Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Resources for this year’s
Season of Creation, 2019

Patrick Comerford

Introduction:

The Season of Creation is celebrated throughout the Christian world from 1 September, the feast of Creation, to 4 October, the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi.

This year, the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Churches and the World Council of Churches have united in celebrating this special time.

Green Anglicans are also urging churches to join in with World Creation Day of Prayer on Sunday 1 September. The ‘Season of Creation’ is set to be celebrated by tens of thousands of Christians around the world. Volunteers organise a range of events and activities in their own communities from prayer services to litter clean ups or advocacy actions.

Canon Rachel Mash, Environmental Coordinator for the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, said: ‘This is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the World Day of Prayer for Creation as it falls on a Sunday this year. This year’s materials are following the readings for the lectionary and there are a whole range of resources available to download.’

This year’s theme is the ‘web of life’ and resources, available on the Anglican Communion website, are designed to help churches reflect on the destruction of the web of life and pray for those who suffer most because of that loss.

Writing in the Anglican resources, Rachel Mash said: ‘We were called to be stewards of creation, and we have failed. The younger generation are rising up now and calling for the earth to be healed. Let us join them and work together to protect the web of life which sustains us all.’

Along with a whole variety of events listed on the Season of Creation website, there will be global action during the month, which churches and individuals are invited to join in with.

On 16 September Manila in the Philippines will host a webinar with international contributors on biodiversity and Christian spirituality. This will be followed by a Global Climate Strike on 20 September, when young people from around the world will invite others to stand with them as they take part in a day of strikes from school to demand urgent action on the climate crisis. The climate strikes were galvanised by the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, with each strike sending more than a million people into the streets.

The next day, on 21 September, communities will come together for ‘International Coastal Clean-up Day’ to remove rubbish from coastlines and waterways including ponds, lakes, and rivers.

Other global events during the month will include the United Nations Climate Action Summit hosted by the UN Secretary General, who will be calling the world’s attention to the urgent need to implement the Paris Agreement, to keep global warming below 2 degrees celsius.

On the same day there will be an international conference on ecological theology and environmental ethics on the island of Crete in Greece.

The season comes to a close on Saint Francis Day, 4 October, when faith leaders from around the world will come together to reflect on how Saint Francis has informed their spiritual journey and to celebrate the month-long journey of the Season of Creation.

Resources for Sundays and for week-day services for 2 September to 4 October have been circulated by Bishop Kenneth Kearon, and are reproduced here.

In addition, from next Monday, the weekly resources posed on Mondays throughout this season will include an additional reflection on the Sunday Gospel reading with an emphasis on the Season of Creation.

Later in September, I hope to post an extra service suitable for marking the end of the season on Friday 4 October.

Resources for use on Sundays:

Bidding Prayers:

God, our Creator, through your love you have given us these gits to share. Accept our offerings as an expression of our deep thanks and our concern for those in need, including our fellow creatures on planet Earth.

O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes. Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we my sow beauty, not pollution and destruction. Touch the hearts of those who live only for gain at the expense to the poor of the earth.

(Pause) Lord, hear us.

That immigrants and refugees may be welcomed by the people of Europe and the United States.

(Pause) Lord, hear us.

We pray for your creation, the whole cosmos including our common home, and the intricate balance in every part of the ecosystems that sustains life on Earth.

(Pause) Lord, hear us.

We pray that we all might be open to listen to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the Poor, especially those people of the South who are facing the harsh reality of climate change.

(Pause) Lord, hear us.

Let us praise God for all living creatures both great and small and we pray especially for those creatures which are facing extinction.

(Pause) Lord, hear us.

Let us pray that we might allow our voices to speak out when poor people are being unjustly treated and that we will also speak for the Earth when human activity is destroying our oceans and rivers.

(Pause) Lord, hear us.

Teach us to discover the worth of each thing, to be filled with awe and contemplation, to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light.

(Pause) Lord, hear us.

Let us pray. O Lord teach us to empathise with Earth. Make our spirits sensitive to the cries of creation and the cries for justice from the land, the sea and the skies. Make our faith sensitive to the groans of the Spirit in creation, groans of longing for a new creation. We ask you this through Christ, the Lord, Amen.

A suggested Post-Communion reflection:

A Post Communion-reflection by either the priest or a member of the congregation:

All-powerful God,
you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.

O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.

Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.

Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.

We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

Optional Dismissal:

Go in Peace to care for our common home and preserve the integrity of God’s creation.

A Week-Day Prayer Service for 2 September to 4 October 2019:

This suggested prayer service is suitable for use on a weekday in parishes, communities, schools or in an ecumenical setting. You may wish to shorten it or even do your own with readings, hymns and prayers of your choice.

Welcome and Introduction

(A member of the congregation lights a candle on the altar).

A procession with Plants, Flowers and Fruits of the Harvest grown or produced in Ireland (or these may be placed at the altar in advance).

If not using a hymn, a short commentary could be spoken.


Hymn: ‘All Creatures of Our God and King’ (Hymn 24, Church Hymnal), or another hymn with a creation theme.

A member of the congregation lights a candle on the altar.

Let us pray:

O Creator God, open our hearts and our eyes to the wonders of your presence among us. May we see the signs of your beauty within and about us and ever be in awe of the simple gifts of life. Help us to reach beyond ourselves and to give thanks for all of your creation that shares this universe with us: peoples of every nation, animals of every species, all forms of vegetation, the planets, stars, and all the elements. We pray this in union with the incarnate Word of God in whose image all was created. Amen.

Litany of Repentance

O God, your fertile earth is slowly being stripped of its riches,
Lord have mercy.

O God, your living waters are slowly being choked with chemicals and plastic,
Christ have mercy.

O God, your clear air is slowly being filled with pollutants,
Lord have mercy.

O God, your creatures are slowly dying and your people are suffering,
Christ have mercy.

God our Maker, so move us by the wonder of creation, that we repent and care more deeply.
Lord have mercy.

So move us to grieve the damage to the climate and the loss of life,
That we learn to cherish and protect your world.

First Reading:

Wisdom 11: 24-26 to 12: 1.

or

Job 12: 7-10

Short pause

A Prayer for our earth:

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.


Reader 1:

Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.

O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of the earth,
so precious in your eyes.


Reader 2:

Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.

Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.


Reader 3:

Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognise that we are profoundly united
with every creature,
as we journey towards your infinite light.

We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
For justice, love and peace.


Short silence as a member of the congregation lights a candle on the altar

Choose from prayers below to suit your local area

Prayers of Petition:

O Lord hear us we pray.
O Lord give us your love.


Reader 1:

We pray for all international, national and local leaders and for managers of companies that they may be guided to make wise decisions that promote the healing and protection of the earth and the good of all people, especially the poor, and other species.

O Lord hear us we pray.
O Lord give us your love.


Reader 2:

Creator God, the sun, the wind and the waves are your gifts for the flourishing of the whole community of life. Help us to use them creatively to produce sustainable energy for all.

O Lord hear us we pray.
O Lord give us your love.


Reader 3:

We pray for environmentalists, recyclers, farmers, gardeners and fishermen.
May they be supported in their sustainable efforts to preserve the earth for future generations.

O Lord hear us we pray.
O Lord give us your love.


Reader 4:

Our plundered earth with its rich variety of species is crying out for healing.
Help us to be instruments of that healing in our own local area here.

O Lord hear us we pray.
O Lord give us your love.


Reader 5:

We pray for visionaries, artists, architects and writers,
that through their work we may see creation afresh.

O Lord hear us we pray.
O Lord give us your love.


Reader 6:

Give eternal rest to people throughout the world who have been murdered for their efforts to protect God’s creation.

O Lord hear us we pray.
O Lord give us your love.


Leader:

Let us pray:

Most provident God, you graciously give us all good gifts:

Teach us to care for our earth: to till the soil responsibly, to keep our air pure, to free our waters from pollution, to harvest the warmth of the sun, to respect the rights of all species and to protect biodiversity.

May we willingly share the gifts of your goodness with all.

We ask this God of the universe. Through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

Our Father …

A member of the congregation lights a candle on the altar

Ritual and/or Commitment:

Soft music can be played in background for either suggestion below

Leader:

We are now invited to make a personal silent commitment to care for ‘our common home.

Here are some ideas or choose your own

Plastic:

● Refuse single use plastics e.g. cling film, straws, plastic cutlery.
● Switch to a re-usable water bottle/travel cup.
● Avoid plastic wrapping when possible.
● Use cloth bags for shopping and bring/use your own containers when possible.
● Check for and then avoid micro beads in products.
● Reduce-Repair-Re-use-Recycle-Upcycle.
● Check the new recycling list. www.recyclinglistireland.ie
● Organise a recycling workshop in your parish/community (www.voiceireland.org)
● Show a film or documentary on the topic of plastic in your parish community.
● Participate in a beach, stream, river, park, street, area, road clean-up.
● Take the Laudato Si Pledge. www.catholicclimatemovement.globalpetition.

and/or

Distribute bulbs for planting at home and have a planting of some in/or at the Church during or after this service.

