Sermon by Fr. Joshua Bell SSC, 13th September 2020
Readings: Ecclesiasticus 27:33-28:9; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35
In a strange twist of the lectionary, today’s sermon might seem to be a sequel to last week’s – following this theme of forgiveness that we’ve been hearing about the past few weeks. Have you ever gotten cross with someone, only to realise that you were guilty of the very same thing?
This happened to me only yesterday, when we were on the ride and stride. On our way to the Highgate Methodist Chapel, I got lost when some of our party knew a shortcut through the Morrisons car park – but I got stuck on the other side of the pedestrian crossing on Blackfriars Road, and by the time I got across they were out of sight! When we finally got reunited, I asked – a little tersely, I confess – to please stay in sight of each other. Well, sad to say, skip forward half an hour and we are zooming down the cycle path from Lynnsport towards the railway crossing on Tennyson Avenue – and I realise two of our party are out of sight – stuck with a problematic pedal! I had to apologise for the very same thing I had gotten cross about.
The parable in the Gospel today presents us with a challenge. The King – God – has a number of servants. And one of them owes a large sum of money.
Ten years ago an economist who is also a Christian looked at this parable and did some maths. I shan’t bore you with the details, but when I brought his maths up to date on minimum wages and so forth – and these are only estimates, not hard and fast exchange rates – but by my maths I can tell you that the ten thousand talents that the first man owed the king would be equivalent to twenty-nine billion, eight hundred and ninety-two million pounds – a quarter of the worth of Bill Gates, more than ten times the worth of Donald Trump, and twice the annual GDP of Slovenia.
The servant has no hope of paying this back – it’s the equivalent of two hundred thousand years of his current wage. Imagine the generosity that cancels that debt!
What debt do we owe to God? We all are guilty of something, no matter what it is. That’s why we begin our Mass by confessing that we have sinned, through our own fault, in our thoughts and in our words, in what we have done and in what we have failed to do.
The sins we confess – the sins we commit – these are our debt to God.
When we sin, we damage or break the relationship we have with god or with one another. If I tell a lie to a friend, it hurts them and strains our relationship. With enough severity it could break altogether. When we confess these sins, we acknowledge that we are in the wrong. We say sorry. We ask for forgiveness. And that forgiveness restores the relationship, whether it’s with God or with another person.
Forgiveness sets us free – whether we are forgiving or being forgiven. This is why the first reading tells us not to hold grudges, not to hold on to our anger. If we refuse to forgive someone, if we hold onto our resentment, it’s like a little bit of rot inside a pumpkin – you might not be able to see it straightaway, but it devours us nonetheless.
Let’s return to our parable. The second servant owes 100 denarii. That’s about four month’s wages, a little under five thousand pounds. Still quite a sum, but nowhere near what the man had had cancelled for him by the king.
So to relentlessly pursue this small amount when he has been forgiven shows quite a degree of selfishness.
The first reading asks, “If a man nurses anger against another, can he then demand compassion from the Lord?” and in the parable, the King says, “I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?”
Can we expect God to forgive us, if we won’t forgive other people?
And so this is why in the Lord’s prayer we say, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
We ask God to forgive us our sins. When we say “as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we aren’t justifying God’s forgiveness with ours. We aren’t saying, “Forgive us, because we are forgiving others.” The Lord’s prayer is a prayer where we ask God for the things that are important, and this is no exception. Forgiving people can be hard, and so we pray, in effect, for God to help us in the task of forgiveness.
Sermon by Fr. Joshua Bell SSC, 6th September 2020
Readings: Ezekiel 33:7-9, Romans 13:8-10, Matthew 18:15-20
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: Amen.
There is a little book I have at home which I was given a few years ago, called “No thanks, I’m 1662” full of cartoons around the giving of the peace. The title is from one figure in the book who clearly doesn’t relish the idea – and his response is, “No thanks: I’m 1662” – from the 1662 Prayer Book which omits the sign of peace.
Our friend might be happy with the current situation which means the shaking of hands isn’t permittable, but he would do well not to write off this part of the mass. Sometimes, the sharing of peace can turn into a babble where people not only shake hands but ask how each other are, and what the football score was, and in short the Mass can be sidetracked.
But at its heart is the commandment of Jesus: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Before we come to God’s altar to give our gift of adoration as we receive Communion, we turn to those around us and say, “Peace be with you.” We make sure we are right with other people.
