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The Third Sunday after Trinity
28 June 2020
Jeremiah 28. 5-9
Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord; and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. But listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.”
Romans 6, 12-end
Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments[a] of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Matthew 10, 40-end
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
you have broken the tyranny of sin
and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts
whereby we call you Father:
give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service,
that we and all creation may be brought
to the glorious liberty of the children of God;
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 our saviour,
look on this wounded world
in pity and in power;
hold us fast to your promises of peace
won for us by your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Revd. Marian Bond
“Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome”, so begins that catchy song from “Cabaret”. Just simply imagining the time when we might welcome folk from other countries, when we might even go to see a show may seem a far off dream! We could just imagine the welcome we might receive and the welcome we might long to give. The news that our churches may now be opened for public worship is welcome indeed.
For the past couple of years, I have been serving as a day chaplain at Norwich cathedral. For me, arriving each time to be greeted by the welcoming team was always good. We’d got to know each other. We wouldn’t chat for long though because their focus was always the stranger, the person who’d come, maybe just to have a look around, maybe to conduct some research for a project, perhaps as part of a school party or maybe simply to pray. Everyone was welcome. Some who came to pray may have come as part of a pilgrimage, maybe to see the window dedicated to Julian of Norwich who lived in Norwich at the time of the Black Death and who welcomed anyone who came to her for counsel.
Whether what she had to tell them was welcome news or not, we cannot say. We can only surmise that people felt comforted by her words, knowing, as we do, her well-known mantra, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
How we long for welcome news and to hear things that make us feel better. It was like that for the people in exile in Babylon, 600 years before Christ. They were given a stark choice between the messages given by two prophets. One was Jeremiah. The Lord had told Jeremiah to make himself a wooden yoke which he was to wear to symbolise the way that his people were, for the time being, to submit to the King of Babylon. What a strange figure he must have cut and what an unwelcome message he must have symbolised. The second prophet, Hananiah, prophesied that God would bring back all the precious vessels from the temple which King Nebuchadnezzar had taken to Babylon. Moreover, this would all happen within two years. How the people welcomed this prophecy!
How Jeremiah wished that Hananiah’s encouraging message was true! What a wonderful feeling to be welcomed as a messenger who brings good news! A sure test of Hananiah’s words would be whether peace would prevail. Sadly, Hananiah’s words did not come true without further suffering. The people and their precious vessels would not return to Jerusalem any time soon. Jeremiah had always believed that God was telling him that it was part of God’s plan that the people would be subject to the Babylonians for many years. This was not what people wanted to hear. Yet, Jeremiah was telling the unpalatable and unwelcome truth.
The only choice in the end was the uncomfortable one. There would be no quick fix. The people were indeed destined to suffer and to learn to live with being in exile before God would eventually bring them back home.
The way in which Paul explained the sequence of events through which Christians must pass follows a similar pattern. He was referring to the sequences of events which lead to baptism. I wonder how those early Christians in Rome received Paul’s letter? No doubt the letter was so welcome, when it arrived. How they must have been longing for some support and some guidance as to how they were to live. But when they actually listened to what he had to say, I wonder how they felt?
Could they really believe what he was saying? Was the message really welcome? After all, he was telling them that they would have to go through a long and hard period of heart-searching and change before they would experience true freedom? He was telling them that their old life-style had been so totally different from the life which Christ wanted them to live; it was as if they themselves had been slaves to sin. Sin had such a strong hold over them that they were virtually chained to it. He pressed home his argument by spelling out the consequences of being enthralled to sin which would lead to death. By phrasing this as the “wages” of sin, he was simply saying that you get what you deserve if you are a “slave” of sin. In contrast, and this message must surely have been welcome, if you have been freed from sin and have turned your allegiance to God, you receive the free gift of eternal life. In other words, you receive a wonderful gift, a gift which you didn’t deserve at all.
Choosing to turn away from sin and to turn to Christ is what those early Christians in Rome had just done through their baptism. It is what we still do when we are baptised! To be baptised as an adult, we declare that we have turned away from sin and have turned to Christ. If answering on behalf of a child, parents and godparents are asked those very questions.
I guess the question for us is this: do we live it? Do we live our lives with Christ as the One we follow or have other things crept in along the way?
Perhaps the test is in how we follow Jesus’ own directions. When Jesus says that whoever welcomes His followers in His name welcomes Him, are we aware, firstly, that we may be the followers He is talking about? Do we realise that we ourselves are responsible for representing Jesus? Does the way we live our lives truly represent Him?
Secondly, maybe other people whom we encounter are in fact embodying Jesus. Maybe there is someone we know who seems to be able to prophecy, in other words, to get to the heart of whatever is going on, perhaps to deliver some uncomfortable truths? How do we react to them? Do we welcome them or do we snub them?
And what about a righteous person? How would we react to such a person? I have heard it said that in some way we are all saints, though I find it hard to believe! However, there is some goodness in everyone. Do we perceive it? Would we welcome someone like that?
What form would our welcome take? Not surprisingly, Jesus concluded His thoughts on the importance of welcome by referring to basic Eastern hospitality. It was the usual thing to give a cup of cold water to travellers. To give one to any of his vulnerable followers, which he referred to as “little ones”, was just part of being a welcoming Christian. I shall always remember, years ago, when my husband was training for the London Marathon, how we had run out of water on a training run. I knocked at the door of Hollingbourne Vicarage and asked for water. And it was given with much delight and amusement. That drink of water was so very welcome.
During this lockdown, online sermons and services have been so very welcome! How welcoming it has been to be able to go in to some of our churches for private prayer. When we do eventually return to being able to join physically together in worship, let us not forget that it is that initial welcome which is so important. It is that which sets the tone for everything that follows. Let us remember Jesus’ words, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided,
urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way,
sought us and saved us, pardoned and provided:
Lord of the years, we bring our thanks today.
Lord, for that word, the word of life which fires us,
speaks to our hearts and sets our souls ablaze,
teaches and trains, rebukes us and inspires us:
Lord of the word, receive Your people's praise.
Lord, for our land in this our generation,
spirits oppressed by pleasure, wealth and care:
for young and old, for commonwealth and nation,
Lord of our land, be pleased to hear our prayer.
Lord, for our world when we disown and doubt him,
loveless in strength, and comfortless in pain,
hungry and helpless, lost indeed without him:
Lord of the world, we pray that Christ may reign.
Lord for ourselves; in living power remake us -
self on the cross and Christ upon the throne,
past put behind us, for the future take us:
Lord of our lives, to live for Christ alone.