29 September 2017
Saint Nicholas Church, Adare, Co Limerick,
Friday 29 September 2017,
Harvest Thanksgiving Service
Readings: II Corinthians 9: 6-15; Luke 17: 11-19.
May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
I like to think of this time of the year as in-between time.
We are between summer and winter.
The days are getting colder, the mornings and the evenings are getting darker, and I don’t know how much I need to wrap myself up when I go out for a walk: is it going to be sunny or is it going to be raining and cold?
In days gone-by, today’s date marked exactly how this is the in-between time of the year. Today [29 September] is Saint Michael’s Day.
It was known in the past as Michaelmas. This was a day for paying rents and fines, for settling deals and signing contracts, for winding up all the business that was left over from the summer and that needed to be settled before winter settled in.
It was a good day to think too about that in-between place between what is right and what is wrong, between good and evil.
And as children, we were reminded of this in-between time in some interesting ways. For example, this was the last day we could go picking blackberries.
There are lots of blackberries, a rich harvest of blackberries, ripening at the moment along the garden walls at the Rectory in Askeaton. They are fresh, and they are beautiful fruit for breakfast these mornings; they make good jam and pies too.
And when we picked them as children, our hands were smeared in red and black blackberry stains too. So too our mouths and tongues, because I could not resist eating as many blackberries as I put in the bucket I was collecting them in. Smeared – is that why the Irish name for blackberry is sméar dhubh?
But we were told this day is the last day to pick blackberries. There was some story in folklore that when Saint Michael defeated the Devil, the devil fell in a bush of brambles. He was caught in his own in-between place when he fell among the brambles, I suppose.
In this evening’s Gospel reading, Jesus is on his journey to Jerusalem, and finds himself between Galilee and Samaria in a village in one of those in-between places, what might have been called a ‘No-Man’s Land.’
There are some interesting shockers, what we might call miracles, in this story.
First of all, Jesus allows himself to stray into this in-between land. It is bandit territory. This was the area that was the setting for the story of the Good Samaritan. This was the area people making their way to the Temple in Jerusalem feared they were going to be set upon by bandits, beaten up, robbed and left by the side of the road.
Perhaps those fears were unfounded. Perhaps they were fears founded on prejudice against Samaritans at the time. But fearful they were, and by going this route rather than taking a safer road, Jesus challenges all our fears and prejudices.
But it is worth noting that it is not Christ, but other people who show their fears and misgivings in this story. It is the ten men, not Christ, who keep their distance on the outskirts of the village, because they are forced to behave this way, to be marginalised and to live on the margins, with their skin and limbs smeared, marked and stained.
Christ keeps his distance, as might be expected. Yet, from that distance, he sees. We often translate verse 14 to say that ‘he saw them.’ But the Greek says simply καὶ ἰδὼν, ‘and he saw’ – there is no object, there is no ‘them.’
For in Christ there is no ‘us’ and ‘them.’
Second of all, there is the miracle of healing. Let’s forget how we have read this story in the past. Perhaps we should remember that nine of these lepers did exactly as they were told, went and showed themselves to the priests, received a clean bill of health and were restored to their rightful place in the community of faith. Their healing, their obedience and their restoration are all miracles in themselves; 3 X 9 = 27 miracles.
And so that includes the third miracle, the third set of miracles: the promise that these ten men can be restored to their rightful places in the community of faith, in society.
This is a story about trusting in God’s plans for the future, rather than living in the past, living with the fears of the present, living without hope for the future.
But I continue to foil those plans, to quench those hopes, when I continue to limit Christ’s saving powers with my own limitations, continue to look at him with my own limited vision.
We should not forget that not one but ten people were healed. Christ does good – even for those we think are not thankful.
And even then, we do not know why the other nine did not return to say thanks. It took an eight-day waiting process for a person with leprosy to be declared clean by the priests.
After those eight days, did they then go and give thanks to God in their local synagogue?
Did they first breathe sighs of relief and return to the families they loved but had been isolated from for so long?
Did they return to that unnamed village, and find that ten days later Jesus had moved on … the next named place we find him in is Jericho (see Luke 19: 1)?
Surely Christ does good without expecting a thanks that comes straight from some Victorian book on good manners for polite children who know when and how to write thank you notes.
How often when we give a gift to someone do we want to control how they use it?
I give a Christmas or birthday gift, and then I am upset when they don’t like it, when they trade it in for something else, or pass it on to someone else, or simply just never say thank you or acknowledge what I have done for them.
But who was the gift supposed to benefit: me as the giver, or you as the receiver? What was it a token of: my love for you, or my need to tell you how important I am to you?
A begrudging attitude to how others receive and use the gifts I give them, or my taking offence when I feel they have not thanked me profusely enough amounts to a passive aggressive attitude on my part, a desire to control. If we give gifts only to be thanked, are we truly generous?