A member of the congregation lights a candle on the altar.

Final Blessing:

Bless us, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
as we go forth with joy and hope to care for God’s creation,

- walking gently on the earth,
- in right relationship,
- nurtured by your love,
- taking only what we need,
- giving back to the earth in gratitude,
- honouring all with reverence,
- reconciling and healing,
- mindful of those who will come after, and of the poor today
- recognising our proper place as part of, not apart from, your creation.

Ignite your spark within us,
that we may know ourselves as truly human and irrevocably part of the web of Life

Recessional Hymn:

Hymn 32: O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder

(Russian Hymn based on Psalm 8, Romans 5 and I Thessalonians 4)

Monday, 19 August 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 25 August 2019,
Tenth Sunday after Trinity

Christ healing an infirm woman on the Sabbath, by James Tissot (1886-1896)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 25 August 2019, is the Tenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity X).

The appointed readings in the Revised Common Lectionary, as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland, are in two groups: the continuous and the paired readings.

The readings are:

Continuous readings: Jeremiah 1: 4-10; Psalm 71: 1-6; Hebrews 12: 18-29; Luke 13: 10-17. There is a link to the continuous readings HERE.

Paired readings: Isaiah 58: 9b-14; Psalm 103: 1-8; Hebrews 12: 18-29; Luke 13: 10-17. There is a link to the paired readings HERE.

‘She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight’ (Luke 13: 11) … an illustration in the Ottheinrich Bible (1530-1532)

Introducing the readings:

The readings next Sunday are about calling and about out willingness to respond to the call of God, the call to become part of the Kingdom of God.

Jeremiah hears the word of God, who has known him from his conception, and who calls him to bring God’s message not just to Israel but to the nations and the kingdoms.

The psalmist acknowledges that God has called him since he was conceived and calls on God to protect him against the wicked, the evil and the oppressor.

The reading from the Letter to Hebrews reminds us that we are called to be part of the Kingdom of God, ‘to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.’

The Gospel reding reminds us that Christ’s call comes to all, regardless of age, gender or physical appearance. There is no discrimination in the Kingdom of God.

‘I appoint you over nations and over kingdom’ (Jeremiah 1: 10) … flags of the nations flying on the promenade in Bray, Co Wicklow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Jeremiah 1: 4-10:

We are starting on a series of readings from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah that continues until 20 October (Trinity XVIII), interrupted on one Sunday with a reading from the Book of Lamentations (6 October), Jeremiah’s bitter weeping and intense sorrow over the destruction of Jerusalem.

The people of Israel have strayed from God’s ways. In the late 600s BC, King Josiah guided the people back to the worship of God. He removed all practices of foreign worship and made Jerusalem the one place of worship. The Prophet Jeremiah played a key role in Josiah’s reforms.

At the beginning of this book, ‘the word of the Lord’ comes to Jeremiah. This phrase is found throughout the book, and the message Jeremiah proclaims is God’s word.

The Hebrew word translated here as ‘formed’ (verse 5), yashar, is a technical term for created, like a potter forms clay into pottery, or God forms humanity from the clay of the earth (see Genesis 2: 7-8).

God knows Jeremiah from the very first moment of his existence, and consecrated him, or set him aside, for God’s purposes, to be ‘a prophet to the nations’ (verse 5).

Jeremiah responds, protesting. He is still young and without experience, probably in his 20s. Remember how Moses too responded to God’s call in a similar way (see Genesis 3: 11, 13; 4: 1, 10, 13). But God rebukes this response and promises to be with him. He then commissions Jeremiah through the symbolic action of touching Jeremiah’s mouth (verse 9), and sends him out to the nations and the kingdoms of the world, ‘to pluck up and pill down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant’ (verse 10), to do away with corruption and ungodliness, to promote ethical conduct and godliness.

‘Be a strong rock, a castle to keep me safe’ (Psalm 71: 3) … Springfield Castle, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Psalm 71: 1-6:

The psalmist turns to God in his search for refuge, and asks God to be his place of safety, his ‘strong rock and castle (verse 3, NRSVA) or ‘stronghold’ (the Psalter in the Book of Common Prayer).

He pleads with God to rescue him from the wicked, the evildoer and the oppressor (verse 4).

He has trusted in God since he was born, and knows that God has sustained him since he was conceived (verse 6). Now he promises to praise God for the rest of his life.

‘But you have come to … innumerable angels in festal gathering’ (Hebrews 12: 22) … angels at the throne of Christ in a fresco in Ravenna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Hebrews 12: 18-29:

We are coming close to the end of our readings from the Letter to the Hebrews, which conclude the following Sunday.

In this reading, the voice of God is clearly identified with Christ. The anonymous writer contrasts how the assembly at Mount Sinai received the Covenant with God through Moses (see Exodus 19, Deuteronomy 4: 10-15), with the way Christians enter into the new covenant with God through Christ.

Just as the assembly was called by Moses before God at Mount Sinai, we are called before God through Christ on Mount Zion, a poetic way of referring to and embracing both Calvary and the New Jerusalem.

We are called into the city of the living God, into the Communion of Saints, the heavenly Jerusalem. The kingdom that Christ has brought is unshakable, permanent, and we invited into the presence of the God we worship.

‘He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath’ (Luke 13: 10) … looking from the women’s gallery at the bimah or reading platform in the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Luke 13: 10-17:

In the story of the healing of the woman who has been crippled for 18 long years, Christ shows through word and deed what it means to be part of the Kingdom of God. He heals this woman but also affirms her as a ‘daughter of Abraham’ (verse 16), a full member of Jewish society and the faith community. The kingdom is equally open to all without any discrimination based on gender or physical appearance.

After 18, long years, this woman does not ask to be cured, and no one asks on her behalf. It is Christ who notices her and calls her over (see verse 12).

As he is teaching, he is at the bimah in the centre of the synagogue, so calling her over places her in the centre of the assembly. For Christ to notice her, he has to turn around to see her. It is worth noticing here, of course, that the word conversion means to turn around.

This woman’s response to Christ’s words and deeds is to speak out and to praise God (verse 13). Anyone could speak in the synagogue, so long as they were men and members of the Jewish community. This woman is not only healed but given her places in the community of faith, in the Kingdom of God.

This story and the leader of the synagogue contrast with the earlier stories of Jairus, the leader of a synagogue, whose 12-year-old daughter is dying, and of the woman who has been suffering from haemorrhages for 12 years (see Luke 8: 40-56).

Christ’s response to criticisms of his healing on the sabbath relies on religious tradition to rebut any opinions that religious tradition has been violated. Untying an ox or a donkey on the sabbath is forbidden in one part of the Mishnah, but it is permitted, even encouraged, in another place.

Christ unties or sets free this woman who was tied to Satan. If you untie animals on the sabbath, why not humans?

Christ refers to this woman as ‘a daughter of Abraham.’ In 4 Maccabees, which is not in the Bible for most churches but is an appendix to the Greek Bible, the mother of the Seven Maccabean Martyrs is acclaimed twice as a ‘daughter of Abraham’ (see 4 Maccabees 15: 28, 18: 20). So, it is a title not without precedence, but it is unusual, and comes at a very late stage in Judaism.

The crowd who rejoice in what Jesus says and does. They realise that the Kingdom of God is open to all when God calls them and when they turn to God.

The Kahal Shalom Synagogue in Rhodes, with the women’s gallery behind and above the tevah (Photograph: RhodesPrivateTours.com)

Reflecting on the Gospel reading:

This story reminds me of the Kahal Shalom Synagogue (‘the Holy Congregation of Plentiful Peace’), the last surviving, functioning synagogue on the Greek island of Rhodes, and the woman who gave me a tour of that synagogue many years ago.

The interior of the synagogue follows the traditional Sephardic style of having the tevah or reading platform in the centre, facing south-east towards Jerusalem. Behind it and above is the balcony, created in 1935 as a result of a liberalisation of religious policy, for use as a women’s prayer area. Before that, the women sat in the rooms beside the south wall of the synagogue, and could see into the main body of the synagogue, through curtained openings. Those rooms are now used for the Jewish Museum of Rhodes.

The woman who showed me around the synagogue and the museum, Lucia Modiano Soulam, was bent over and then in her 80s. She was an exceptionally brave woman with an extraordinary story. She was a survivor of Auschwitz and spoke Greek, Ladino, Italian, a little French and Turkish and very little English.

Because there are only seven Jewish families left on Rhodes, the synagogue depends on tourists to make up a minyan, and to lead public prayers.

As a family, we attended a sabbath service in the synagogue as her guest, and she sat with us, so that there were two women among a congregation in which the minyan was made up thanks to Israeli and American tourists.

