Monday, 28 May 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 3 June 2018,
First Sunday after Trinity

‘But we have this treasure in clay jars’ (II Corinthians 4: 7) … clay jars on a window sill in Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday next, 3 June 2018, is the First Sunday after Trinity.

The readings in the Calendar of the Church of Ireland are: I Samuel 3: 1-10 [11-20]; Psalm 139: 1-5, 12-18; II Corinthians 4: 5-12; and Mark 2: 23 to 3: 6.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

The readings and other provisions can also be found as Proper 4B, when the Sunday between 29 May and 4 June comes after Trinity Sunday.

God’s counsels are ‘more in number than the sand’ … the beach as Ballybunion, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)


When it comes to preparing the readings for next Sunday, it should be noted that there are options for a shorter and longer version of the Old Testament reading, and that the numbering of the Psalm verses varies from those in the Revised Common Lectionary because of the differences in numbering the verses in the Revised Common Lectionary and in the translation of the Psalms in the Church of Ireland Book of Common Prayer.

We are in Ordinary Time, and while we number the Sundays ‘after Trinity,’ there is no season of Trinity, and this sequence of numbering continues for the next four or five months, until late October.

By coincidence, some feast days are going to fall on Sundays over the next few months, including the Birth of Saint John the Baptist (24 June) and Saint Mary Magdalene (22 July). Otherwise, however, there is no climax, no continuous theme, or no great celebration to make this ‘Ordinary Time’ in any way extraordinary.

Instead, the Lectionary encourages us to continue reflecting on the main themes in the Gospel readings. In Year B, that Gospel is the Gospel according to Saint Mark. However, with the exception of a few Sundays, we interrupted our readings from Saint Mark, drawing on Saint John’s Gospel for many of the Sundays in the seasons of Lent.

Next Sunday, we return to Saint Mark’s Gospel, and we are invited once again, to journey with Christ as he makes his way to Jerusalem.

Some of next Sunday’s readings challenge us to think about walking out of darkness into light, from oppression to freedom:

● Eli’s eyesight is growing dim, but ‘the lamp of God had not yet gone out,’ and in darkness God’s call comes to Samuel, not once but three times;

● The Psalm talks about God going before us and guarding us from behind even when we may not be aware of his presence;

● Saint Paul talks about light shining out of darkness, and contrasts our temporal concerns and inadequacies with the majesty of God and the way Christ can be made visible in our lives;

● The Gospel reading talks about the feeding and healing we experience in our lives when we rest in God.

‘The lamp of God had not yet gone out’ (I Samuel 3: 3) … the lights in a synagogue in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

I Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]:

We have already read this passage and the accompanying Psalm earlier this year, on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany (14 January 2018).

But the choice of this reading again for next Sunday begins a series of readings that follow Israel’s history after the settlement of the Promised Land. These begin with this story of the call of the boy Samuel, which lays the foundation of Samuel’s learning to recognise God’s voice and his call to prophetic ministry.

Along with the Psalm and the reading from II Corinthians, this reading asks us how we know who we are and what we are meant to be doing.

Samuel arrives at a troubled time when things were out of control, when ‘there was no king in Israel,’ and when everyone ‘did what was right in their own eyes’ (Judges 21: 25).

The boy Samuel is confused about who is calling him. He keeps thinking Eli is calling him. But his confusion does not keep Samuel from being willing, again and again, to respond to the call.

God’s call comes to Samuel, not once or twice, but three times, which may help us to recall what we have said about the Trinity in our sermons the previous Sunday.

How have you been called?

Have you shared the story of your call with your parish and your parishioners?

Eli plays such an important role in this story, helping Samuel understand what is happening to him. It is an essential role in ministry to have people who are willing to support, endorse, and guide people who are trying to discern a call from God.

‘You mark out my journeys and my resting place … you encompass me behind and before’ (Psalm 139: 2-4) … a lone walker on the beach at Laytown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Psalm 139: 1-5, 12-18:

Samuel’s call came long before his mother brought him to the Temple. The Psalm continues this theme: ‘O Lord, you have searched me out and known me’ (Psalm 139: 1), and reminds us that God calls us, even when we are in the womb (Psalm 139: 13-16), and that even the darkest places God’s care is with us.

