused by one upon another?  Forgiveness, not retribution, is our watchword.  No matter what the cost to ourselves, or of ourselves, it is the new beginning which the world is in real need of, between countries and across countries, between races and cultures and across cultures and races, between rich and poor, between strong and weak.

This is the random sowing from which God’s kingdom on earth will grow. The absolute randomness of sowing that enables people to grasp a different, and better view of stewardship of the world’s resources and its impact upon how we live together.   It is by each of us proclaiming God’s deep love that hope will again begin to flourish. 

There is no action that will be too small in that task ahead of us.  I recall a fellow minister telling me of a funeral he had performed for John, a parish member, who for various reasons had become a very grumpy, isolated man in old age.  The vicar was expecting to be the only one there, but one other person did turn up, a police officer, and from what my friend could make out of it, quite a high ranking one.  After the service he spoke to the man and in response to my friend’s question of why he was there, the police officer said that John had been his teacher.  But more than just being his teacher he had proved to be a considerable steadying influence and inspiration at a particular difficult time in the officer’s early life and helped him to cope with his negative and sometimes anti-social actions following his father’s death.  “It is thanks to John” the officer said, “that I am this side of the bars”. 

Everywhere there is opportunity for the Christian to proclaim something of God’s love pouring into creation. I wonder what part of God’s seed we will have to proclaim in the coming week?  One thing is certain if we proclaim it truthfully, the world will not always thank us for it, but in the end will be a better place for it. If we simply do as Jesus did in his lifetime on earth, and live out the parable of the sower it will indeed prove to be a wondrous prophesy.

Lord why do I have to make the effort
by Michel Quoist

Go, little one,
don’t ask yourself how you feel about doing this or that,
don’t look for any reward,
ask if it is what the father wants
    for you and for your brothers and sisters.

Don’t ask for strength to make the effort;
ask first to love with all your strength,
   your God, and your brothers and sisters,
because if you loved a little more
    you would suffer a little less,
and if you loved much more
    your suffering would bring forth joy and life.

A Silence and a Shouting
by Eddie Askew

O Lord, help me to realize that there are folk around me
with bigger problems than mine.
Folk around me
with harder existences than mine.
Frightened, anxious and lonely,
just wanting a bit of human contact, just wanting a bit of your love.
Perhaps needing a little courage to face life, to hang on to life.

I can encourage them
just by being with them, just by listening and hearing their story, just by taking a bit off their load,
like you take mine.

Is that what you want me to?
I can’t do it on my own—but thank you, Lord,
because with you beside me, I don’t have to.

A prayer from S.P.C.K. Book of Christian Prayer
by Alan Paton,

Give us courage, Lord, to stand up and be counted, to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
Give us courage to stand up for the future of your world, and the place of those who come after us.
Give us courage to stand up to ourselves when we are seduced by the ways that others see the world and are tempted to follow suit.
Let us love, not fear

Let us love nothing more than you, for then we shall fear nothing.
Let us have no God before you, whether nation or party, state, church or want.  Let us seek the peace that you hold before us, opening our eyes, our ears, our hearts and our hands to join the wonder you began in creation.
Let that hope always greatly exceed our concern for self.


Fourth Sunday after Trinity
Readings: Genesis 24: 34-38, 42-49,58-67 – Rebecca chosen as a wife for Isaac
Zecharia  9: 9-12 – The prophet of the 2nd captivity looks to the future
Romans 7: 15-25a – Paul reflects on what he wishes to be and what he is
Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30 – Hope and re-assurance in Jesus

It is interesting to look at photographs of events and people in past times.  Birthdays are often commemorated on Facebook with some of those memories from the past showing the development of the person into what they or we are now. Each year Mair (my wife) does a collage of the family in photographs of the immediate past year, then placing the previous year into an album which grows into a history of our family. These, alongside photographs from previous generations, are our family history. So much so, in fact, that a complete 2m by 1m bookcase is full of such albums!  They will never be thrown out, when perhaps more recognised items and books may be as space becomes limited.  The books, etc, can never tell us how we have come to the place where we are, only  photographs really do that, unbiased by our memories , our deep seated opinions or even our aspirations.

Much of the Old Testament is similar, showing something of our journey into where we are now.  But just like our photographs there can easily be a tendency to build up our version of what that history has been, to understand it completely we must look at it all, and more than the stories and the ideas which appeal to us. The set readings for today show the emergence of this hope through various stages of our evolving pre-Christian and Christian family, and the very brief synopsis of the readings will give some indication of this.

