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Wisdom, Trust and Humility

Patronal Festival, Sunday 30th July 2023, St Anne’s Lewes

1 Kings 3.5-12, Romans 8.26-end, Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52


Our Bible readings today are so rich that we could spend many Sundays exploring them. So I am going to pick just three themes from these readings and consider them in the context of our Patronal Festival.


Our starting point - as always on this Feast Day - is to remember that we know very little about Anne and her husband Joachim. They don't appear in the Bible and the earliest stories we have about them come from a second century manuscript called the First Gospel of James. Nevertheless, devotion to St Anne in particular became and has remained very strong in the Church worldwide, with many church buildings being dedicated to her from the sixth century onwards. The best way to understand her influence, it seems to me, is to catch her reflection in the character of her daughter, Mary.


The first theme I want to look at is wisdom. God offers the young King Solomon a gift of his own choosing, and he chooses wisdom. 'You have made your servant king although I am only a little child' he says. 'I do not know how to go out or come in. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind.' And we are told that it pleased the Lord that Solomon asked for this, rather than for riches or long life.


The young Mary was certainly wise beyond her years. After the initial terror when the angel visits her, in Luke's account she is remarkably calm and composed, asking sensible questions and accepting quietly that her world has been suddenly turned upside down. The secret to her wisdom, I think, lies in her reaction to the visit of the shepherds on the night her son is born. Luke tells us that she 'treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart'. Mary was a contemplative. Just yesterday I came across a lovely definition of contemplation from the Franciscan spiritual writer Richard Rohr: 'Contemplation is a panoramic, receptive awareness whereby we take in all that the situation, moment or person offers without judging, eliminating, or labelling anything. It is pure and positive gazing in which we move from being fear-driven to being love-drawn'.


Where did Mary learn to ponder things in her heart? Surely it would have been at her mother's knee. That is why I love the mysterious tortoise in our St Anne window, which looks up at Anne as she teaches the child Mary to read. It's a reminder that learning wisdom takes a lot of time and a lot of patience. It's a life- long quest, and it's never too late to ask God to help us in it. There are so many ways we can practise contemplation – reading the Bible slowly and prayerfully or coming along to the silent prayer gatherings here on a Tuesday evening are two examples. But simply going for a walk and keeping your eyes open can be just as transformative.


My second theme is trust, the conviction of God's faithfulness and loving purpose that Paul displays in today's marvellous passage from his letter to the Romans. 'I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.' This is the trust that Mary showed in her words to the angel, 'Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word'. Again, her parents must surely have been instrumental in rooting this conviction of God's goodness in the young Mary as she grew up.


Finally, there is humility- the recognition that the astonishing grace and power of God is often present in the ordinary and undramatic. In the kingdom of God, people and events that seem insignificant have great hidden potential, just as a tiny mustard seed becomes a huge tree and a pinch of yeast causes dough to rise.


I wonder if you can think of a seemingly insignificant event in your own life that unexpectedly became a turning point. I remember with immense gratitude my spiritual director, now many years dead, whose quiet word in the ear of a bishop opened up the possibility for me to be ordained.


What the various sources and legends about Anne and Joachim have in common is that they describe Mary's parents as a couple who lived simply and frugally. Two ordinary people, in other words, whom it would be easy to overlook. How startling, and yet how splendid, that the grandparents of Jesus should be people of no celebrity or social status.'God has exalted the humble and meek' as Mary sings in her great poem of joy, the Magnificat.


We have a patron saint to inspire us and to intercede for us. So I pray that we may be inspired by the wisdom, trust and humility that Mary learnt from her mother, Anne, to seek these things for ourselves. And we believe that, as we pray, Anne prays with us. She reminds us that our prayers are part of the great movement of the Holy Spirit, the energy of the kingdom of God in which all Christians, on earth and in heaven, are caught up. and though we may at times feel too weak or discouraged to pray, the Spirit always intercedes for us. As we join our prayers with those of our patron saint, may we be strengthened for all that lies before us in our walk with God, this week and always.

Amen.

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