I think of her as having been captive to Satan in Auschwitz for many years because of the sins of so many men. Now she was old and bent over, but taking her place in a synagogue where once she would only have been seen in the balcony above and behind the tevah, or behind the screens and curtains in the adjoining women’s rooms.

In her suffering, Lucia had become, truly, a Daughter of Abraham. She died in 2010.

Some questions:

Which images leap out at you in this story?

Which characters leap out at you in this story?

Perhaps Jesus, but in what role? As teacher (verse 10, verses 16), keen observer of humanity (verse 12), healer (verses 12-13), Lord God (verse 15), judge (verse 15), affirmer (verse 16) or wonder worker (verse 17)?

The woman? She is unnamed, but so too is the town in which this synagogue is located.

How do you image her? In her previous physical condition? Or as she looks after Jesus heals her?

The leader of the synagogue (verses 14 and 15)? He too is unnamed.

Who are the hypocrites in verse 15? Who are the opponents in verse 17? The leader of the synagogue and …?

The ox and the ass (verse 15)?

Abraham (verse 16)? Apart from Jesus, Abraham is the only other character named in this story.

The crowd (verses 14 and 17), the many? The fickle crowd who rejoice now, like the crowd who rejoice at the entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday?

And, to test your imagination, if this had been a lost Gospel passage and you came to it as a first-time reader, who would you identify with initially?

Let us look at some of the figures in this story.

What makes this woman unusual, or what makes this healing story unusual? Like many of the women in the Gospels, she remains anonymous. So, who can she be compared with?

Apart from the Apocryphal commentary in 4 Maccabees, no other woman in the Bible is referred to as a daughter of Abraham. Indeed, the Book Genesis records no named daughters of Abraham, and the rabbis argued over whether Abraham had any daughters (see Babylonian Talmud, Bava Batra, which records an argument between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda). So, seeking to compare her with a daughter of Abraham, or with other women in the New Testament, is chasing after shadows.

Yet, although the description of the woman as ‘daughter of Abraham’ is unusual, it is placed first in the Greek sentence (verse 16) as a position of emphasis. We are all familiar with discussions about how this stakes a claim for her as a true heir to the covenantal relationship with God. But there are two men in Saint Luke’s Gospel that she might be compared with too:

1, The unnamed rich man in the story of ‘Dives’ and Lazarus (Luke 16: 19-31) addresses Abraham as ‘father’ or ‘Father Abraham’ (verses 24, 27, 30), and Abraham address the rich man as ‘Child,’ but the child of Abraham is the outsider who is brought in.

In next Sunday’s story, Christ shows what it means to be a citizen of God’s kingdom – through his actions. He heals this woman and calls her a ‘daughter of Abraham,’ which makes her, remarkably, a full member of Jewish society. Christ is saying the kingdom is open equally to women and to the sick and disabled.

2, The description of the woman as daughter of Abraham is matched later in this Gospel when Christ insists that Zacchaeus is ‘a son of Abraham’ (Luke 19: 9), a point that is also made in the face of a crowd, this time a crowd that rejects Zacchaeus as a sinner. Think of how this woman’s physical position of being bent over is symbolic in the way that Zacchaeus is short in statute.

It is also worth noting too that the woman does not ask to be cured, and no one asks for this on her behalf. Christ notices her himself (verse 12). This involves a turning round. She enters while Christ is teaching. If he has the scrolls in front of him, he is facing forward in the bema in the synagogue, and so she is behind him, either above in a balcony, if it is a large synagogue, or hidden behind a curtain in a smaller synagogue. She is unlikely to have been visible to Christ unless he turns around.

What does Christ do?

He turns around, and he calls the woman over. He tells her she is free, and he lays his hands on her. He has not yet addressed her as ‘Daughter of Abraham.’ So it is not this label that causes offence.

Is it calling the women into the centre of the assembly? The ritual implications for many men present are outrageous and even incalculable.

There are five responses worth noticing:

● of the woman;
● of the leader of the synagogue;
● of Jesus;
● of all his opponents;
● of the crowd.

Those responses are:

● To stand up and praise God (the woman, verse 13);
● Indignation (the leader of the synagogue, verse 14);
● Judgment and teaching (Jesus);
● Shame (his opponents);
● Rejoicing (the crowd).

Ever since this story was written, I imagine, the synagogue leader has been typecast as the bad guy. Yet it is he who twice describes what Christ does as healing (θεραπεύω, therapeuo, twice in verse 14). Would he have been seen as the ‘bad guy’ on the day itself? Can you imagine telling the story from his point of view?

His indignation is neither unusual nor outrageous, but is justified given who he is speaking on the behalf of, given the religious culture within which he is operating.

His first concern may have been for the men in his synagogue who risked being ritually tainted on the day. He voices his objections not when Jesus calls her over, not when he lays his hands on her, but only when she stands up and praises God.

Twice in our text we are told that the woman has had this illness for 18 years (probably a word connection with the 18 who died in Luke 13: 4). What difference would a few hours make? Why heal her on the Sabbath day and deliberately stir up all this conflict? We should note that emphasis is provided by the word sabbath occurring five times in the text.

Jesus’ breaking of the sabbath seems pointless and unnecessary. He is not performing a good deed that, if delayed, could not be performed at a later time. This is not a woman who needs immediate rescue, or who is caught upstairs in a burning house. Having waited 18 years, she could wait until after sundown.

For the Pharisees, the Sabbath is the chief sacrament of the order of creation, so it is reasonable for them to argue that it may lawfully be broken only if some significant individual instance of the order of creation is in danger of imminent and irreversible disordering. If the woman has been able to bear her disability for 18 years, surely Christ can wait out the afternoon and heal her after sunset without flying in the face of the Torah? Why can he not wait until sunset? In the meantime, he and the synagogue elders could search the Law and the Prophets together, and then the healing could be seen in all its unquestionable rightness.

Perhaps if Christ had waited until sundown, his wonderful miracle would have supported the people’s expectations of a victorious, triumphalist Messiah. But he constantly announces the coming kingdom in words and deeds that run counter to their expectations for the kingdom.

One way of dealing with a message we do not want to hear, is to shoot the messenger. Perhaps Christ could have spent all day arguing with the synagogue elders about whether or not it was legal to heal this woman on the sabbath – while she remained ill.

But why does the leader not direct his words to Christ? Instead, he addresses his complaints to the woman and to the crowd. He does not doubt Jesus’ ability to heal, and it is the woman’s action rather than of those of Jesus that he condemns. He has no problem about her coming to synagogue or coming for healing. Instead, he upbraids her for coming on a Saturday, and he tells her to come for healing on any one of the other six days of the week. Yet, it does not appear that this woman comes seeking healing. She asks for nothing. Her release comes through Jesus’ own initiative.

What is the significance of Christ’s rebuttal? It is clever, for while untying an ox or a donkey on the sabbath was forbidden in one part of the Mishnah or Jewish book of laws, it was permitted in another. If you untie animals on the sabbath, why not humans?
We should be aware that in his rebuttal, Christ does not attack traditional Judaism. He simply offers one of a number of traditional points of view. This story continues the story in Luke 4 of Christ reading from and teaching from the scroll in the synagogue. He is now putting into action in the synagogue what he has taught in the synagogue.

Meanwhile, Christ has set free or untied the woman. But what was she tied to? To her disability and her infirmity? To Satan? To her community’s refusal to accept her? To one interpretation of what could or could not be done on the sabbath?

Her ailment is described literally as ‘a spirit of illness’ (verse 11) and ‘weaknesses’ (verse 12). The word ἀσθένεια (asthéneia) is used in both verses. Its literal meaning is without strength of body, in other words weakness or incapacity. Often this inability to do something is caused by a physical problem, such as disease or illness.

The result of Christ’s action is ἀνορθόω (anorthoo) (verse 13), literally ‘to set straight again.’ But it also means ‘to restore,’ ‘to rebuild,’ or ‘to set right again.’ Figuratively, Christ restores her to the Abrahamic covenant.

Jesus says to the woman, ‘… you have been set free,’ ἀπολέλυσαι (apolélusai) ‘from your weakness’ (verse 12). The NRSV translates it with the present tense, ‘you are set free.’ This word απολουω (apoluo) is not usually associated with healing. Its general meaning is ‘to loose,’ to unbind, to release, to send away, even to divorce (see Matthew 5: 32; 19: 3, 7, 8, 9). It can refer to the bandages used to tie a woman to her husband. It is closely related to the word λύω (luo) used twice by Christ in this story: to ‘untie’ an ox or donkey (verse 15) and to ‘set free’ from bondage (verse 16).

Finding some meanings in this story:

Is this a story about controversy and division? Or is this a story about healing, wholeness and restoration?

Given the two synagogue settings I have referred to, is this a story about the practical relationship between what we believe and what we do – getting the balance right between being and doing?

