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Sermon: Choral Mattins - 15 November 2015

Sunday 15th November 2015
Choral Mattins
1 Samuel 9: 27-10:2a, 10: 17-26
Matthew 13: 31-35

My heart and flesh do cry unto God, cry to the living God.

Last night, iconic buildings around the world were lit in the colours of the French flag: London to New York, Berlin to Sydney, Durham Cathedral to Tel Aviv.  The photos of friends on Facebook have been overlaid with the tricolour - profiles of weddings, holidays, football, concerts and familiar smiling faces reflect our desire to connect. Music, sport, conviviality, friendship: the very things disrupted by brutality on Friday night.

And apart from: Kyrie Eleison; Lord, have mercy; pray for Paris. There was nothing I could say.

Words seem futile: yet we try to make some sort of sense.

Silence seems like acquiescence: yet we need to express solidarity. 

In a tiny book 'Writing in the Dust' reflecting on 9/11, Rowan Williams gives us a seed of hope. He wrote of the  bewildered, resilient 'we' of shocked humanity. He said:  'This "we" needs, God knows, time and opportunity to grieve, but time and opportunity also to ask whether anything can grow through this terrible moment. I hope the answer is yes'.

I hope the answer is yes.  In this smallest of books, he writes honestly of humanity and God's loving mercy.  He warns of using too many words 'when we try to make God useful in a crisis... that we take the first steps towards the great lie of religion: the god who fits our agenda'.

I hope that the answer is yes: that something can grow; that God's kingdom is glimpsed. In the words of today's eucharistic prayer, which resonated deeply: we hope in God who'll 'gather into one in his kingdom our divided and broken humanity'.

Our first lesson draws us into the reality of grappling with earthly and heavenly agendas. We begin with the anointing of a ruler. As the oil pours down Saul's hair and cheeks, Samuel tells him that he'll reign over God's people; that he'll save them from their enemies. Such words belie complexity.

The Lord worked in partnership with human agency - through the faith of Abraham, the boldness of Moses and the collective wisdom of the judges.  God had remained faithful to them in calamity and distress; they had sought to walk in the way of his commandments.  But now his people want a king. They want to be just like all the other nations. No wonder Saul hides - overwhelmed by the weight resting on his shoulders. 

God remains faithful amidst their desire for human sovereignty; but the people learn that a king is not a panacea to their woes.  It falls to the prophets to continue to speak for God's ways of justice, mercy, compassion and peace. In the midst of exile,  they offer to God's people something akin to the breathing space Rowan describes.

Rowan's words are eerily prescient.  Hearing Parisians speaking about their refusal to live in fear, echoes his words about shunning victimhood. As we live with the void amidst destruction, as we express both love and grief,  Rowan warns against language of war saying: 'The hardest thing in the world to know is how to act so as to make the difference that can be made; to know how and why that differs from the act that only releases or expresses the basic impotence of resentment'.

Paris is the focal point of our prayers, in part perhaps, because events in this particular place presents a challenge to our identity and our common life. Perhaps it is because we are implicitly aware that our response in Europe has wider repercussions.  As we say 'pray for Paris,, are we also praying for Beirut and Baghdad, Syria and Pakistan?  Our shock and anger reveals how connected we are to the corrosive brutality of our world; our hearts and souls cry out.

It was seventy-five years ago, in the face of the smouldering ruins of Coventry and its Cathedral, that Provost Howard, took the risk of choosing the path of reconciliation saying 'Father forgive'.  Last night that  Cathedral was lit in red, white and blue. A sign perhaps not of our suffering writ large but of God's love and vulnerability; of Christ's cross; the cross of nails, a sign of reconciliation.

Father forgive. And there's silence.

And we wonder how we can names our fear and make space for forgiveness? How do we acknowledge shock and learn to grieve honestly? How do we face the anger and make room in our hearts of the other?  A month ago, this cathedral hosted a day on responding to the refugee crisis.  'There is global hospitality possible too in the presence of death', writes Rowan. How do we stay with that hope?

The hope of the kingdom of heaven in Jesus' teaching starts with such smallness. Yeast and seeds are full of promise. Already within the seemingly insignificant there lies immeasurable power.  We might not be at the point, today,  when we can embrace the sureness of rich loaves and shrubs offering shelter.Yet, such illustrations invite us to look beyond the random violence and chaos we see around us.

Jesus' vision of the kingdom is dynamic: it is rooted in Spirit's power.  He teaches us with quiet assurance. He promises a transform of our world; but he faces opposition and suffering.  The powerful and violent  mock him as a defeated king or naive prophet. Yet in him, God is revealing the significance of the insignificant. In him, God reveals his patient love, made perfect in human weakness. By the power of the his Spirit, we are to participate in that patient transformation.

It is God's work to bring home the lost, give dignity to the despised and restore the sinner.

We are called to plant seeds of grace, justice, love and peace - revealing light and holiness in darkness and hatred.

As pilgrims walk towards Parish to the UN climate summit at the end of this month, let us pray that our endeavours to fulfil sustainable development goals will be part of the global transformation of conflict. That us pray that we are on the cusp of a political and scientific revolution of building allies as well as infrastructure. 

May we choose life and hope; may we overcome hate with the power of God's love; may we stand with the suffering and defeat the curse of terror; may the smallest acts of compassion be signs of God's redemption.

Let us pray for God's mercy upon those of all faiths and no faith who shudder with grief, and strength be to those who work for peace:

Grant us to look with thine eyes of compassion, O merciful God, at the long travail of humankind:

the wars, the hungry millions, the countless refugees, the natural disasters; the cruel and needless deaths, our inhumanity to each other; the heartbreak and hopelessness of so many lives. Hasten the coming of your kingdom, when nations shall be at peace and all shall live free from fear and want ; and there shall be no more pain or tears in the security of thy will and the assurance of thy love, shown in Jesus Christ, the Saviour of all. Amen.