But I start with a photograph of ours which I find so special.  It signifies our own family growing into independence. The photograph was taken when we went to Wren’s Nest  (Dudley) to collect some fossils one Sunday afternoon, some 30+ years ago. It shows our son in the background, absolutely intent on fossil hunting, and in the foreground our then 14 year old daughter just not wanting to be there!  She is just entering the “fashion stage” and there she is, on a quite precarious rock slab in a very tight straight skirt and high heel shoes, with a face that communicated it all! Helen hates that photograph, but it is the very heart of life and what and how we all become what we are.  Mind you I don’t have to look far into albums of the previous generation to see where it came from.  One in particular shows Mair and her sister, no doubt going through the same phase of life, in very similar garments walking on Snowdon!  Some years later I enjoyed  walking and climbing on Snowdon, but always well prepared myself, and was often amazed at the states of dress of some people on that mountain which can seem so wonderful in sunlight, but that can change in an instant.

In many ways life is like the mountains.  One minute in the sunshine they can be glorious and awe inspiring, and then without any warning we may be in thick cloud unable to see even the shortest distance in front of us.  We need to journey through life with that in our mind, and that is where faith comes in, a faith which will carry us through the invisible, through the darkness, through the cold and even through the lashing rain of it.  The prophets all show us a way to reach towards that.  Their message encompasses the past, the present and the future.  The past, the memories, the knowledge and the hope will inspire us and sustain us, but it cannot protect us in the present.  The present is our journey, and although it may be similar to those who have travelled that journey before, it will be uniquely ours. It is we who must travel it and we must be prepared for what we encounter on the way.  Just as it is foolhardy to attempt to climb a mountain in high-heeled shoes and light summer garments just because it is a beautiful day, so we cannot journey life in fashion garments.  The faith that will sustain us through life will need to be much more than a “fashion faith”, or even a “hark back to the past” faith.  The only faith that will sustain us is one that has a solid rock to launch from and a clear beacon to call us on, as we trample over the rocks and through the quagmire which most will probably face  somewhere on the journey.  In a sense it is being prepared for that journey of life when the glitter or the tradition either wears off, or is just simply not enough to see you through.  We have to find the shoes and the clothes of faith that will sustain.  I am of an age when I can remember Dr Barbara Moore walking from Land’s end to John O’Groats.  A reporter of the time, James  Fyfe- Robertson, from the Tonight programme, asked what her preparation had been to which she replied, “Rubbing my feet with surgical spirit, wearing two pairs of socks and oiling my boots and walking them in”. With that she was prepared to meet whatever would happen, even when her feet became sore and blistered.

In our readings today one of the things that struck me was the struggle Paul had.  He has a vision of what he might be and is so impatient to get there, wanting to leave behind all those things which actually make him what he is.  The great gift that the disciples had was that they travelled with Jesus in his ministry, and in travelling with him learned a great deal from him.  They learned, as we hear in today’s gospel reading, that he saw opportunities rather than problems and that became very much part of them.  Paul’s background was such that everything was clearly defined and that he had great difficulty when things didn’t fit that pattern.  The journeying disciples saw in Jesus many facets of the fullness of God’s love, but at the same time had to contend with some of the real difficulties of present life .  Some of you will have heard me preach on one of those before, when Jesus is reported by Matthew, to have said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light”. I wonder how they reacted when they heard that.  Well we don’t know, because in high probability he didn’t say it, our version is because of more recent translations.  The word easy in Greek is chrestos, which has a far wider meaning as fits well.  My yoke fits well and my burden is lighter, something that a carpenter of Nazareth would know well, since this would have been the major trade of such people.  That is the message that the disciples saw Jesus proclaiming and what they themselves later proclaimed.   Trust in me, trust in God’s love, and there you will find a path which can envelop all of what life will be, Jesus is saying.

It is the message we can proclaim in whatever aspect of life we find ourselves in.  It would be wonderful if we had a miracle to give, but it would probably only be temporary, if at all.  The message for our world is simply that God’s love will help you through  it, including the times when you cannot journey unaided. I hope that we were able to communicate that message to our children as they grew up, and to other people in some small way, in the various twists and turns of life

A prayer by David Adam

O Lord, give us yourself above all things.
It is in your coming to us that we are enriched.
It is in your coming that your true gifts come.
Come, Lord, with your healing presence.
Come, Lord, with healing of the past,
Come and calm our memories, our shattered dreams and unknown weakness,
Come with joy for the present,
Come and give life to our existence, even when we ourselves can find none,
Come with hope for the future,
Come and give us a sense of eternity.
Come, with strength for our wills,
Come, with hope for our hearts,
Come, and give affection to our being.
Come, Lord, give yourself above all things
And help us to give ourselves to you.

