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.

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