Collect, readings and Sermon for the 1st Sunday after Trinity.
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O God, the strength of those who put their trust in you, mercifully accept our prayers and, because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do no good thing without you, grant us the help of your grace, that in the keeping of your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
by Sally Leeson
“Let me bring a little bread that you may refresh yourselves.”(Genesis.18.v.5)
There’s a Turkish film I like which is made up of very simple scenes. One of these depicts an unemployed stone mason cooking a meal for a depressed young photographer from Istanbul who has gone back to the place of his childhood. Over two and a half thousand years separate this scene from the one described in Genesis where Abraham and Sarah offer hospitality to three strangers, but in many ways little has changed. In the Turkish village near the Black Sea, the host sits with his guest outside under a makeshift awning, cutting up tomatoes and melon. His guest has brought a fresh trout to add to the pot of herbs which boils over a simple stove. The host hopes he’ll find some work in Russia. His guest says that if he’s not able to, perhaps he can help him find something in another construction company elsewhere. All the while, you can hear the sound of a cow bell attached to a simple water pump as it works itself up and down.
The gospel passage today talks about Jesus’ compassion for the harassed and helpless crowds. Harassment and helplessness are features of all of today’s readings, and of the Turkish film as well. There’s the lack of a child for Sarah, the ‘weakness’ of humanity in Paul’s epistle, the precarious work conditions of the host in the film and the mental suffering of his guest. It’s often part of our human lot not to get what we long for, to lose our way and be unable to find those green pastures and still waters, to be harassed by those things which push and shove us around in life over which we seem to have little control. But what we find in these readings, and in that scene in the film, are ways through. Very simple actions and gestures. Hospitality, compassion and healing care.
These things may feel quite difficult to do at the moment. This is not because you need a certain IQ to do them, or to be a particularly good person, or to have trained in some programme or workshop. Wanting to touch and talk and share food with people is deep within us, but has been almost impossible because of this pandemic. And yet as these simple things have been made harder, many people are more determined to find other ways of doing them and to keep our relatedness alive.
Because it’s not just about doing something to someone else. It is about our own life. Life is not about staying alive but living. And what helps us to live is to recognise, as the often quoted Desert Father saying goes, that your life and your death are with your neighbour. Something happens when you forget yourself a bit and enter into an unselfconscious communion with those around you, recognising your mutual dependence on one another to thrive. One of the things I’ve missed while shielding with my family is speaking to Monica, the young woman who sells the Big Issue outside Waitrose. You may know her. What began with a reasonably mutual transaction (I want the magazine – and I do enjoy reading it – and she gets some of the money, it’s her job) turns into a place of encounter where we can share things. She asks about me, tells me to take care as much as I do her. We share opinions about more than just the weather and she helps to release me from that self- conscious act of ‘helping the homeless.’ In the end we are just two human beings, standing together telling our stories. A simple scene.
It may feel on first reading that the disciples’ mission to go and help all these harassed and helpless people is a bit one sided. In practice, I’ve no doubt, it was different because along with all the instructions about what they are to do, there are ones which put them in a vulnerable position. Take no money or other props. You are dependent on the hospitality of others. You have to risk rejection. You have to go in faith.
So out of the seemingly lost worlds, there comes a response and through that response, comes life. A child for Sarah, a vision of Christ’s loving gift of himself to all of humanity in Paul, the healing work of the kingdom. And in the Turkish film, the offer of future work for the man sharing his vegetables with a visitor. As for the photographer, his guest, there’s a scene which follows the one of hospitality, where he finds himself in a beautiful green glade. Exhausted, he curls up in a foetal position on the grass. At that point, the film goes into slow motion and the movements of the man look not unlike a creature trying to be born. He falls asleep and is woken by the panting of a dog who comes, almost like an angel, to bring him back out into the world. It’s the first time we see the man smile. Did the road to healing need that hospitality, the giving and the receiving, the encounters which reminded him that your life and your death are with your neighbour? Perhaps.