Matthew 13:24-30 / 36-43
Well, what a strange four months it has been. Life has, for all of us, suddenly and unexpectedly been very different.
On 23 February, when I took my last service at St Helen Witton, I planned to take 4 weeks off, and to start here just before Easter. Covid-19 however had other ideas, and here I am, 16 weeks later, preaching my first sermon.
At the beginning of lockdown, looking for a way through the months ahead, I printed off a quote from the American writer and theologian, Richard Rohr, and pinned it up in my study. In it, he talks about change and uncertainty, about just what we have experienced and are still experiencing. Here is what he says.
Here we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. Here is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin. This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed.
So, this morning, I just want to think about change with you for a few moments, about what Richard Rohr calls that sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed, with the help of our two Bible readings.
In our first reading, Jacob has been forced into exile after trying to cheat his elder brother out of his birth-right, and finds himself on the road. Everything has changed for him. He is leaving his old world behind, and doesn’t know what lies ahead. We can only imagine how unsettled he feels as he lies down for the night. However, God comes to him in a dream, saying I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, with the promise that all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and your offspring. For Jacob, in the midst of change, this is indeed a sacred space where a bigger world is revealed. Jacob wakes, full of hope and confidence, ready to continue his journey, saying Surely the Lord is in this place.
And then there is our gospel reading from Matthew, which, like all Jesus’ parables, has many layers of meaning. One message from Jesus in it, however, is very clear. In our world, there is a spiritual battle between good and evil, between God, and his followers, whom he calls the children of the kingdom, and the enemy, the evil one.
We know from our own experience that we live in broken and suffering world, and Covid-19 has been a stark reminder of this, but, as Christians, we also hold onto God’s promises of what it will be like at the end of the age, when, as we read in verse 43, the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Many of you will also know the comforting description in Revelation 21 of the new heaven and the new earth where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
The end of the age which Jesus talks about has of course yet to come, but, as Richard Rohr suggests, even today, we can still have a foretaste of that new order of things. Covid-19 gives us a chance to create a good space where genuine newness can begin, to build a bigger and a better – world.
As we come out of the first phase of the pandemic, and we are beginning to be able to meet together again, we need to start having a conversation about what that new space might look like. We cannot make the death and crying and pain go away completely, we cannot mend our broken world, but surely we can find ways to make it a little bit less broken?
And, as we move forward in faith, into that new space, we can hold onto God’s promises to us, promises which hold true for us, just as they did for Jacob, and for Jesus’ early disciples. St Paul reminds us, in what is certainly one of my favourite verses in all Scripture – Romans 8:28 – that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
I don’t know about you, but I must say that, from my perspective, as I have got older, I have become more and more aware of the way in which God, in his providence, is at work, in good times and in bad, weaving all the threads together, as part of his plan for my life. And we can be sure that God is at work too in our Covid-19 world, working to bring good out of evil. It is down to us to spot where
he is at work, and to join in.
In my Church of England primary school in the 1960s, one of our favourite hymns was ‘Will your anchor hold’, which, speaks of the changes we experience in our life, likening them to being a boat buffeted around by the waves in a storm. I’d like to finish with the comforting words of the chorus, as they assure us of the strength and depth of God’s love for us, and of his provision for us throughout our lives.
We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll
Fastened to the rock which cannot move
Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love.