And our readings today are about being reconciled to each other. Jesus tells us that if we are in a dispute with somebody, our response ought not to be to cause a fuss and drag everyone into it – but if we can, to solve it between the two of us. We can involve one or two others as witnesses if needs be, but only if this fails should we bring it to the attention of everyone.
While the BCP doesn’t include the sharing of the peace, as a time to be reconciled to each other, it does include this introduction to confession:
YE that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways: Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God.
St. Paul also tells us that all the commandments are summed up in the commandment to love our neighbour as ourself – a summary that Jesus, too, once made – when asked to say what the most important command was, in the law God gave to Israel. He said that the first is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and that the second was to love our neighbour as ourselves – and he said that all the law and prophets hang on these two commands.
Being in love and charity with our neighbours is crucial, especially for Christians. We are the Body of Christ, all cells making up one body. What does it mean if we are divided, if we are fallen out? What does it mean if some cells are opposed to other cells?
I was watching a course on marriage recently, and a question that the host suggested partners ask each other is, “Is there anything I need to ask your forgiveness for?
“Is there anything I need to be forgiven for?”
Sometimes we hurt other people without realising, and so this question can help us check in. Everyone has bickerings and fallings out with those they’re close to – it’s part of life. But fallen out shouldn’t be a default state of life – we must apologise to each other, and we must also forgive and be forgiven.
Of course, forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning what a person has done, neither does it mean allowing a person to continue causing harm. But we choose to live in such a way that this no longer defines us.
The psalm this morning tells us not to harden our hearts. A hard heart is like a wall that doesn’t let anyone in. Sometimes we harden our hearts to protect them – we think to ourselves, “If I keep my defences up, nobody will hurt me” – but all we do is hurt ourselves. We can’t let anyone in, whether to love us or to hurt us – but we also find that we can’t let any love out, either.
When we forgive someone, we soften our hearts. We let those defences down, and even if we don’t have anything to do with that person any more, it shows to ourselves that not everyone is like the person who hurt us. We can love our neighbour without fear.
So today, let us listen to the voice of the Lord, who says, “You must love your neighbour as yourself.” Let us not harden our hearts, but love each other with the same love that God shows us.
Sermon by Canon Adrian Ling CMP, 30th August 2020
Readings: Jeremiah 20:7-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27
In communist Poland, the government of Prime Minister Jaruzelski ordered crucifixes to be removed from all public buildings. The ban stirred waves of anger and resentment all across Poland and the bishops condemned it. Ultimately the government relented, and said that though the law must remain on the statute books, it would not press for removal of the crucifixes, particularly in schoolrooms.
But one zealous Communist school administrator in Garwolin decided that the law had to be followed and he removed seven large crucifixes from lecture halls where they had hung since the school had been built. A few days later, a group of parents entered the school and hung up more crosses. The administrator took them down as well.
Then two-thirds of the school's 600 students staged a sit-in. Heavily armed riot police arrived and evicted them. They then marched to a nearby church with the crucifixes held high and were joined by 2500 other students from nearby schools for a morning of prayer in support of the protest. Soldiers surrounded the church. However pictures from inside of students holding crosses high above their heads spread around the world; as did the words of the priest who declared: “without a cross, there is no Poland.”
Those students followed the instruction of Jesus literally: they took up their crosses. The bravery of protesters who stand up to oppressive regimes is impressive. They risk beating, imprisonment and torture in standing up for what they believe to be right. It takes a brave person to stand up to a dictator; the solidarity of a crowd can help stiffen resolve.
Jeremiah warned the people against idolatry and of the perils facing Jerusalem, and after its fall to Babylon he was forced into exile in Egypt where he continued to reproach his countrymen for their idolatry. Jeremiah expresses the dilemma that faces the prophet: to speak out or remain silent. The prophet who tells people what they do not want to hear will not win friends. Jeremiah was made miserable by derision and insult. He resolved to remain silent and say no more for the sake of an easy life, but when he decided not to think about God or speak in his name, he could not contain himself, he burned with the zeal of the Lord, and could not resist speaking out. Prophecy was the cross that Jeremiah had to bear. He had to be the spokesman of God. He tried to resist picking up that cross but he couldn’t.