Not only did God knit us together in our mother’s wombs, but this whole passage reads like we are in God’s womb, hemmed in by God behind and before.

Our life is in God’s womb, which is a peaceful and comforting thought. We cannot go where God is not, and God, in a sense, is also chasing after us, insisting on having a relationship with us.

God’s counsels are ‘more in number than the sand’ … the beach at Rossbeigh, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018; click on image for full-screen view)

The Psalmist says that God’s counsels are ‘more in number than the sand’ (Psalm 139: 18; 139: 17, NRSV), and if were to count them all we would still be in God’s presence. It is a majestic image of the scope of God’s presence.

In his 1980 bestseller, Cosmos, the astronomer Carl Sagan wrote that there are more stars in the heavens than all the grains of sands covering the world’s beaches. He calculated that a handful of sand contains about 10,000 separate grains.

But how many grains of sand cover the earth’s beaches?

Some years ago, researchers at the University of Hawaii tried to calculate this number by dividing the volume of an average sand grain by the volume of sand covering the Earth’s shorelines. The volume of sand was obtained by multiplying the length of the world’s beaches by their average width and depth. The number they calculated was seven quintillion five quadrillion (that is 7.5 followed by 17 zeros or 7.5 billion billion) grains of sand.

On top of this, astronomers now calculate that there are 10 stars for every grain of sand, 11 times the number of cups of water in all the Earth’s oceans, ten thousand times the number of wheat kernels that have ever been produced on Earth and 10 billion times the number of cells in a human being.

This is a staggering number: 70 sextillion (or 7 followed by 22 zeros or 70 thousand million million million) stars in the observable universe. And that is probably a very, very low estimate because the number of galaxies filling the Universe is thought to be much larger than those the Hubble can see.

We are ‘are always carrying in the body the death of Jesus’ (II Corinthians 4: 10) … a cross on the sandbanks above the beach in Laytown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

II Corinthians 4: 5-12

This short, poetic passage that makes up our New Testament reading next Sunday presents a synopsis of what life in Christ looks like. It is part of Saint Paul’s long apology or personal defence for his apostolic ministry against some of his detractors (see II Corinthians 2: 14 to 6: 10).

Saint Paul’s defence of himself is rooted in God’s promises, which are for everyone (see II Corinthians 1: 20 and 7: 1).

Here he points to his inner life in Christ which provides all the strength he needs in his ministry and mission, despite all the frustrations and difficulties he faces.

He seems to be saying that we are living in a new creation: ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ (verse 6), which is both the light of creation (see Genesis 1: 3) and the ‘light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (verse 7).

Just as humanity is created out of the clay (see Genesis 2: 7), we are ‘clay jars’ – cheap and fragile – but in those clay jars we hold that great treasure which is our life in Christ.

Saint Paul is being poetic when he speaks of how ‘we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed’ (II Corinthians 4: 8-12).

We do not need to be able to read or understand Greek to be able to see visually the poetic structure of these verses when they are laid out as poetry in a typographic rather than narrative presentation of the text:

ἐν παντὶ θλιβόμενοι
ἀλλ' οὐ στενοχωρούμενοι,
ἀλλ' οὐκ ἐξαπορούμενοι,

ἀλλ' οὐκ ἐγκαταλειπόμενοι,
ἀλλ' οὐκ ἀπολλύμενοι,

πάντοτε τὴν νέκρωσιν τοῦ Ἰησοῦ
ἐν τῷ σώματι περιφέροντες,
ἵνα καὶ ἡ ζωὴ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ
ἐν τῷ σώματι ἡμῶν φανερωθῇ.

ἀεὶ γὰρ ἡμεῖς οἱ ζῶντες
εἰς θάνατον παραδιδόμεθα διὰ Ἰησοῦν,
ἵνα καὶ ἡ ζωὴ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ φανερωθῇ
ἐν τῇ θνητῇ σαρκὶ ἡμῶν.

