Evensong, First Sunday after Trinity 2015

Sermon preached at Choral Evensong by Rev'd Eric Robinson on the First Sunday after Trinity Sunday, 2015

Jeremiah 6: 16-21, Romans 9:1-13

I was watching a quiz show on television a few days ago. A young man was doing well until he faltered over a question. ‘In the Christian calendar what do we call the day before Good Friday?’ asked the quizmaster. The young man thought for a moment and then answered ‘Shrove Tuesday’. The clue of course was in the word ‘Friday’. The young man’s answer made me realise how many people today can’t navigate their way around Christian events or Biblical references. Calling someone a ‘Doubting Thomas’ or a ‘Jeremiah’ was common when I was young. From our Sunday School days we knew what they meant. The first referred to someone who found it difficult to believe anything; the second to someone who always looked on the dark side of life. Today such expressions are seldom understood for what they are. Jeremiah prophesied during a dark time in the history of the nation of Judah. To the north were the warring empires of Assyria and Babylonia, much in our present day news broadcasts since the fateful days of the Bush and Blair led invasion of Iraq. To the south was the ancient Egyptian kingdom, seeking once again to take Palestine into its orbit. Times don’t’ really change that much, do they. Against external troubles were internal problems. Rule by the rich had led to oppression of the poor. A self-seeking priesthood had led to a diminution of faith. And in the background there was Jeremiah; for forty years he hammered his message home; faithfulness to God and justice for the people were the twin pillars of his message. He was uncompromising; his oracles contained bad news; but they were shot through with hope. He suffered much, and the sufferings of Jesus would later be compared with his. His Lamentations that we used to sing on Good Friday are at the heart of his message. Jesus used them, too: ‘Jerusalem, O Jerusalem.’ Our Old Testament reading tonight contains some of the most majestic words in the whole of the Old Testament. ‘Stand by the roads’, says Jeremiah, ‘and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’’ Looking to the past may often provide the clue for the future. This is what Jeremiah is advising God’s people of old. Learn what made you tick before and it may help you do so again. Before I was ordained I worked in the world of commercial accounting. I would sometimes encounter a business that was visibly failing. The first thing I would do was to look to see what its history was; what it was that made it a success in the first place; for often that was the key to its future. At the time, although I didn’t know it, I was taking the advice of Jeremiah: ‘Stand by the roads and look, and ask for the ancient paths.’ All organisations come to cross-roads in their lives, and that includes churches and parishes. In the times in which we live, times of rapid and immense change, it is easy to think that the past doesn’t matter. If it is the past that has led to our present difficulties then perhaps we should jettison it altogether, we say: ‘Let’s concentrate on the future and what we need to be’. The past is only an encumbrance, along with those people who belong to it. ‘What we need in that parish is a good clear out’, said an Archdeacon of a parish I loved and once served. Like ISIS in Iraq and Syria, let’s destroy all that belongs to the past so that only that which belongs to my idea of faith remains. ‘Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls’, says Jeremiah. Navigating change is never an easy task. A false presumption is that by jettisoning the past we make the process of change easier; we don’t; we make it infinitely more difficult. We are creatures of our history as well as people of the future. That’s exactly the problem that the Apostle Paul was dealing with in Romans chapter nine, our New Testament lesson for this evening. If God has done a new thing for the Gentiles, said his detractors, then God’s ancient people of Israel were part of a past that was no longer relevant. They could, in the lovely phrase beloved of modern managers, be ‘let go’. ‘Oh not they can’t’, was the Apostle Paul’s reply. To them belong the promises; Abraham is both their father and ours; they are part of God’s redemptive process. All of us must look to the rock from which we were hewn. St Lawrence’s is undergoing a period of change. We must be a people of the future, working out what God wants for us and of us in this our day and generation. Perhaps what Jeremiah is telling us this evening is that the key to the future may just lie in the past. T.S Eliott expressed something of this in his poem ‘Little Gidding’. ‘We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring  will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time. Through the unknown, unremembered gate when the last of earth to discover is that which was the beginning.’ ‘Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.’

An active Church of England church in York, between the busy University of York campus and the ancient city walls – serving the Parish of St Lawrence -with-St Nicholas with Christian prayer, worship, fellowship, hospitality, and charity.