A prayer by Rex Chapman (adapted)

I am tired, Lord.  Too tired to think, too tired to pray, too tired to do anything.  Too tired, drained of resources, “labouring at the oars against a head wind”, pressed down by a force as strong as the sea.  Lord of all power and might, “your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters”: calm my soul, and though I want you to take control. Lord of all power and might, most of all I want to feel your presence beside me.

A Prayer by Marjorie Holmes

You, who said, “Come unto me all ye who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest”, I come to you now.

For I am weary indeed.  Mentally and physically I am bone- tired.  I am all wound  up, locked up with tension about  the things that hurt me and drain away my hope.

Lord, let your healing love flow through me.

I can feel it easing my tensions.  I can feel my body relaxing, my mind begin to go calm and composed.  I feel your healing in all those things that I could never have done for myself.

Thank you for unwinding me, Lord, for unlocking me.  Thank you for freeing me from what I cannot change, so that I may flow freely, softly, gently into your future.

A prayer by Bishop Leslie Newbigin
(incidentally, a man who was as lovely as his prayers)

Give me, Lord, a stout heart to bear my own burdens, a tender heart to bear the burdens of others, and a believing heart to lay all of my burdens on you, for you care for us.

Poem from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R.Tolkien

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it all began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then?  I cannot say.


Third Sunday after Trinity

Readings: Genesis 22,1-14, Jeremiah 28, 5-9 , Romans 6, 12-23, Matthew 10, 40-42

What have you being doing during ‘lockdown’?.  Judging by some of the responses on Facebook, even on “All Things Stretton” many of us have been having a clear out.  Indeed since charity shops and refuse disposal have been closed down, I hear that our long-suffering refuse collectors, as key workers, have  experienced a dramatic rise in their work load as people have cleared out their lofts, their garages and even  their houses during this enforced isolation. Indeed in Birdingbury, Christine and Barbara have used the situation to continue their support of the PawPrints Charity but also to build up some new community contacts in the village, and well done to them.  But as for me, I am not a “thrower-away”  person.  I just keep things in the hope that there will be another day when they will be useful again. Indeed this is proven in the fact that with the hot weather, especially the muggy nights, a fan which we bought pre-2000, came to the rescue, after some repair action was undertaken! Similarly, all those experiences and insights which we have in life remain so important to our future actions and thoughts, too valuable by far to be thrown away or tucked into some filing drawer of our brain.

So, with no throwing away to be done I have focussed myself on doing those jobs I never seem to have time for, with one in particular which has been repairing and painting our garden fence! Now that has proved to be a jeremiad (now that’s a nice scrabble word!) experience indeed. There seemed to be no end to it, and it has been filled with frustrations, not least that since many others have been doing the same thing, I have run out of paint and there is none to be found anywhere on line.  As I have been working around the fence and the frustrations of it, my mind has often strayed to Jeremiah, in particular to his yoke. The yoke that cannot be forgotten just because it has been torn off and thrown away.

Although Jeremiah’s work is not now featured as much in our local service readings as we tend instead to hear the more familiar works with well-known stories.  But this is an injustice to Jeremiah because he has a very powerful message for all who seek God.

In the bible he is classified as a major prophet, but this does not really do him justice, as our bible simply classifies long texts as major prophets and the shorter ones as minor prophets.  But Jeremiah is a major prophet in a very much wider context.  He was significant as the second major prophet of Judaism, second only to Moses, and was influential in the drawing up of the formalisation of their religion including influences in Deuteronomy.  In addition, his influence spreads into Islam as well as Christianity. His influence has seeped into much New Testament theology, in particular to the Book of Hebrews where there are over 40 references to Jeremiah and his prophesies.  In the Book of Jeremiah, we have amongst the lamentation, such beautiful imagery including his yoke, the potter and the clay, right through to his confidence in buying a field. Don’t be put off by the 50 chapters, it is full of wisdom and direction for us all.

Just like Moses, Jeremiah was very reluctant to accept his role.  “I am only a child, and do not know how to speak on such issues”, he protests.  Undeterred God touches Jeremiah’s lips and from that moment on his heart is on flame with God’s message.  He remained in that role for forty years, under five different rulers and his message centred on how Judaism had tried to modify their relationship with God to one they wanted it to be. Jeremiah sought to bring their minds back to what God wanted.  As such he spoke and prophesised on their own misguided attempts having desperate repercussions and pointing to the eventual destruction of Jerusalem.  Jeremiah is often referred to as the weeping prophet as he lamented the repeated failure to re-centre their religion onto God.  Jeremiah repeatedly warned his people that spirituality is not simply a lifestyle choice.  You cannot choose faith like you chose the way you dress, or an ornament.  Faith is a life based not upon your needs but on God and on the wider good.  You cannot profess one thing and live another.  True faith will penetrate your very being and impact upon everything you do, say or think.  Anything less may suit you, but it certainly will not suit God.  Anything but real commitment will never solve the problems that are boiling up towards you.

