Monday, 25 June 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 1 July 2018,
Fifth Sunday after Trinity

‘The Daughter of Jairus’ by James Tissot (1836-1902)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday next, 1 July 2018, is the Fifth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity V).

The appointed readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for Trinity V as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland are:

Continuous readings: II Samuel 1: 1, 17-27; Psalm 130; II Corinthians 8: 7-15; and Mark 5: 21-43.

Paired readings: Wisdom 1: 13-15, 2: 23-24; Psalm 30; II Corinthians 8: 7-15; and Mark 5: 21-43.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

II Samuel 1: 1, 17-27

The phrase ‘How the mighty have fallen’ occurs three times in the Old Testament reading.

Immediately before this reading, the story is told (I Samuel 31: 1-13) of a battle against the Philistines on Mount Gilboa, near the Sea of Galilee. This time, the Philistines defeat the Israelites, led by Saul.

Saul’s son and heir, Jonathan, is killed in battle, and Saul is so badly wounded that he takes his own life. Meanwhile, David has returned from defeating the Amalekites (verse 1), a nomadic tribe in the southern deserts, to Ziklag (near Gaza).

A different account of Saul’s death is given by an Amalekite (II Samuel 2: 2-16). He comes to David, saying that he has escaped from the battlefield after killing the gravely injured Saul, at Saul’s own request. He brings Saul’s crown to David, his lord. David and his troops mourn the loss of Saul and his son, and Israel’s defeat.

Because the Amalekite did not fear to kill ‘the Lord’s anointed’ (verse 14), David has him killed. The way is now open for David’s ascension to the throne.

What follows (verses 18-27) is a commemorative poem for Saul and Jonathan.

Psalm 130:

Psalm 130 is a prayer for deliverance from personal trouble, but it ends with a message to all people.

The depths are the chaotic waters, separation from God – as in Jonah’s prayer from the stomach of the great fish (Jonah 2: 2). May God be attentive to my pleas. God forgives, so he shall be revered. If God were to record all our misdeeds, how could anyone face him? He is merciful by nature, so I eagerly await his help, his word, a prophecy from him. I wait as do watchmen guarding a town from enemy attack.

Perhaps the psalmist has now received a prophecy of salvation which he tells to all: wait in hope for God, he offers unfailing love and freedom from grievous sin.

The south porch in the Byzantine the Church of the Panagia Acheiropoietos in Thessaloniki … Saint Paul reminds the Church in Corinth that the churches in Macedonia have contributed generously to the needs of the Church in Jerusalem (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

II Corinthians 8: 7-15

The Church in Jerusalem is in financial need once again. Christians at Corinth began collecting funds for them the previous year, but they appear to have stopped this, perhaps because of their internal disagreements referred to earlier in this epistle.

Meanwhile, the churches of Macedonia – in Philippi, Thessaloniki and Beroea – have contributed beyond measure to the Church in Jerusalem.

The Christians at Corinth were quarrelsome and divided, but meanwhile the churches in the Macedonian cities have been earnest in giving, putting their words and beliefs into action.

The great example of self-giving is Christ, who was rich being equal to the Father, but became poor or human for our sake.

Christ healing the woman in the crowd … a modern Orthodox icon

Mark 5: 21-43:

This Gospel reading (Mark 5: 21-43) tells the stories of how Christ responds to the plight of two very different people: a young girl is on her deathbed, and a woman who has been suffering for the previous 12 years, as long if not longer than the young girl has lived.

Both of them remain unnamed, like so many women in the New Testament.

One is the daughter of a leading male figure in the synagogue. But religious position and social status in the local community are of precious little value when a small girl is struck down with a death-threatening illness or disease.

In both cases, hope has run out for a little girl and for an old woman. In restoring their health, Christ teaches what faith means, Christ offers new hope, and Christ shows what love is.

In both cases these women are ritually unclean … a bleeding woman, a dying or dead women. Jesus should not touch them. Yet their plight touches the heart of Jesus, and he reaches out to them with a healing touch.

One young woman is restored to her place in her family and in her community. One older woman, who has lost everything, who is at risk of being marginalised even by the Disciples, is offered the hope of her proper place.

Reflecting on the Gospel reading

In this Gospel passage, there is a large cast of dramatis personae … of people who receive the gentle, caring, loving pastoral attention of Christ in equal measure, each within the list of people we are told should be our priority:

The crowd who gather around Jesus by the lake are going to learn what the Kingdom of God is like not through another sermon or another lecture, but by seeing what Jesus does. After the episodes in this Gospel reading, would each and every one of them been happy to wear one of those wristbands with the initials ‘WWJD’ – ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ If they looked at our actions for an example of Christian lifestyle, would they know what Jesus does?

Jairus is a respected provincial leader of the day. He shows what true worship is when he throws himself at the feet of Jesus. He prays, entreats, begs, not on behalf of himself, but on behalf of a sick and dying girl. If we were to look at ourselves today, would we see ourselves placing our lives at the feet of Christ and making our first priorities the needs of others who cannot speak for themselves?

By now the large crowd is pressing in on Jesus. They really want to see what he is about, what the Christian lifestyle is about. And who becomes the focus of attention within this crowd?

Too often in a crowd, it is those who get to the front first, who have the loudest voices, who are heard, whose demands are met.

But in this case, though, it is not the loud and the proud, the rich or the famous, who grab the attention of Christ – it is a weak, timid, neglected impoverished, exploited and sick woman. All her money has gone on quacks, and she has no man to speak up for her.

But look at what Christ does for her. Without knowing it, he heals her. And when he realises what has happened, he calls her ‘Daughter.’

In a society where men had the only voices, where to have a full place in society was to be known as a Son of Israel, she is called ‘Daughter.’ She too has a full and equal place in society, she is commended for her faith, she is restored personally and communally, she is offered healing, and she is also offered peace. From now on she can be at one with herself, with her society, with the world and with God.