The woman is not named in this story, and, once she stands up and praises God, she disappears from the story, never to be seen or heard again. She is written out of the controversy at the end of the story. So is it a story about her, or about the reaction of the crowd, our reaction, to the promise of restitution and wholeness that Christ offers?

Apart from teaching that women and people with disabilities have a place in the centre of the community and at the heart of the kingdom, are there other meanings to be found in this story? What is it saying to us may be more important a question than what is it saying about the woman.

An icon of the Nativity of Christ … the ox and the ass are inseparably linked with the manger, but are not mentioned in the Gospel accounts of the Nativity

A closing image:

The words for ‘bound’ and ‘bondage’ in verse 16, δέω (deo) is only used in one other place in this Gospel, when it is used for the ‘tied up’ colt (see Luke 19: 30, 33).

This leads me to the images that strike me in this story that include the ox and the ass in the manger. Of course, the ox and the ass in the manger are not mentioned in the Nativity narrative in Saint Luke’s Gospel. This is a popular image that is drawn from the Old Testament. In the Book Deuteronomy there is prohibition on tending to crops with a bull and a donkey side by side. But the ox and the ass later acquire a Messianic symbolism: ‘The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand’ (Isaiah 1: 3).

The ox and the ass also make for some Talmudic and Mishnaic verses relating to Messianic prophecy, in which the bull becomes the symbol of Joseph and the donkey is interpreted as the Messiah’s vehicle of choice – and so there is a Messiah from the houses of Judah and Joseph.

Some questions for discussion:

When should we do things in the church we believe are right, and only deal with the repercussions afterwards?

When do we need to discuss and come to an agreement before taking action?

What holds people in bondage?

In what ways does legalism bind them?

How are we held in bondage to past successes, defending our habits by saying: ‘This is the way we’ve always done it’?

Does the way we behave in our churches on Sundays free people or keep them tied up?

‘Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath’ (Luke 13: 10) … inside the Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Chania, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 13: 10-17:

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’ 15 But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?’ 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger’ (Luke 13: 15) … donkeys on Achill Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect of the Day:

Let your merciful ears, O Lord,
be open to the prayers of your humble servants;
and that they may obtain their petitions,
make them to ask such things as shall please you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect of the Word:

O God, the judge of all,
through the saving blood of your Son
you have brought us to the heavenly Jerusalem
and given us a kingdom which cannot be shaken:
fill us with reverence and awe in your presence,
that in thanksgiving we an all your Church
may offer you acceptable worship;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives to intercede for us,
now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

O God,
as we are strengthened by these holy mysteries,
so may our lives be a continual offering,
holy and acceptable in your sight;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘I appointed you a prophet to the nations’ (Jeremiah 1: 5) … national flags flying outside an hotel in Tsesmes, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Suggested Hymns:

Jeremiah 1: 4-10:

631, God be in my head
589, Lord, speak to me that I may speak
624, Speak, Lord, in thy stillness
597, Take my life, and let it be

Psalm 71: 1-6:

2, Faithful one, so unchanging
459, For all the saints who from their labours rest (verses 1–3)
668, God is our fortress and our rock
557, Rock of ages, cleft for me
595, Safe in the shadow of the Lord

Isaiah 58: 9b-14:

206, Come, let us to the Lord our God
647, Guide me, O thou great Jehovah
497, The Church of Christ, in every age

Psalm 103: 1–8:

1, Bless the Lord, my soul
686, Bless the Lord, the God of our forebears
688, Come, bless the Lord, God of our forebears
349, Fill thou my life, O Lord my God
366, Praise, my soul, the King of heaven
365, Praise to the Lord, the almighty, the King of creation
660, Thine for ever! God of love
47, We plough the fields and scatter
374, When all thy mercies, O my God

Hebrews 12: 18-29:

646, Glorious things of thee are spoken
220, Glory be to Jesus
668, God is our fortress and our rock
619, Lord, teach us how to pray aright
638, O for a heart to praise my God
281, Rejoice, the Lord is King

Luke 13: 10-17:

124, Hark the glad sound! the Saviour comes
104, O for a thousand tongues to sing
514, We cannot measure how you heal

‘Praise, my soul, the King of heaven’ (Hymn 365) … the creation depicted in a dome in Saint Mark’s Basilica, Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

The hymn suggestions are provided in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling. The hymn numbers refer to the Church of Ireland’s Church Hymnal (5th edition, Oxford: OUP, 2000)

He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath (Luke 13: 10) … a scroll in a synagogue in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Monday, 12 August 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 18 August 2019,
Ninth Sunday after Trinity

‘When you see a cloud rising in the west … and when you see the south wind blowing’ (Luke 12: 54-55) … clouds and sunshine at Inishmore on the Aran Islands in Galway Bay (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 18 August 2019, is the Ninth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity IX).

The appointed readings in the Revised Common Lectionary, as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland, are in two groups, continuous and paired readings.

The readings are:

The Continuous Readings: Isaiah 5: 1-7; Psalm 80: 1-2, 9-20; Hebrews 11: 29 to 12: 2; Luke 12: 49-56. There is a link to the continuous readings HERE.

The Paired Readings: Jeremiah 23: 23–29; Psalm 82; Hebrews 11: 29 to 12: 2; Luke 12: 49-56. There is a link to the paired readings HERE.

‘My beloved had a vineyard’ (Isaiah 5: 1) … in a vineyard in Rivesaltes near Perpignan in France (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Introducing the continuous readings:

Both Isaiah and the sayings in the Gospel reading talk about strife and wrangling, conflict and division.

This is our second reading from the Prophet Isaiah before beginning a series of readings from the Prophet Jeremiah the following Sunday. Isaiah brings us bleak images of vineyards that should yield sweet grapes, but instead produce wild, sour grapes.

The Psalmist, too speaks of the Lord’s vineyard that has been torn down, where the grapes have been devoured and the vines burned with fire and laid waste.

Both the Psalmist and the author of the Letter to the Hebrews refer to the people being brought out of Egypt from slavery to freedom. The epistle reading tells of those who have suffered in the past but who now surround us as a cloud of witnesses.

The Gospel reading challenges us to think about whether Christ has come to bring peace or conflict, unity or division. How do we read the signs of the times?

These notes also look at the need for caution in preparing the readings because of the difficulty in following the numbering of verses in the Psalm, which are not the same in Lectionary, the NRSV translation, and the numbering of verses in the Psalter in the Book of Common Prayer.

‘When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes’ (Isaiah 5: 4) … grapes on a vine in Cordoba (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Isaiah 5: 1-7:

This reading is a poem written during the reign of King Jotham (750-734 BC). It takes the form of a popular ballad. It and may have been sung at the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths, the thanksgiving festival in autumn.

But this is also a parable that opens on a happy note but reaches the hard truth in verse 7.

The farmer prepares his vineyard on a hillside with care, clears the ground of stones, plants choice vines, and sets up hedges or walls and a watchtower to protect it against those who would devour the grapes and temple down the vines, men or beasts.

But the people of Israel and Judah turned their backs on God and God’s expectations. The neglected the vineyard and fought over it, and so God neglected it too, and instead of yielding sweet grapes, wild grapes grew there; it became overgrown with briers and thorns, and no rain fell on it to nurture the vines.

God expected justice, but saw bloodshed; he expected righteousness, but heard the poor crying.

‘Cherish this vine which your right hand has planted … let those who burnt it with fire … perish at the rebuke of your condemnation’ (Psalm 80: 16) … winter in a vineyard on the island of Torcello in the Venetian Lagoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Psalm 80: 1-2, 9-20:

Psalm 80 is a prayer for Israel’s restoration, and the incipit says: ‘To the leader: on Lilies, a Covenant. Of Asaph. A Psalm.’

This psalm opens with a cry for help from the people in the northern kingdom. They believe their current plight is a consequence of God’s anger. The freedom brought about at the Exodus is compared with the planting of a new vine, and the vineyard is the Promised Land.

God’s creative works were like one great vineyard that stretched from the sea (the Mediterranean) to the river (the Euphrates). But the protective walls around this great field or vineyard have been torn down, the grapes devoured and the vines burned with fire and laid waste.

God is asked to restore the vineyard that is his people, and in return they will be faithful and no longer turn their back on God:

Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80: 19)

It is essential when preparing the Psalm for use on Sunday, to notice with care that the verses given in the Church of Ireland version of the Lectionary apply to versification in the Book of Common Prayer (see pp 685-686) and not in the NRSV and many other translations.

Verses 1-2 in the NRSV and the Lectionary correspond to verses 1-2a in the psalter in the Book of Common Prayer, while verses 8-19 in the NRSV and the Lectionary correspond to verses 9-20 in the Book of Common Prayer.

