6th September 

Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

 

Psalm 119: 33-40

 

33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes ♦

and I shall keep it to the end.

 

34 Give me understanding and I shall keep your law; ♦

I shall keep it with my whole heart.

 

35 Lead me in the path of your commandments, ♦

for therein is my delight.

 

36 Incline my heart to your testimonies ♦

and not to unjust gain. [R]

 

37 Turn away my eyes lest they gaze on vanities; ♦

O give me life in your ways.

 

38 Confirm to your servant your promise, ♦

which stands for all who fear you.

 

39 Turn away the reproach which I dread, ♦

because your judgements are good.

 

40 Behold, I long for your commandments; ♦

in your righteousness give me life. [R]

 

Refrain: My delight shall be in your commandments

 

 

Reading 1       

Ezekiel 33:7-11

 So you, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.  If I say to the wicked, “O wicked ones, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand.  But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life.

Now you, mortal, say to the house of Israel, Thus you have said: “Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?”  Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?

Reading 2    

Romans 13: 8-14

 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”  Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light;  let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy.  Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

 

 

 

Gospel reading    

Matthew 18:15-20

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Collect

Almighty God,

who called your Church to bear witness

that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself:

help us to proclaim the good news of your love,

that all who hear it may be drawn to you;

through him who was lifted up on the cross,

and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.

(or)

Almighty God,

you search us and know us:

may we rely on you in strength

and rest on you in weakness,

now and in all our days;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sermon

Mark Taylor

Give me understanding and I shall keep your law; ♦ I shall keep it with my whole heart.[1]

 

Last week Mary and I came across a new word.  Vranyo.  It is a Russian word that has a literary pedigree at least back to Dostoyevsky. It means to lie. A special kind of lie, a brazen one in which the liar knows that the recipient also knows it is a lie, but is not in a position to do anything about it. The lie, however unbelievable, is left standing. There is no English equivalent of vranyo.

In our public life at the moment there is more than enough vranyo.

Ezekiel is surrounded by prophets who know that the state of Israel is in deep trouble. Invasion by the Babylonians is at hand, but the people don't want to hear it, and the false prophetic voices, placating those with vested interests no doubt, suggest that it may all blow over or the predictions of catastrophe are set far into the future. Surely God won't allow it to happen. Not to worry. Vranyo!

Ezekiel has very disturbing visions about the real situation. He is addressed by God directly. 'Mortal!  (Nice to be reminded.) Tell the people exactly what is in store.  If they don't act on what you tell them that's their problem.  If you don't tell them precisely what I am telling them through you, my messenger, I am holding you to account'. Truth is on the line.

We all of us have a sense that truth exists. Truth, we can imagine, is fixed, dependable unchanging.  Unequivocally right. Liberating[2]

The problem is that for the best part of 3 millennia philosophers have not been able to prove anything to be true.  Logic depends on reasoned arguments.  Science deals in probability, testing observations against coincidence. It works by identifying  a falsehood, and so, little by little, dismissing a wrong assumption here, debunking a preconception there. Humankind emerges with a more reasoned mind set. But still no provable truth. That is far from surprising given that the observers in all this are human, and constrained by their history and context, and not least the way our brains work.  Aware of this, western society has of late been prepared to abandon any belief in truth.  Even the BBC for example appears more interested in balance of opinion than in facts.

It is theological thinking that says that truth is an absolute. Ultimately truth can only be a property of God the Eternal and unchanging creator himself and no other.

Knowing this should make us very wary of assuming that we are ever naturally in the right.  The  brief advice to churches put forward in today's gospel applies when someone has got it wrong. It is  a practical and very Jewish solution. First there is a gentle one-to-one approach seeking correction. If that fails, two or three witnesses are needed. This draws on Pharisaic/ Rabbinic legal practice.[3]  If that doesn't work, put the issue to the congregation as a whole.  And if that fails, what next?  Excommunication.  But with a twist.  'Let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector'. Written in about 80-90 AD, that is after the Roman sacking of Judea, and about the time when the Christians were thrown out of the synagogues, the gospel addressed a Jewish-based congregation that was reaching out to Gentiles. The excommunicated is not utterly cut off, the door stands open as for a Gentile to enter.  Another twist. This gospel by tradition is named after St Matthew, who was of course the tax collector disciple himself.  Offender can be welcomed back in.   'Turn back, turn back' we might hear Ezekiel saying.

Just as we have an idea about absolute truth and where it may be found, and how difficult it is to approach, so too the great ideal of love seems always partial in our animal-evolved human world.  And yet we can sense that love has a source that is perfect and lies beyond the human horizon. Too much for us to explore that in this short sermon. However, St Paul spells out these basics of the gospel message in his letter to the Romans. Basics, because he is writing to people whom he has not met and they don't know him.  For Paul, truth and love underpin relationships; our relationship with neighbours and with the Lord.  We receive truth and love by grace, not because we deserve it. Knowing that, he challenges the Romans and us with his sense of urgency. The night is far gone and the day is near, now is the moment  to wake from sleep.  We echo that expression in Morning Prayer every day: The night has passed and the day lies open before us. Let us pray with one heart and mind.

Daily we need to open our hearts and minds to the source of all truth and love, absolute truth, perfect love. part of the one heart and mind.  We need this because the world is changeable, partial and challenging. Left to our own devices we are fallible, malleable and vulnerable. Encouraging then for us to be with all those who over millennia know that, and have set out on the same journey as witnessed in the psalms:

Give me understanding and I shall keep your law; ♦ I shall keep it with my whole heart.

 

[1] Psalm 119: 34

[2] John 8. The truth will set you free.

[3] John 8, Jesus uses the idea of witnesses; when 2 or 3 are gathered together in my name........ The Pharisees reject Jesus because he speaks with single authority.