As such, it seems to me, that the somewhat forgotten Jeremiah is a prophet for our own time.  We live in a world where actions and decisions are based upon the immediate good.  We seem to forget there is a wider world and future generations to consider.  Yet so much of our global situations, which ought to remind us of the interconnectedness of our world and people are forgotten in so many ways.   Our reluctance to consider the effects that global warming will have on those following us or those around us, being a case in point as we try to pin-down God’s goodness and love to our particular place and time, to our own wants.  Then along came Covid-19 and suddenly we are fearful, but now as that fearfulness begins to drift away with time, and the inability to shop or converse with others begins to frustrate , the freedom to do what we would like begins to prioritise our thoughts. With those emerging demands so we see the resolve and lessons of the fearful time being moved to the back of our minds.  Perhaps, deep down, we might even wish to throw them away altogether, or bury them so deep that they no longer bother us.   Similarly, we thought and even hoped that racism was at an end, thankful perhaps that we didn’t need to think about it anymore so that our lives could continue in just the way we wanted them to.  Yet it hadn’t and hiding the matter did not solve that major problem either, perhaps it made the situation worse for some.  Such deep-seated matters will not be solved until we learn to see through God’s eyes rather than our own, until we work in God’s way not our own.  That was Jeremiah’s message to his people and it remains a powerful message to us, particularly in the present situations. As we begin to move into a world where the Covid-19 precautions are being lessened, a world where climate change has been all but forgotten, and the BLM action is less reported, will we have learned anything from those experiences?  Will we go forward with a different perspective?

Just like Jeremiah, Paul says to the Romans that faith and spirituality are not an add-on choice.  They are the deep-seated base of the world God created and respect for that otherness is the only way that world can move forward or even survive.  It is the message that has to be proclaimed in our world and in our churches.  We cannot find a way just to suit ourselves but we must strive to find a way for God’s world and everything that is in it.  As Christians we must be aware that we too have a yoke to wear, but knowing of his love for us and all his creation makes that yoke fit far more easily. Are we prepared to do our part so that the world may know it also, so that it may become a world which is not looking in every direction fearful of the boiling pots which may envelope us? When Jeremiah felt unworthy to take on his role God gave him strength and vision. So, God will do for us, and in doing it we will find his reward, even if the only thing we can manage is to give a cup of water to those in need.

We should not be striving to find a way to suit ourselves but a way that incorporates the whole of God’s creation.  That is where we will find his peace, his yoke is easy and his burden light. As a church we must be a prophet, to proclaim a world where there are no strangers only friends we have not met.  To those of us in the world who are more fortunate it is incumbent on us to build larger tables rather than higher fences. That is the way to where our treasure will be found.

____________________________

I attach a poem sent to us by Maureen Hinton, it is probably the best prayer we can have at this time.

Corona’s Letter to Humanity
A poem by Vivienne Reich

The earth whispered but you did not hear.
The earth spoke but you did not listen.
The earth screamed but you turned her off.

And so I was born….
I was not born to punish you…
I was born to awaken you….
The earth cried out for help….

Massive flooding.  But you didn’t listen.
Burning fires. But you did not listen.
Strong hurricanes.  But you did not listen.
Terrifying tornadoes.  But you did not listen

You still don’t listen to the earth when….
Ocean animals are dying due to pollutants in the waters.
Glaciers melting at an alarming rate.
Severe drought.

You didn’t listen to know how much negativity the earth is receiving…
Non stop wars.
Non stop greed.

No matter how much hate there was…
No matter how many killings daily…

It was more important to get that latest iPhone than worry about what the world was trying to tell you…

But now I am here…
And I have made the world, your home, stop in its tracks

I have made YOU finally listen.

I have made YOU take refuge.

I’ve made you stop thinking about materialistic things…

And now you are like the earth…..
You are only worried about your survival…
How does that feel?
I give you fever…as the fires burn on earth
I give you respiratory issues…..as your pollution filled the earth’s air
I give you weakness as the earth weakens every day.
I took away your comforts…
Your outings.
The things you would use to forget about the planet and its pain.
And I made the world stop…

And now China has better air quality…
Skies are clear blue because factories are not spewing pollution into the earth’s air.
The water in Venice is clean and dolphins are being seen.
Because the gondola boats that pollute the water are not being used.
YOU are taking time to reflect on what is important in your life.

