Sermons & services
Daniel's sermon for Trinity XV
Published Sunday 20th Sept. 2020, at 2:12 p.m.
Sermon for the 15th Sunday after Trinity
Last week end was a major milestone in our family. We went up to Edinburgh to drop off our youngest daughter for her first year at University.. Our eldest son is still with us for a few more months as he awaits the start of his first job in November and however much we get on, he is understandably keen to get his first pay check and start his own life. In a few short months we will, curtesy of covid, be going from one of the most intense periods of family life we have had in years, to all of a sudden just the 2 of us being at home with no offspring to look after. As with any major milestone, and as with any parent who has experienced children leaving home, there will be a feeling of loss over the empty nest, and lots of musing over “what next”?
Now, a very popular term we have all heard over the last several years has been that of ‘the journey’, with people saying that they are ‘ on a journey’ or on “stages in life’s journey”. And if you accept this analogy of life as a journey, all your children leaving home in the same year certainly qualifies as an important staging post on that journey. The defining point of a journey, of course, is that it is heading somewhere. It has a purpose. In the case of our trip last week-end that somewhere was Edinburgh and the purpose was to settle our daughter in as comfortably as possible.
The trouble - some would say the blessing - of the modern western world, is that there is no clear consensus where that ‘journey of life’ is heading. We are free to make of our life what we will, to fashion the purposes of life to each of our desires and dreams. If we are a bit vague about the purpose of our lives, then we have to create that purpose. And maybe we are all the better off for it.
But is this commonplace western world assumption, or very prevalent doubt as to the ultimate purpose of human life such an obvious conclusion to come to? When you look at any created thing, its shape will tell you a lot about what it is for, about its purpose. A hammer is built in a certain way to drive in nails, a saw is made in another way to saw wood, a birds claw to grasp, a beak to peck, an eye to see etc…. So if you look at the shape of the human psyche, in a similar way it should point to what a human being is for. And there is in fact something very unique about the human soul which separates it from all other animals.
We have this unquenchable thirst to understand. We are forever asking ‘Why?” and we have an equally strong desire to find the good. To find what will make us happy. We are forever asking “How” we can be happy.We have an ageing 14 year old border terrier at home, and however cherished she is, I have yet to discern a burning desire to understand the world around her, or a constant search for satisfaction in her little furry head. A walk, food, her dog basket to sleep in, and lots of strokes seem enough for her.
Meditating on the life of my contented, if ageing dog fits in with today’s gospel passage in which Jesus asks us to look at the world of nature. “Behold the fowls of the air: For they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather in barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them” or later on “Consider the Lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
The difference of course between the world of nature and us, and it is a very large one, is that we are free to choose or to reject our purpose. The butternut squashes in my garden have no such choice. They just grow. My dog, and any sentient non-human life, lives simply by instinct. In the case of domestic animals you can teach them certain things, but their life remains nonetheless instinctive.
As human beings living in the natural world, we are just as instinctive. We have natural instinctive urges for food, water and sex which we share with all other animals. But then we want much, much more. We ask those 2 questions “Why”. Why is the world as it is? And we ask “How”. How can I find true contentment. True happiness. True Goodness which fulfils all my desires. Those 2 questions are clues as to our purpose which maybe a change in analogy might help to explain. Rather than a journey, what if life is a pilgrimage?
A journey is very much of this world, and as we choose to follow whichever desire seems strongest at the time, these journeys remain “our” journeys. IT is “my” journey which may have a very different destination from “your” journey. If a book were written about this “journey” we would each be at the centre of our own stories. It would be a book about us. And maybe that is the problem. We all seek to fulfil “our” desires, to find “our” happiness. But what of a pilgrimage? A book about a pilgrimage would not be on us, but the end point. It would be about the goal.
What is that goal? Our passage today ends with Jesus saying “Seek ye first the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you”. We are made for Love. Every service here starts with the summary of the Law “ Our Lord Jesus Christ Said – Hear Oh Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, this is the first commandment and the second is like, namely this , though shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.. On these 2 commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” That is a pretty good description of “seeking the kingdom of God”. We are made for God. We are made for each other. We are made for love. We become who we were meant to be, not but choosing a journey to whichever desire for wealth, power, pleasure or honour has the firmest grip on our hearts. No we find the answers to those 2 insistent questions “Why” and “How” by “Seeking first the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
“All these things shall be added unto you”? Does Jesus mean here, that material security, beauty and much else will be added unto us, in the same way that he clothes the lillies of the fields and feeds the fowls of the air. No. I think a better understanding would be that such desires take their proper place when you are on a pilgrimage seeking the kingdom of God. These endless desires no longer have the capacity to become tyrants crying out for more and distracting you from your daily life. For these desires can rapidly become obsessions blinding you to what is true. To what is of real value. The passage today starts with Jesus saying “You cannot serve God and Mammon”. You cannot be on a self-chosen journey to ever greater material prosperity and at the same time be on a pilgrimage seeking the kingdom of God. Mammon as an end point, makes us blind to a lot of what is going on in our daily life, one starts to see people purely as means to the end of a larger bank account. If they can’t help me on that journey then I should limit the time I should spend with them. The focus is on that ever allusive end goal, which becomes ever more tyrannically demanding over time, leaving one less and less time to notice people, let alone love them. That journey to Mammon is filled with worry. But when you are on a pilgrimage seeking the kingdom of God, things are different. Yes, like a self-chosen journey, there is an end point, but it is an end-point which opens up your eyes to all that is around you, rather than make your eyes ever dimmer to all but your own concerns. Your life’s purpose is Love. Love of God and Love of neighbour. And such a purpose has no sell buy date. It has no boundaries. It doesn’t stop at the boundary of retirement. It doesn’t stop at the boundary of someone’s wealth, be it great or small. It doesn’t stop at the door of those I may find difficult, but includes everyone we meet. It doesn’t care whether I have been successful in the world’s eyes or a complete failure. It is a purpose which doesn’t shut you off or blind you to anyone. It opens your eyes to the God you meet in everyone you come across.
“And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward”
It is a purpose which is built into our very souls by the God who did not create love, like any other created thing, but who instead IS Love. In this passage the one who tells us to ‘seek the Kingdom of God’ is God incarnate seeking us out with a love which is constantly referred to in the Bible as that of the Bridegroom for his bride, the Church. That union is our destiny.
“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”