Sermon for the Parish Eucharist at both the Barn Church and St Luke’s Kew on the Second Sunday after Trinity 13 June 2021 by the Revd Sister Margaret Anne ASSP
In our gospel reading from Mark today we have heard the account of Jesus telling his disciples two parables: the parable of the Growing Seed and the parable of the Mustard Seed. As always, his parables are given in order to reveal something of the nature of the Kingdom of God. Mark would clearly have expected his readers, or listeners, to have understood the first of these two parables, that of the Growing Seed, in the light of the more well-known parable earlier on in the same chapter, that of the parable of the Sower. The parable of the Sower at the beginning of chapter four in Mark is clearly significant: it appears in all three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. Here Jesus openly explains the meaning of the parable to his disciples. The focus is on the hallmarks of Christian discipleship. The seed sown by the sower is the word of God. At first some people gladly receive the word, but then fall away. Jesus goes on to explain in detail all the things that can cause people to fall away, such as the thorns of worldly cares and so on. Whereas the seed that falls on good ground represents those with honest and good hearts who hear the word and keep it: they put it into practice in their daily lives and bear fruit abundantly.
Jesus here at the end of the parable of the sower describes the true disciple who is not overcome by distractions and temptations, but perseveres and grows through such temptations in honest discipleship. And there is a challenge for us. Can we be like that? Let’s remember however that the parables of Jesus are above all about God and the Kingdom. The point is that the sower sows abundantly, in all directions, regardless, without discrimination. God’s loving gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ if for all, and God longs for all to respond. We may at times be distracted by the thorns of worldly cares, but in Christ’s strength and Christ’s alone we may persevere and bear fruit with patience, all to the glory of God.
But we are human and sometimes we fail. The reasons for falling away as described in the parable of the sower might be classically described in terms of that triad of “the world, the flesh and the devil”. Of these three aspects of temptation the sixteenth century Spanish mystic, religious and priest-poet St John of the Cross wrote:
“The world is the enemy least difficult to conquer, the devil is the hardest to understand, the flesh is the most tenacious”.
In order to overcome such temptations much patient endurance is required, and this will involve suffering.
So the parable of the Sower earlier on in chapter four of Mark’s gospel is the context for the two shorter parables we have as today’s gospel reading. Today’s parable of the Growing Seed explicitly acknowledges God’s initiative in making the kingdom grow. Here someone scatters seed and then goes to sleep. Meanwhile the seed sprouts and grows, without the sower knowing how. In the same way, God will use our small efforts to serve God and proclaim God’s love, going beyond even our greatest imaginings. We should not be too disheartened if our efforts seem to come to very little. God knows how to use even a little, and bring about great good.
The second of our two short parables for today, that of the Mustard Seed, emphasises that the growth of God’s kingdom is for the benefit of others. Just as birds will come and nest in the branches of the shrub when it is full grown, so others will be drawn to God’s kingdom by the efforts of those who go before them.
What is this Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaims so frequently in his teaching and preaching? A kingdom implies a rule. God’s rule, ultimately, is that of Love. God in Christ is continually reaching out to us and inviting us to share in that love that fills the Godhead. But sometimes we hesitate. This is beautifully expressed in a poem by the seventeenth century Anglican poet-priest George Herbert, entitled Love:
Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked anything.
“A guest”, I answered, “worthy to be here”.
Love said, “You shall be he”.
“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee”.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”
“Truth, Lord, but I have marred them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve”.
“And know you not”, says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve”.
“You must sit down”, says Love, “and taste my meat”.
So I did sit and eat.
We live in testing times. With the growing spread of new variants of the pandemic Covid 19 virus, we may need to wait some more weeks before further restrictions are eased in the current lockdown. The eyes of the world have been fixed these last few days on the G7 summit in Cornwall, at which the leaders of many of the wealthiest liberal democracies have been discussing matters of global importance. The Queen and members of the Royal Family were also involved. Whatever decisions are made, whatever actions taken, it is important that they are made, as Prince Charles said, for the good of the planet. And that they are made in love, that is, for the good of the other. As our collect for today puts it, God has taught us “that all our doings without love are nothing worth”. Today, as we gather in this eucharist in these unusual times, may we do so with love and expectancy in our hearts, and may we, at the Lord’s bidding, gladly “sit and eat”.