And if I only say thank you so I remain in someone else’s esteem, perhaps even to be rewarded again, to be kept on their invitation list, am I truly grateful?
In this story, Christ is not seeking to control. He sends the ten on their way … and they go. If he had expected them to return, he would not have been surprised that one returned; he would have waited around in that unnamed village for the other nine until they had time to make their humble way back to him.
No, it is more important what Christ frees them for, and where he frees them.
He frees them, in the in-between time and place, to regain their place in the community, in the social, economic and religious community that is their rightful place.
That land between Samaria and Galilee is where we find Christ today. The in-between place, the nowhere land, the place where people need to be saved, rescued, ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven.
We all find ourselves, at times, in the in-between place, the nowhere land ... to borrow a phrase from TS Eliot, wandering in the Waste Land.
This evening, perhaps, just for one moment perhaps, it is possible to imagine that Christ has arrived in that particular in-between place for a reason.
And the in-between place is a place where I might find myself unsure of who belongs and who does not, where I might be uncertain, untrusting, even frightened and afraid. It is a place where the usual rules may not apply, where I do not know my place, where I do not fit in, where I appear not as the person God truly sees me as, but as others want to see me.
This is the place where Christ is travelling through this evening. Perhaps then this is where you and I are travelling every day, today.
These lepers in today’s Gospel were cut off from all they knew and loved, all the certainties they once enjoyed or even took for granted.
There are many times when we are called to travel ‘between Samaria and Galilee’ as Christ does. Yet, Christ is to be found deliberately in these places.
The Samaritan leper is an outcast among the outcasts, despised among the despised. But God sees him within his perfect plan, and he offers perfect worship.
In our epistle reading, Saint Paul reminds us that when God sows and reaps, he provides abundantly. ‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever’ (II Corinthians 9: 9).
I’m enjoying the harvest of blackberries at the moment. We are all enjoying the traditional harvest decorations here this evening. Even though fewer and fewer of us are living directly from the harvest of the fields in these days, we realise that there is more than one harvest.
There is the rich harvest of what we sow and reap in our fields and farms, but also in our factories and shops, our offices and businesses.
And there is the harvest of calling in those who are counted in by Christ but have been counted out, pushed to the margins in our society, seen as being stained and smeared.
Who lives in my in-between land today? Who lives in the ‘in-between land’ I am afraid to venture into?
If we step into that in-between territory, and open ourselves to the marginalised in our society, in our own locality, then, Saint Paul reminds us, there is a harvest of righteousness (II Corinthians 9: 10). We will be blessed by the generosity of our sharing ‘with all others’ (II Corinthians 9: 13).
‘Thanks go to God for his incredible gift’ (II Corinthians 9: 15).
And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for the Harvest Thanksgiving Service in Saint Nicholas’s Church, Adare, Co Limerick, on 28 October 2017.
you crown the year with your goodness
and give us the fruits of the earth in their season:
Grant that we may use them to your glory,
for the relief of those in need
and for our own well-being;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Luke 17: 11-19
11 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ πορεύεσθαι εἰς Ἰερουσαλὴμ καὶ αὐτὸς διήρχετο διὰ μέσον Σαμαρείας καὶ Γαλιλαίας. 12 καὶ εἰσερχομένου αὐτοῦ εἴς τινα κώμην ἀπήντησαν [αὐτῷ] δέκα λεπροὶ ἄνδρες, οἳ ἔστησαν πόρρωθεν, 13 καὶ αὐτοὶ ἦραν φωνὴν λέγοντες, Ἰησοῦ ἐπιστάτα, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς. 14 καὶ ἰδὼν εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Πορευθέντες ἐπιδείξατε ἑαυτοὺς τοῖς ἱερεῦσιν. καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ ὑπάγειν αὐτοὺς ἐκαθαρίσθησαν. 15 εἷς δὲ ἐξ αὐτῶν, ἰδὼν ὅτι ἰάθη, ὑπέστρεψεν μετὰ φωνῆς μεγάλης δοξάζων τὸν θεόν, 16 καὶ ἔπεσεν ἐπὶ πρόσωπον παρὰ τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ εὐχαριστῶν αὐτῷ: καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν Σαμαρίτης. 17 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν, Οὐχὶ οἱ δέκα ἐκαθαρίσθησαν; οἱ δὲ ἐννέα ποῦ; 18 οὐχ εὑρέθησαν ὑποστρέψαντες δοῦναι δόξαν τῷ θεῷ εἰ μὴ ὁ ἀλλογενὴς οὗτος; 19 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἀναστὰς πορεύου: ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε.
11 On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ 14 When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19 Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’
Recently I have been putting the finishing touches to a chapter on Fenton Hort for a book to be published next month.
