Sixth Sunday after Trinity

23 jul 2017

9am & Choral Eucharist

Preacher: The Dean

Readings: Isaiah 44.6-8; Romans 8.12-25; Matthew 13.24-30,36-43


In the past few weeks there’s been an innovation on the Radio 4 morning flagship programme, ‘Today’, which if, like me, and you’re listening to the first hour of the programme, you’ll have noticed.  It’s the inclusion of a ‘Puzzle for Today’.  They’re those unimaginably difficult, mind-bending, mind-numbing problems that I can’t even begin to imagine how you solve.  Such as...

‘Take the digits 1,2,3 up to 9 in numerical order and put either a plus sign or a minus sign or neither between the digits to make a sum that adds up to 100.’

I’ll tell you the answer at the end. I fortunately wasn’t in an area where we had to sit the 11+ so I didn’t have to tax my brain at that point in my life on problem solving questions and I haven’t done so since!

You may remember though that in some of the maths work books we used to have in school the answers were all in the back.  Why teachers didn’t think that we wouldn’t just turn to the back and solve the problem by reading the answer and writing it in our work books beats me.  As a very studious little boy, even though unable to do problem solving, I of course never succumbed to such a low way of achieving good results!

When we get to this time of the year in liturgical Year A and read the parables in St Matthew’s Gospel and principally the two harvest ones – the sower in the field last week and todays about the weeds amongst the wheat - we get this feeling that with the parable, with the allegory, we’re provided with the answer.  For both of these stories that Jesus tells we then get verses that describe him, behind the scenes, away from the cameras and the microphones, telling them exactly what it all means – this means that and this means that and that means the other.  It takes all the fun away really and in some ways could be seen as doing the preachers work for them.  The answer is not just in the back of the book but on the very page we’re reading from.

But both these parables, the sower and the weeds amongst the wheat are powerful, interpreted or allowed to speak for themselves. I like to think about todays, for instance, as being about patience. At the most basic level we recognise the wisdom of the landowner who, in response to the question from the slave about pulling up the weeds says

‘No … let both of them grow together until the harvest.’

This term in Cathedral school we’ve been doing assemblies on our favourite prayers.  So all the clergy have gone along with our PowerPoint presentations and introduced the school to a prayer that we really value.  It was the final assembly on Thursday and I was down to lead it.  So I took along a prayer which I might have mentioned to you before.  It’s perhaps the simplest of prayers but I think is the most difficult to pray.

It was written by the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold.  Those of you a little bit older may remember that he was killed in a plane crash in 1961 – an urbane, intelligent man known for his book ‘Markings’ as well as his leadership of the UN.  In that book he wrote this

For all that has been, thanks.
For all that will be, yes.

It was that prayer that I told to the children.  I asked them to look back over the last academic year.  What were the good things they remembered? So hands went up, trips here, there and everywhere of course were top of the list and then some of the things they’d done in school.  Then I asked them about the bad things.  When they were ill and missed a party, something wrong with a pet and then a boy said ‘the attack on London Bridge’.

Then I asked them to look forward.  On the screen I’d put up a picture of a little girl standing on her own in the middle of a long road cutting through flat fields.  There was nothing in the road ahead of her and we were looking at her looking ahead.  What was ahead of them?  Some were leaving Cathedral School and going to a new school, having to make new friends, some had to spend next year preparing for their SATs.  But we all recognised that we didn’t know what lay ahead of us.

For all that has been, thanks.
For all that will be, yes.

St Paul in his letter to the Romans reflects on the reality of life and uses a wonderful phrase

‘For the creation waits with eager longing.’

Just as the landowner counsels patience in dealing with the reality in his field, so Paul reminds us that we, with the whole of creation wait, often in a time of not knowing, but waiting with patience for things to be revealed.  And we wait within that groaning creation.

Paul uses the language of giving birth, of creation being in the very act of labour, the groaning, the pain, the effort.  All humanity is caught up in that great act but it involves waiting, waiting to see what will be brought to birth and that can be agony, the agony that comes with eager expectation, but also the agony that comes from the pain itself – the two, like the wheat and the weeds are bound up together and the joyful agony and the painful agony you can’t at times separate.

Dag Hammarskjold’s prayer is difficult to pray because being able to say thank you to God for everything that’s happened is not easy at all.  As the children in assembly recognised, along with the lovely school journeys they’ve been on, our own community has been on a journey and that journey hasn’t ended.  We’ve gone through agonies as a result of the terrorist attack last month and as a result of witnessing the agonies that others have been and are going through.  Can we say ‘thanks’ for that? Paul would say to us that we have to have the courage to do that because in that agony we see the process of birth.

And can we say yes to stuff that we cannot begin to anticipate, stuff that we can’t see on the horizon but that maybe, maybe is just around the corner.  Have we the trust in God, the patience to not yet know but to be able to offer that simple word of acquiescence and welcome, yes? 

The prophet Isaiah speaks God’s words to us

Do not fear, or be afraid;
   have I not told you from of old and declared it?
   You are my witnesses!
Is there any god besides me?
   There is no other rock; I know not one.

It’s only in that truth that we can allow the wheat and the weeds of life to grow, to wait with patience, to say thanks for the known past and yes to the unknown future.  We can only do it because of the rock who is God, the rock on which I build my life in a sea of shifting sand. 

‘Do not fear, or be afraid’ God says to us.  And then he invites us to accept food for the journey.  Patient endurance requires strength – so, my brother, eat, so, my sister, drink.  We do not know what the journey holds, where it will take us, but bread and wine are offered, strengthening and divine food for an known past and an unknown future. 

And by the way the answer to that puzzle is:
123 – 45 – 67 + 89 = 100