Again I am not here to punish you…..I am here to awaken you
When all this is over and I am gone…..Please remember these moments…

Listen to the earth.
Listen to your soul.
Stop polluting the earth.
Stop fighting among each other.
Stop worrying about materialistic things.
And start loving your neighbours ……wherever they are.

Start caring about the earth and all its creatures.
Start to really believe in a creator.
Because next time I may even come back stronger……
Signed Corona (the Virus)


Second Sunday after Trinity

Readings:  Genesis 21, 3-21, Jeremiah 20, 7-13, Romans 6, 1b-11, Matthew 10-39

 How many sparrows are you worth?

I remember one matter which had a very acrimonious impact upon the church we, as a family, attended for many years. It started innocently enough, when one of our members was asked to build a new life-size crib for our church.  Andy was both very skilled as far as craft was concerned, and a deep thinking man.  But when the new crib he had made was unveiled to the church, there was uproar.  There was uproar because Andy had made the crib as it really was, a mean stable with all of its hardships and rejections.  That was not the crib, or the message, that most of our particular popular, well attended church wanted to portray.  After all, the Mayor was coming to our bursting Christmas Eve service!

We can see a similar theme developing with the crosses we often see in the world and even adorn our churches.  Some  are worn as adornments with little or no perception of its origin, others wear them as significant of a deep faith.  Those crosses, either worn by individuals or within our churches themselves, can be more about art and design, about the aesthetics, than they are about the origins of the cross.  When we were in Italy for a holiday we visited some local churches, some of which were in very poor areas.  No matter how poor the people or the area, the cross was always glorious, elaborate and a  costly work of art and jewels. Just as the reception of the new crib in our own church had caused us much heart searching and disillusionment, so the way in which these churches were portraying the cross bothered me also. Nowhere did I see its pain, or its cost in pain. The only cost seemed to be to the poor people that tried to maintain them.

What is this interpretation of the cross as a true reflection on the cross of many in life, or indeed on the cross of our baptism?  For it is by the cross we begin our journey in faith.  In our gospel reading today we hear Jesus proclaiming, “No one is worthy of me who does not take up his cross and follow me”.  So often we are seduced by the earthly wonder, the ‘golden calves’1, that we can easily lose sight of its real glory, and of the pain of the love God bore for us. (There is the counter-argument of course of a magnificence which somehow proclaims that glory, the wonder the artist wished to portray when he made it, the real test is surely though in the heart of the one who views it).

In trying to glorify the cross we have changed it.  As indeed can happen in the translation of the Bible on many occasions and we find one such example in our Gospel reading today.   When Jesus speaks of the value in God’s eyes of the sparrows, the way this has been translated gives the impression in  of sparrows dying, of death.  But that is not a true reflection of the original Greek version.  The RSV Bible provides us on this occasion, as on many others, with a closer approximation to the original, and translates the Greek, not as falling to the ground with its implication of death, but as “lighting on the ground”, which has much more implication about life. To really understand it we must research much further to find its association with  the assarion.

The assarion was a sub-division of the denarii, and as such the smallest form of currency (1/16 of a denarii) and hence the translation into penny (or farthing in some versions, perhaps an even better one since there was a wren on the back of it!).  Two sparrows were sold for two pennies, but in paying four pennies the purchaser got an extra sparrow, 5 in total (the first BOGOF?).  So the extra one was thrown in free, it had no value.  But Jesus used this fifth sparrow, the sparrow that had no value in the world, to illustrate God’s love being the love that cared for all.  This account is far more than a nice story, it is the very essence of all of the teaching of Jesus. God loves even the sparrow that has no value.

So even the humble sparrows chattering outside the window, have a very important message for us! Perhaps the sparrow should be the symbol of our stewardship of the world’s resources!  But most of all it is a reminder that even the forgotten sparrow is dear to God. Are you not worth more than the sparrows?  If the sparrows are dear to God so should, everything and everyone be dear to us, unconditionally?

Churches try to live this out in many ways.  We seek out things that can be done and often do them very efficiently.  What is often lacking is not the concept of what we do, but the reason why we do them. Does it have an imitation of God’s love at its centre? The why of an action is far more important to God than the what, and even more important than how well it is performed.  But take heart we also are dear to God, and even when we get it wrong he remains with us, still like the sparrow. Even the actions of Abraham and Sarah did not change that, even when their actions seemed far from what God intended.  Even the lament of Jeremiah, as he is seemingly overtaken by the futility and hardship of his 40 years of proclaiming God’s will in a very hostile environment, God will still come to his aid.

What then is our reaction to the demand to take up our cross and follow him?  If we can understand the why then the rest will follow.