But perhaps there was a danger that all this could become a sideshow for the crowd. Poor Jairus appears to have been forgotten. His household – perhaps religious and community leaders too – tell him to give up on Christ. The girl is dead. Was Christ only worth what he could do for their inner circle? If so, why bother with him any further?

Christ does not want to put on a show, either to impress the pressing crowd or to prove wrong the inner circle around Jairus. Instead, with just his three closest friends – Peter, James and John … the three disciples who would soon witness the Transfiguration – he goes directly to the house of the dying girl, where her family and neighbours are in the greatest distress.

It is shocking that when she dies the first reaction of some of the key local figures is to upbraid her father for seeking whatever help he can find for his daughter, and not to offer him comfort and sympathy. We can see that in his despair this man was finding no hope from his own community.

Their lack of compassion and sympathy contrasts sharply with the compassion Christ shows for the woman who has been suffering for 12 years. She has spent all her money with consultants and doctors and specialists. None of them has been able to offer a cure, and now that all her money has run out all her hope has run out too. It is all compounded by the fact that she is ritually unclean … no man should come near her.

Even as he was being told not to bother coming, even when he was being laughed at, Christ keeps focussed on who is important here – not those who shout the loudest and who press their demands.

Twelve-year-olds have no say and no voice and no power. But Jesus now offers her new life, new hope, a new future, a full place in society. When Jesus was her age, he was in the Temple. Now she is walking with her God.

In the middle of the story of Jairus’s daughter, Christ uses the word daughter to describe a woman who has no man to speak up for her, presumably a widow who has lost her money, her status and her place in society, lost being considered a Daughter of God along with the other children of God.

Good news for women?

Three years ago, at the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (the United Society Partners in the Gospel) in High Leigh, Hertfordshire, I heard powerful and engaging stories of how projects supported by USPG are empowering women from these islands to South Africa, from the West Indies and West Africa to India and Pakistan.

Canon Delene Mark, from the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, gave harrowing accounts of gender-based violence, people trafficking, child murder and forced prostitution, all being challenged by her group, Hope for Africa.

Sheba Sultan, from the Church of Pakistan, describing the varied lives of women in Pakistan, from tribal people with few resources and many restrictions, to the elite women who have lives of luxury but find cultural values also stop them from living life to the full.

She reminded us of the assassinated prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, who had said women in Pakistan cannot achieve anything without tackling bigotry and intolerance, and of the story of Malala Yousafzai, the activist for women’s education and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace laureate.

Anjun Anwar, a Muslim woman born in Pakistan, spoke way beyond her experiences on the staff of Blackburn Cathedral.

We heard in a Bible study with the Revd Dr Monodeep Daniel of the work of the Delhi Brotherhood in challenging gender-based violence, including rape and murder.

Deaconess Dr Rachele Evie Vernon spoke of women challenging injustice and violence in Jamaica and in Liberia.

The Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes from Durham talked about gender justice, which is much wider than ending gender-based violence. She shared a vision of equality for men and women who are created equally in the image and likeness of God, who are made one in Christ, who are called and equipped by the Holy Spirit, and who live with the promise of abundant life for all.

Canon Andi Hofbauer of Wakefield Cathedral put careful thought and joy into the way she led us in worship each day.

We were challenged each day that week to ask ourselves: how is the Gospel good news for women?

Speaker after speaker insisted it is only Good News – but only if we read it, accept its consequences for us, and then live it out.

These stories came in the same week that we celebrated Saint Mary Magdalene [22 July], the first witness to the Resurrection, and in the week Rachel Treweek was being consecrated Bishop of Gloucester in Canterbury Cathedral.

The Gospel is Good News for the two women in our Gospel reading next Sunday: they are at opposite ends of the scale in terms of both social status and age. Yet one does not come before the other. Christ has equal compassion for both, and restores them to full life, physically, spiritually and socially, despite objections from men on the scene – the privileged men who have access to the house of Jairus, or the men around Christ who find that a poor, old sick woman is embarrassing.

The Gospel is Good News for women like these two women. But only if we read it and then put it into practice.

Mark 5: 21-43:

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ 24 So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ 29 Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ 31 And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ 32 He looked all round to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

‘Christ raises the daughter of Jairus’ (left), in the Hardman window by JH Powell at the west end of the nave in Saint Nicholas Church, Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical resources:

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty and everlasting God,
by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church
is governed and sanctified:
Hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people,
that in their vocation and ministry
they may serve you in holiness and truth
to the glory of your name;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Holy and blessed God,
as you give us the body and blood of your Son,
guide us with your Holy Spirit,
that we may honour you not only with our lips
but also with our lives;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Suggested hymns:

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

II Samuel 1: 1, 17-27:

592, O Love that wilt not let me go

Psalm 130:

564, Deus meus adiuva me (O my God, in help draw near)
620, O Lord, hear my prayer
9, There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
627, What a friend we have in Jesus

Wisdom 1: 13-15; 2: 23-24:

425, Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts
49, Lord, bring the day to pass
59, New every morning is the love

Psalm 30:

554, Lord Jesus, think on me
592, O Love that wilt not let me go
196, O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness
528, The Church’s one foundation

II Corinthians 8: 7-15:

352, Give thanks with a grateful heart
168, Lord, you were rich beyond all splendour
177, Once in royal David’s city (verses 1, 2, 6)
114, Thou didst leave thy throne and thy kingly crown

Mark 5: 21-43:

511, Father of mercy, God of consolation
455, Go forth for God, go forth to the world in peace
211, Immortal love for ever full
513, O Christ, the healer, we have come
104, O for a thousand tongues to sing

The Mayer window in Saint Nicholas Church, Adare, Co Limerick, depicting the three virtues (from left): Faith, Charity and Hope (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 24 June 2018,
Trinity IV and the Birth
of Saint John the Baptist

‘I líonta Dé go gcastar sinn, May we meet in God’s nets’ … a modern stained-glass window in Saint Maur’s Church, Rush (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday next, 24 June 2018, is the Fourth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity IV), and also the Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist.