We all have our crosses to bear; we often say that when trying to put our own suffering into perspective. Our cross is particular to each one of us, dependent on our circumstances. Some crosses, such as those of illness, we may have no choice over; others we can either receive or reject. Whatever those crosses may be, if we can embrace them willingly, difficult though that may be, and ask for the grace of God to help us bear them we stand a better chance of thriving rather than just surviving.
The cross and suffering loomed large throughout the life of Jesus as the inevitable consequence of his ministry. He sharply put down Peter after he said that the Messiah should not suffer. It was as though St Peter had touched a nerve, that Jesus was back in the wilderness facing the temptation to seek worldly glory and fall under the devil’s sway. Hence the retort ‘Get behind me Satan.’ He would again face the temptation to turn away from suffering in the garden of Gethsemane, where in anguish his sweat fell like drops of blood. He asked that the cup of suffering be taken from him, before resigning himself to the will of the Father.
Jesus gave no illusions to those who would be his followers. To be a Christian would not bring them glory and praise but hardship and suffering. Not a great selling point for a religion, it must be admitted.
But there is great peace of mind from knowing that you are acting in accordance with what you perceive to be God’s will. If you get that right, and answer that big question everything else will follow. St Paul recommends that we offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice, and not conform to the changeable and fickle ways of the world, but to hold true to higher ideals. By raising our minds above the mundane we can better discern God’s will for us.
And sometimes that might mean going against popular opinion, challenging injustice, standing up to mistreatment and bullying behaviour, putting others first and ourselves last. That can be difficult and leave us isolated, but often by making a stand like those students in Poland, we just need to make a stand, and others may join us.
As Christians we never lead, we simply follow the Master along the path he trod, the selfless way of the cross.
Sermon by Canon Adrian Ling CMP, 23rd August 2020
Readings: Isaiah 22:19-23; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20
When I meet couples to make bookings for weddings, I have to ask them for some personal details, such as name, address and nationality. I also have to record in the register the names of their father and their occupations. In years gone by, people were identified not just by their own names but by the identity and occupation of their fathers. Many English Surnames that end in ‘son’ or with an ‘s’, originally identified the father, as in Williamson, abbreviated to Williams, which both mean 'son of William'. Surnames beginning with Mac in Scotland, also mean the same, as in Mac Donald, 'son of Donald'. And in Jesus’ time, the prefix ‘bar’, also identified the father, so Simon Barjona, was Simon son of Jonah. Identification is important in order to facilitate conversation. If someone can be labelled we all know who we are talking about.
In Nazareth, Jesus was identified as the carpenter’s son. His fellow townsfolk questioned how he could have pretensions when he spoke in the synagogue, and rejected him. Sometimes he was disrespectfully identified as Mary’s son, implying that the identity of his father was unknown. Away from home, these distinctions would not have helped to identify him, so when Philip speaks about of Jesus to Nathanael he calls him first Jesus of Nazareth, which prompts Nathanael to ask ‘can any good come out of Nazareth?’ When people in Jerusalem ask who the man is causing such a commotion in the triumphal entry into Jerusalem the people reply ‘this is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth.’
‘Who is this?’, is the question the evangelists are trying to answer. Mark says from the beginning that he writes the gospel about 'Jesus, the Son of God', whereas Matthew begins with 'the genealogy of Jesus the Christ, the Son of David'. Jesus wants to know what the people are saying about him: ‘who do people say the Son of Man is?’ he asks the disciples, and their replies are confused. Some say he is John the Baptist, (whom Herod had killed), Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets come back to life. When he questions the disciples as to who they say he is, Peter confesses him to be the Christ, the son of the living God.
The question that Jesus asks the disciples, he asks us too: who do you say I am? We recite in the creed what we say we believe about Jesus. But in order to answer that question honestly we have to know what Jesus means to us. It should be our duty and our joy, as Christians, to know him more intimately, and more completely. We may be reticent and a little embarrassed about sharing our faith, but we need not be. We should feel able to share what we know about Jesus, and why we receive him here in word and sacrament every week, why we need him in our life. Jesus is part of who we are, when Christians are confirmed, the bishop says to the candidate, God has called you by name and made you his own.’ Thus we confirm our identity as children of our heavenly Father.