By the cross, Paul assures the Roman Christians, that they have entered into the death of Christ.  Whatever the circumstances they are still part of that death, of that struggle, but Paul even more strongly reassures them, that they have also entered into the resurrection of Jesus, where everything will find new meaning, and a new beginning simply because everything is dear to God. So it is also true for us and every time we light on the ground we will be at the heart of God. Walk, walk in that light Paul says.  Not in the light that you may always want it to be, not in the light you try to make it, but in the light where God knows you, and the world he loves, will find the treasure, even if it is sometimes in a very mucky field. The important thing is that our lives care for even the sparrow, for those whom the world ignores, for those who are even shut out by the world.  That is the real rest, the message that Andy was trying to show with the crib that he made.

Prayers and Inspirations

From The Prophet by Kahill Gibran, the section Giving

Speak to us of giving.
You give little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.

_______________________________________

There are those who give little of the much which they have – and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire to make their gifts wholesome.

And there are those who have little and give it all.
These are the believers in life and the bounty of life,
and their coffer is never empty.

There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.

And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue;
They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.

Through the hands of such as these God speaks,
And from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth.

Based on a prayer from God’s Springtime by Joyce Huggett

O Lord,
As you have filled us with your fragrance, help us to spread it wherever we go.
Flood our hearts with your spirit and your love.
Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly so that our lives may only be a radiance of yours.
Shine in us and through us, so that we may all feel your presence in our soul.
Let us look up and see Jesus.  Let us feel his cross in ours.
As we have been crucified with him, let us share in his resurrection.
May we all shine for each other, may your love in each one of us be a beacon in the world,
A beacon to all those who are wearied and ground down by life.
And let us praise you in the way you love best, by shining on those around us.

_________________________________________

Breathe on me, Breath of God;
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Till I am wholly thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.

_____________________________________

Footnotes

  1. Golden Calf Exodus Chapter 32
  2. The hidden treasure Matthew chapter 13

1st Sunday after Trinity

Readings:  Genesis 18, 1-5 or Exodus 19, 2-9a, Romans 5, 1-8, Matthew 9.35 – 10.8

The heart of the readings today is about faith. All of us live by faith in some way or another.  Every time we go to our car we do so in the faith that it will start.  When it does and we begin our journey we do so in the faith that the other road-users will do so in a way that won’t affect our safety.  Even in a scientifically led situation such as medicine, faith in our doctor still plays a large part of the process.

So faith is something that in many ways we all live by, the difficulty comes when we are to put our faith in ideas of which we have no control.  Science has had a dramatic effect upon religious faith in society.  We live in a world where we need scientific evidence, and if we cannot find that, or it is not available, then we find it difficult to have faith.  Yet in reality it is no different from ordinary situations in which we often have absolutely no knowledge at all.  We expect our car to start, but if it doesn’t our faith is still sustained by a man who can!

This need for knowledge, or knowing a person who does, has had a dramatic effect on our own religion and yet can be an obstacle too. “It is beyond my understanding “is often used as a rebuttal to any belief in anything beyond our self, or beyond our world. The reading choice from the Old Testament readings shows a different approach.  The one speaks of Abraham and his faith so that nothing was too much trouble when three unknown people appeared before him, even the possibility of parenthood for him and his aged wife.  The second is about the faith of Moses who not only trusted God, but also inspired the people he led to trust God as well.

Martin Luther defined faith as “a living, bold trust in God’s grace, certain of God’s favour.”Certainly Abraham and Moses personify that definition as do many others throughout the Bible. Yet in our world there is an enormous chasm between understanding such faith in others and seeing it in ourselves.  Perhaps the example of the disciples in today’s Gospel might be a starting point for all us.

As Jesus called the twelve to him he also sent them out to proclaim what they felt in their hearts.  He gave them no more than their faith and a few basic instructions.  Indeed his main instruction seemed to be to whom they should go, and what not to take with them.  God and their faith would be their inspiration and their protection. A seemingly awesome task for ordinary people, but they would not be alone.

Yet these were ordinary people from such a range of backgrounds that it would seem an impossible task.  Indeed within that group would be people who hated each other.  If Simon, the zealot, had met Matthew, the tax collector, in any other situation he would probably been more likely to kill him rather than work with him.  God’s healing powers and their faith were already at work in them and so  they had all that they needed. They were to be heralds of Christ, the original Greek word would have been from the noun, “kerux” which is just that, herald. What they did would stem from that, whether in the form of action or words, simply by all that they did to point to some hope in the life of the people they met.  If you look at the list of tasks near the end of that reading it would certainly be far beyond them, but proclaiming God’s love in whatever situation they met would be the key to all of these tasks and beginning in the hearts of those oppressed in whatever way.

