17 February 2019

‘They had come to hear him and
to be healed of their diseases’

Inside Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 17 February 2019,

The Third Sunday before Lent.

Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare

11.30 a.m.:
The Cathedral Eucharist

Readings: Jeremiah 17: 5-10; Psalm 1; I Corinthians 15: 12-20; Luke 6: 17-26.

‘Power came out of him and he healed them’ (Luke 6: 19) … the chapel in Dr Milley’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

It is good to be back this Cathedral this morning, and to be invited to preach here as the Precentor of the Cathedral.

The Cathedral Chapter in this diocese decided last year that the cathedral canons should preach once a year in either Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, or Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, and that, for their part, the deans of Limerick and Killaloe would preach on those Sundays in the parish churches of the canons.

So, this morning, the Dean of Killaloe [the Very Revd Gary Paulsen] is visiting Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, and Saint Brendan’s Church, Tarbert, Co Kerry, and we had breakfast in the Rectory in Askeaton earlier this morning before heading off to each other’s churches.

It is two years since I was installed as Precentor, but this is my first time to preach here as Precentor, although I preached here three years ago [21 February 2016] as a visitor, and I have been back to Killaloe a few times for chapter meetings and similar events.

In other words, it’s a delight to be back here, thank you for your welcome, and I’m sorry you’re losing Gary as Dean and Rector within the next few weeks.

These few weeks before Lent are seen in the Church as a time for preparation, a time to get ready, a time to think and reflect before we move into Lent itself.

Does anyone remember how this Sunday, the Third Sunday before Lent, was once known as Septuagesima?

These Latin names were a reminder that Lent is just around the corner. But, of course, Lent itself is a reminder too that Holy Week and Easter are just around the corner – a reminder to prepare for Good Friday and Easter Day, to get ready for the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.

The Epistle reading this morning (I Corinthians 15: 12-20) continues Saint Paul’s reflections on the meaning of faith in the Resurrection, a reminder that our faith is an Easter faith, that the Resurrection is at the very heart of Christian faith.

Our Gospel reading (Luke 6: 17-26), therefore, tells us what this faith should look like to the outsider. We have just listened to Saint Luke’s version of the ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ which sets out what our Christian faith, our faith in the Risen Christ, should look like to everyone else.

Saint Luke presents us with a set of contrasts between the two sets of people, although those who first heard this must have been surprised by who fits into which category.

Christ has ascended a mountain to pray. While there, he has chosen twelve of his disciples. Now he descends the mountain as far as a level place. Here he finds a large number of people, including other followers, as well as many Jews (‘people from all Judea and Jerusalem’) and many Gentiles (‘people from … the coast of Tyre and Sidon’). They come to hear and to be healed – they are here in mind and body, expecting their spiritual and their physical needs to be met.

Many are healed, so they realise in their own bodies that they have been restored to their rightful place in the Kingdom of God: those who were once regarded as unclean now have a place in the religious and worshipping community.

Saint Luke then narrates his account of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (verses 20-26). Here he tells of four beatitudes and four corresponding woes or warnings. It is a form of blessing that we have heard in the psalm (Psalm 1).

The word blessed (Greek μακαριοι, makarioi) also means ‘happy’ or ‘fortunate.’

Some are blessed, happy, fortunate to be included in the Kingdom of God, others are warned of the consequences of their choices in life.

The paired blessings and warnings are:

● to the poor (verse 20), and to the rich (verse 24);
● to the hungry (verse 21), and to the ‘full’ (verse 25a);
● to those who weep (verse 21), and to those are laughing (verse 25);
● to those who are hated, excluded, reviled and defamed (verse 22), and to those who are held in esteem (verse 26).

Saint Luke records the ‘poor’ without any qualification (verse 20), compared with Saint Matthew’s ‘poor in spirit’ (see Matthew 5: 3). In Jewish tradition, the poor and the hungry are not cursed or impure, but are deserving recipients of divine and earthly care (see Deuteronomy 11: 15; Isaiah 49: 10; Jeremiah 31: 25; Ezekiel 34: 29). The poor are to receive the Kingdom of God; the rich have their reward today in their comfortable lifestyles.

Those who are excluded are denied their right to worship in the Temple and in the synagogue. But in the past, the prophets – including Jeremiah – were hated, excluded, reviled and defamed (verse 23), while the people in power spoke well of the false prophets (verse 26; see Jeremiah 5: 31).

Our Gospel reading this morning begins by telling us a large crowd of people came to hear Jesus and to be healed, and that those who were troubled were cured. If the same people came to our churches today – if they came to me as a priest of the church today – would they know from how we behave – from how I behave – that Jesus cares for them, that he seeks to restore them to the fullness of life?

Poverty comes in many forms today. Exclusion and marginalisation are common experiences for many in our society today.

Those who hunger and who weep are not just around us, but among us, in the Church, in our community, in this society.

If you feel you are excluded or marginalised, if you know you are hungry and you are often close to tears, do you feel the rest of us in the Church do enough to see to it that you know you are counted in when it comes to the Church being a a sign of the Kingdom of God?

If you think you are financially secure, that you have enough to eat, if you have plenty of good reason to laugh and be happy, if you know people respect you and treat you properly, do you see the rest of us in the Church as a blessing to you, as an opportunity to share your blessings, to share your joys, to share your Easter faith in the Risen Christ?

In Oscar Wilde’s satirical play, A Woman of No Importance (1893), Lord Illingworth observes wisely: ‘The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.’

In the past, the Church made Lent, and these few weeks before Lent, as a time of gloom and doom, of penitence and of sorrow.

But perhaps we ought to have also stressed that this a time to take stock again, to realign our priorities, so that we can show one another that we truly are looking forward to the Church being a living sign of our faith in the Living, Risen, Christ and in the Kingdom of God.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases’ (Luke 6: 18) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 6: 17-26 (NRSVA):

17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 ‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25 ‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 ‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

‘He came down with them and stood … with a great multitude of people from … the coast’ (Luke 6: 17) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect:

Almighty God,
who alone can bring order
to the unruly wills and passions of sinful humanity:
Give your people grace
so to love what you command
and to desire what you promise;
that, among the many changes of the world,
our hearts may surely there be fixed
where true joys are to be found;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Merciful Father,
you gave Jesus Christ to be for us the bread of life,
that those who come to him should never hunger.
Draw us to our Lord in faith and love,
that we may eat and drink with him at his table in the kingdom,
where he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.


10, All my hope on God is founded
630, Blessed are the pure in heart
494, Beauty for brokenness
324, God, whose almighty word (Moscow)

‘And all in the crowd were trying to touch him …’ (Luke 6: 19) (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

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