The First Sunday after Trinity
14 June 2020
Genesis 18. 1 – 15 (21. 1 -7)
The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, ‘My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’ And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.’ Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
They said to him, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ Then one said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’ The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.’ But Sarah denied, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. He said, ‘Oh yes, you did laugh.’
The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Now Sarah said, ‘God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.’ And she said, ‘Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’
Romans 5. 1 – 8
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
Matthew. 9.35–10. 8
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’
Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.
the strength of all those who put their trust in you,
mercifully accept our prayers
and, because through the weakness of our mortal nature
we can do no good thing without you,
grant us the help of your grace,
that in the keeping of your commandments
we may please you both in will and deed;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
God of truth,
help us to keep your law of love
and to walk in ways of wisdom,
that we may find true life
in Jesus Christ your Son.
Sarah laughed. Tough old lady, Sarah. When she reached the menopause and it looked as if Abraham would have no descendants despite all the prophecies about them, she pushed her servant Hagar into Abraham's tent and said OK, if I can't have children, let's see if Hagar can.
Hagar could. Her son (and Abraham's) was called Ishmael, and God promised that he would be the father of a mighty nation. So when these three strangers turned up and told her old man that Sarah would have a son, Sarah laughed. She tried to hide it, but they knew she laughed. The last laugh, however, was as always with God, for Sarah found that despite all the obstacles, she was indeed with child.
Of course, the arrival of Isaac presented Sarah with a problem; what to do with Ishmael? In no time at all, she had him and his mother driven out into the wilderness, where they nearly died of thirst until God produced a miraculous oasis and Ishmael went on to become the ancestor of the Arab nation. The Jews got the promised land, while the Arabs got a desert. But at least it was a desert full of oil. God's gifts are not always immediately apparent.
So much for our chunk of the Old Testament.
Many of you will agree that one of the biggest problems in writing a sermon is tying the three readings together. The clever people who compiled the lectionary must have seen a link; but what on earth is the link? At first sight, the arrival of Abraham's three visitors seems to offer a link with the Trinity; but in the Old Testament everything that doesn't come in sevens, comes in threes. Any number of passages could have been chosen. And besides, there's no threefold stuff in the New Testament passages.
What there is in those passages, however, is the idea of a gift. God gave Abraham a son, and God as Jesus gave his life. While we were still sinners, says Saint Paul, Christ died for us. Sarah was, to say the least, no the most righteous of women, but God gave her a son. We are sinners, but God gives us his Son, his Grace, and his Spirit. That's a lot to be thankful for. Paul seems to be as astonished as Sarah was.
I expect the disciples were pretty astonished, too. Jesus gives them all these amazing powers. I'll bet they had lots of fun trying them out for the first few times. But what perhaps they didn't notice straight away was that as well as being supplied with gifts, they were themselves a gift. Jesus saw the crowds, 'harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd', and he had compassion for them and gave them the disciples, with their new powers, as a free and unconditional gift.
An then at the end, as in every good story, comes the punchline. 'You received without payment; give without payment'. I think this is crucial to an understanding of our Christian mission. Many of our church tasks are thankless tasks. Certainly, most of our church jobs are unpaid jobs. We would't dream of asking for payment, but sould we even expect thanks?
This, incidentally and completely unconnected with the First sunday after Trinity, is why I still nelieve in Santa Claus. God is a Spirit, the anthem tells us, and Santa is a spirit; the spirit of unconditional giving. The gifts of Santa are anonymous; it may be that Santa himself didn't choose or wrap the presents; but the label says 'from Santa Claus', so the person wh chose and wrapped the present is not asking for thanks; it's a pure gift which asks for no return.
When you give, don't ask for a return; not even for thanks. If you found a school, don't have your name put on it; that's not a gift, it's a transaction, a deal; I will do this thing if you will praise me. The pure gift is the anonymous gift. God gives us everything, and it is right to thank him; but when you pass his gifts on, ask nothing, nothing at all, in return. Then your gift will be pure.
You received without payment; give without payment