Yet they were at heart ordinary people facing everyday situations, and that has never changed.  If we look at what is happening in our world it is still there. .  Sometimes it is found in the way people just remain cheerful in incredibly difficult and uncertain situations. “How do they do it?”, is a phrase so often heard.  Or it may be in the way they give their time to others, “Where do they find the time?” may be another.  Simply being with such folk makes things easier, giving a glimpse of hope when so many get lost in hopelessness.  Often without realising it these people are indeed the herald of God’s love.  Without realising it they are bringing hope into the lives beyond themselves, and with strength from outside themselves.

Sometimes, of course, the situations of life present us draw us into a more dramatic situations.  The unlawful killing of George Floyd in America drew attention, once again, to the evils still lurking in that society.  Ordinary people in their protest are raging at one such evil and in so doing raging about how our world needs to encompass God’s love.  The spread of such protests to our own country certainly indicate our empathy with their cause, but perhaps indicate the ongoing failings here also.

As Christians we have a special part to play, a special responsibility as Paul pointed out in his Letter to the Romans, our hearts “have been flooded with God’s love” for this purpose.  As Augustine also powerfully pointed out, “Faith cannot help doing good works constantly.  It doesn’t stop to ask what  we should be do, it is already being done unceasingly”.  The continuing failures of our world are a reminder to the Christian church that those problems exist because we and it have failed to be the herald of what God’s love really is.  So often we have colluded with the world’s view and in so doing diminished God’s love within it.  For evil to succeed it is only necessary for the good person to do nothing.

“A faith which sets bounds in itself, that will believe so much and no more, that will trust so far and no further, is no faith”.2  In reaching out for faith we do so in the hope that we do not just receive it, but live by it and that it will indeed flood our hearts.  We must pray fervently for  courage to encompass it, for that is the only way we will find that peace for which our hearts are restless, and for which the world is in urgent need.

References

  1. Martin Luther, An introduction to St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians
  2. W. and A.C. Hare, Guesses at truth

Prayer from the Anglican Church of New Zealand

Holy and eternal God,
give us such trust in your sure purpose,that we measure our lives
not by what we have done or failed to do,
but by our faith in you.

Adapted from a prayer by Monica Furlong

Dear God, it’s so hard for us not to be anxious.
We worry about work and money,
about food and health,
about weather and crops,
about war and politics,
about loving and being loved,
about the problems surrounding us, near and far.
As you show us how perfect love can cast out fear,
Give us faith to work towards your kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven.

The Wire-Fence
from Prayers of Life by Michel Quoist

The wires are holding hands around the holes:
To avoid breaking the ring, they hold tight to the neighbouring wrist,
And it is thus with holes they make a fence.
Lord, there are lots of holes in my life.
There are some in my neighbours.
But with your help we shall hold hands,
We shall hold very tight
And together we shall make a fine roll of fence to adorn Paradise.


Trinity Sunday

Readings:  Isaiah 40 12-17,  2 Corinthians 13, 11-13, Matthew 28,16-20

So what is all this fuss about the Trinity?  Is it a theory, perhaps an irrelevant theory?  Is it part of a doctrine of bricks and mortar, not just the sort that tie us to a place but to a way of thinking? A Welsh poet, Idris Davies (often quoted by Max Boyce!) certainly thought this about religion…”They sent us to the chapel, to make us meek and mild”!

Yet people want to see God, see what he is really like. Yet the more you see the more confusing  it can become.  We are faced with a myriad of images of God, from the creator to the judge of all things in an environment which we just can’t get a grip on it all.  The concept of the Trinity was an attempt to get a hold on this nature of God.  It began with one attempt in the Council of Nicea in 325AD, but took many, many more such councils to fine tune what the original council had tried to clarify, or was it to change what they had said?

People want to see God, or at the very least get some idea of the meaning of life.  One of the great privileges of being a parish priest, in my day, was to be involved with the whole community and to see the various attempts by many, religious and non-religious, to get some sort of answer to this question. One I remember particularly.

One of my congregation at Chelmsley Wood asked me to visit her brother, living in the same area, who had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  “He won’t be pleased to see you”, she said encouragingly!  Bob didn’t believe in religon, or the church but he had no one else to talk to.  It was with some trepidation that I walked up the stairs to his flat on the 15th floor (the lift was broken again!, something the residents lived with on a regular basis).  When I got there I found a charming man, perhaps not a man interested in formal religion, but certainly a man who thought deeply about life and its meaning.  After about an hour of conversation he invited me to see his trees!  Expecting to go out onto the tiny balcony to look out across the countryside I followed him out.  But there I really did see his trees, about 200 of them, bonsai trees!  There they were on his tiny balcony, a few in pots, but many in discarded vegetable tins.  Not the exotic Japanese varieties, but saplings he had picked up in the wild over the years and which he had subsequently trained and nurtured.  All of them came from an area within a mile of his flat.

