“In the midst of everything we have hope”

A sermon/reflection for The Seventh Sunday after Trinity

The readings for this Sunday are those of Seventh Sunday after Trinity Sunday:

  • Genesis 29. 15-28

  • Psalm 128

  • Romans 8.26-39

  • Matthew 13. 31-33, 44-52

You might like to use the link below to find the above readings for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity Sunday, Year A, and click on any of the reading above that you wish to use:

http://www.katapi.org.uk/CommonWorship/CWLectionarySelV.php

Collect of the day 

Let us just spend a few moments in silence
to centre ourselves,
to gather ourselves in our souls,
to come before the Lord just as we are with our joys and sorrows,
our hopes and our fears,
our loves and our pains.
Let us just focus our minds and hearts on Jesus
who is the answer for every problem.
Let us pray that the Spirit will work through our lives
to bring Christ to the world.

Silence is kept

Lord of all power and might,
the author and giver of all good things:
graft in our hearts the love of your name,
increase in us true religion,
nourish us with all goodness,
and of your great mercy keep us in the same;

though our faith is small as mustard seed,
make it grow to your glory
and the flourishing of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Amen.

Prayer before the Sermon

Loving Heavenly Father,
we thank you for the words you have given us today.
We know they are words of life and salvation.
Open our hearts Father,
touch our souls,
forgive us our sins especially our lack of faith,
help us to respond to your word.
May we know that you are our Lord and Saviour
who promises us the power from on high,
your Holy Spirit.
May we experience in our hearts
your love and your presence always.

Amen.

 

Homily

“In the midst of everything we have hope”

Matthew 13.31–33,44–52

31 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

33 He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

44 ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

47 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 ‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ 52 And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’

Sermon: “In the midst of everything we have hope.”

You probably know some of the old jokes about how many of certain people it takes to change a lightbulb. Do you know how many Anglicans it takes to change a lightbulb? ‘Change!’ 

We’re generally not very good at coping with change. We don’t even like it when supermarkets move things around! We like to know where things are. And in our lives we like to know where we are. Many of the changes forced upon us by the Covid-19 virus were not changes we would have wanted. Restrictions on movement, not being able to hug family or see friends; restrictions of lots of things we took for granted. Now having to wear masks. Yet some of the changes have actually been rather good. Less pollution, more awareness of nature; many people, including my two sons, really rather liking working from home. And more caring for each other, knowing our neighbours and their needs better.

Jesus parables remind us that without change there wouldn’t be life. Without the change yeast brings about bread would just be cooked flour and water paste!

We are facing significant changes in the churches in Lincolnshire. Some of you will have no doubt heard of what Bishop David said at the Diocesan Synod last week. We were already looking at what changes we might need to do to make our churches sustainable into the future. We were facing a £3 million deficit this year. Now with Covid-19 it’s looking like it will be £5 million – that’s nearly half our annual budget! Facing this will mean we will have to have fewer paid clergy – perhaps 100, rather than the previous target of 150. And that’s not all. The reports we have written show that there needs to be a change in attitude to what it means to be a church member, a new focus on discipleship and realistic giving today, not simply relying on the generosity of people in the past. In a letter from both our Bishops they say – ‘We both believe that the Church is at a turning point. If there is to be new life after past failures, we must change…’ There have been failures. Not everything that we did in the past was good or helpful. And moving into new ways may well be uncomfortable, painful. 

They also say that “Everyone who is worried about the future for their congregation or church building, or who is feeling sad or sorrowful because of the past (or present), is feeling these things, because these things matter to us all. – And as we feel them together, so we take a step towards finding a solution to them together.” ‘Together’ is an important word. The changes that will come are not simply about reducing clergy numbers – you in these churches know all too well the kind of stress and workload that causes. We are moving to a true team working. No longer individual clergy but teams. That is one of the three key principles of the new approach. Teams of paid and voluntary clergy and licensed lay ministers working collaboratively. The second point is that no clergy person will be an independent worker, that too has to change. And the third is that the classic Anglican understanding of the ‘Cure of souls’ is to be reimagined to become a tool for mission.

These changes are not just due to Covid-19 but other things too that we have become more aware of, like the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter protests, the issues around the dangers of unemployment and debt that many are facing. And there is the Climate emergency too. Huge things for society. These are things we to reflect on as a Church too, because they are Kingdom issues. They are Kingdom issues because God cares for the way we look after the world, and all the people who live on it. They are Kingdom issues because of the way that God wants us, His people, to live; the contribution He wants us to make to his world. 