Distinguished and highly respected artist, Diana Armfield, has again in collaboration with Arts Richmond agreed to sponsor a Drawing Competition to encourage artists aged 16 years and upwards to draw from observation (i.e. from observing actual 3 dimensional forms and objects). It is in memory of her husband, Bernard Dunstan, another eminent artist, who sadly died recently at the age of 97. Both Diana and Bernard were well-known Royal Academicians for very many years and were members of prestigious Art Societies.
Arts Richmond is offering a prize of £250 to the winner, who will also be allowed to keep one of her beautiful framed drawings for a year.
Diana wishes to encourage artists to draw directly from life, not from photographs or by using devices or other means. The details of the competition are as follows:-
1.The drawing must be in monochrome in pen,pencil,ink or charcoal.
2.Each drawing must measure no more than 508 x 406mm (20″ x 16″)
3.All entries must be drawings from observation without the use of photographs. Entrants will be required to sign a statement to that effect.
4.Maximum of three drawings per person
5. Narrow mounts are permitted but not necessary. Each drawing and mount,if used,should have a thin cardboard backing and be covered in clear plastic as if it would go in a browser.
6.Please put a label on the back with your surname ,title and price if you would like to sell it.
7.Framed work not accepted or work on canvas.
8. All entrants must be 16 years of over.
9. One prize of £250 will be awarded to the winner. A further prize will be awarded to a runner up if there is a close contender.
10. A Panel of Judges will select the finalists.
11. Diana Armfield RA NEAC, will select the winner herself.
12. Deadline for entries is Monday 3rd July 2020
13. All drawings must be brought to ETNA Community Centre Arts Richmond Room 21 13 Rosslyn Road Twickenham TW1 2AR
Monday 21st June to Saturday 3rd July between 9.30am and 12.30pm
An Exhibition will be held at The Barn Church Kew, 41 Atwood Ave Richmond TW9 4HF Between 10th July to 18th July private view/prize giving Thursday TBC
It is open to everyone in the borough over the age of 16 years – if you or anyone you know wishes to enter, please get in touch with the Arts Richmond office for further details and an entry form.
Phone: 020 8892 9446
Thursday 10 June 2021 – 1pm – 2.15pm
Register now for our free online event to meet local charities that could be looking for someone
just like you
For more information visit:
Sermon for the 9.30am Parish Eucharist at the Barn Church Kew on the feast of Pentecost 23 May 2021 preached by the Revd Sister Margaret Anne ASSP
Today the Church keeps the great feast of Pentecost. The name Pentecost was first given in the Old Testament to the Jewish Feast of Weeks, which fell on the 50th day after the Passover. On this day of Pentecost the first fruits of the corn harvest were presented, and in later times the giving of the Law of Moses was commemorated. The New Testament had its parallel timings between great events that came to be celebrated as feasts. It was 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus that the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles, as described in the second chapter of Acts that we have had for our second reading today. So the name Pentecost was applied by the early Church to the feast celebrating this remarkable event, marking the birth of the Christian Church. In the Greek Pentecost simply means fiftieth. In the Old Testament the Feast of Pentecost or Weeks had marked the end of the celebration of the spring harvest. In the New Testament, Pentecost marks a harvesting of souls, the birthing of the new Christian community.
Although the feast we celebrate today may not nowadays be so firmly fixed in the popular mind as Christmas and Easter, yet it ranks with them both as part of that central triad of great high feasts upon which the Christian faith hinges. In the canons of the Church of England it states:
“It is the duty of all who have been confirmed to receive Holy Communion regularly, and especially at the festivals of Christmas, Easter and Whitsun or Pentecost”.
In the Old Testament book of the prophet Joel the second chapter focuses on a promise made by God; that at some no doubt distant point in the future God will pour out the Spirit on “all flesh”. When that happens the signs of the event will be that people will prophesy, dream dreams and see visions. This prophecy is fulfilled in our reading today from the second chapter of Acts. It is the day of the Jewish feast of Pentecost, and the disciples are gathered together in Jerusalem in one place to pray. Suddenly a sound like a rushing wind fills the house and flames as of fire rest on each of them; they are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin to speak in foreign languages, much to the amazement of the gathering crowds who hear them. The Jews who have returned to Jerusalem for the feast from many scattered and foreign places are astounded to hear these simple Galileans speaking in foreign languages. It is a highly significant moment. The tower of Babel of Genesis is reversed. Formerly at Babel communication had broken down in the diversifying of languages. Here – at Pentecost – the opposite happens. Those who before could not understand each other are now suddenly united in joyous mutual understanding. Former barriers to communication have fallen down. Harmony is restored. A palpable manifestation of the Spirit is at work. The event is startling, and it is Peter who realises what is happening. Peter claims that the prophecy of Joel has now been fulfilled. God at Pentecost has now begun the task of pouring out the Spirit on all flesh. Peter himself may have thought that it was literally the last days. Things always seem clearer with hindsight. The last times may well have been inaugurated, but from inauguration to completion is an ongoing process that takes time; from a human point of view, a very, very long time to unfold.