The appointed readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for Trinity IV as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland are:

Continuous readings: I Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23) 32-49; Psalm 9: 9-20, Psalm 133; II Corinthians 6: 1-13; and Mark 4: 35-41.

Paired readings: Job 38: 1-11; Psalm 107: 1-3, 23-32; II Corinthians 6: 1-13; and Mark 4: 35-41.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

The appointed readings for the Feast of Saint John the Baptist in the Revised Common Lectionary as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland are:

Isaiah 40: 1-11; Psalm 85: 7-13; Acts 13: 14b-26 or Galatians 3: 23-29; Luke 1: 57-66, 80.

This posting is divided into two sections. The first section focuses on the readings for Trinity IV, and the accompanying liturgical resources and suggested hymns; the second section looks briefly at the readings for the Feast of Saint John the Baptist, and the accompanying liturgical resources and suggested hymns.

Part 1: Trinity IV:

Reflecting on the readings:

Villiers School, Limerick … the venue for the diocesan synod next Saturday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

For those of us who are preaching next Sunday, we will be speaking in parishes immediately after the Diocesan Synod (Saturday 23 June 2018). We may have discussed dreams for the future of the diocese. But those discussions may be a mixture of dreams and anxieties for some people and for some parishes in this diocese.

What are your dreams?

What are your worst nightmares?

As we grow up and mature, we tend to have fewer fears of the outside world, and as adults we begin to cope with the fears we once had as children, by turning threats into opportunities.

The fears I had as a child – of snakes, of the wind, of storms at sea, of thunder and lightning – are no longer the stuff of recurring nightmares they were as a child – I have learned to be cautious, to be sensible and to keep my distance, and to be in awe of God’s creation.

But most of us have recurring dreams that are vivid and that have themes that keep repeating themselves. They fall into a number of genres, and you will be relieved to know if you suffer from them that most psychotherapists identify a number of these types of dreams that most of us deal with in our sleep at various stages in adult life.

They include dreams about:

● Drowning.

● Finding myself unprepared for a major function or event, whether it is social or work-related.

● Flying or floating in the air, but then falling suddenly.

● Being caught naked in public.

● Missing a train or a bus or a plane.

● Caught in loos or lifts that do not work, or overwork themselves.

● Calling out in a crowd but failing to vocalise my scream or not being heard in the crowd or recognised.

● Falling, falling into an abyss.

There are others. But in sleep the brain can act as a filter or filing cabinet, helping us to process, deal with and put aside what we have found difficult to understand in our waking hours, or to try to find ways of dealing with our lack of confidence, feelings of inadequacy, with the ways we confuse gaining attention with receiving love, or with our needs to be accepted, affirmed and loved.

In the principal Old Testament reading for next Sunday, Saul lives in fear and is haunted by his dreams (I Samuel 17: 10-12), while David overcomes his greatest fear by facing it in the person of Goliath (verse 32-49).

In the epistle reading (II Corinthians 6: 1-13), Saint Paul takes courage and faces his greatest fears, including ‘sleepless nights,’ and speaks frankly with an open heart (verses 11-13).

The plight of the disciples in the Gospel reading (Mark 4: 35-41) seems to be the working out of a constant, recurring, vivid dream of the type that many of us experience at some stage: the feelings of drowning, floating and falling suddenly, being in a crowd and yet alone, calling out and not being heard, or not being recognised for who we are.

Yet, the disciples are seasoned fishers and sailors, and they know the real dangers of sudden storms and swells that can blow up on a lake and they know the safety of a good boat, as long as it has a good crew.

Christ is asleep in the boat when a great gale rises, the waves beat the side of the boat, and it is soon swamped by the waters.

Christ seems oblivious to the calamity that is unfolding around him and to the fear of the disciples. They have to wake him, and by then they fear they are perishing.

Christ wakes, rebukes the wind, calm descends on the sea, and Christ challenges those on the boat: ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ (verse 40).

Instead of being calmed, they are now filled with awe. Do they recognise Christ for who he truly is? They ask one another: ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ (verse 31).

Was the storm on the water an illusion?

Was the fear in the disciples the product of over-worked minds while they too were sleeping?

Did they not fully realise the powers of Christ and who he truly is?

Did the wind cease when they too woke from their dreams?

All of these questions are over-analytical and fail to deal with the real encounter that takes place.

Even before the Resurrection, Christ tells the disciples not to be afraid, a constant theme in the post-resurrection accounts.

Do those in the boat begin to ask truly who Christ is because he has calmed the storm or because he has calmed their fears?

In our epistle reading, Saint Paul almost chides us for these questions, reminding us that we too can have a variety of experiences that help us to grow in faith (see II Corinthians 6: 1-13).

An icon of the Church as a boat, including Christ, the Apostles and the Church Fathers (Icon: Deacon Matthew Garrett,

Since the early history of the Church, the boat has symbolised the Church.

The bark (barque or barchetta) symbolises the Church tossed on the sea of disbelief, worldliness, and persecution but finally reaching safe harbour. Part of the imagery comes from the ark saving Noah’s family during the Flood (I Peter 3: 20-21). Christ protects Peter’s boat and the Disciples on the stormy Sea of Galilee (see also Matthew 14: 22-33; John 6 16-21). The mast forms the shape of the Cross.

It is an image that appears in Apostolic Constitutions and the writings of Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria. We still retain the word nave for the main part of the church, which, architecturally often looks like an up-turned boat.

So, I am not suggesting that on Sunday morning next any of us should encourage playing stupidly in boats in choppy waters or storms.