In the last verse of our reading this morning Jesus asks his hearers – ‘Have you understood all this?’ To remind ourselves of just what Jesus was asking we need to look back over the Gospel readings for the last few weeks. “Have you,” He was saying, “understood the messages of the great harvest that is seen when the soil the seed is sown into is fertile and weed free?” “Have you understood that there needs to be a sorting of the good from the bad – the wheat from the weeds?” (Or as today the edible fish from the inedible?) “Have you seen how the tiniest seed can blossom into the largest of plants?” “Have you seen how an investment of time, money, effort can result in something amazing?”

“Yes,” they said. I imagine Jesus saying something like “Great” before He added –  ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’

New and old. Change, moving on, may mean leaving some things behind, but only the not so good. The good we can keep doing. Change is not the same as loss. 

I’ve had an experience that is rather unusual for a clergyman – that of being made redundant! I was working for CMS – the Church Mission Society. I was in charge of all the communications and fundraising. But the Chief Executive decided that he wanted those functions to go under the Finance Director, so my job, and therefore I, had to go. If any of you have experienced that, it’s not a comfortable situation. Especially when you have two children at a crucial time in their schooling. Yet, if that job had not come to an end I wouldn’t have gone on to be the Rector of a fantastic parish in Yorkshire, and now be here in Lincolnshire. And in both jobs, as well as many changes, many new things, I have brought my past experience, including the experience of redundancy, with me, making me, I hope, a better Vicar, a better team leader.

Our Bishops make a lot of something that is a specifically Christian contribution to the crises and changes we are all facing – hope

Hope was one of the reasons people came to Jesus. They were an occupied people, a race that the Romans despised, looked down on. They hoped Jesus would tell them more about the way in which God was going to rescue them from their enemies. 

Many people today are looking for hope. They want something new, different, positive, after months of difficulty. And Rishi Sunak’s financial plans, including his meal deal, don’t quite cut it! People want more. They may have suffered personally, lost someone they loved, be facing a precarious future. What if we could help them find God’s treasure, His pearl, through our lives and words? Might they catch glimpses of hope, of the Kingdom, in us?

“Hope,” the Bishops said, “is hidden by entitlement, collusion, fear and pride. It can be found in the willingness to get to grips with the mess that is daily living.” In other words, when all is well, – or at least all is well with us -when nothing changes, we tend to become complacent.

Change and hope go together. Our hope is rooted in Jesus Christ, and our purpose is to co- operate with Him in bringing hope to others. How might you be part of God’s work, bringing in His Kingdom to your neighbours’ lives – as a church, and also perhaps as individuals?

So, change and hope are both themes from today’s parables. And also waiting. That may not be the point that immediately strikes us, but it is there in all of them. There is waiting for the seed to become a tree. That doesn’t happen overnight, it takes years. Yeast doesn’t instantly cause the dough to rise, even in these days of dried yeast and bread-makers, and certainly not then. It needs time, and hard work, to get it into the dough, then more time to let it rise.   How long had the farmer been working those fields before he found the treasure? The merchant had been actively looking for fine pearls for his whole career. Even with the fish, which we’re not majoring on today, there is the time catching them and then more time sorting. 

So, these parables are at least a partial answer to the cry – ‘Why doesn’t God do something?’ Why doesn’t God do something about COVID-19, about war, about exploitation, about our personal tragedies? We believe he will – and He is – just not to our time scales.

Jesus wanted his followers to live with the tension of believing that the kingdom was indeed arriving – not with a bang but through a process like the slow growth of a plant, or yeast rising.

This can sometimes seem like a cop-out, and no doubt it did in Jesus’ day as well. Saying that God is delaying his final judgment, His actions, can look like saying that God is inactive or uncaring. But when we look at Jesus’ life it’s impossible to say that God didn’t care. 

God will act and calls us to act in the meantime. God will bring about ultimate change – and calls us to be open to change in the meantime. God will do amazing, surprising things through the changes that have been forced upon us, that our Bishops are leading us through. In the midst of everything we have hope – hope for ourselves, hope for our churches, and hope to share with others as we seek to work for the Kingdom of God in new and yes, different, ways.

With my best wishes,

Richard Steel ,
Mission Team Leader, Diocese of Lincoln

Email: richardsteel03@icloud.com

Prayer

A Prayer you can say now:

Lord Jesus, I believe you are the Son of God.
Thank you for becoming one of us.
Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins.
Thank you for rising from the dead to give me hope
and the gift of eternal life.
I repent of my sins and invite you into heart and life
as my Lord and Saviour.
Please grant me your Holy Spirit
so that I may know you, love you
and follow you every day of my life.

Amen.

in our thoughts and prayers

 

Prayers/Intercessions for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity can be found here.