From a Christian perspective the Holy Spirit has manifold roles and activities. The very opening verses of the Bible, in the first chapter of Genesis, testify that the Spirit was at work at the beginning of creation – a “wind” from God – or the Spirit of God – “swept over the face of the waters”. In our reading today from the second chapter of Acts at Pentecost the Spirit breaks down barriers and unifies, bringing about new understanding between people. Above all, the gospels ( and indeed other parts of the Bible) teach us that as human beings we inhabit two worlds simultaneously: the ordinary every-day world of our human existence, and the Spirit-filled world of divine reality that is God. This divine reality can break into our every-day, time-bound consciousness at any moment, as it did for the disciples at Pentecost. Suddenly – in a moment – and through God’s activity at work within us and around us, all is changed. Just as the life of the imagination can be a bridge between our waking and our dreaming existence, between our conscious and our unconscious minds, so the Spirit also can act as a hinge for us between the material and non-material world. The Spirit can act upon us and open us to the divine reality, both when we are awake and when we are asleep. Often the Spirit uses a physical medium to open us up to the divine. This is of course how the sacraments work for us. The Spirit enlivens bread and wine, oil and water – in the eucharist, in anointing, in baptism.
It is the life and energy of the Spirit to transform us. From our reading of the New Testament we will be familiar with the gifts and fruits of the Spirit, and St Paul in his letters has lists of both. In his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12, he lists many spiritual gifts, such as wisdom, faith and healing. In his letter to the Galatians, chapter 5, he lists the fruits of the Spirit as “love, joy, peace” and so on. The gifts of the Spirit equip us for our Christian life and ministry; the fruits of the Spirit are those recognisable qualities that we grow into as we endeavour to lead more and more Christ-centred lives.
Christian art can help us in trying to understand the nature of the Spirit. Many of us will be familiar with artistic depictions of the Spirit as a dove. In paintings such as those of the Italian artist Fra Angelico the Spirit is painted as a dove appearing to Mary at the Annunciation of the conception of Jesus whom she will bear in her womb. She will give birth, the angel tells her, to the Son of God. There is a ceiling boss in stone in my Community’s chapel in Oxford of which I am particularly fond. It depicts the Trinity – God the Father holds the cross upon which Jesus hangs and a dove, representing the Spirit, rests on the cross-bar.
In our reading today from John’s gospel, the night before Jesus dies by crucifixion on Good Friday, Jesus in his Farewell Discourse to his disciples speaks many reassuring words of comfort to his followers, who will soon be bereft. He describes the Spirit as an “Advocate”, who will come to them and strengthen them. Another word for Advocate is Paraclete – literally meaning the one called alongside. It is a legal term. Jesus is saying that the Spirit is like a defence barrister, who speaks up on behalf of his client in a court of law, in order to defend the client from accusation, and to secure a verdict of innocence rather than guilt in the minds of the jury. The Spirit is totally there for us.
There are many ways in which we can use our imaginations to help us focus on what – or rather who – the Spirit is. Today’s great feast of Pentecost is especially a time when in our prayers we can ask the Spirit to fill us anew with the gifts and the fruits of the Spirit that St Paul so eloquently describes in his letters. The Creator, Jesus, the Spirit – these are the three faces of the one true God. Today let us particularly focus our hearts and minds on the outpouring of the Spirit in our lives – not just for our own sakes, but in order that others may also be drawn to this God of love who inspires our devotions and who calls us to ever deeper fellowship and communion. Let us be open to the enlivening power of the Spirit to transform us and enable us to be Christ-centred and expectant and ever alert to the needs of those around us, that God may be glorified.