But if we are to dream dreams for our parish, the diocese, for the Church, for the Kingdom of God, we need to be aware that it comes at the risk of feeling we are being marginalised by those we see as brothers and sisters, and risk being seen as dreamers rather than people of action by others: for our dreams may be their nightmares.

If we are going to dream dreams for our parish, for the diocese, for the Church, for the Kingdom of God, we may need to step out of our safety zones, our comfort zones, and know that this comes with a risk warning.

And if we are going to dream dreams for our parish, for the Church, for the diocese, for the Kingdom of God, we need to keep our eyes focussed on Christ, and to know that the Church is there to bring us on that journey.

Let us dream dreams, take risks for the Kingdom of God, step outside the box, but let us keep our eyes on Christ and remember that the boat, the Church, is essential for our journey, and let us continue to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

The sails of a boat and the shape of the cross in the harbour at Collioure in the south of France (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Mark 4: 35-41

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’

‘ … they took him with them in the boat, just as he was’ (Mark 4: 36) … boats in the small harbour at Georgioupoli in Crete last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical resources:

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect of the Day:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you,
without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy:
Increase and multiply upon us your mercy;
that with you as our ruler and guide,
we may so pass through things temporal
that we finally lose not the things eternal:
Grant this, heavenly Father,
for Jesus Christ's sake, our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Eternal God,
comfort of the afflicted and healer of the broken,
you have fed us at the table of life and hope.
Teach us the ways of gentleness and peace,
that all the world may acknowledge
the kingdom of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Suggested hymns:

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

I Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49:

643, Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
566, Fight the good fight with all thy might
668, God is our fortress and our rock
593, O Jesus, I have promised
487, Soldiers of Christ, arise
488, Stand up, stand up for Jesus
662, Those who would valour see (He who would valiant be)
372, Through all the changing scenes of life

Job 38: 1-11:

612, Eternal Father, strong to save
581, I, the Lord of sea and sky
95, Jesu, priceless treasure
29, Lord of beauty, thine the splendour
34, O worship the King all-glorious above
369, Songs of praise the angels sang
36, The spacious firmament on high

Psalm 9: 9-20:

668, God is our fortress and our rock
12, God is our strength and refuge

Psalm 133:

518, Bind us together, Lord
522, In Christ there is no east or west
525, Let there be love shared among us
438, O thou, who at thy eucharist didst pray
507, Put peace into each other’s hands
661, Through the night of doubt and sorrow

Psalm 107: 1-3, 23-32:

683, All people that on earth do dwell
666, Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side
612, Eternal Father, strong to save
353, Give to our God immortal praise
128, Hills of the north, rejoice
584, Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult
652, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us
30, Let us, with a gladsome mind
484, Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim
384, Lord, thy word abideth
527, Son of God, eternal Saviour

II Corinthians 6: 1-13:

643, Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
566, Fight the good fight with all thy might
417, He gave his life in selfless love
587, Just as I am, without one plea
652, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us
487, Soldiers of Christ, arise
488, Stand up. Stand up for Jesus

Mark 4: 35-41

666, Be still my soul: the Lord is on thy side
563, Commit your ways to God
612, Eternal Father, strong to save
2, Faithful one, so unchanging
648, God be with you till we meet again
300, Holy Spirit, truth divine
553, Jesu, lover of my soul
95, Jesu, priceless treasure
584, Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult
588, Light of the minds that know him
18, Lord, I come before your throne of grace
593, O Jesus, I have promised
527, Son of God, eternal Saviour
47, We plough the fields and scatter
22, You shall cross the barren desert

An icon of the Birth of Saint the Baptist from the Monastery of Anopolis in the Museum of Christian Art in Iraklion, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Part 2: The Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist:

Saint Luke’s Gospel takes a full chapter before the evangelist gets to the story of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. Saint Matthew’s Gospel introduces its account of Christ’s ministry by telling us first the story of Saint John the Baptist. Saint Mark begins his Gospel with the appearance of Saint John the Baptist. And the first person we meet in Saint John’s Gospel is Saint the Baptist.

But Saint Luke is alone in telling the story of Elizabeth’s pregnancy and the birth of Saint John the Baprtist.

In looking at the readings for Trinity IV, we have looked at the role of dreams and fears in challenging our faith and helping it to grow. And this experience is dramatically presented in this Gospel reading too.

Luke 1: 57-66, 80

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

80 The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.

Liturgical resources:

Liturgical colour: White

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
by whose providence your servant John the Baptist
was wonderfully born,
and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Saviour
by the preaching of repentance:
lead us to repent according to his preaching
and, after his example,
constantly to speak the truth, boldly to rebuke vice,
and patiently to suffer for the truth’s sake;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

We are fellow-citizens with the saints
and the household of God,
through Christ our Lord,
who came and preached peace to those who were far off
and those who are near: (Ephesians 2: 19, 17).


In the saints
you have given us an example of godly living,
that, rejoicing in their fellowship,
we may run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
and with them receive the unfading crown of glory.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Merciful Lord,
whose prophet John the Baptist
proclaimed your Son as the Lamb of God
who takes away the sin of the world:
grant that we who in this sacrament have known
your forgiveness and your life-giving love,
may ever tell of your mercy and your peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Blessing:

God give you the grace
to share the inheritance of Saint John the Baptist and of his saints in glory:

An icon of Saint John the Baptist in a small chapel in Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Suggested hymns:

The hymns suggested for the Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist (24 June) in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling, include:

Isaiah 40: 1-11:
120, Comfort, comfort ye my people
122, Drop down, ye heaven from above
644, Faithful Shepherd feed me
6, Immortal, invisible, God only wise
535, Judge, eternal, throned in splendour
134, Make way, make way, for Christ the King
141, These are the days of Elijah