ὥστε ὁ θάνατος ἐν ἡμῖν ἐνεργεῖται,
ἡ δὲ ζωὴ ἐν ὑμῖν.

Here too Saint Paul is also drawing on language found in the psalms, prophets, and wisdom literature. He could also be appropriating traditions about the life of Christ that later influence the Gospel writers (for example, see Psalm 22: 1 and Mark 15: 34).

He is saying that all that distorts and spoils our created goodness dies in Christ and that Christ’s life is manifest as the flourishing of new creation in our lives.

‘As they made their way [through the grainfields] his disciples began to pluck heads of grain’ … grain fields near Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 2: 23 to 3: 6:

We return to reading Saint Mark’s Gospel on Sunday next with his accounts of two controversies that occur on the Sabbath: one in the grain fields (Mark 2: 23-28), and the second in a synagogue (Mark 3: 1-6).

These two scenes lay the foundation for the account in this Gospel of the conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities of the day, and they also set the stage for our readings from Saint Mark’s Gospel from now until mid-November and the Second Sunday before Advent [18 November 2018].

For convenience, I have divided these reflections on this Gospel passage into three sections: Mark 2: 23-28; 3: 1-5; and 3: 6.

‘He entered the house of God … and ate the bread of the Presence’ (Mark 2: 26) … 12 loaves of bread in two rows of six (see Leviticus 24: 5-9) depicted in a fresco in the 17th century Kupa Synagogue in the old Jewish quarter of Kazimierz in Kraków (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Part 1, Mark 2: 23-28:

The reading begins with the Greek telling us that Christ is bypassing the grainfields when the disciples make their way (ὁδός, hodos, verse 23) – the word used in Greek today for a street or road – through the fields. As long as they are plucking the heads of grain and not harvesting it, they are allowed to so this, and there is no question of any theft (see Deuteronomy 23: 24-25).

What concerns the Pharisees here is not theft, but that the disciples are gleaning on the Sabbath, and they challenge Christ about this. For the Pharisees, this behaviour appears to ignore the mandate to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy (see Exodus 20: 8; Deuteronomy 5: 12). Perhaps they thought the disciples could have prepared food the previous day to take with them.

Jesus disagrees, not because he is trivialising the laws about the Sabbath, but because he sees the Sabbath in a different light. He turns to a story about David, who is fleeing Saul who is plotting to kill him (see I Samuel 21: 1-6). David takes consecrated bread that was supposed to be part of the 12 loaves reserved for the priests (see Leviticus 24: 5-9) and feeds it to his followers who are on the journey with him.

By meeting the needs of David’s hunger, the priest sustains the life of a weary traveller and contributes to David’s quest to fulfil his calling to be the king anointed to replace Saul (see I Samuel 16: 1-13).

Why, in this story, does Jesus identify the priest who assists David as Abiathar? The account in I Samuel 16 names the priest as Ahimelech. Who is mistaken in this passage … Jesus? Saint Mark? An unknown and unidentifiable redactor?

There are details here that are not in the original story: David was not explicitly acting from hunger, and he does not enter the house of God to eat the bread of the presence.

I have read many attempts to reconcile this Gospel account and the story of David, most of them setting out with the premise that the ‘inerrancy’ and ‘infallibility’ of Scripture must be defended at all costs, without seeking to debate the literary genre found in this passage.

Perhaps Christ is displaying an ironic sense of humour here. He asks his protagonists: ‘Have you never read what David did … when Abiathar was high priest?’ (verses 25-26).

If they say no, they show they have not read this story; if they say yes, they show are not truly familiar with the details of the story?

Christ then offers a legal opinion derived from scripture itself. He argues that sometimes certain demands of the law are rightly set aside in favour of greater values or needs, especially when those needs involve someone’s well-being, and this can bring God’s blessings.