They all fascinated me, but one in particular which was over 40 years old.  It was a miniature oak tree.  It was growing in a small baked bean tin and was about 8 inches high, yet  a perfectly formed oak tree, but in miniature (made me feel much better about myself, living in this world of tall Anglo-Saxons!) He then carefully took the tree out of the tin and proceeded to trim it, to show me the secrets of bonsai.  He trimmed the top to what he wanted, and then lovingly untangled the roots and trimmed them to match the top before handing the tree to me to look at.  “That’s what I see your God as”, he said, quietly and quite out of the blue.  He couldn’t cope with all the words or the rhetoric of formal religion, but he had certainly thought about it more than most, perhaps even more than those of us who never missed a Sunday at church!  He went on to explain the balance between the roots and the branches, and the 7cm girth trunk which held it altogether. For Bob it was simply the oneness of creation.   It was indeed a fascinating afternoon.  In that brief meeting I felt that I had been given a greater understanding of God, even more than years of attending church, hours of theological lectures and even charges, rebukes and affirmations of Bishops!  We planned to meet again, but never did.  He died a week later, but not before leaving instructions for me to officiate at his funeral. This turned out to be a small but wonderful affair consisting of the people who understood his quest for knowledge of life, in which I saw a quest for knowledge of God, his quest for a  knowledge of what it is all about.

So after wrestling with all the theology of the Trinity, I decided to tell you about my mentor Bob and his home grown bonsai trees.  The little oak tree I had been privileged to hold, told me everything I needed to know about God.  God is community.  Maybe a community of three, maybe more, but a community in perfect harmony.  The roots, the stem and the branches were all separate but were in perfect unity, together the tree that they made up was perfect life.

So in the readings of today we see God as the unwearied creator, God as the inspirer, God as the critic, God as the evangelist, God as the comforter, God as the healer, God as the teacher…… all of which come together in perfect community and perfect unity.  The Garden of Eden portrays a situation where we, as part of that community, can live fully, yet it takes little to set us off-course.  The spirit of unity is soon broken, and you cannot have a community which is one sided, where one gives and other receives.  You cannot have a community where there are unequal partners. You cannot have a community where individualism rears its head, no matter how well intentioned. I was left with the feeling that Bob had more of a grasp of the Trinity than all of those involved at Nicea and all the other Councils, and certainly the humility to just rest in the mystery in front of him.

We have a God whose very presence reminds us of what it can be, yet so often we try to do it our way, to blur the edges or even to build walls around them or perhaps even knock them down.  We have indeed seen what God looks like in Jesus Christ, and if we follow his example we will be getting nearer and nearer to what God is.  If we lose directions sometimes there is always the Holy Spirit to nudge or kick us back on track. The demands of Jesus Christ can sometimes leave us seemingly far short, yet in that community of God we can also encompass  an incredible peace, a God given peace.

As for me I will always have this picture of that little oak tree and of that miniature forest on a tiny balcony of a council flat in Chelmsley Wood to remind me.  Thank you Bob, or Joan his sister who sent me there, or even the Holy Spirit! What we shared has been my inspiration.  And now I tell you the story, so it may be  inspiration to you.

Oh, I just had a further little thought.  As you think of the tree, which you part of it would you consider to represent  the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit? What parts of the Trinity relate to the parts of the tree?  Perhaps it will remind us that life is not a matter of questions and answers.  True life is a matter of questions, followed by further questions!

From SPCK Book of Christian Prayer
by Caryl Micklem

God the father, God beyond us, we adore you.

You are the depth of all that is.
You are the ground of our being.
We can never grasp you, but you can grasp us:
the universe speaks of you to us, and your love comes to us through Jesus.

God the Son, God beside us, we adore you.
You are the perfection of our humanity.
You have shown us what human life can be like.
In you we see divine love and human greatness combined.

God the Spirit, God around us, we adore you.
You draw us to Jesus and the Father.
You are the power within us.
You give abundant life and make us the people we can be.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit:
God beyond, beside and around us;
We adore you.

The Sequel

After Bob’s death his collection of Bonsai trees was bought by a more recognised collector for £20,000!  Who would have thought that such treasure existed on a balcony in a Chelmsley Wood Council Flat?

Bob knew!

For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also  – Luke 12, 34

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