Sunday, 6 June 2021

How the things we do today
reflect our values and shape
the future we are creating

‘But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property (Mark 3: 27) … Kilkenny Castle at night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 6 June 2021

The First Sunday After Trinity (Trinity I)

11 am:
The Parish Eucharist

Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry

The Readings:
I Samuel 8: 4-11, 16-20; Psalm 138; Mark 3: 20-35.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘By the ruler of the demons he casts out demons’ (Mark 3: 22) … a gargoyle at Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

TS Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral is based on the events leading up to the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, on 29 December 1170.

Becket was murdered at the behest of King Henry II, and the play focuses on Becket’s internal struggles. As he reflects on the martyrdom he faces, his tempters arrive, like Job’s comforters, and they question the archbishop about his plight, echoing in many ways Christ’s temptations in the wilderness.

The first tempter offers Becket the prospect of physical safety. The second tempter offers him power, riches and fame in serving the king so that he can disarm the powerful and help the poor. The third tempter suggests the archbishop should form an alliance with the barons and seize a chance to resist the king.

Finally, the fourth tempter urges Thomas to look to the glory of martyrdom.

Becket responds to all his tempters and specifically addresses the immoral suggestions of the fourth tempter at the end of the first act:

Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain:
Temptation shall not come in this kind again.
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason
.

Saint Mark’s Gospel is very sparse in its account of the story of Christ’s temptations in the wilderness – just two verses (see Mark 1: 12-13). In the much fuller accounts given by Saint Matthew (Matthew 4: 1-11) and Saint Luke (Luke 4: 1-13), Christ is tempted to do the right things for the wrong reason.

What would be wrong with Christ turning stones into bread (see Matthew 4: 3; Luke 4: 3-4) to feed the hungry?

What would be wrong with Christ showing miraculous powers (see Matthew 4: 3; Luke 4: 9) to point to the majesty of God (see Matthew 4: 4; Luke 4: 10-11)?

What would be wrong with Christ taking command of the kingdoms of this world (see Matthew 4: 9; Luke 4: 5-7) to usher in justice, mercy and peace?

Let us not deceive ourselves, these are real temptations. For those who are morally driven there is always a real temptation to do the right thing but to do it for the wrong reason.

In today’s Gospel reading, Christ is challenged in two fundamental ways. He is challenged about whether his work is the work of God or the work of the Devil (Mark 3: 22), and he is challenged to think about what his family thinks about what he is doing (Mark 3: 32).

This theme of temptation and power is also at the heart of our first reading (I Samuel 8: 4-11, [12-15], 16-20 [11: 14-15]). The elders of Israel want a king, and go to Samuel, claiming their motivation is to be ‘like other nations’ (I Samuel 8: 5). But the real reason was a power grab, motivated by a loss of faith in the power of God.

We all know Ireland benefitted in recent years from wanting to be a modern nation, like our neighbours. But that ambition turned to greed, and we were surprised when greed turned to economic collapse. We had given in to the temptation to do what appeared to be the right thing for the wrong reason.

Too often when I am offered the opportunity to do the right thing, to make a difference in this society, in this world, I ask: ‘What’s in this for me?’

When I am asked to speak up for those who are marginalised or oppressed, this should be good enough reason in itself. But then I wonder how others are going to react – react not to the marginalised or oppressed, but to me.

How often have I seen what is the right thing to do, but have found an excuse that I pretend is not of my own making?

How often do I think of doing the right thing only if it is going to please my family members or please my neighbours?

How often do I use the Bible to justify not extending civil rights to others?

How often do I use obscure Bible texts to prop up my own prejudices, forgetting that any text in the Bible, however clear or obscure it may be, depends, in Christ’s own words, on the two greatest commandments, to love God and to love one another.

We can convince ourselves that we are doing the right thing when we are doing it for the wrong reason. A wrong decision taken once, thinking it is doing the right thing, but for the wrong reason, is not just an action in the present moment. It forms habits and it shapes who we are, within time and eternity.

The Revd Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), a prominent German Lutheran pastor and an outspoken opponent of Hitler, spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. He once said:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.


What we do today or refuse to do today, even if we think it is the right thing to do but we do it for the wrong reasons, reflects how we have formed ourselves habitually in the past, is an image of our inner being in the present, and has consequences for the future we wish to shape.

As TS Eliot writes:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past
(‘Burnt Norton’).

How is the Church to recover its voice and speak up for the oppressed and the marginalised, not because it is fashionable or politically correct today, but because it is the right thing to do today and for the future?

Surely all our actions must depend on those two great commandments – to love God and to love one another.

As the Post-Communion Prayer today reminds us, ‘May our Communion strengthen us in faith, build us up in hope, and make us grow in love; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.’

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

‘By the ruler of the demons he casts out demons’ (Mark 3: 22) … an image at La Lonja de la Seda in Valencia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Mark 3: 20-35 (NRSVA):

20 The crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

28 ‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’ – 30 for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’

31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ 33 And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’

‘Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future / And time future contained in time past’ (TS Eliot, ‘Burnt Norton’) … summer returns to Cross in Hand Lane, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect of the Day:

God,
the strength of all 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 our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Eternal Father,
we thank you for nourishing us
with these heavenly gifts.
May our communion strengthen us in faith,
build us up in hope,
and make us grow in love;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘Appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations’ (I Samuel 8: 5) … a door-knocker on a front door in Cahir, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Hymns:

522, In Christ there is no east or west (CD 30)
662, Those who would valour see (CD 38)

‘In Christ there is no east or west’ (Hymn 522) … confusing road signs in Tsesmes near Rethymnon in Crete (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.



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