Psalm 85: 7-13:

695, God of mercy, God of grace
539, Rejoice, O land, in God thy might
140, The Lord will come and not be slow

Acts 13: 14b-26:

250, All hail the power of Jesu’s name
689, Come, sing praises to the Lord above
460, For all your saints in glory, for all your saints at rest (verses 1, 2i, 3)
125, Hail to the Lord’s anointed
161, I know a rose-tree springing
135, O come, O come, Emmanuel
136, On Jordan’s bank, the Baptist’s cry

Galatians 3: 23-29:

250, All hail the power of Jesu’s name
389, All who believe and are baptized
218, And can it be that I should gain
496, For the healing of the nations
522, In Christ there is no east or west
101, Jesus, the very thought of thee 358, King of glory, King of peace

Luke 1: 57-66, 80:

685, Blessed be the God of Israel
706, O bless the God of Israel

These hymns are also said to be suitable:

119, Come, thou long-expected Jesus
459, For all the saints, who from their labour’s rest
126, Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding
124, Hark the glad sound! The Saviour comes
471, Rejoice in God’s saints, today and all days!

Saint John the Baptist depicted on a pillar in the Church of the Four Martyrs in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 17 June 2018,
Third Sunday after Trinity

The ‘Sower’ window in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday next, 17 June 2018, is the Third Sunday after Trinity (Trinity III). The appointed readings in the Revised Common Lectionary as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland are:

Continuous readings: I Samuel 15: 34 to 16: 13, Psalm 20; II Corinthians 5: 6-10 (11-13), 14-17; and Mark 4: 26-34.

Paired readings: Ezekiel 17: 22-24; Psalm 92: 1-4, 12-15; II Corinthians 5: 6-10 (11-13), 14-17; and Mark 4: 26-34.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

The readings and other resources are found in Proper 6 for Year B, when the Sunday between 12 and 18 June falls after Trinity Sunday.

‘The earth produces of itself’ (Mark 4: 28) … summer flowers on balconies in Platanes near Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Introduction to the Readings

Like a sower scattering seed, I sometimes think of God sowing seeds in the minds of many people, that eventually grow into the full bloom.

In the Gospel reading (Mark 4: 26-34), Christ tells two parables: the first is the story of how seed that is scattered on the ground sprouts, grows and produces full grain at harvest time; the second is the story of how the mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, grows into the greatest of all shrubs.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that people who set out to be high achievers regret that over the span of a career they have never blossomed into great trees. Instead, they think that in the sight of other people they have remained small twigs or leaves on the tree, and that when they die, like a falling leaf, they will be forgotten and be of no further value to others.

Yet, when death is at our doorstep, none of us is going to be worried about the obituary pages or whether we will be judged by our achievements.

When he was interviewed on RTÉ recently [29 May 2018] by Ray Darcy, the veteran broadcaster Gay Byrne spoke of his achievements and regrets over a long and very public career that has spanned 60 years.
He admitted candidly that his biggest regrets were having worked too hard and given too much time to RTÉ when he could have spent more time with his children as they were growing up.

Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse, has worked for several years in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She has counselled the dying in their last days and has tried to find out what are the most common regrets we have at the end of our lives.

Among the top, from men in particular, is: ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.’

Despite what the Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman once said about end-of-life regrets, there was no mention of more sex. Nor was there any mention of media profiles or better job titles.

In her best-selling book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, which has been read by over a million people worldwide and translated into 29 languages, Bronnie Ware lists the top five regrets we have when we are dying:

1, I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2, I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3, I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4, I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5, I wish that I had let myself be happier.

What is your greatest regret in life, so far?

And what will you set out to achieve or change before you die?

Our intrinsic, individual value does not depend on how useful we were to the projects of others. It is seen, instead, when we were truly ourselves, when we spend time with those we love and those who love us, when we were in touch with our feelings, when we valued our friendships, when we were happy rather than ambitious.

We are blessed when we come to the point of realising that love is more important than ambition, when we know friendships are more important than careers, when we know we are blessed by others not because of what they do, but simply because they are.

And when we love, when we can cry together, then we can laugh together too.

John Betjeman was a press attaché in Dublin during World War II. He was immensely popular during his time in Dublin, learning the Irish language, socialising in pubs, and becoming friends with many of Dublin’s journalists and literary figures. When his official stay in Dublin came to an end in 1943, his departure made one of those great stories on the front page of The Irish Times.

In one of his less well-known poems, ‘The Last Laugh,’ included in his 1974 collection, A Nip in the Air, John Betjeman wrote:

I made hay while the sun shone.
My work sold.
Now, if the harvest is over
And the world cold,
Give me the bonus of laughter
As I lose hold.

When we recall friends and family members who have lost their hold on life, do we allow ourselves to us put aside their regrets and our regrets in life?

As part of the great tree of life, whether they were tiny twigs, small leaves, little branches or great big trunks, we can remember them with the bonus of laughter and with the bonus of love. For without them, we would not be who we are today.

King David (left) and King Solomon (right) in a window by Heaton, Butler and Bayne in Saint Michael’s Church, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

I Samuel 15: 34 to 16: 13:

In the Old Testament story, we are told how David had been chosen and called by God long before he was anointed by Samuel. But God also calls a wonderful and diverse group of people to serve his Church and his world.

David may have been God’s choice, but he was not a natural first choice. Samuel’s instinct was to anoint Jesse’s son Eliab who, who seems to have been tall and handsome (see 16: 7), who was the classical insider.

In all, seven of Jesse’s sons are brought before Samuel, including Abinadab and Shammah. But David was in danger of being overlooked. Despite having beautiful eyes, he was small and ruddy, the youngest son and the outsider, out watching the sheep (verses 11-12).

The decision-making process is not about what Samuel thinks is right, nor is it about what Jesse wants for his sons. Rather, it is about listening carefully and patiently to what God wants in God’s own time.

