Sermons & services

Sermon for Trinity VII

Published Sunday 18th July 2021, at 3:45 p.m.


Imagine, if you will, the people of Israel, fresh from the excitement and drama of that Passover night when they had fled their Egyptian slave masters. Fresh from their delivery from the chariots of Pharoah at the Red Sea. Heading towards the Promised Land, the land of milk and honey. Filled with faith, with hope, with joy. They’re on a roll. With God in front to guide them and behind them to guard them, and the song of Miriam still ringing in their ears: I will sing to the Lord who has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea. Fast forward a few weeks and oh what a difference. Now it’s the time of aching feet and rumbling stomachs. Now the doubts start to appear in the minds of God’s children. What are we doing? Why didn’t we stay in Egypt? Okay we were slaves, but we were fed, we had roofs over our heads. We weren’t walking miles and miles, just seeming to amble aimlessly around the desert not knowing where we’re going. Now they’re tired, they’re hungry, the kids are moaning: in fact, everyone is moaning. Grumble, grumble, grumble. Now is the time to look back in nostalgia. Looking back at the past through rose coloured spectacles: ah, the good life back in those Egyptian shackles. I hope you recognise that Egypt’s story is our story: both collectively, as the church, and individually. We can all fall prey to the twin dangers of grumbling about the present and so looking back in nostalgia at the past. This is an especial a temptation for we Christians. We can look back to the good ol’ days when this church, and other churches, was packed to the rafters every Sunday; back to the days when Church of England people loved their Prayer Books. We can look back to the good ol’ days when Britain wasn’t the Britain it is today. Or the whichever political party. Or football team. Or whatever. And so on. And so on. Nostalgia can be dangerous. It’s the thin ice where we are no longer living with the past, but living in the past. Remembering can be bad. But at the same time, remembering is also not a bad thing. In fact, for Christians – as for the Jewish people – it is essential. Those people of Israel in their wilderness years were commanded to remember their past – their Passover – so they didn’t forget to see God’s hand at work in their salvation and deliverance. Remembering, particularly in the liturgy, is what helped Israel to be Israel: when they forgot the past, they forgot who they are, and so who God is. Same with us: forgetting is dangerous. When we remember what God has done for us, we remember that God is faithful, that Christ is risen, death and sin are defeated, and so we can look forward to the future with hope and confidence, even in the midst of turmoil. And we remember through our reading of Scripture: the love story of God’s fidelity towards us and all people, to all of creation. We remember through our liturgy. This Eucharist is an act of remembrance – a perpetual memorial – of Christ’s saving Passion, Death and Resurrection for us. I mention all this because of our opening prayer today which speaks about God as the author and giver of all good gifts. And I mention it because, like the people of Israel, we are very good at forgetting. Remembering is easy when the going is easy. But the Christian journey is a marathon not a sprint, and there will always be times when the going gets tough: when the feet are weary and the stomach is metaphorically rumbling. This is when we forget God and start to grumble or become nostalgic (put another way, when we feel the temptation to lapse back into sins and past destructive behaviours). This is when we forget God’s goodness and the many gifts he gives us, has given us, and will continue to give us. In the wilderness, the Israelites had to learn to trust God to survive. That God would give them what they needed. And God did. With manna from heaven and water from the rock. These were the things that kept them going: this was their daily bread. A daily reminder of God’s goodness and of his gifts, and that we are sustained by them and God’s generosity, not by anything we do. This is why the Church has always encouraged her children to spend time at the end of the day in what is called an examen; a time to reflect on the day that is about to end. And when we do this, we always start with the good stuff – even if it’s the same old good stuff that happens to us every day, starting with the gift of the day itself. Now this idea was popularised by the Jesuits and is now widely use by Christians from all sorts of traditions and backgrounds. So here’s what you do. First, pause, to remember that you are in the presence of God, the author and giver of all good gifts. Then give thanks. Thanks for the gift of that day. For the love and support we have received. For an event, and incident, that happened that day: say, the gift of a meeting with someone, or someone doing something for you. Then ask God to give you light to look at the day and ask yourself: Where have I felt true joy today? What has troubled me today? What has challenged me today? Have I noticed God's presence in any of this? And then, in the light of that review, what is my response to God? Then, finally, look ahead to the next day. What comes to mind? What challenges will I face, and what graces do I need to live that tomorrow? It was former head of the Dominican Order, Timothy Radcliff, who wrote once that of all God’s creation, we are not just homo sapiens, wise humans, but also homo eucharistica, humans who are capable of giving thanks to God for all His gifts. And we thank God not just for ourselves, but for all of creation. It’s why on feast days and Sundays, the Old Testament canticle at morning prayer is the Benedicite omnia opera: bless the Lord all you works of the Lord: praise him and magnify Him forever. And we sing that on behalf of all God’s creation. It’s why I recommend that once a week, perhaps at the end of the week, we say the General Thanksgiving in our Prayer Book where we thank God for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. Life has been hard for so many people this last year and a half and it may not be easy for many to think in terms of thanksgiving. But when we do, we turn out from ourselves. Out from our narrow preoccupations – however important they may seem – to open our eyes to the bigger vista, the wider panorama. To God, the author and giver of all good gifts. Amen.