‘We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses’ (Hebrews 12: 1) … a mosaic in Westminster Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Hebrews 11: 29 to 12: 2:

The author of this letter has given examples of figures mentioned in Genesis and Exodus who did not have the promise of eternal life with Christ yet acted on faith in God, doing God’s will.

In this reading, he now tells of other people who relied on God’s promise for the future. They include the people who the crossed the Red Sea as if they were on dry land, those who were present at the fall of the walls of Jericho, and Rahab who hid the spies sent to scout out the defences of Jericho’s defences.

Other examples include several judges, David, Samuel and the prophets, who conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped death by the sword …

Others were tortured, mocked, flogged, chained, stoned to death, sawn in two, killed, murdered or reduced to poverty, but their faith remained strong despite their sufferings. They knew God planned something greater for them.

In many cases, it is not clear who the author is referring to in the descriptions of sufferings. But the sufferings described in verses 11:35b-38 are mainly those endured by faithful Jews during the Maccabean revolt in the mid-100s BC, and so indicates how the author accepted I and II Maccabees.

But is the world worthy of these exemplars of faith? In each example, God was pleased with their actions. But, while their suffering and shame became signs of their faith, God’s promises were not fulfilled during their lifetimes. Instead, it was delayed until Christ’s saving work was completed.

Now we are ‘surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.’

‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens’ (Luke 12: 54) … clouds above the beach in Ballybunion, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Luke 12: 49-56:

In his Gospel, Saint Luke presents several sayings of Christ, and this reading opens with one of these many sayings: ‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!’

We may think of the image in the Psalm of the vineyard of the Lord that has been burned with fire like rubbish (Psalm 80: 15), or the image in the Epistle reading of those among the great cloud of witnesses who, through faith ‘quenched raging fires’ (Hebrews 11: 34). Fire here is a symbol of purification and separation of the godly from the ungodly as God exercises judgment.

In Saint Mark’s Gospel, Christ tells James and John: ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ (Mark 10: 38). This is the sense of baptism in this reading (Luke 12: 50), and Christ’s baptism is to be completed in his suffering, death and resurrection.

Another set of sayings are found in verses 51-53. One commentator suggests it is helpful to read the question in verse 51, ‘Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?’ as ‘Do you think that I have come to bring peace at any cost to the earth?’

The images in verses 52-53 compare with those of the Prophet Micah when he condemns the total corruption of the people. Christ comes into the division between the godly and the ungodly.

In verses 54-56, we have yet another such saying. People are able to interpret the signs of impending weather, but they are unable to see the signs in the present time that carry implications for the end of the era.

‘I have a baptism with which to be baptized’ (Luke 12: 50) … the new font in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Reflecting on the readings:

When I was a student at the Irish School of Ecumenics in the early 1980s, we all had to do a residential placement in Northern Ireland in a church in a tradition other than our own. I spent time with Shankill Road Methodist Church in Belfast, while others went to Roman Catholic, Presbyterian or Anglican churches.

One Anglican student, from Barbados and now a priest in Massachusetts, was placed with the Redemptorists in the Clonard Monastery.

As his placement came to end, there was one experience he had not yet explored. On his last Sunday evening, he went to hear Ian Paisley preach in the Martyrs’ Memorial Church on Ravenhill Road.

When he returned to Clonard Monastery, unscathed, an old priest asked my colleague: ‘Well, did the Big Man give you an old-style Redemptorist sermon filled with hellfire and brimstone?’

Perhaps this is the sort of sermon some people may expect next Sunday with these lectionary readings.

The Prophet Isaiah, in words that echo the Psalm, speaks of vineyards that yield only wild grapes (verses 2, 4); breaking and trampling down walls (verse 4); vines giving way to briars and thorns (verse 6); bloodshed instead of justice, a cry instead of righteousness (verse 7).

The New Testament reading speaks of mockings and floggings (verse 36), chains and jails (verse 36), prophets being stoned to death, sawn in two and killed by the sword (verse 37), or wandering in deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes (verse 38).

And then, we hear the warnings in the Gospel reading of fire on earth (verse 49), families and households divided and fighting each other to the death (verses 52-53), people being blown about by the storms and tempests of the day verses 54-56).

They are images that might have inspired Ian Paisley’s sermons. But they have inspired too great creative and literary minds, from William Shakespeare and William Blake to TS Eliot in the Four Quartets:

This is the death of earth.

Water and fire succeed
The town, the pasture and the weed.
Water and fire deride
The sacrifice that we denied.
Water and fire shall rot
The marred foundations we forgot,
Of sanctuary and choir.
This is the death of water and fire. ( – Little Gidding)

If we dismiss these apocalyptic images because they have been hijacked by fundamentalist extremists, for their own religious and political ideals, then we miss an opportunity to allow our values to challenge those ways we may be allowing our lives to drift along without question or examination.

Fire and water were a challenge for me during a recent visit to Longford. One Sunday afternoon, three of us headed off on what we had come to call a church history ‘field trip.’ We wanted to see the completed restoration work at Saint Mel’s Cathedral in Longford.

The cathedral was destroyed in a blazing fire early on Christmas morning ten years ago [2009], but was restored and rebuilt so beautifully that it has been voted Ireland’s favourite building.

Outside, it still looks like a grey, classical revival, fortress-style cathedral. But inside it is filled with light and joy. It has risen from the ashes, and its restoration is truly a story of redemption and resurrection.

As I walked into the cathedral, I was overwhelmed by the beautiful baptismal font that has been placed at the main entrance door to the cathedral.

The font was sculpted by Tom Glendon and the blue mosaic work by Laura O’Hagan is a creative representation of the Water of Life.

This font is a challenge to all who enter the church and is placed exactly where it should be, for Baptism is entry to the Church.

Baptism is not a naming ceremony, it is not about my individual experience, it is never a private event. It is a public event, and it incorporates me into the unity, the community of the Body of Christ.

In Sunday’s Gospel reading, Christ challenges us with three themes: Fire, Baptism and Division.

In the Bible, fire can represent the presence of God – think of the pillar of fire in the wilderness (Exodus 13: 17-22) and the tongues of flame at Pentecost (Acts 2: 1-4).

It can represent judgment (see Revelation 20: 7-10), and it can represent purification – the prophets Zachariah (13: 9) and Malachi (3: 2-3) speak of the refiner’s fire in which God purifies his people, as a refiner purifies silver by fire.

At the Presentation in the Temple (Luke 2: 22-38), old Simeon foresees how the Christ Child ‘is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inward thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too’ (verses 34-35).

The sword that pierces the soul of the Virgin Mary, the sword that has killed the prophets, the sword the divides families, is a reminder that Christ, who embodies the presence of God, simultaneously judges and purifies.

In the New Testament, Baptism represents both judgment and purification and Saint John the Baptist connects it with fire (Luke 3: 16-17).

In this Gospel reading, however, Christ is referring not to the baptism he brings but to the baptism he receives. He not only brings the fire of judgment and purification, but he bears it himself also.

The Kingdom of God he proclaims is governed not by might but by forgiveness (think of forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer, Luke 11: 4), not by fear but by courage (‘be not afraid’ in Luke 1: 13, 30, 2: 10, 5: 11, 8: 50, 12: 4, 7, 32), not by power but by humility (see Magnificat, Luke 1: 46-55).

But it is easy to be lured by the temptations of wealth, status, and power rather than the promises that come with our Baptism.

In the second half of the Gospel reading, Christ chides the crowd for not recognising the signs he bears. They know how to forecast the weather, but they cannot forecast, watch for the signs of the coming Kingdom of God.

There is a fashion in the Church today for ‘fresh expressions of the Church’ that blow where the wind blows. They seek to be fashionable and claim that they are relevant.

Sometimes, you may not know whether you are in a coffee shop or in a church, whether you are in the guiding hands of a barista or of a priest. The old forms of church have been abandoned, and with it we may ask whether they have thrown out the core content too.

I visited one of these churches recently. Yes, there was a rambling sermon of 35 or more minutes. Yes, there was a time of ‘fellowship’ where people turned around their chairs and were chummy with one another, in a clumsy sort of way.

There was one reading, but no Gospel reading. There was no confession and absolution, no Creedal statement, no Trinitarian formula in the prayers. The prayers prayed for those present and those like them, but there were no prayers for those outside, no prayers for a world that is divided and suffering, no challenge or judgment for those who have created the plight and sufferings of wars, refugees, racism, economic injustice and climate justice.

In this smug self-assurance, without any reference to the world outside, there was no challenge to discipleship, to live up to the promises and challenges of Baptism.

And, needless to say, there was no Sacrament, and no hint of there ever being a Sacramental ministry.

Content had been abandoned for the sake of form. But the form had become a charade. For the sake of relevance, the church had become irrelevant.

The challenge of our Baptism is a challenge for the Church to be a sign of, a sacrament of, the Kingdom of God.

We can be distracted by the demands and fashions of what pass as ‘fresh expressions of Church’ and never meet the needs of a divided and suffering world.