His argument is not novel at all and would not have been scandalous. He is restating Deuteronomy 5: 12-15, in which God institutes the sabbath so a people who were once slaves could forever enjoy rest. Rabbinic traditions from the time express similar opinions: ‘The Sabbath is given for you, not you to the Sabbath’ (b. Yoma 85b) and ‘Profane one Sabbath for a person’s sake, so that he may keep many Sabbaths’ (Rabbi Nathan).

The proper function of the sabbath is to promote life and to extol God as the liberator. The Pharisees understood this. Perhaps the more subtle cause of conflict is the conclusion that Christ is the heir to David and David’s calling, and his reference to the Son of Man as the κύριος (kyrios) or Lord of the Sabbath. This is a less-than-subtle claim, for the word κύριος (kyrios) is used at the time in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, to convey the very name of God.

Jesus is presenting himself on the Sabbath as no ordinary teacher or rabbi.

Part 2, Mark 3: 1-5:

The second part of the reading is set once again on the Sabbath, but this time in a synagogue. But even before the healing takes place, a debate begins. This debate is not about whether Christ has the right or the power to heal the man’s withered hand, or even whether it is appropriate for him to do this in a synagogue, but whether doing this on the Sabbath shows disdain for the law of God.

Of course, the man is not dying, although his hand was withered, and the act of healing could take place on any other day, indeed at any other venue.

Even before they speak, Christ’s response to his potential protagonists is once again to ask a question: ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ (verse 4).

If they say no, they show their ignorance of the law and the rabbinical tradition; if they say yes, how could they possibly disagree with what they know he is about to do?

Once again, irony and humour trump suspicion and disdain.

What better day is there than the Sabbath, a day meant to promote God’s commitment to humanity’s well-being, for the restoration of a man’s malformed hand, and in doing so to allow him to return to work with dignity, and to restore him to his full and rightful place in the community of faith that may have been denied to him?

This story is about wholeness and restoration, but it also contains a foretaste of the Resurrection.

Part 3, Mark 3: 6:

In neither scene does Jesus attack, let alone reject, traditional Judaism, the law or the Sabbath obsolete.

But after these two stories – and remember that we are only 79 verses into reading this Gospel – we are told that the Pharisees and Herodians conspire to destroy Jesus. It is an unusual and unexpected coalition between two very different groups.

In many ways, Saint Mark’s entire Gospel is a story of recurring controversy and confrontation with the hard-hearted that leads to the Cross. Saint Mark also has good news to announce: the in-breaking reign of God that is also a story of compassion and of lives that are transformed.

‘Let light shine out of darkness’ (II Corinthians 4: 6) … sunset on the beach at Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: Green.

The Collect of the Day:

the strength of all those who put their trust in you:
Mercifully accept our prayers
and, because through the weakness of our mortal nature
we can do no good thing without you, grant us the help of your grace,
that in the keeping of your commandments
we may please you, both in will and deed;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Eternal Father,
we thank you for nourishing us
with these heavenly gifts.
May our communion strengthen us in faith,
build us up in hope,
and make us grow in love;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.

For it is the God who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ who has shone in our hearts … darkness and light in the streets of Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Suggested hymns:

The hymns suggested for the First Sunday after Trinity in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling, include:

I Samuel 3: 1-10:

608, Be still and know that I am God
581, I, the Lord of sea and sky
589, Lord, speak to me that I may speak
624, Speak, Lord, in the stillness

Psalm 139: 1-5, 12-18:

51, Awake, my soul, and with the sun
567, Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go
226, It is a thing most wonderful
19, There is no moment of my life

II Corinthians 4: 5-12:

52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies
613, Eternal light, shine in my heart
324, God, whose almighty word
569, Hark, my soul, it is the Lord
96, Jesus is Lord! Creation’s voice proclaims it
195, Lord, the light of your love is shining
341, Spirit divine, attend our prayers

Mark 2: 23 to 3: 6:

74, First of the week and finest day
513, O Christ, the healer, we have come
104, O for a thousand tongues to sing
78, This is the day the Lord has made

‘The lamp of God had not yet gone out’ ... candles in the main church in Arkadi Monastery on Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

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