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Sermon for Sunday 2nd June

Sunday 2nd June 2024 Deuteronomy 5. 12-15

Psalm 81. 1-10

2 Corinthians 4. 5-12

Mark 2.23-3.6

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.

 

Occasionally I take mattins at St Thomas’s in the Cliffe.  If you’ve ever stepped inside that tiny church, you know what a peaceful and prayerful place it is.  Just like here at St Anne’s you’re aware that this is a place where people have sat in silence, prayed and worshipped for over a thousand years.  And every time I step back out into the Cliffe after our service I’m struck by the contrast between that timeless sense of being held close to God through the beauty of that ancient service and the Sunday morning crowds shopping, chatting, eating and drinking.  Everyone’s going about their Sunday business totally unaware of what we’ve been experiencing in church just a few feet away .  I always feel they’re missing out on something infinitely precious, that they too should be able to share that sense of the uplifting peace which comes with praying and worshipping in church, and asking in the words of the prayer book, for

‘Those things which are requisite and necessary, as well for the body as for the soul...’

As I’m cycling back through the Cliffe I sometimes get a deep sense of God as present in everything and everyone, whether they’re aware of it or not.     It’s a sense of deep contentment; a sense of the mystery that is God present in every aspect of creation, even amid all that shopping; that He’s present in the Sunday crowds as much as He’s in the calm of the church service…

 

That sense of Sunday as a time for experiencing the healing presence of God in everything and everyone seems to me to be present in our Gospel today. Mark shows Jesus Himself making us aware of God’s healing presence at work on and through the Sabbath.  In our reading from Deut. God commands us to keep the Sabbath as a day of rest; but this isn’t just resting in the sense of putting our feet up and having a snooze after a nice lunch- for Jesus the sabbath is a day to share with Him in the spiritual renewal that comes with resting, a spiritual renewal which is also healing and life enhancing.  The Sabbath as revealed to us by Jesus in Mark’s Gospel is a day on which we’re invited firstly to search for God and secondly a day for finding healing. The man with the withered hand who is healed is healed on the Sabbath; at one level the gospel presents this miracle as a showdown between Jesus and the Pharisees; ‘is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath’ is a question which infuriates his enemies, and they respond to his act of love with hatred, plotting to destroy Him. but there’s more to Jesus’s message to the Pharisees than this- Jesus is showing us that the Sabbath, our Sunday, is a day in the week when we can encounter God not as far away and remote, but as being at work in our own bodies and souls. We may not have a withered hand, but we may be withered in all sorts of other ways- perhaps we’ve got a little bit stale in how we think about  what we believe, perhaps our faith has withered up and needs the sort of renewal that comes to the man in the story through encountering God in Jesus.  All Jesus says to him is ‘come forward’ – here I’m reminded of  other invitations, such as when Jesus says ‘come and see’ in John chapter 1 or later, after the resurrection, when he invites the startled Disciples to ‘come and have breakfast’; inviting us to make a choice, a choice which means stepping out of the everyday and choosing to accept that Sabbath invitation to encounter God. When Jesus tells the man to ‘Stretch out your hand’ I think he’s offering us all an invitation to take part in the mystery of leaving the Pharisees world of earth-bound rules and regulations behind- to enter a world in which we are caught up in the mystery of creation through encountering Christ, and to find ourselves healed of whatever it is that is withered up within us. 

 

The Pharisees worldview can’t allow for such a mystery, for a love which breaks rules in order to love. Jesus demonstrates that we don’t need to be especially holy to experience that healing love. In fact, too much ‘holiness’ may well be an obstacle…His message to the Pharisees and to us is very clear- if you think you’ve worked out what it means to be holy and virtuous  then think again.  It’s a message of hope and healing for all those who feel broken, damaged and lost.  And that probably includes most of us! We’re all being invited to ‘stretch out our hand’ -to find God not in rules and regulations and strict religious observance, but simply in being ourselves-fragile clay jars which are easily broken.  Because the central mystery revealed in today’s readings is that whoever we are and however damaged we think we are, we carry within us the presence of a God who as Paul says ‘shines in our hearts’.  There is a profound and wonderful mystery here;  as living beings we may be afflicted in every way imaginable- physically and  mentally we may be as fragile as those clay jars, but as Paul tells the Corinthians it is the God of creation, the God who himself needs to rest on the seventh day, who shines in our hearts, who offers Himself to the world though what we say and think and do, independent of whether we’re aware of it or not! As Paul tells us,

‘This extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

 

In his poem Sabbaths Wendell Berry expresses what it means to experience this same power; to sense the sabbath as a moment in time when God, creator of everything,  comes to rest in us, the slightest of his works,

 

The sky

is gray. It begins in mist

almost at the ground

and rises forever. The trees

rise in silence almost

natural, but not quite,

almost eternal, but

not quite.


What more did I

think I wanted? Here is

what has always been.

Here is what will always

be. Even in me,

the Maker of all this

returns in rest, even

to the slightest of His works,

a yellow leaf slowly

falling, and is pleased.

 

May this Sunday be a moment in time when all of us feel able to sense God, the maker of all this, pleased to be at rest in us,

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Amen

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