Or we can be nourished by Word and Sacrament and respond to the demands of our Baptism in a discipleship that seeks to challenge and confront a suffering and divided world with the values and promises of the Kingdom of God.

But it is costly, and like Simeon warns Mary, you may find ‘a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

‘End of the beach’ at Platanias in Rethymnon … but do we know how to read the signs of the end of the times? (see Luke 12: 54-56) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Luke 12: 49-56 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said to his disciples:]

49 ‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided:

father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’

54 He also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat”; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?’

The White-Robed Army of Martyrs (see Hebrews 11: 35-40) … a fresco on the walls of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
who sent your Holy Spirit
to be the life and light of your Church:
Open our hearts to the riches of his grace,
that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit
in love and joy and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect of the Word:

Merciful Lord,
cleanse and defend your Church by the sacrifice of Christ.
United with him in holy baptism,
give us grace to receive with thanksgiving
the fruits of his redeeming work
and daily follow in his way;
through the same Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Holy Father,
who gathered us here around the table of your Son
to share this meal with the whole household of God:
In that new world where you reveal the fulness of your peace,
gather people of every race and language
to share in the eternal banquet
of Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘Holy Father, who gathered us here around the table of your Son to share this meal with the whole household of God’ (Post-Communion Prayer) … the Supper at Emmaus depicted in a mosaic in the Church of the Holy Name, Ranelagh, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Suggested Hymns:

Isaiah 5: 1-7:

51, Awake, my soul, and with the sun

Psalm 80: 1-2, 9-20:

686, Bless the Lord, the God of our forebears
688, Come, bless the Lord, God of our forebears
695, God of mercy, God of grace
614, Great Shepherd of your people, hear
305, O Breath of life, come sweeping through us
657, O God of Bethel, by whose hand

Jeremiah 23: 23-29:

381, God has spoken – by his prophets
388, Word of the living God

Psalm 82:

125, Hail to the Lord’s anointed
535, Judge eternal, throned in splendour
140, The Lord will come and not be slow
509, Your kingdom come, O God

Hebrews 11: 29 to 12: 2:

645, Father, hear the prayer we offer
566, Fight the good fight with all thy might
352, Give thanks with a grateful heart
463, Give us the wings of faith to rise
696, God, we praise you! God, we bless you!
417, He gave his life in selfless love
636, May the mind of Christ our Saviour
285, The head that once was crowned with thorns
376, Ye holy angels bright

Luke 12: 49-56:

550, ‘Forgive our sins as we forgive’
639, O thou who camest from above

‘By faith the people of Israel passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land’ (Hebrews 11: 26) … a fresco in Saint John’s Monastery, Tolleshunt Knights (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

The hymn suggestions are provided in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling. The hymn numbers refer to the Church of Ireland’s Church Hymnal (5th edition, Oxford: OUP, 2000)

‘When you see a cloud rising in the west … and when you see the south wind blowing’ (Luke 12: 54-55) … clouds and sunshine at Saint Mary's Cathedral and the River Shannon in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Monday, 5 August 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 11 August 2019,
Eighth Sunday after Trinity

‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return … so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks’ (Luke 12: 35-36) … figures on the open West Door of Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert, Co Galway (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 11 August 2019, is the Eighth Sunday after Trinity

The Readings:

The appointed readings in the Revised Common Lectionary, as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland, are in two groups.

The readings are:

Continuous Readings: Isaiah 1: 1, 10-20; Psalm 50: 1–8, 23–24; Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16; Luke 12: 32-40. There is a link to the continuous readings HERE.

Paired readings: Genesis 15: 1-6; Psalm 33: 12–22; Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16; Luke 12: 32-40. There is a link to the paired readings HERE.

‘Be like those who are waiting for their master to return … so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks’ (Luke 12: 35-36) … the open West Door of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Introducing the continuous readings:

Having had a few short introductions to the prophets Amos and Hosea, the next two weeks introduce the Prophet Isaiah and then the Prophet Isaiah.

We have also completed our readings from the Letter to the Colossians, and for these four weeks we are reading our way through the Letter to the Hebrews.

Our readings for Sunday morning challenge us to re-examine how our priorities are reflected in our worship, and challenge us to be prepared for the coming Kingdom as we would prepare for either an intrusive or invading thief, or as we would prepare to join the celebrations when we are invited to a wedding banquet.

The Prophets Isaiah (left) and Jeremiah (right) in a window in Saint Michael’s Church, Pery Square, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Isaiah 1: 1, 10-20:

Biblical scholars divide this book into two – and sometimes even three – sections:

1, Chapters 1 to 39 were written before the exile, between ca 740 BC and ca 700 BC. These were difficult times for the southern kingdom, Judah. There was a disastrous war with Syria. The Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom, Israel, in 723 BC, and threatened Judah. The Prophet Isaiah identifies the cause of these events as social injustice.

These first 39 chapters (‘First Isaiah’) tell of Isaiah’s vision, past, present and future:

● Back to the historical origins of Israel and the covenant with God;
● Israel’s present disobedience to God, and the impending judgement;
● Forward to the restoration of the relationship God wants to have with his people.

2, Chapters 40 to 66 were written during and after the Exile in Babylon. They are filled with a message of trust and confident hope that God will soon end the Exile.

3, Some scholars says that Chapters 56 to 66 form a third part of the book, written after the return from Exile. These chapters speak of hope and despair; they berate the people for their sin, for worshipping other gods. They speak of the hope that God will soon restore Jerusalem to its former glory and make a new home for all peoples.

Sunday’s reading tells of God’s father-child relationship with Judah, the southern kingdom. It is like a rebellious child who has rebelled against the caring parent. Among the cities, only Jerusalem remains free, but it is isolated and besieged (verses 7 to 9).

Isaiah addresses the rulers and the people, telling them to listen to God’s teaching. God is tired of people who go through the motions of worship but without sincerity. Because they mistreat the poor and the helpless, God will not accept their worship, sacrifices, prayers and festivals, and sees them as futile and as an abomination, the hands lifted in prayer ‘are full of blood.’

God’s lists nine expectations (verses 12-17):

● trample my courts no more (verse 12);
● wash yourselves ritually (verse 16);
● remove the evil of your doings (verse 16);
● cease to do evil (verse 16);
● learn to do good (verse 17);
● seek justice (verse 17);
● rescue the oppressed (verse 17);
● defend the orphan (verse 17);
● plead for the widow (verse 17).

God will no longer listen to their pleas. But there is a choice: either be willing and obedient to God’s ways, and so prosper; or refuse and rebel and ‘be devoured by the sword’ (verses 19-20).

‘Let the heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge’ (Psalm 50: 6) … sunset on the beach in Platanias, near Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Psalm 50: 1-8, 23-24:

Psalm 50 also addresses the theme of ‘the acceptable sacrifice.’ This psalm is a liturgy of divine judgement.

God calls the heavens and the earth before him as judge.

The sacrifices of the people are acceptable when they are offered. But sacrifices and offerings are not mere ritual. The real offering that God seeks is thanksgiving. Indeed, reciting the Law without intending to keep it is mocking God. The people who befriend thieves and those who are sexually exploitative (‘adulterers’), divide families, have forgotten God and face destruction. But those who give thanks to God know the meaning of salvation.

The Letter to the Hebrews hints at the story in Genesis of the Hospitality of Abraham and Sarah … a modern interpretation of Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16:

The Letter to the Hebrews is more like a sermon than an epistle, and is written with an understanding of Jewish religious practices.

Although the Authorised or King James Version of the Bible titles it ‘The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews,’ we do not know the identity of the author. Clement of Alexandria referred to this letter as written by Saint Paul, but around the same time Origen said that ‘only God knows’ who wrote it.

The structure of this epistle is that each statement of doctrine is followed by a practical exhortation. Basing his argument on the Old Testament, the author argues for the superiority of Christ over the prophets, angels and Moses. Christ offers a superior priesthood, and his sacrifice is much more significant than that of the Temple priests. He is the heavenly High Priest, making the true sacrifice for the sins of the people, but he is also of the same flesh and blood as those he makes holy.

Earlier in this letter, the author urges his readers to recall the time after they were baptised: they endured hardships, but accepted them cheerfully, ‘knowing that you … possessed something better and more lasting.’

He urges them to live by faith (10: 32-39), and now reminds them that ‘faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ (11: 1). Through faith, we know that the invisible God sets the course of history in the visible creation.

The writer then gives examples of Old Testament figures who did not know of the promises of Christ, yet lived by faith in God. Abraham trusted that he would have a land to inherit, even though he did not know where he was going. While he moved through life, he lived in tents, but he continued, in faith, to look forward to the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, a better country.