In St John’s gospel, when the Jews ask Jesus ‘who are you?’ he replies, 'when you have lifted up the Son of Man you will know who I am'; they would find out after his crucifixion and resurrection. They claimed God to be their Father, but Jesus told them, ‘If you had God as your Father, you would love me.’ Instead he said their father was the devil because of their murderous intent. ‘Before Abraham was born,’ he said, ‘I am’ echoing what the voice of God said to Moses from the burning bush. The Jews then picked up stones to kill him but he escaped them.
If we regard God as our Father and consider ourselves his children, then we will love Jesus who is also our brother. And if we love our brother Jesus then we will do what he commands us. If we live our lives by the commands of Jesus then we will speak volumes about Jesus and who he is. However we must be careful not to give way to sin, to destructive and harmful behavior, that might make us appear more like the devil’s children.
To be children of God, is a great realization, for thus we see our common humanity and our equality. But it is also a great responsibility, a lot to live up to.
Sermon by Canon Adrian Ling CMP, 16th August
Readings: Revelation 11:19,12:1-6,10; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26; Luke 1:39-56
The quintessential Jewish mother, as described by Jewish sons, is a formidable woman. She idolizes her sons, but has high expectations of them. She is the matriarch running the family, and any new daughter-in-law will find it hard to match up to her exacting standards. One Jewish man finally meets the girl of his dreams and gets engaged. And he tells his mother he’s going to bring three women to the house and she must guess which one is his intended. So he introduces the three women and his mother immediately picks out the brunette as his fiancée. 'How did you know?' asked the son. 'I don’t like her,' his mother replied.
Mary was a Jewish mother. And yet we know relatively little about her personality. After proclaiming the Magnificat, we only hear her speak at the Wedding of Cana, when she tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them. Apart from that she is silent in the gospels. Did she boast about her son, the charismatic rabbi, to her friends down at the market? Or did she share disappointment with those same friends lamenting that Jesus would not carry on his father’s trade, or settle down with the right woman and raise a family? We do not know and it does not matter.
Mary’s supreme life’s work was achieved at a young age in being the willing participant in God’s plan for salvation, conceiving Jesus by the Holy Spirit and giving birth to him. Everything else was incidental. What was most important about Mary was her obedience to God’s will. The role she played was so vitally important that she was to be held in the highest honour for all time. ‘Behold from henceforth, all generations shall call me blessed,’ she expressed in the Magnificat. And indeed we have, in the Hail Mary prayer, recited countless millions of times around the world and through the centuries. ‘Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.’
Remembering that Mary was a Jewish mother might be the antidote to some of the rather sacharine representations of the Virgin Mary. This Jewish mother will not laden us with guilt for what we have failed to do, she will not scold us for what we have done wrong. But she might look on at what we do with a sad silence of disappointment, that we know means disapproval. I once took a friend to Walsingham for the first time and as he sat in the Holy House, he looked at the image of the Virgin Mary and perceived a frown in her expression. As he sat there, he thought about his life and some of his sins and began to feel sorry for them. When he looked again at her again, before he left, he thought he saw not a frown but the hint of a smile on the face of the virgin.
The posthumous life of the Virgin Mary is so much more extensive than her life in this world. Her ongoing life is shown by her appearance at places like Walsingham, Lourdes, Fatima and Knock and many more places around the world. She who received the angel’s message is now herself the messenger, drawing our attention to her son. These shrines honour her visits. There is, of course, no shrine that contains her body, because it is the tradition of the church that she was assumed body and soul into heaven when she died; that where her risen son had led, so she followed. God would not let the body of the Virgin Mary, his chosen instrument of salvation, know decay. As an ancient author states: 'Being the most glorious Mother of Christ our saviour and our God, the giver of life and immortality, she is given life by him and shares bodily incorruptibility for all eternity with him who raised her from the grave and drew her up to him in a way that only he can understand.'
And now where she has led, following her son, we are given hope to follow. The Feast of the Assumption is the confirmation of the Easter hope. As St Paul says, the risen Christ offers hope to all of eternal life, beginning with the Virgin Mary and extending to all of us and those who will come after us. Through the risen Christ and his raised mother Mary, we too can have high hopes.
Mary is in heaven; heaven is where God is and God is everywhere, so Mary can be everywhere too. We do not pray to Mary, but we ask Mary to pray for us, as we might ask any holy person. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. We believe in the constant presence with us of Christ, we can also trust in the constant prayer of Mary, and we can be assured that when our time on this earth draws to a close, whether it is expected or unexpected, whether we are prepared or unprepared, Mary will be praying, as she prays constantly, for all who have become her children.