Of course, later on, David’s life was far from perfect, morally or politically, in his family or in society. But, for all these failures, David tried to live well because of his enduring and steadfast love for God.

Psalm 20:

There are many words and phrases in this psalm that at first glance suggest a great conviction that the Lord will grant whatever we wish, as long as we have enough faith. But this is, at the very least, an oversimplification.

Several of the verses in Psalm 20 start with the word ‘may’ (see verses 2, 3, 4, 5a, 5b in the NRSV translation; verses 1, 5a and 5b in the Book of Common Prayer Psalter, pp 612-613).

This may suggest that what follows is not guaranteed to come to pass, but we are also asked to consider whether what we desire is the same as what God desires. God knows better than us what we need and what we want.

At the same time, God is our loving father we should not be afraid to ask for things. Verses 6, 7 and 8 are perhaps a good illustration of this point: if the Lord will help or save his anointed (verse 6), then as God’s children we can be sure God will help us.

II Corinthians 5: 6-10 (11-13), 14-17:

‘Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!’ (verse 17).

If the primary concern of the Old Testament readings is to emphasise the limitations of the perception of fallen humanity on the one hand and the limitless possibilities for God on the other, it seems that Saint Paul wishes to address what this means in the life of Christians.

Of course, Saint Paul does so within the context of the life, death and resurrection of Christ (verse 14-15), the central truth and mystery of the Christian faith. Given that we can never understand everything, to say that ‘we walk by faith, not by sight’ (verse 7) does not mean that our faith is blind or that our faith should be completely divorced from reason and reality.

But we must recognise our limitations and our shortcomings, and be willing to move beyond them in faith. Direct, historic, human knowledge and experience tells us something about the figure of Christ, and that gives us a foundation on which faith by grace can grow.

Trees in a shaded corner in a shaded corner in Platanes in suburban Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Mark 4: 26-34.

Chapter 4 in Saint Mark’s Gospel is the ‘parables chapter,’ recalling parables that make this chapter the central teaching section of this Gospel. Christ is the a boat beside the sea teaching a very large crowd who are listening on the shore (see Mark 4: 1-2).

In the Gospel reading, Christ tries to describe the ‘kingdom of God’ using images of a sower scattering seen on the ground in the hope and expectation of the harvest (verses 26-29) and of the mustard seed that grows into a great tree (verses 30-32).

In the first parable (verses 26-29), Christ is continuing with the themes in the parable of the sower and the seed which he told earlier in this chapter (see Mark 4: 3-9). The sower is confident, because of practical experience and because of knowledge, that when he is sowing the seed it will produce plants and a crop in due season. But this is not always so: there may be storms, rains or other disasters.

The sower must sow, but the sower must also reap. Yet, beyond this, there are external factors over which the sower has no control. So, there is degree to which the sower’s action is also an act of faith.

In the second parable (verses 30-32), Christ suggests the vastness of the ‘kingdom of God’ and the fact that it grows from seemingly insignificant beginnings.

Great trees, such as cedars, were symbols of empires and great kingdoms (see Ezekiel 17: 22-23; Daniel 4: 20-22). But mustard plants only grew a few feet high.

As in the story of David, God’s work may have small beginnings, or in those we may see as insignificant or overlook.

The final two verses (33-34) refer to Christ’s method of teaching through parables. The wording once again challenges us to be aware of our expectations and the limits of our perceptions.

The Sower and the Seed … an image in the East Window by Mayer & Co in Saint Michael’s Church, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Mark 4: 26-34:

26 [Jesus] also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’

30 He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’

33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

‘The seed would sprout and grow’ ... the garden in the cloisters in Arkadi Monastery in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical resources:

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
you have broken the tyranny of sin
and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts
whereby we call you Father:
Give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service,
that we and all creation may be brought
to the glorious liberty of the children of God;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

O God,
whose beauty is beyond our imagining
and whose power we cannot comprehend:
Give us a glimpse of your glory on earth
but shield us from knowing more than we can bear
until we may look upon you without fear;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Suggested hymns:

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

I Samuel 15: 34 to 16: 13:

630, Blessed are the pure in heart
125, Hail to the Lord’s anointed
306, O Spirit of the living God
498, What does the Lord require for praise and offering?

Ezekiel 17: 22-24:

311, Fruitful trees, the Spirit’s sowing

Psalm 20:

643, Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
659, Onward Christian soldiers
487, Soldiers of Christ arise
488, Stand up, stand up for Jesus
243, The royal banners forward go

Psalm 92: 1-4, 12-15:

668, God is our fortress and our rock
361, Now thank we all our God
76, Sweet is the work, my God and King
36, We thank you, God our Father

II Corinthians 5: 6-10 (11-13), 14-17:

389, All who believe and are baptised
416, Great God, your love has called us here
226, It is a thing most wonderful
672, Light’s abode, celestial Salem
634, Love divine, all loves excelling
229, My God I love thee; not because
528, The Church’s one foundation

Mark 4: 26-34:

378, Almighty God, your word is cast
37, Come, ye thankful people, come
413, Father, we thank thee who hast planted
39, For the fruits of his creation
125, Hail to the Lord’s anointed
385, Rise and hear! The Lord is speaking

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.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Continuing Ministerial Education:
Visiting three cathedrals

The ‘field trip’ ended with a lively discussion in the churchyard at Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The following half-page news report and photographs are published in the current [July 2018] edition of ‘Newslink, the Diocesan Magazine in Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert:

A large group of priests and readers visited the three cathedrals in the united dioceses as part of the diocesan programme of training and education in ministry. These three cathedrals function in a variety of ways, from city cathedral to parish church, to a church in a rural setting. Each has a unique story and historical dimension and attracts tourists for very different reasons.

