Faith and worship

The Lord is everything to me. He is the strength of my heart and the light of my intellect. He inclines my heart to everything good; He strengthens it; He also gives me good thoughts; He is my rest and my joy; He is my faith hope and love.

St. John of Kronstadt

Recent sermon

5th Sunday after Pentecost: commemoration of the Fourth Ecumenical Council

17th July 2022

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

I would like to begin by reading you the words of a song:

But something sure is wrong,
'cause I'm so blue and lonely,
I forgot to remember to forget

These words do not come from the service book, but from a song written for Elvis Presley, and later sung by The Beatles, and yet the words “I forgot to remember to forget”, the theme of remembering things we should forget, and forgetting things we should remember links the Gospel reading for Matins (Luke 24:12-35), the Epistle to Titus (3:8-15) and the Sunday Gospel (Matthew 5:14-19) which we have just heard.

In the Matins Gospel we read how Luke and Cleopas encounter Christ on the road to Emmaus, but they don’t recognise him. They are talking and discussing what has just happened in Jerusalem, Jesus has been tried, crucified and buried, but they have heard a strange report from some of the women disciples including Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the Mother of James, that the tomb is now empty except for the linen cloths in which the body of Jesus had been wrapped. The women have reported a “vision of angels” but Luke and Cleopas don’t appear to be able to make any sense of what’s happened because they have “forgotten to remember” what Jesus taught them about the events that would occur before and after his crucifixion. Jesus (who they don’t recognise) listens patiently to what they have to say and then says;

“Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

But their forgetting goes so far that they do not recognise him until he breaks bread with them .

They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
Now things begin to make sense to them as they remember what Jesus taught them, the things he did while they were with him, the things they have forgotten to remember.

The Epistle to Titus, by contrast warns us to forget things we often choose to remember; especially when we get involved in arguments and disagreements;

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.

How many foolish controversies, dissensions and quarrels have we found ourselves involved with? Working out which controversies and dissensions are foolish and which are vital and important can sometimes be difficult in the heat of the argument and may only be seen for what they are in hindsight. Do we think perhaps that our nationality or heritage make us some how “special” or “exceptional”, do we think we have some special knowledge that makes us better than “ordinary people”? I was once told “remember, you are unique, just like everyone else”. We will often find we have been foolish. But we also need to be charitable with those who think we are the foolish ones. The problem we are being warned to avoid in the Epistle to Titus is remembering things which are actually unhelpful and ought to be forgotten, or at least not give such importance. There is a story which illustrates this problem:

Two monks were travelling in a remote region when they come to a river, they will have to wade across there river as there is no bridge and it’s rained recently so the water level is higher than normal. Standing on the bank is a young woman who asks the monks if they can help her get across the river. The younger monk is reluctant, remembering he is supposed to avoid physical contact with women, but the older monk readily agrees, picks the young woman up in his arms and carries her across the river. The younger monk crosses the river behind them. When they reach the opposite bank the young woman thanks the monks and continues her journey, the monks set off in the opposite direction. For some time they walk in silence, finally the younger monk decides to speak, “Brother, do you really think it’s appropriate that you as a monk, picked up that young woman back there, and carried her in your arms like that”? The older monk turned to the younger monk, “Brother, I put the woman down at the riverside, it seems you’ve been carrying her ever since.” The young monk realises that he has been thinking about the woman and therefore “carrying her” (at least in his mind) much longer than the older monk physically carried her across the river, and that he should have remembered to forget.

We have heard in the Matins Gospel that Luke and Cleopas had “forgotten to remember” what Jesus had taught them and we heard in the Epistle to Titus that there are times we need to “remember to forgot” things which are not helpful to ourselves or others. The theme of remembering and forgetting is drawn together in today’s Gospel reading in which we have heard the words:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

Our Lord Jesus Christ is telling us, his disciples to “let your light shine before others”, because in this way they will see “your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven”. The good news of what Christ has done for humanity was not a message just for the original disciples to know, Pentecost shows us that the good news is to be shared with other people, both those who are seeking God, and those who do not know there is a God to seek. For most people, most of the time the first impression they get, what they see and remember of Christ and His Church will be based on the Christians and the Christianity they encounter, and as a consequence they may not always see good works or give glory to the Father. Bad examples may make it harder to see the light but thankfully God does not leave our own or others poor example as the only chance of encountering and therefore remembering or forgetting Him. We need to remember that the “light” we have is not something we brought into existence by our own efforts, but a gift, the Holy Spirit we have received from God. The city set on a hill cannot be hidden and even in the depths of night a chink of light will be visible. Remember that however weak and deficient our witness the Holy Spirit is always at work. Indeed earlier in the Epistle to Titus (3:4-6) we read:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Finally then, let us recall the words of Jesus Christ in the last chapter of St Matthews Gospel (28:20) and draw strength from them, so that we do not feel “blue and lonely”:

Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.