Sermon by Canon Adrian Ling CMP, 10th August 2020
Readings: 1 Kings 19:9,11-13; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33
In September 1940, with German bombers overhead, George Orwell sat down for a haircut. His barber told him that no Nazi air-raid could stop him shaving a customer’s face. “One day a bomb will drop near enough to make him jump,” Orwell forecast, “and he will slice half somebody’s face off.” Nazi Germany had launched the blitzkrieg against Britain in the vain hope that the British people would be overcome by fear and surrender. How terrible it must have been to live through an air raid, to go down into the shelters and hear the whistle and explosion of bombs dropping around you. The bombing did not bring about the surrender of Britain but stiffened resolve under the war-time leadership of Churchill, whose stirring speeches rallied the population, gave them courage and helped dispel their fear.
'Do not be afraid', says Jesus to the disciples. He has to reassure them because they think they are seeing a ghost as he comes to them across the water. The words of Jesus accomplish what they say; his words have power. By telling them not to be afraid, he calms them. In fact his words give so much courage to Peter that he declares that he will walk across the water to reach him, if he just gives the word. Such, initially at least, is the faith that Jesus inspires in him.
Telling someone not to be afraid is easy to say, but harder for that person to do. But having faith in the person who reassures us may help suppress our fear. We may need to be convinced. Who would we trust more, someone who breezily tells us there’s nothing to be frightened of, or someone who gives us all the facts and lets us decide?
Marie Curie said that nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood, for some fear can be irrational, we do not know where it comes from. Understanding our fears, and the reasons behind them, may help us to come to terms with them. I remember a woman I used to work with who was petrified by the sight of men who coming of the light bulb hanging from the ceiling. We later found out that she had been tied up in a robbery and the thieves had broken in through the loft.
In the early stages of the pandemic we were perhaps more fearful, as the situation moved so rapidly. The news concentrated on the awful nature of the virus and the great threat it presented to the National Health Service. Going into lockdown was the equivalent of going down into the bunkers. Coming out of the lockdown bunker has presented its own challenges. We are perhaps not as fearful as we were as the virus has receded in our area. But some are still fearful. We may resent new restrictions, but they are there to protect others and ourselves. We must remain vigilant and not take unnecessary risks, but we need to get back to some sense of normality.
‘Do not be afraid’ is a central Christian message. Gabriel tells Mary not to be afraid, just as the angel does to the shepherds. The risen Christ reassures his frightened disciples with his very presence. The security of faith has given courage to the martyrs to overcome their trials and look beyond their suffering, from the time of St Ignatius of Antioch, who looked forward to being taken to the arena to be killed by wild beasts. ‘Let the wild beasts have me for that is how I shall reach God. I am wheat for God and the teeth of the wild beasts will grind me until I become the pure bread of Christ.’ Just as the blitzkrieg of the Nazis failed to overcome the British people, neither could the cruelty of persecutors make the martyrs renounce their faith.
We may all have fears of some sort or another. They may be fears based on reality, or fears of the unknown. Our fears need to be confronted if we are to overcome them. Martin Luther King said that courage faces fear and masters it, while cowardice represses fear and thereby mastered by it. Elijah had run away from murderous Queen Jezebel in fear of his life, but his awareness of the presence of God gave him renewed courage to continue his prophetic mission.
Being aware of the presence with us of Jesus gives us courage, for what he says to the disciples, he says to us too. The words ‘do not be afraid,’ are an imperative, a command, but they are not like orders barked at us by a sergeant major. Perhaps we are to hear them as a gentle calm voice, like the whisper that Elijah heard on the mountain that was the unmistakable, reassuring spirit of God.
In the words of the psalmist, When I am afraid, I will trust in you, in God whose word I praise. In God, I trust, I will not be afraid
Sermon by Fr. Joshua Bell SSC, 26th September 2020
Readings: 1 Kings 3:5,7-12; Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 13:44-52
What is the best buy you ever got – the best bargain, or hidden gem? We sometimes hear about priceless paintings donated to charity shops. I’m quite fond of Bargain Hunt – if you aren’t familiar with it, the teams are given a couple of hundred pounds to buy three items that go to auction. If they make a profit: they keep it!