The field trip began in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, where Noreen Ellerker brought the group on a tour of the cathedral, which is celebrating its 850th anniversary. She introduced the history of the cathedral, from its foundation in 1168, to recent changes and innovations introduced by the Dean, the Very Revd Niall Sloane.

In Killaloe, Co Clare, the group was taken on a tour of Saint Flannan’s Cathedral by the Dean, the Very Revd Gary Paulsen, and climbed the cathedral tower for views of Saint Flannan’s Oratory and sweeping, breath-taking views of the River Shannon, before enjoying lunch in the town.

The field trip continued on by road to Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert, Co Galway, with its unique Hiberno-Romanesque doorway and the grave of Saint Brendan. The visit concluded with a celebration of the Eucharist.

Later, Clonfert parishioners welcomed the visiting group with tea and coffee.

During the day, the participants crossed the Shannon many times, and travelled through all three provinces and many of the counties embraced by this diocese.

‘This was an interesting way to get to know and understand the different dimensions of cathedral life in our dioceses,’ said Canon Patrick Comerford, who organised the day. ‘The best way to learn history is to visit the very places where history was made and to experience it at first-hand. We saw sites associated with the early Celtic church and saints, the Viking invasions, and the Anglo-Norman and mediaeval churches, as well as seeing the changes made to these buildings as the needs and fashions of liturgy and worship changed over the centuries.’

The ‘field trip’ participants enjoy coffee with the parishioners of Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Monday, 4 June 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 10 June 2018,
Second Sunday after Trinity

‘But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property (Mark 3 27) … street art near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday next, 10 June 2018, is the Second Sunday After Trinity (Trinity II). The appointed readings in the Revised Common Lectionary as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland are:

I Samuel 8: 4-11 [12-15], 16-20 [11: 14-15] or Genesis 3: 8-15; Psalm 138 or Psalm 130; II Corinthians 4: 13 to 5: 1; Mark 3: 20-35.

The options should be chosen as pairs, rather than selected at random.

The readings and other provisions can also be found as Proper 5B, when the Sunday between 5 June and 11 June comes after Trinity Sunday.

Introduction to the Readings

Some years ago, I was involved in a number of programmes marking the fiftieth anniversary of the death of TS Eliot on 4 January 1965. Eliot is, perhaps, the greatest poet in the English language in the 20th century, and is one of the greatest Anglican literary figures.

As well as being a great poet, he was also a playwright, and his plays include Murder in the Cathedral, The Family Reunion and The Cocktail Party.

His play Murder in the Cathedral was first staged in the Chapter House in Canterbury Cathedral 83 years ago, on 15 June 1935. This verse drama is based on the events leading to the murder in Canterbury Cathedral of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, on 29 December 1170.

The play was written at the prompting of the Bishop of Chichester, George Bell, a friend of the martyred German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and later one of the key critics of the excesses of violence unleashed in World War II.

The dramatisation in this play of opposition to authority was prophetic at the time, for it was written as fascism was on the rise in Central Europe and Bishop Bell had chosen wisely when he suggested Eliot should write this play.

The play is set in the days leading up to the martyrdom of Thomas Becket at the behest of King Henry II, and the principal focus is on Becket’s internal struggles.

As he reflects on the inevitable martyrdom he faces, his tempters arrive, like characters in a Greek drama, or like Job’s comforters, and they question the archbishop about his plight, echoing in many ways Christ’s temptations in the wilderness when he has been fasting for 40 Days.

The first tempter offers Becket the prospect of physical safety:

The easy man lives to eat the best dinners.
Take a friend’s advice. Leave well alone,
Or your goose may be cooked and eaten to the bone.

The second tempter offers him power, riches and fame in serving the king so that he can disarm the powerful and help the poor:

To set down the great, protect the poor,
Beneath the throne of God can man do more?

Then the third tempter suggests the archbishop should form an alliance with the barons and seize a chance to resist the king:

For us, Church favour would be an advantage,
Blessing of Pope powerful protection
In the fight for liberty. You, my Lord,
In being with us, would fight a good stroke
At once, for England and for Rome.

Finally, the fourth tempter urges Thomas to look to the glory of martyrdom:

You hold the keys of heaven and hell.
Power to bind and loose: bind, Thomas, bind,
King and bishop under your heel.

Becket responds to all his tempters and specifically addresses the immoral suggestions of the fourth tempter at the end of the first act:

Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain:
Temptation shall not come in this kind again.
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason

Saint Mark’s Gospel is very sparse in its account of the story of Christ’s temptations in the wilderness – just two verses (see Mark 1: 12-13), compared to the much fuller 11 or 13 verses in the accounts given by Saint Matthew (see Matthew 4: 1-11) and Saint Luke (see Luke 4: 1-13).

In those fuller temptation narratives, Christ is tempted to do the right things for the wrong reason.

What would be wrong with Christ turning stones into bread (see Matthew 4: 3; Luke 4: 3-4) if that is going to feed the hungry?

What would be wrong with Christ showing his miraculous powers (see Matthew 4: 3; Luke 4: 9), if this is going to point to the majesty of God (see Matthew 4: 4; Luke 4: 10-11)?

What would be wrong with Christ taking command of the kingdoms of this world (see Matthew 4: 9; Luke 4: 5-7), if this provides the opportunity to usher in justice, mercy and peace?

Let us not deceive ourselves, these are real temptations. Christ is truly human and truly divine, and for those who are morally driven there is always a real temptation to do the right thing but to do it for the wrong reason.

‘Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future / And time future contained in time past’ (TS Eliot, ‘Burnt Norton’) … summer returns to Cross in Hand Lane, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Reflecting on the readings:
This theme of temptation and how to respond runs through the Scripture readings for next Sunday.

