Canon Michael Rawson, Sub Dean and Canon Pastor
The sermon preached by the Sub Dean at Choral Evensong on the Second Sunday of Trinity
One of my guilty pleasures is watching the BBC television programme Fake or Fortune? Fiona Bruce teams up with art expert Philip Mould to investigate the stories behind intriguing works of art. Are they potentially priceless or excellent copies? Somebody will bring a painting they have bought or inherited which is purportedly by a famous artist and then there will be a series of meetings with forensic art specialists to establish the provenance and hopefully authenticity of the painting. Is it by the named artist or is it a very clever but worthless forgery?
Those of you who know our Retrochoir well might remember the picture of the Annunciation that hung in the Lady Chapel, depicting the Angel Gabriel visiting the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was by the renaissance master Filippo Lippi who painted it between 1449 and 1459. We didn’t need to take it to the Fake or Fortune experts to see if it was genuine because we knew it certainly wasn’t. The original hangs in the National Gallery and is well worth a visit. Our version used to hang in Pizza Express when they had a restaurant in the Cathedral and they gifted it to us. We have now replaced the picture with the conserved embroidered panels of the crucifixion which where originally designed for the chapel.
I loved celebrating the Eucharist at the Lady Chapel altar with the Annunciation because you could look close up at the detail of Gabriel who has the most amazing wings and the serene figure of Mary listening to his message. In the middle of them at the top of the painting was a small cloud with a hand pointing from heaven in blessing. It’s a beautiful image. It is the hand, or finger of God, that we hear about in our second lesson this afternoon.
Jesus is casting out a demon, surrounded by a great crowd including some of the religious leaders. They are watching every move and listening to every word that Jesus utters in order to trip him up and entrap him. If Jesus is casting out a demon then they say he must be in league with the demon. Jesus challenges them by saying that something divided against itself cannot stand and cannot survive. He is casting out demons by the finger of God, and showing that the kingdom of God is breaking through into everyday life situations. God is present in the midst of them doing this great work if only they will recognize it. The seemingly so insignificant finger of God has such power to transform.
Talking about satan and demons can seem rather alien to us in the 21st century and feels like it belongs to a very different time or to a Dan Brown film or novel. Jesus sees the reality of sin and the work of Satan being everything that is at odds with the Kingdom of God – is contrary to compassion, love and the healing grace of God. Satan is the personification of the one who makes us hurt others and ourselves and therefore inevitably God. So although we might not speak in terms of Satan and the work of the devil we can nonetheless recognize the things that are contrary to God’s ways in our world and in our lives: all that gets in the way of human flourishing and diminishes the human spirit.
How can we react to this? We celebrate in our faith that each and every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. We are God’s beloved children and as we see God’s likeness in those around us we show the respect and dignity to them that we would to Christ himself.
As we reflect on this scripture passage during the coming week perhaps we can think about what it means for us and humanity to be set free as the children of God and where the finger of God might be present in our lives and those around us.