Which leads me on to today’s gospel. Jesus presents us with a number of images for the Kingdom of Heaven, and the first two are, I think, especially beautiful.
First: a man who finds treasure in a field. I wonder, did you ever own a metal detector? I did – though my trips to the beach never found anything more than empty beer cans.
A few years ago there was a lovely sitcom with Toby Jones about two detectorists – it’s on iPlayer and I thoroughly recommend it! Across three series they search the fields of Essex for hidden treasure.
Their ultimate goal is to find the burial ship of the Saxon King Sexred, and all the gold that goes with it.
Now imagine the excitement of the man in Jesus’s parable: he too is searching for buried treasure, and when he finds it, he sells everything he owns, in order to buy the field. We can only assume that the worth of the treasure is more than the value of the possessions he sells to buy the field it is in! Imagine something so valuable that to gain it, you would be prepared to lose everything…
Jesus’s parables often invite us to ask ourselves the question: “Who am I?” “Who am I in the parable Jesus is telling? In the parable of the Good Samaritan, am I the Samaritan, or the Levite who passed by? In the parable of the Prodigal Son, am I the younger son who rebelled but repented, or am I the older son who never faltered, but who resented the party thrown for the younger son?” Two weeks ago, we heard the parable of the Sower, and we asked ourselves, what sort of soil are we?
Today’s parable seems to be much simpler. We may often have heard this and considered that we are the merchant looking for fine pearls, or the man looking for treasure in a field. And we think of the treasure, the pearl, as being the Gospel – the good news about Jesus Christ that is worth losing everything to gain.
But what if it’s the other way around? I’d like you to think: what if I’m not the merchant – what if I’m the pearl? What if God, instead of being the pearl that is worth selling everything for, is instead the merchant who rejoices over us?
In the first chapter of Genesis, God brings the world into being. On each of the six days, we hear that God saw what he had made, and saw that it was good. The final thing to be created is humanity, and after this, the Bible tells us, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”
Think about that for a moment. God creates humanity, and sees that it is very good.
Of course, we know that humanity’s relationship with God was broken in the Fall, and the history of God’s people is his repeated attempt to restore that relationship, through Abraham, Moses, King David, and the Prophets. Throughout the Bible, God longs for that relationship to be healed. So in the fulness of time, God sent his son, Jesus Christ – who emptied himself and became human.
We are God’s treasure. To gain us, he went, and sold all that he had.
Sermon by Canon Adrian Ling CMP, 19th July 2020
Readings: Wisdom 12:13,16-19; Romans 8:26-27; Matthew 13:24-43
In the film Jason and the Argonauts, one of the films that deployed the skills of the visual effects creator Ray Harryhausen, the guardian of the golden fleece sows the hydra’s teeth and Jason and the Argonauts look on aghast as seven armed skeleton-warriors spring up from the ground to fight them. I have been cultivating a shrub bed on the rough patch of grass down the side of the drive to the rectory. I look on aghast as no matter how many times I clear them, weeds shoot up like the children of the hydra’s teeth, and I am faced with a task as arduous as that of Jason in trying to eradicate them. The worst weeds are those that you cannot quite get the whole root out, and they spring up again. Furthemore some grow up close to the newly-planted shrubs. I have to be careful not to be too heavy handed with the fork and remove them with the precision of a surgeon.
Jesus today tells the parable of the weeds and the darnel. The darnel or couch grass that you will find in the churchyard looks very similar to wheat when in its early stages; they are not easy to tell apart. Upon discovering them the master says that an enemy must have planted the weed, what a dastardly thing to do! In India, a threat that is still used is ‘I will sow bad seed in your field!’ The servants want to root it out straight away, but the master is more circumspect, and advises delay lest the good wheat be rooted out with the bad weeds.
We can be all too keen to come down swiftly on the faults of others. Our society is increasingly unforgiving. With regard to certain issues there is no room for mistakes, no scope for mercy, and this harsh treatment is now applied to historical figures unable to defend themselves, with no accounting for the times in which they lived. All the good a person may have done in a life can be wiped away because of one error of judgement or outspoken expression of an opinion.
The parable has similarities with that the speck of sawdust and the plank. Do not take the small speck of sawdust out of your neighbour’s eye without first taking the plank out of your own, says Jesus. Do not come down hard on the faults of others without first considering your own.
