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Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity 2023

Sunday 23rd July 2023, St Anne’s Lewes

Romans 8. 12-25

Matthew 13. 24-30, 36-43

I know you really come to Church to learn about the current new cinema releases. Fear not. Christopher Nolans Oppenheimer is at a cinema extremely near you right now. Unfortunately, I cant give you the first hot-off-the-press review, but I can assure you that any film by Christopher Nolan is well worth over three hours of your time. You thought the services were long in this church? Go and see Oppenheimer and learn about just how long your patience can be tested.

Nolan is one of a few directors who can be called a great artist of cinema. His films take time. They demand attention. Just like the greatest music, or a great novel, or worship, you cannot take in artistic work of the highest standard while doing something else. We are very enslaved today. We are enslaved to living with fragmented attention. Paul says today, For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. Just notice how enslaved you are to your thoughts. We keep being held captive by our thinking. Which is why love, worship and art are so important. They teach us that the most liberating thing we can do is turn away from the dreary self and pay attention to someone or something else.

Oppenheimer, of course, was the father of the atomic bomb. When he witnessed the first detonation of a nuclear weapon he famously quoted from the Bhagavad Gita, Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. This problem that we have, the destructive darkness inside us, this darkness we can give birth to. In our gospel a question is asked, Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from? He answered, An enemy has done this. The problem is that we are the creators of destruction, as the film Oppenheimer shows us. An enemy has done this. We are divided against ourselves. We look in the mirror and sometimes an enemy is looking back.

We are distracted, often we are unhappy in ourselves, restless. If we dont know how to direct our attention, we are ever more enslaved to ourselves. The Bhagavad Gita, from which Oppenheimer quoted, also counsels the need for attention. From wherever the mind wanders away, flitting unsteadily back and forth, one should direct it from that place… (26). The person you talk to whose eyes flit away from you, unable to give you the full gift of attention. If you do not attend, you cannot see. You cannot receive.

Today Paul says, for the creation was subjected to futility… in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. When we think of the threat of the atomic bomb, which cast such a shadow over us, we now think of the present threat of environmental degradation. The free market eventually eats its children. If we are slaves to the market, the creation will be subjected to futility. We do need to be set from captivity to free market ideology, we need to grow to a greater maturity. The modern world, the market, brought many great freedoms but if we are slaves to these freedoms, we shall damage ourselves and creation. The unbounded self is not free. It is captive. Just like the unbounded market.

But. But. We try. We learn. We struggle to grow. Its hard. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. We are not trapped. We are spiritual beings not permanent captives. When we cry, 'Abba! Father!' it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.

That freedom when you attend to somebody. That freedom when you give somebody the gift of your attentive love. That joy when your soul expands as it meets a wonderful work of art. You want to dive into the canvas or the cinema screen. That joy when you contemplate the natural world, so infinitely alive. That freedom when you turn from the chatter of the mind to the depths of the divine silence right at the centre of your being. Heres The Bhagavad Gita, one last time. The practitioner of yoga, constantly restraining the self, with evil vanished, reaches endless joy, easily touching Brahman (28). Brahman is the name for the creativity of the divine. The highest state. Abba. Father. The Godhead.

Jesus says, 'The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away' Jesus was a master psychologist. He did not believe in a Devil who snuck around doing bad things. He knew it was we who sowed weeds among the wheat. It was we who created the atomic bomb. It was we who have brough the climate to its crises. But we are not enslaved. Or rather we are enslaved but we are also free, free to turn, to give attention, to love, to transform. Constantly restraining the self.

Paul says, 'For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience'.


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