The Second Sunday after Trinity


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O Lord, who never failest to help and ;govern…
1 John 3:13-24
Luke 14:16-24

One of the dangers of set forms of words is that they are taken at ‘face value’ as if there were an obvious, even definitive, interpretation which then becomes an obstacle to rather than a starting point for deep reflection. Taken at its face value, for example, the Collect strikes balances between help and governance on the one hand and fear and love on the other but these conceal a deep historical reality. Whereas 16th Century sensibility would have been far more sharply attuned to governance and fear ours tends much more towards help and love; it is not that the Tudor age did not recognise the primacy of love proclaimed by Jesus nor that contemporary Christians always act in that spirit rather than in fear of divine reprisal but simply that the theological orientation has shifted from the negative to the positive. Yet the formula in the Collect stays the same.

The parable of the banquet is a good starting point for analysing our motives, questioning the extent to which we act out of love or fear. At one level, the story is about flouted hospitality but at a deeper level it is about the lure of earthly concerns keeping us from enjoying eternal life. Let us say that we are not as venal as the three who refuse to go to the banquet, recognising that it is more important than our earthly concerns, but is our attendance the result of a genuine yearning for the banquet or are we frightened of what will happen if we do not give up our familiar pleasures? To what extent are we driven by the rather dubious notions of ‘hell fire’ and how far are we being purely altruistic? Such is the complexity of life and such are the multiple layers of self analysis, self delusion and self reference which make up our perception of self that it is impossible to say; we are perfectly capable of characterising ourselves as pragmatic for fear of appearing too pious and, conversely, capable of persuading ourselves that we are being pious when we are being pragmatic.

As the Epistle points out, our conflict over priorities is not purely internal, we can be influenced by what goes on around us. We will, says John, be hated for what we are and what we do. At the time of writing this was literally true but we live in a much less confrontational environment. Although Christianity is now intellectually marginal, the least we can expect is a withering comment about the futility of religion or, perhaps worse still, benign indifference to the life we have chosen which is now generally dismissed as a ‘lifestyle choice’ rather than a faithful commitment. Nonetheless, peer pressure is apt to chip away at our firm resolve. A good example of this is the increasing tendency of Sunday activities to keep us—and, much worse, our children—from church attendance. We argue, quite rightly, that we must be with children in many of their activities out of a sense of duty, regardless of our personal preference; this might include standing on the touch line on a wet Winter afternoon; but why do we not see that part of that duty is to take children to church and, if necessary, to rank this above other activities? If we rank rugby practice above church on behalf of our children, what can we expect from them? If an activity on Sunday morning is so central to a child’s life that it cannot be given up then we should be campaigning for a more flexible worship pattern.

There is also a widespread shallowing and coarsening of social sensibility, threatening the very fabric of Christian life, which is difficult to avoid and even more difficult to combat; and it is not a very radical shift from passivity to acceptance. We complain to each other but rarely to perpetrators and because of our passivity the few who do complain are branded as unrepresentative or even cranks.

But John asks us to go much further than intellectual combat. We are to love not just in our words but in our deeds. Again, we need to examine our motives. To what extent is our giving guilt-driven, a token that we know we could and should do better? To what extent do we use professionals, paid for by taxation or by our voluntary contributions, to do the work which we should be doing, such as caring for the elderly, visiting the sick or helping people to climb out of poverty and degradation? Are we simply buying off our obligations in a modern form of indulgences?

Because parables are necessarily outlines of possibilities, it is easy to turn their messages into caricatures but in this case, as opposed to that of the story of Dives and Lazarus (cf The First Sunday after Trinity) most of us can identify with those who refused the banquet rather than those who accepted the surprise invitation. It is, therefore, salutary to remember that it is precisely those people who attended the banquet who are the recipients of our vicarious concern. How would we have fared if we had turned up at the banquet and been sat next to one of these?

However different we are in sensibility from Tudor times we share this in common, that we find it difficult to love the poor, downgrading our response to duty or worse. From our contemporary standpoint it is easy to scorn governance and fear but equally easy to see why they exert such power over our behaviour.

Starting Points for Sermons and Discussions:

  1. How viable is a society based solely on love?
  2. Is fear a necessary or desirable deterrent?
  3. Is taxation and voluntary donation an adequate response to human need?
  4. Discuss the place of social class in the Church of England
  5. Make a list of common excuses for refusing to attend the banquet.

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