Fenton Hort (1828-1892) was one of the three members of the ‘Cambridge Triumvirate,’ a group of Biblical scholars who worked tirelessly to produce a definitive version of the Greek New Testament that has influenced all subsequent English translations of the Bible.
The other two members of the Cambridge Triumvirate were BF Westcott and JB Lightfoot, but it is often forgotten that Hort was born in Dublin, grew up in Leopardstown, and had strong family connections in Dublin, Kildare and Kerry.
His close friends in Cambridge included the Christian socialists FD Maurice and Charles Kingsley, who strongly influenced his views on working class politics, the hymn writer John Ellerton, who was born to Irish parents and librarian Henry Bradshaw, whose father was from Milecross, Co Down.
On my way into Limerick for last night’s debate in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, once again I passed Westward Ho!, the landmark pub in Mungret that sadly has been closed for some time and is now surrounded by fencing. Once again, I was reminded of Hort’s friend, Charles Kingsley, who was the author of Westward Ho! (1855), a novel that I found exciting as a schoolboy, although it had been published almost a century before I was born.
Hort and Kingsley were close friends and neighbours in Cambridge, and when Westward Ho! was about to be published Kingsley sent the printer’s proofs to Hort, perhaps seeking not just a second opinion but approval too.
Hort was particularly engaged by Chapter 5, with its descriptions of the Desmond rebellion in Limerick and Kerry, including references to Hort’s ancestors in the FitzMaurice family and the destruction of Carrigafoyle Castle.
Others would later accuse Kingsley of anti-Irish racism, in this book and in The Water Babies. But Hort could hardly suppress his excitement at this pre-publication reading, and wrote eagerly about the new book to his friend the bibliophile Henry Bradshaw (1831-1886), who had moved to Dublin the previous year and had been appointed a master at Saint Columba’s College, Rathfarnham (1854-1856).
Writing to Bradshaw in Rathfarnham from Cambridge in February 1855, Hort said he had ‘just been reading in the sheets of Kingsley’s Westward Ho!, a capital description of the attempt of the Spaniards to effect a lodgement in Munster in 1580, and have been so much interested by it that I daresay I shall some day make an effort to discover what your books may contain about it. Kingsley’s novel is the very thing to come out now, — judging by so much of it as I have read; and I think you will enjoy it thoroughly. The only fault I have to find with it is that he will not leave those poor Stuarts alone.’
Another of Hort’s close friends in Cambridge was the Revd Gerald Blunt (1827-1902), later Rector of Chelsea. In March 1855, Hort wrote to Blunt telling him he was reading ‘a large number of books.’ But the one he was most engrossed in was ‘Kingsley’s Westward Ho! which is published tomorrow.’
He could hardly restrain himself in his praise for the book, believing Kingsley ‘has quite surpassed himself; all his old energy and geniality, tempered with thorough self-restraint and real Christian wisdom. The suffering and anxiety he has endured now for some time have obviously much purified and chastened him, and rather increased than lessened his strength and elasticity.’
He was brimming in his praise for the book: ‘I hardly know a more wholesome book for anyone to read. Personally, I feel deeply indebted to it, though I suppose its lessons, like most others, will prove transitory enough. Don’t smile; but my first impulse, after reading it, was to wish myself chaplain of the Dauntless.’
However, despite his personal enjoyment of the book, Hort had his doubts. He told Blunt: ‘I ought to say that Westward Ho! will very possibly not be popular. Some will say that it is too like a book of travels; others, like a common novel, etc. etc. Its great fault is its dearness, so that I must wait for the cheap edition.’
Soon after these letters and the publication of Westward Ho!, Bradshaw returned to Cambridge to work in the library and as Dean of King’s College (1857-1858 and 1863-1865), and he was appointed the Cambridge University Librarian in 1867.
Many years later, in 1884, Blunt’s daughter Else married the Revd Joseph Newenham Hoare, a son of Archdeacon Edward Hoare (1802-1877) of Trinity Chapel, Limerick. At the time, Joseph Hoare was the curate of Holy Trinity Church, Muckross, a new church in Killarney, Co Kerry.
Hort was her godfather and when he visited Dublin four years later to accept an honorary doctorate in Trinity College Dublin, he was eager to visit Kerry and the Atlantic coast, perhaps because he was descended through Lady Elizabeth FitzMaurice, his great-grandmother, from the Earls of Kerry, perhaps because he wanted to visit Else Hoare in Killarney.
But the weather was inclement that June, and Hort never got out of Dublin beyond Glendalough and the Wicklow Mountains. Last night, as I returned through to Askeaton through Mungret, I wondered whether Hort’s planned journey to Killarney would have brought him out of Limerick on the same road, past Westward Ho!, and whether it would have brought back memories of his first reading of Kingsley’s swashbuckling novel, with its ‘capital description of the attempt of the Spaniards to effect a lodgement in Munster.’