In the Old Testament reading (I Samuel 8: 4-11, [12-15], 16-20, [11: 14-15]), the elders of Israel want a king, and go to Samuel, claiming their motivation is to be ‘like other nations’ (I Samuel 8: 5). But the real reason was a power grab, motivated by a loss of faith in the power of God. Israel is warned that a king would exploit the people and enslave them, but they refused to heed these warnings.

We all know Ireland benefitted in recent years from wanting to be a modern nation, like your neighbours. But that ambition turned to greed, and we were surprise when greed turned to economic collapse. We found we had given in to the temptation to do what appeared to be the right thing for the wrong reason.

Too often when I am offered the opportunity to do the right thing, to make a difference in this society, in this world, I ask: ‘What’s in this for me?’

When I am asked to speak up for those who are marginalised or oppressed, this should be good enough reason in itself. But then I wonder how others are going to react – react not to the marginalised or oppressed, but to me.

How often do we use external sources to hide our own internalised prejudices?

How often have I seen what is the right thing to do, but have found an excuse that I pretend is not of my own making?

I hear people claim they are not racist, but speaking about migrants, immigrants and asylum seekers in language that would shock them if it was used about their own family members in England, America or Australia.

The victims of war in Syria or boat people in the Mediterranean are objects for our pity on the television news. But why are they not being settled with compassion, in proportionate numbers in Ireland?

How often do I think of doing the right thing only if it is going to please my family members or please my neighbours?

How often do I use the Bible to justify not extending civil rights to others? Democracy came to all of us at a great price paid by past generations. But how often do we try to hold on to those rights as if they were personal, earned wealth?

How often we use obscure Bible texts to prop up our political, racist, social and economic prejudices, forgetting that any text in the Bible, however clear or obscure it may be, depends, in Christ’s own words, on the two greatest commandments, to love God and to love one another.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God (II Corinthians 5: 1) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In our New Testament reading (II Corinthians 4: 13 to 5: 1), Saint Paul reminds us that we share the same faith, the same scripture, and the same hope for our shared future.

Christ is challenged in this morning’s Gospel reading in two fundamental ways, about his calling those on the margins to come inside and be part of the Kingdom of God.

Christ is challenged about whether his work is the work of God or the work of the Devil (Mark 3: 22). And he is challenged to think about what his family thinks about what he doing (Mark 3: 32).

It would have been so easy for any one of us to give in under these twin pressures. To give up because of what people think of us, or how our family members might be upset when we do the right thing and there is nothing in it for them or for us – nothing at all except sneers and jeers and isolation.

We can give in so easily … we can convince ourselves that we are doing the right thing when we are doing it for the wrong reason. And when we allow ourselves to be silenced or immobilised, those we should have spoken up for lose a voice, and we lose our own voices, and our own integrity.

A wrong decision taken once, thinking it is doing the right thing, but for the wrong reason, is not just about an action in the present moment. It forms habits and it shapes who we are, within time and eternity.

The Revd Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), a prominent German Lutheran pastor and an outspoken opponent of Hitler, spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. He once said:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

TS Eliot took some of the material that his producer Martin Browne asked him to remove from Murder in the Cathedral and he transformed it into his poem Burnt Norton (1935), the first of his Four Quartets, four poems concerned with the conflict between individual mortality and the endless span of human existence.

In Burnt Norton, TS Eliot tells us that the past and the future are always contained in the present. Past, present, and future cannot be separated with any precision:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.

What we do today or refuse to do today, even if we think it is the right thing to do but we do it for the wrong reasons, reflects how we have formed ourselves habitually in the past, is an image of our inner being in the present, and has consequences for the future we wish to shape.

How is the Church to recover its voices and speak up for the oppressed and the marginalised, not because it is fashionable or politically correct today, but because it is the right thing to do today and for the future?

Surely all our actions must depend on those two great commandments – to love God and to love one another. As the Collect of the Day reminds us, ‘all our doings without love are nothing worth.’ Or, as Christ reminds us in our Gospel reading on Sunday morning, ‘whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother’ (Mark 3: 35).

‘Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future’ (TS Eliot, ‘Burnt Norton’) … walking through the fields beside Cross in Hand Lane, near Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 3: 20-35

20 And the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

28 ‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’ – 30 for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’

31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ 33 And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect of the Day:

Lord, you have taught us
that all our doings without love are nothing worth:
Send your Holy Spirit
and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love,
the true bond of peace and of all virtues,
without which whoever lives is counted dead before you.
Grant this for your only Son Jesus Christ’s sake.

The Post-Communion Hymn:

Loving Father,
we thank you for feeding us at the supper of your Son.
Sustain us with your Spirit,
that we may serve you here on earth
until our joy is complete in heaven,
and we share in the eternal banquet
with Jesus Christ our Lord.

Suggested hymns:

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

I Samuel 8: 4-11 (12-15), 16-20 (11: 14-17):

131, Lift up your heads, you mighty gates


Genesis 3: 8-15:

250, All hail the power of Jesu’s name
99, Jesus, the name high over all
484, Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim
555, Lord of creation, forgive us, we pray
108, Praise to the holiest, in the height
545, Sing of Eve and sing of Adam
290, Walking in the garden at the close of day
186, What Adam’s disobedience cost
292, Ye choirs of new Jerusalem

Psalm 138:

250, All hail the power of Jesu’s name
358, King of glory, King of peace
21, The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want


Psalm 130:

564, Deus meus, adiuva me
620, O Lord, hear my prayer
9, There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
627, What a friend we have in Jesus

II Corinthians 4: 13 to 5: 1:

566, Fight the good fight with all thy might!
418, Here, o my Lord, I see thee face to face
277, Love’s redeeming work is done

Mark 3: 20-35:

522, In Christ there is no east or west
432, Love is his word, love is his way
197, Songs of thankfulness and praise
313, The Spirit came, as promised
662, Those who would valour see

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.

In Christ there is no east or west (Hymn 522) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)