Usually the sermon audio contains comments, phrases that are not written in the original text. Today, it’s all turned around. The audio here is the 8am sermon, between services I worked more on the sermon… so the text is for the 10am (without audio!). I sensed a greater connection with the congregation and with the Lord as I preached at 10am. The theme I believe is truly primal for us all; for all – some of the time, for some – most of the time, for a blessed few (or do I really mean blessed?) rarely.
Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI
Sunday October 13th 2019 The Reverend Alan Neale
“Bloom where you are planted”
This past week I observed some Facebook exchanges on the sad use of clichés even when faced with disaster and pain. With this in mind I decided to put my opening undeniable cliché into Latin – quo nunc es flore quod plantatum est . It somehow sounds better than – “Bloom where you are planted.” Or to quote Jeremiah 29:6-7 “Increase in number in exile – where you are; seek the prosperity of the city – where you are.”
It was doubtless galling for these exiles in Babylon, once some of the most prominent people in Jerusalem (financial wizards, powerful clerics, prominent socialites) to not only be lectured by this prophet born of common stock, this social “nobody, definitely not PLU (so unimportant even Nebuchnezzar did not bother to exile him) but told to settle down and settle in.
And yet their initial half-hearted compliance to “stay put and prosper” enabled Israel to wrestle with profound God questions, to learn that worship could happen anywhere, not just in the temple. In this period of exile much of the Hebrew Bible. In this period of exile synagogues became a vital part of the community.
Trying to settle in a place that seems alien, strange is an uncomfortable, disturbing experience and we see it all three readings today.
It was the experience of St. Paul. In a strange place (Rome), in strange accommodation (prison cell), in strange circumstances (in chains) Paul writes five glorious epistles describing the sovereignty of God and the power of the Gospel – Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon and two letters to the young minister Timothy, of which we heard part this morning. Now Paul needs no Jeremiah to prod him into faithful witness and glorious service, Paul needs no Jeremiah to shame and to challenge him. No, because Paul has grasped and has been grasped by a glorious belief… the story of incarnation (God is where we are) and of resurrection (God’s raison d’etre is to bring life out of death) – so Paul believes and so Paul proclaims. What a powerful comparison Paul makes when he says, “Though I am in chains… the Word of God is not chained”.
It was the experience of Jesus. On his journey he passes through strange and alien land (as least as far as the Jews were concerned); Samaritans and all things pertaining to them were anathema to the Jews so much so that one of the worst insults was to call someone, “You Samaritan”. And yet… in this strange land with unaccustomed practices and despised foreigners, Jesus discovers an opportunity for mission, for the proclamation of the Gospel. He is not constrained by social expectations or religious convention. He hears them, he sees them and he heals them… though only one, the Samaritan, returns to give thanks… and he is then restored in body and in soul.
And I think it was also the experience of the lepers themselves. They were all too accustomed to living in exile where were shunned, feared, ridiculed; they were alienated from good health and ostracized from good company. But despite their experience they dare cry out to the Master… “Jesus, have mercy on us.” But notice from where they make this plea… “keeping their distance”, “standing afar off”. Sometimes, friends, when we feel we are in unknown environments, maybe even alien, we too keep our distance – why? Maybe we are angry, or defiant, or in pain or in despair and more. What do you think?
(And a digression on the Gospel… I’ve always assumed that all the lepers were Samaritans and yet Jesus charges them “go to the priests” – fulfil some social obligation, receive a certificate of cleanliness; or maybe nine were Jews and one was a Samaritan… if so, interesting that their anguish, their pain, their suffering broke down customary barriers.)
A few days ago Bishop Jim and I discussed briefly perhaps one of the most poignant verses in Hebrew Scripture – some of you heard last Sunday Psalm 137, verse four.
How can we sing the Lord’s song is a strange land – KJV
I believe this to be one of the most succinct and eloquent expressions of a human condition known to us all; it speaks to those of us who (from time to time) feel displaced, dislodged, dislocated; it speaks to those who feel unnoticed, unobserved, undetected; it speaks to that sense of loneliness in a packed room, it speaks to that sense of worthlessness in a success-orientated society, it speaks to that sense of alarm when security and home are at risk.
This is a primal, psychic question, “How can I sing a song of/to the Lord in a strange land?”
It speaks to African Americans descended from abducted Africans, Native Americans living on reservations distant from their ancestral lands.
Does it speak to you? It surely has and does to me.
Years ago, as a young choir boy, I was puzzled by today’s collect which once read, “Lord we pray that thy grace may always prevent and follow us”. Prevent? Really? Then a friend explained “prevent” is from the Latin “prevenire” to go before. Hence now “we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us and “make us” (KJV ) be given to good works.
Soon, in our parish prayer we say these words, “Surround us with your love that we may feel/know your presence.” It is this gospel of grace always, always, always going before and following after us, that enables us to do good works… and to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.
Click this youtube link to hear “How shall we sing in a strange land” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeFnTWszYJs