‘Creative responses in challenging times’ – 7th June 2020 – Trinity Sunday

The Readings

Isaiah 40.12-17, 27-end

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure,
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
Who has directed the spirit of the Lord,
or as his counsellor has instructed him?
Whom did he consult for his enlightenment,
and who taught him the path of justice?
Who taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding?
Even the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as dust on the scales;
see, he takes up the isles like fine dust.
Lebanon would not provide fuel enough,
nor are its animals enough for a burnt-offering.
All the nations are as nothing before him;
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God’?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Matthew 28.16-20

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

The Sermon
By Catherine, a Reader at St Mary's

Imagine you are someone from Israel or Judah a few centuries before the time of Jesus. Your land has been taken over, first by the Assyrians and then by the Babylonians. The Babylonians have destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, and have carted anyone from the higher classes of society off to Babylon. Perhaps you are one of those now in Babylon. Or perhaps your group managed to escape and you are one of the many scattered peoples hiding throughout the Middle East. Either way, your situation is one of exile. You are far from home, your home has gone. Your life is dictated by the whims of nations and peoples stronger than yours. Perhaps it feels as though your God has deserted you and that the gods of the surrounding nations have the upper hand. You despair that life will never improve. This is the situation that Chapter 40 of Isaiah is addressing.

How does Isaiah do this?

He uses poetry. Beautiful poetry. In the first poem that forms today’s reading, he asks rhetorical questions: Who measured the waters in his hand and marked off the heavens? Who weighed the mountains and hills? Who directed his spirit and taught him wisdom and understanding? It’s a poem of respect and awe for God the creator. It notes just how tiny each individual nation is, how tiny their worship efforts. God is great. Humanity is small in the grand scheme of things.

Then the second of today’s poems addresses the suffering Hebrew people directly – why do they think God can’t see them? Have they forgotten that God is everlasting, the creator of everything, to the ends of the earth? God doesn’t get tired or weak, and he gives power to all who are powerless. The people are encouraged to have faith, keep waiting for God and they shall be renewed.

Imagine now that you are one of the earliest Jewish Christians, living, maybe in Antioch, Syria, about 40 years after Jesus died. Everywhere in the region has been taken over by the Romans. Things are politically volatile, and indeed the Jerusalem temple will soon be destroyed by the Romans. You have come into conflict with the religious authorities, and have become estranged from non-Messianic Judaism. You are trying to preach the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and the Kingdom of Heaven, but are meeting dangerous opposition. Some of your number are being imprisoned or even killed for their faith. Perhaps you are beginning to wonder if God has deserted you. You despair of life ever improving. This is the situation Matthew’s Gospel is addressing.

How does Matthew do this?

He tells stories. Stories about Jesus and his disciples. And in his final story, he tells of when Jesus met physically with his disciples one last time. Matthew reminds readers that there are now 11 of them – Judas’ betrayal means that they are no longer the ideal 12 that started out. He also notes that they are far from perfect in their faith. Their faith has been turned upside down by the events of Holy Week and Easter. They worship Jesus on the mountain, but some doubt. A very human reaction. But Matthew tells that despite all this, Jesus instructs this imperfect and wobbly group of disciples that they are to go out into the world. They are to share the good news everywhere, baptise new believers in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teach them how to life as his disciples. And he then reminds them that he is with them always to the very end of time. Matthew tells this story of how Jesus encouraged his first disciples. And in doing so, he encourages the disciples of his own, slightly later, community to keep going with the task, however difficult they may find it. Jesus is with them too, until the end of time.

Imagine, finally, that you are someone from today’s world. Perhaps you’re one of many protesters following the appalling death of George Floyd, always on the alert yourself because you too experience frequent racism. Perhaps you’re in Hong Kong, worried about the increasing powers being exercised by China. Perhaps you’re in Brazil, alarmed at the spread of the coronavirus. Perhaps you’re in one of the world’s many refugee camps or war-stricken areas, struggling to get by even before the virus reaches your community. Perhaps you are a British MP, worried about the risks of meeting to vote in person. Perhaps you are a parent or teacher worried about re-opening schools too quickly. In the face of any one of these situations, it is easy to feel powerless; threatened by the actions of others who have control. Those with a faith might start to ask “Where is God?” Just some of the situations God’s people need to address today.

How might we do this? Can we gain any insights from Isaiah and Matthew?

Note that Isaiah and Matthew respond creatively. Isaiah writes poems and Matthew tells stories. They use creativity to catch their audience’s imagination and attention. But creativity doesn’t stop there. The past few weeks have shown a myriad of different ways in which ordinary people have acted creatively, through art, comedy, video, music and sheer determination to support each other and build up community.

Secondly, Isaiah and Matthew acknowledge that people, even people of faith, are imperfect. They sometimes have doubts about God’s power. They sometimes doubt if he is even there. That is just as true now. But God loves and accepts us anyway, and calls us to continue to serve him.

Finally Isaiah and Matthew stress that God is indeed there, with his people always, giving them the strength to go on, and the job of continuing his work throughout the world and to the end of time. And that message holds just as strongly for us today.

The Prayers
Adapted from Common Worship: Times and Seasons, copyright The Archbishops' Council 2006

We come boldly to the throne of grace,
praying to the almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
for mercy and grace.
We intercede before your throne in heaven.

Father of heaven, whose love profound
a ransom for our souls has found:
We pray for the world, created by your love,
for its nations and governments, remembering especially at this time
the people of the United States of America and Hong Kong
Extend to them your peace, love, mercy and grace.
We intercede before your throne in heaven.

Almighty Son, incarnate Word,
our Prophet, Priest, Redeemer, Lord:
We pray for the Church, created for your glory,
for its ministry to reflect those works of yours,
We pray especially as it seeks to be your Church
in this time of change.
Extend to us your salvation, growth, mercy and grace.
We intercede before your throne in heaven.

Eternal Spirit, by whose breath
the soul is raised from sin and death:
We pray for families and individuals, created in your image,
for the lonely, the bereaved, the sick and the dying.
Breathe on them the breath of life
and bring them to your mercy and grace.
We intercede before your throne in heaven.

Thrice holy! Father, Spirit, Son,
Mysterious Godhead, Three in One:
We pray for ourselves,
for your Church, for all whom we remember before you.
Bring us all to bow before your throne in heaven,
to receive life and pardon, mercy and grace for all eternity,
as we worship you, saying,
Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.