There is so much good in the worst of us
And so much bad in the best of us
That it hardly becomes any of us
To talk about the rest of us.
One lesson of the parable of the wheat and the darnel is that though you may have to suffer injustice through a malicious act, in time what that person has done will be revealed. What is concealed in the darkness will be revealed in the light. But we need to be patient.
When we,or someone dear to us, are slighted, we may want to react instantly, and fight back. We may wish to challenge and expose what we perceive to be wrongdoing. But we must be careful not to go too far, not to vilify with an unbound rage, we must be careful not to be destructive in our condemnations, especially with those people with whom we have to maintain a relationship.
St Gregory of Nanzianzus said “We must overcome our enemies by gentleness; win them over by forbearance. Let them be punished by their own conscience, not by our wrath. Let us not at once wither the fig-tree, from which a more skilful gardener may yet entice fruit.”
We should not be destructive in our correction, but do so in a gentle and subtle manner, finding a way to encourage the other to recognise their wrongdoings, rather than batter them over the head with with them. For if we are too heavy-handed we may irrevocably damage the relationship and cast the other person away, like a weed. Is that what we really want?
When someone upsets us, and we are angry, we should put down the pen and turn off the computer. We should never send an email inager because once the 'sned' button is pressed, you cannot take it back. If we must retaliate we should write two replies the one that we write initially to vent our spleen and then a later one that we actually send.
There is something rather destructive and shaming in wanting to expose the faults of others. God knows all the secrets of our hearts, and he attends to everything in his own good time. As Robert Burns said:
Who made the heart, tis he alone
decidedly can try us,
He knows each chord, its various tone,
Each spring, its various bias.
As a wise old priest used to remind me: I am not perfect and you are not perfect. If he had made either of us perfect he would not have broken the mould.
Sermon by Fr. Joshua Bell SSC, 12th July 2020
Readings: Isaiah 55:10-11, Romans 8:18-23, Matthew 13:1-23
During lockdown, many of you, I know, have been keeping yourselves occupied in gardens and allotments. When Father Adrian and I were calling people up, quite often we’d hear about the progress in the garden – so much so that I wonder whether South and West Lynn should have a Benefice Open Gardens, so that we can admire all your handiwork!
Leah and I have been getting into it, too. Like the sower in our gospel today, we scattered our seeds liberally into the soil, and we waited to see what grows.
We’ve had some mixed success. On the up side, many many more plants germinated than we expected…so much so that we somehow found ourselves with sixty-nine tomato plants. On the other hand, The courgettes we planted are proving decidedly mixed in their growth. Some have become large – and on Tuesday we ate our first fruit! – while others have been slower in their growth…and some refused even to break the soil.
We are like God’s soil, and at our baptism the seed was planted in us. For some of us that will be many years ago; for others it will be more recent. Perhaps as soon as your seed was planted it began to sprout, if you were raised in the Church and taught the faith from childhood. Or perhaps your Christening was the last time, for many years, that you went inside a church, until later in life – and that seed took a long time before it finally broke the soil. Whether it took a little or a long time: here we are.
What is our soil like today? The last three months have been like one of those hot summers, where the sun sucks all the moisture from the air, as we’ve been stuck at home, unable to worship. Have the online services and the rest of it acted like a sprinkler, keeping the soil healthy, or has it dried out, and made the seed unable to grow?
Well – here we are. The drought has ended – or begun to end – and rain is starting to fall on our parched soil. Drink it in! If you have felt exhausted by being cut off from the Eucharist – then draw near with faith.
What about the crop Jesus speaks of? Sometimes we think of this fruit solely as propagation – that we will grow our numbers in church thirty-fold, sixty-fold, or a hundred-fold. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The reason that we grow our tomatoes and our courgettes, our strawberries and carrots and so forth, it isn’t so that we can get seeds to grow more. We grow them so that we can produce fruit for eating.
St. Paul talks of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in his letter to the Galatians. He calls them “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”. These are the fruits of the seed of the Holy Spirit, planted in us at baptism and nurtured through our life as Christians.
The fruits may produce seeds that can take root in other soil, and that is wonderful – but seeds are a consequence of fruit – not an alternative to it.
