Seventh Sunday after Trinity

30 jul 2017

9am and Choral Eucharist

Preacher: Canon Wendy Robins,
Honorary Canon & Assistant Priest

Readings: 1 Kings 3:5-12; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52


This week the harrowing and tragic story of the short, and much fought-over, life of baby Charlie Gard came to an end with his death - in a hospice, following the removal of his breathing tube on Friday. His life was precious, so precious that his parents spent much of it - or so it seems to the world - fighting about it. The news articles that I have read about him and his family have timelines running from March onwards and the parents’ appearances at the High Court have been frequent and difficult in recent weeks.

Here was a life drama played out in public; a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions which today's media has allowed us all to watch and become involved in including the President of the United States and the Pope.

What is clear, I think, is that everyone wanted what they thought was best for baby Charlie and yet even to the manner of his death they could not agree what that was and so a public debate about the ethics of who should have the final say over the life of a child has ensued.

It is this kind of conundrum with which many are faced day after day. How do we decide who is right in our ever changing world were most of the issues with which we will have to deal are far beyond the scope of the biblical landscape of life in which Jesus lived and taught his disciples?

How do we find the frameworks to think about such issues in the context of our faith?

The parable of the mustard seed which we have just heard read is one of my all time favourite parables. I want to roll it around in my brain and play with it in just the same way as I want to play with wonderful poetic words. It seems so simple and yet for me it is so profound. Let's hear it again from the NRSV

“He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the  ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."

There is so much in it: how do we - to begin with - think of the Kingdom of God; what pictures does that paint in your head...? And then that leads me to what is a mustard seed like? Now I am not a gardener but I know, because I have researched it, that they are incredibly small and the trees - as the parable suggests - grow to be 9ft or more tall and rather wide too.

I have frankly no idea what a mustard bush or tree looks like but that doesn't stop me seeing birds enjoying themselves in it and imagining it providing well-earned shade for those working in the fields etc. I can paint a whole idyll in my brain around the small seed bringing forth something that is all encompassing.

And that, it seems to me, is what the passages that we have heard today are all about: the way in which we who have faith - even as small as a mustard seed - should begin to grow and understand that the kingdom of heaven; the place where God rules and reigns, is here now because we Jesus' followers are here now. God needs to rule the way in which we run our lives and this is not always easy - partly I suspect because many of us want to kick against rules, but also because God's rules are not always absolutely clear and self evident in our complicated world. But what the parables that we have heard today tell us is that the kingdom of heaven is without price - we would and should let go of all that we have to possess or to become part of it.

And part of seeking the kingdom of God is seeking, like Solomon, for wisdom from God in all that we do. For so much in our world we need the wisdom of Solomon to try to discern the best way forward. God was pleased with Solomon because he asked for the understanding to discern what was right and this is surely what we need today.

Sometimes life is difficult to figure out and the things that we each face are a challenge. It is then that the knowledge that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ is very comforting. No matter how hard we struggle and no matter how complicated and difficult life can sometimes seem we can know that God's love is always there for us and nothing can separate us from it. Yet, it may not always feel like that because sometimes  what we face day in and day out challenges our assumptions and asks us to review what we think and why.

The parents of Charlie Gard plan to set up a foundation in his name with the rest of the crowdfunded money they raised for his treatment. They want to see something positive come out of his short life and I hope that, as well as bringing hope to others, it will also give them comfort. And I think that this describes well the task that we have today, as Christians, as we seek to live out our lives in the way that God would have us: we need to seek to live out the good things in our lives and like the fish in the parable to throw out the bad.

For many of us, though, defining good over bad is not always easy. That we should not murder, or hurt others, or steal seems obvious and - I dare to add - relatively easy and straightforward but there are issues which are much more nuanced and difficult to judge and clearly the moral and ethical ones of the type that Charlie Gard's life raised are some of those:

Who has the right to say who lives and who dies - and how - in a world in which we can increasingly keep people alive, when years ago they would have died. And if we keep them alive, how do we enable the National Health Service to pay for this. We need to ask the question whether we are each willing to pay for tax and National Insurance for these developments or, like those aged between 39-47 years old (who have been told this week that they must work longer before they can receive their state pension) are we left with no choice but to work longer because the pension age has increased?

Clearly the Bible does not offer straightforward answers to these questions but what it does do is give us principles, which can help us to work cut what we feel about such matters and how we, thus, should live.

After the 11am service this morning the Link group with our friends in Masvingo will meet and discuss together how best to take this link forward and how we deal with the request for money which they have sent. In comparison to us, many there have so much less than we do. Their lives seem more fragile because of that. Schooling is harder to get to and to afford and health care is often a very long walk away. Yet their faith and certainty in God seems to me to be much more alive and real than mine when I am there. Living with so much less somehow seems to make God more immediate and significant in everyday life.

Our  challenge here now today - it seems to me - is to see the things in our lives which like the pearl of great  price we need to give up in order for the Kingdom of God to flourish in our lives and in our community and world. In many of us the mustard seed of faith has been planted and what we need to do is to ensure that the tree that could grow is nurtured and watered such that our faith and our community can become welcoming and attractive to all.