Abraham is seen as a prototype of the Christian believer. Most translations say that it was because of Abraham’s faith that he had descendants. The original Greek for Hebrews 11: 11 says:

Πίστει καὶ αὐτὴ Σάρρα στεῖραδύναμιν εἰς καταβολὴν σπέρματος ἔλαβεν καὶ παρὰ καιρὸν ἡλικίας, ἐπεὶ πιστὸνἡγήσατο τὸν ἐπαγγειλάμενον:

The NRSV translates this:

By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old – and Sarah herself was barren – because he considered him faithful who had promised.

But it would be more accurate to translate this is as:

By faith also, Sarah herself, a barren woman, received the ability to establish a posterity beyond normal age, since she was considered the faithful one who had promised.

So, this reading is actually making a point that the promises of God are fulfilled in the future through the faith in the past of both Abraham and Sarah.

These Hebrew figures in the past died in faith, although they could not know what promises the future held. The author says ‘they confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth,’ although in Genesis, it is only Abraham who says he is a stranger and a foreigner.

God is not ashamed of them, quite the opposite; because they had faith in God and trusted in him, God prepared a new city, the new Jerusalem, for them.

‘Be like those who are waiting for their master to return … so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks’ (Luke 12: 36) … ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock’ … a window in Saint Mary’s Church, Killarney (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 12: 32-40:

Last Sunday [4 August 2019, Trinity VII], we heard how Christ told the parable of the farmer who, keeping his great harvest for himself, planning to live a life of eating, drinking and pleasure in which he turned his back on God and God’s ways.

Now, in the first part of this reading (verses 32-34), Christ tells his disciples, ‘Do not be afraid,’ and tells them to prepare themselves for the kingdom. They are to avoid being over-attached to worldly possessions, they are to share with the poor and the oppressed, they are to give priority to their relationship with God rather than material wealth, ‘for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (12: 34).

In the second part of this reading (verses 35-40), Christ tells a parable about vigilance and loyalty.

At the time, people expected a great banquet when the Messiah came. Christians see this banquet is with Christ, symbolising our union with him and inaugurating the fulfilment of the kingdom.

The disciples are urged to be vigilant, waiting like people in the night fully dressed and lamps lit, watching out for the return of the Master, ready to open the door when he arrives and knocks at the door. When he returns, he serves the slaves at the banquet.

We are to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man at an unexpected hour, like the owner of a house who is prepared for the unexpected arrival of a thied in the middle of the night.

‘They may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks’ … Holman Hunt’s ‘The Light of the World’

Gospel reflection 1:

One of the earliest images I have of Christ is William Holman Hunt’s ‘The Light of the World’ – it was the first image of Christ I remember being shown to me by my grandmother as a small boy in her house in Cappoquin in West Waterford.

There are two original copies of this famous painting. The first was moved to Keble College, Oxford, and became so popular that Holman Hunt was asked to paint a larger copy. The second version was then sold on condition that it toured the world to preach the Gospel and the purchaser would provide cheap colour reproductions.

After travelling the world, the second version of ‘The Light of the World’ was presented to Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, in 1904. It remains there to this day as ‘a painted text, a sermon on canvas.’

There are countless copies of this painting in vestries and sacristies, rectories and vicarages, and homes throughout the Anglican Communion, and it reproduced in stained-glass windows in many churches.

Despite the popularity of this painting, few people know what the artist was trying to say, or the spiritual depths he searched, as he worked on this painting. Yet it remains one of the great artistic expressions of Anglican spirituality.

Holman Hunt was a founding figure in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood – those young artists and poets of the Victorian era who reacted vigorously against ‘the frivolous art of the day.’ They included Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his sister, the poet Christina Rossetti.

Their paintings of religious or romantic subjects were clear and sharply focused. They believed that art is essentially spiritual in character and that mediaeval culture had a spiritual and creative integrity that was lost in later eras.

But the work of the Pre-Raphaelites often caused offence. When ‘Christ in the House of His Parents’ by John Everett Millais was exhibited in 1850, it was condemned as blasphemous. Charles Dickens claimed it made the Holy Family look like alcoholics and slum-dwellers with contorted, absurd poses – and Dickens knew better than most how these sorts of people lived in 19th century London.

William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) received his middle name through a clerical error at his baptism in 1827 in Saint Mary’s Church, Ewell, near Epsom. He was raised in Cheapside in an evangelical family, where he spent much time reading the Bible. He left school at 12, but he persuaded his parents to send him to the Royal Academy Schools to train as a painter.

Holman Hunt began painting ‘The Light of the World’ in 1851. When it was displayed in 1853, it was harshly criticised. But John Ruskin defended Holman Hunt, and curiosity about the painting reached such a pitch that it went on a national tour by demand.

Holman Hunt later recalled: ‘I painted the picture with what I thought, unworthy though I was, to be by Divine command, and not simply as a good subject.’

To achieve realism, Holman Hunt did much of this painting at night by the light of a lamp in Ewell, where he was baptised.

The work is full of symbolic meaning, with the contrasts between light and dark, and between luxuriant, abundant plants and the thorns and weeds. The painting shows Christ, the Light of the World (John 8: 12), knocking on an overgrown and long-unopened door: ‘Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you, and eat with you, and you with me’ (Revelation 3: 20). But it could equally illustrate this Sunday’s Gospel reading.

One person – the person behind the door – can open that door and let Christ in. But Holman Hunt also wanted to convey the clear message that Christ comes to a sinful world and stands at the door of my heart and your heart, indeed at the door of the heart of the Church and the door of the heart of the World.

In his painting, Christ’s head bears two crowns: the earthly crown of shame and his heavenly crown of glory. The thorny crown is beginning to bud and to blossom. These are not thorns from a hawthorn hedge, or briars from an overgrown garden in England. These are thorns from branches thrown by soldiers in Palestine on a barrack-room brazier, with spikes three to four inches long, twisted into a rough-and-ready crown set firmly on Christ’s head, each sharp spike drawing blood.

Christ’s loving eyes look directly at you wherever you stand to view this painting. But the sadness on Christ’s face is painful. His listening aspect shows that even at the eleventh hour he knocks, hoping for an answer. His hands are nail-pierced, his half-open right hand is raised in blessing, but his feet are turned away, as if he is about to go. For he has been knocking, and he has been left waiting.

For Christ’s royal mantle, Holman Hunt draped his mother’s best tablecloth around his model, but the symbolism was lost on many. Christ who knocks at the door invites us to his table and to the heavenly banquet. The mantle might be a liturgical cope, linking this scene with the eschatological promise in the Eucharist. This cope or mantle is secured by the Urim and Thummim, clasped by the Cross in a symbol of Judaism and Christianity being brought together.

Christ’s robe is seamless, symbolising the unity of the Body of Christ.

Christ’s lantern lights up his features, the doorway, and the way ahead. ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Psalm 119: 105). To those living in darkness, Christ is waiting to enter their lives. The cords of the lamp, twisted around Christ’s wrist, symbolise the intense unity between Christ and the Church.

The shut door has no latch, no handle, no keyhole – it can only be opened from inside. But the ironwork is rusted, for it is a long time since this door has been opened. The door to our hearts has to be opened from within, through repentance and faith, faith that flowers and bears fruit.

The door is overgrown with the dead weeds and trailing ivy that choke up flowers and any fruit. They would not be there had the door been kept open. All the plants have been overtaken by brambles, because this a place to which the gardener has not come.

Above flies a bat, blind and unable to see in the darkness, long associated with ruin and neglect. Below, the fruit has fallen to the ground and some are rotten. Yet the light from the lamp shows this fruit has come from a good tree.

In words that echo many of those ideas that inspired Holman Hunt as he painted ‘The Light of the World,’ Christ says in the Gospel reading next Sunday: ‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks’ (Luke 12: 35-36).

When he comes and knocks at your door, will the owner of the house be prepared and ready?

Will Christ be welcome to sit down and eat with you?

Will the fruits of our faith be flowering?

Or will they be crushed and scattered on the ground beneath him?

And how do we know if we are ready and are prepared?

We are told in the reading from the Prophet Isaiah how to be ready. We must ‘… cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow’ (Isaiah 1: 16-17).

And if we are ready, then we shall be prepared to open the door and to invite him in.

We must be found to be neither cold nor hot.

We must be refreshed by the living waters of faith, and fired with zeal for the love of Christ and for his world.

Then can we sit and eat and drink with the Lord at the Heavenly Banquet.

‘For you as yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend’ … a bust of John Donne at Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Gospel reflection 2:

Have you ever been burgled?

It is a frightening and a traumatic experience for anyone who has suffered it.

It is one thing to come home from a day’s work, or from a holiday, to find your house has been broken into. It is another to wake up and realise that as you were sleeping a thief has broken into your home, and is downstairs or in the next room.

It happened to us once, in another house we were living in.

It was in the days before mobile ’phones and cordless ’phones. I had been working late the night before and came downstairs to answer a mid-morning call.