So how fruitful are we feeling? How patient, kind, generous, and so forth? If your fruit is feeling a little shrivelled – come to Jesus! Listen again to the words of our first reading:
“As the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.”
Jesus is the Living Word, begotten by God the Father. He waters the earth of our hearts, and causes us to yield spiritual fruit. He will not fail in his mission, and if we allow him, he will give growth in our lives.
So at this time, when the sun has dried the soil, and we are withering, let us come to Jesus, who will give us his living water. At this time, when we have suffered greatly: let us remember the glories that he has promised us – the heavenly banquet, of which the great feast of the Eucharist is only a foretaste. Come to Jesus, present in the Blessed Sacrament, and receive him into yourselves – that his life may be your life – may be our life.
Sermon by Canon Adrian Ling CMP, 5th July 2020
Readings: Zechariah 9:9-10, Romans 8:9,11-13, Matthew 11:25-30
Today, you could be doing all sorts of things. You could be getting your hair done, going down the pub, you could even be playing bingo. But I am very glad to see that you are here in church. And how good it is that this church is open for worship today, that we here are in the vanguard.
But why are you here. What have you come for?
Have you come to get out of the house?
To have some company in a big, airy and safe building?
Have you come because it’s what you used to do, and what you’ve been missing?
Have you come back because you love this place?
Have you come to hear directly the gospel of Jesus?
To receive him in the intimate encounter of the blessed sacrament, which you have been deprived of for so long?
We often seem to find that the gospel of the day is appropriate to our situation. That is especially true today as we find our Lord saying to us , ‘Come to me, all who are heavy-laden and I will give you rest.’ What welcome words they are for us to hear today; what balm for the soul. I do not know what burdens you carry with you today. Whatever they are, they may well weigh feel heavy, after these long weeks of lockdown when we have not been able to deal with our problems in our usual ways.
I hope you have kept praying, and laying your burdens before the Lord. But back here in church, in this hour or so we spend at Mass, we can really feel that we lay our burdens down for a while at the foot of the altar. Here we can rest a while in his presence and we are given the spiritual strength to bear them. Here we know the truth of the saying that a trouble shared is a trouble halved, whether that be in prayer or conversation with a trusted person.
We come here today, just as we are, however we are. And at the beginning of the Mass, we bring to mind our sins, and lay them openly before the Lord, those occasions when we have failed to love according to Christ’s command: the nasty thoughts, the cruel words, the failure to do what we know we should have done, but didn’t. Those sins must be confessed with real repentance, we have to be sorry for them, if we are to have their weight lifted by the assurance of God’s forgiveness.
At the intercessions we lay our prayers and petitions, with those of the church, before God, who takes them all in, like the benevolent, indulgent Father that he is. Do we know what we need, and dare we put it into words, and ask in faith? Are we prepared to accept what cannot be changed and have the courage to change what we can?
And at communion we come just as we are to the altar to receive Jesus. ‘though tossed about, with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings within and fears without, O lamb of God I come.’ We come to the altar recognizing our vulnerability, needing to be reminded that we are loved by God for who and what we are. We are reminded that when God gave the world his son because he loved us so much, that includes you and me, unworthy though we may be of such a great gift.
And in the blessed sacrament, all of Jesus is placed into our sanatized hands. All of him is taken into the whole of us. Christ enters into the Christian, just as he entered into Jerusalem on a colt, the foal of a donkey, but have we unbarred the gates of our hardened hearts to receive him? Do we recognize, as St Paul says, his Holy Spirit abiding in us?
The people of Israel referred to the Law of God as, ‘the yoke’, a wooden crosspiece fixed to two beasts of burden, such as oxen, that enables them to pull a cart or a plough. Jesus cut through the complexity of the Law, he simplified it. He saw it all through the prism of the great commandments to love God above all things, and to love others as we love oursleves. So he says, ‘my yoke is easy, my burden is light.’
We haven’t got to wade through pages of guidelines to know if we are keeping God’s law. We just apply the test of love to our motives and our actions. Are we loving as he loves? Are we putting Him above all things and treating others as we would wish to be treated ourselves?
Today is an important day for us in our church community, as we reassemble again today. The Queen, echoing the late Dame Vera Lynn, told us we will meet again. We have emerged from the bunker, and here we are, with each other and with Christ.
Let us bless God’s holy name. Thanks be to God.