Unknown to me, the thieves were in the next room, having already gone through our kitchen. They were in there, having made themselves something to drink, had cut the lead to the video recorder, and were squatting on the floor, armed with the ‘kitchen devil,’ straight from the cutlery drawer, sorting through our other possessions.

They must have remained very quiet. Instead of stealing our goods, they stole out the back door before I ever put the ’phone down or realised what had happened.

It is a frightening experience, and it made us extra vigilant: extra bolts and locks, rethinking the alarm system, and so on. The police knew who the ‘likely suspects’ were, but they could offer no guarantees that we were never going to be broken into again … and again.

It is an experience that was also a reminder of our own vulnerability, and a reminder that what I own and possess is not really mine, and not mine for very long. Finding the ‘kitchen devil’ on the floor was also a sharp reminder that even my life is not mine for very long.

And so, the image of Christ we come across at the end of this Gospel reading, of a thief coming unexpectedly to break into my house, may not be a very comforting one for those of us brought up with the image of ‘Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild.’

And yet it is an image that has echoes in the poetry of some of the great mystical writers in Anglican history. It reminds me, for example, of the words of John Donne (Holy Sonnets XIV):

Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you
As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.


It is the passionate language of love, of passionate love. But then, of course, Christ demands our passion, our commitment, our love.

Christ’s call to us in this reading, the demands Christ is making on us in this reading, are not just addressed to the Disciples.

Christ is speaking to the disciples in particular, and teaching them about the kingdom (Luke 12: 1). But as he is speaking to them, someone in the crowd – like a heckler – interrupts and asks a question (see Luke 12: 13).

The inner circle of the Disciples must have felt they were being broken into by those on the rims, those in the crowd of outsiders, the crowd or multitude following Christ but who were not among the Disciples.

So Christ’s demands are made not just of some inner circle, for some elite group within the Church, for those who are seen as pious and holy.

This is a demand he makes also to those on the margins, for the sake of those on the margins, that he makes on the whole Church for the sake of those on the margins.

We are to be ever vigilant that we do not keep those on the margins on the outside for too long. They may appear like thieves trying to break in. But when we welcome in those on the outside who we see as thieves, we may find we are welcoming Christ himself.

And in welcoming Christ himself, into our inner sanctum, we are making it a sign of the Kingdom. The Church needs to be place not where we feel secure, but where the outsider feels welcome, where they can feast and taste what the Kingdom of God is like.

What is this Kingdom like?

Where is it?

When shall we find it?

In this Gospel reading, Christ tells the multitude – the multitude who are gathered just like the 5,000 who were gathered earlier on the hillside and fed with the multiplication of five loaves and two fish (Luke 9: 10-17) – that the kingdom is already given.

My favoured translation of the Bible, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), says ‘it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom’ (Luke 12: 32), present tense. But the original Greek says ‘your Father was well pleased with you (or, took pleasure) to freely give the Kingdom to you’ … ὅτι εὐδόκησεν ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν δοῦναι ὑμῖντὴν βασιλείαν.

God wanted to do something good for the ‘little flock’ (verse 32), and so freely gave them the kingdom – the reign of God – in which tables are open, status is upended, and all people are treated with dignity. In God’s Kingdom – on earth as it is in heaven – there is no scarcity, there are no class or gender barriers, there are no ‘insiders’ and no ‘outsiders.’

Christ compares that Kingdom of God with a wedding banquet.

When we go to a wedding, we have no control over what happens. In the first case, we have, thankfully, no control over who is getting married to whom. But, secondly, weddings break down all our petty snobberies and all our status-seeking.

Whatever we think of the choice of bride or groom, we have no say at all in who is going to be a new brother-in-law, a new mother-in-law, and even into the future, who is going to be a new cousin to our children’s children.

It’s enough to make you laugh.

Sarah laughed when she was told about her future family (see Genesis 18: 12). There is a hint of that story in the Epistle reading, when the writer reminds us of the faith of Abraham and Sarah (see Hebrews 11: 11, 13-16).

My commentary on the Old Testament reading argues that God’s promise of the Kingdom multiplies beyond all our expectations, even beyond the expectations of modern Bible translators.

We cannot control this. Those who come into the banquet may appear to us like thieves and burglars, brazenly breaking into our own family home, into our own family.

But we may find that the thief is actually Christ trying to break into our hearts to let us know that the kingdom is already here.

The word for master here is actually κύριος (kyrios), Lord, the word used in the Greek Old Testament for the Lord God by Jews who found the use of the name of God offensive and blasphemous. But using the word master for κύριος hides away God’s work, confusing the Lord, the ‘Son of Man’ (ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, ho yios tou anthropou), with the ‘master of the house,’ the householder (οἰκοδεσπότης, oikodespótēs).

Think of how the word κύριος (kyrios), Lord, was used by Abraham as he addressed the three visitors to Abraham and Sarah at the Oak of Mamre. The strangers become angels, and the angels come to represent the Triune God.

Had Abraham treated his visitors as thieves, where would we be today? Instead he sets a banquet before the Three, and finds not once but three times that he has an encounter with the living Lord (Genesis 18: 3, 13, 14), the Triune God, an encounter that leads Abraham and Sarah to a faith that ushers in the promises of the Kingdom.

The Lord who arrives for the banquet and stands knocking at the door (Luke 12: 36) in this Gospel reading is the same Christ who says: ‘Behold, I am standing at the door knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come into you and eat with you, and you with me’ (Revelation 3: 20).

He comes in ways we do not expect, and at ‘the unexpected hour,’ the time we ‘think nothing of’ (ἧ ὥρᾳ οὐ δοκεῖτε, he hora ou dokeite, Luke 12: 40) – ‘an hour that seems like nothing.’ He does not bother trying to tear down our puny defences. He sneaks around them instead.

Welcome to the banquet.

Welcome to the kingdom.

Allow the stranger among you, and the stranger within you, to open that door and discover that Christ is not a thief trying to steal what you have, but is the Lord who is trying to batter our hearts and tear down our old barriers so that we can all feast together at the new banquet:

Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you
As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.


Christ constantly compares the Kingdom of God with a wedding banquet … waiting for a wedding banquet in Amalfi (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 12: 32-40:

32 ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35 ‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

39 ‘But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’

‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit’ (Luke 12: 35) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: Green.

The Collect of the Day:

Blessed are you, O Lord,
and blessed are those who observe and keep your law:
Help us to seek you with our whole heart,
to delight in your commandments
and to walk in the glorious liberty
given us by your Son, Jesus Christ.

The Collect of the Word:

Almighty and merciful God,
it is by your grace that we live as your people
who offer acceptable service.
Grant that we walk by faith, and not by sight,
in the way that leads to eternal life;
through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Strengthen for service, Lord,
the hands that holy things have taken;
may the ears which have heard your word
be deaf to clamour and dispute;
may the tongues which have sung your praise be free from deceit;
may the eyes which have seen the tokens of your love
shine with the light of hope;
and may the bodies which have been fed with your body
be refreshed with the fullness of your life;
glory to you for ever.

‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit … so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks’ (Luke 12: 35-36) … the open door of a monastery in the mountains in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Suggested Hymns:

Isaiah 1: 1, 10-20:

357, I’ll praise my maker while I’ve breath
553, Jesu, lover of my soul
587, Just as I am, without one plea
446, Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands
498, What does the Lord require for praise and offering?

Psalm 50: 1-8, 23-24:

501, Christ is the world’s true light
381, God has spoken – by his prophets
97, Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
131, Lift up your heads, you mighty gates
362, O God beyond all praising
140, The Lord will come and not be slow

Genesis 15: 1-6:

10, All my hope on God is founded
501, Christ is the world’s true light
383, Lord, be thy word my rule
595, Safe in the shadow of the Lord
545, Sing of Eve and sing of Adam
323, The God of Abraham praise

Psalm 33: 12-22:

81, Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided
539, Rejoice, O land, in God thy might

Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16:

326, Blessèd city, heavenly Salem (Christ is made the sure foundation)
461, For all thy saints, O Lord
646, Glorious things of thee are spoken
469, In our day of thanksgiving one psalm let us offer
670, Jerusalem the golden
672, Light’s abode, celestial Salem
658, One more step along the world I go
681, There is a land of pure delight
661, Through the night of doubt and sorrow

Luke 12: 32-40:

643, Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
261, Christ, above all glory seated!
86, Christ is the King! O friends, rejoice
570, Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning
363, O Lord of earth and heaven and sea
142, Wake, O wake with tidings thrilling
145, You servants of the Lord

‘Let the heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge’ (Psalm 50: 6) … sunset at Laytown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

The hymn suggestions are provided in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling. The hymn numbers refer to the Church of Ireland’s Church Hymnal (5th edition, Oxford: OUP, 2000)

‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return … so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks’ (Luke 12: 35-36) … the open West Door of Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert, Co Galway (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)