Rembrandt (1606-1669), ‘Moses Smashing the Tablets of the Law’, 1659, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

Dear Friends (Click for audio)

Last Sunday, the ‘thought for the week’ focused upon St John the Baptist, who features in the Gospel narrative for this Sunday.  So this time I shall be taking a look at another reading set for today, taken not from the principal service but from what the Common Worship lectionary describes as the ‘3rd service’ (i.e. the readings set for Mattins).

It is Deuteronomy 24:10-22 and it is an interesting passage because it confounds some of our preconceptions concerning the ‘Old Testament’, or ‘Hebrew Scriptures’.  ‘Humane’ is perhaps not a word which immediately springs to mind in this context, since so many narratives within these books of the bible seem to be concerned with ‘divine wrath and punishment’.  Nevertheless, this passage is just that, humane, a fact which might at first glance seem remarkable in that it comes from the Torah, or the Jewish Law.

The text makes it clear that if you make a loan to a neighbour and take a pledge in exchange, perhaps a cloak, for example, then you should not keep it overnight, for your neighbour may get cold – so you return it to him for the night.  That way, you will receive a blessing rather than resentment.
Likewise, one is not to withhold the wages of poor and needy labourers, whether Israelites or aliens.  This runs very much counter to the practices of some employers today – especially as we hear lately that the wages of furloughed staff are being kept back and unscrupulous companies are keeping the Government money for themselves.

Similarly, provision is made for those who glean the edges of harvest fields, ie those who were usually the most marginalised groups of society such as widows, aliens and orphans – landowners are to ensure that, as the crops are harvested, the stubble around the edges should be allowed to remain, and that grapes are to be left on the vine, and olives on the trees, so that these vulnerable groups have something to take away with them.  The purpose is to keep reminding the people of Israel that they too were once an enslaved and vulnerable people in Egypt, prior to the Exodus.

Most of us at times in our lives have experienced hardship of various kinds, and this passage in Deuteronomy is a salutary reminder to us to respond with compassion to the needs of our neighbours.  Although now part of the Law, Deuteronomy was a later addition to the four books which had previously made up the Torah – the compilers were clearly coming to that greatest of realisations that ‘love is the fulfilling of the Law’.

Finally, it has been good to receive, within the last few days, not only the latest Government advice concerning the resumption of public worship, but also Bishop Martin’s very helpful Ad Clerum which gives practical and detailed suggestions for the ways in which our services can be conducted in as safe a way as possible over the next weeks and months.  I shall be meeting with our Churchwardens to discuss things during the course of next week and, once we have come to a common mind on these matters, we shall, of course, let you know the outcome as soon as possible.  There is much to think about to ensure that the arrangements are right for St Mary’s, so please bear with us in the meantime!

Fr Stephen

Collect for the Fourth Sunday (Click for audio)after Trinity

O God, the protector of all who trust in you,
without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy:
increase and multiply upon us your mercy;
that with you as our ruler and guide
we may so pass through things temporal
that we lose not our hold on things eternal;
grant this, heavenly Father,
for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake,
who is alive and reigns with you,
In the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Romans 7.15-25a (Click for audio)

A reading from the letter of Paul to the Romans.

I do not understand my own actions.
For I do not do what I want,
but I do the very thing I hate.

Now if I do what I do not want,
I agree that the law is good.

But in fact it is no longer I that do it,
but sin that dwells within me.

For I know that nothing good dwells within me,
that is, in my flesh.
I can will what is right,
but I cannot do it.

For I do not do the good I want,
but the evil I do not want is what I do.

Now if I do what I do not want,
it is no longer I that do it,
but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good,
evil lies close at hand.

For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self,

but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind,
making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

Wretched man that I am!
Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Gospel  Matthew 11.16-19, 25-30 (Click for audio)

Hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew.

At that time Jesus said,

"But to what will I compare this generation?
It is like children sitting in the marketplaces
and calling to one another,

"We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.'

For John came neither eating nor drinking,
and they say, "He has a demon';

the Son of Man came eating and drinking,
and they say, "Look, a glutton and a drunkard,
a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'
Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds."

"I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
because you have hidden these things
from the wise and the intelligent
and have revealed them to infants;

yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

All things have been handed over to me by my Father;
and no one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

"Come to me, all you that are weary
and are carrying heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

Dear Friends
4th July is, of course, Independence Day in the USA and my diary (one especially for the use of priests) recommends a service of Holy Communion with the special intention of praying for justice and peace on that day. Of course, at this time of continuing Covid-related restrictions, it is still not possible to hold such a service, but we can at least pray for justice and peace — for the world and especially for the USA which is currently undergoing yet another ‘long hot summer’ of racial unrest, something which, sadly, seems endemic there.
Ever since the struggle for racial equality in the early 1960s, largely led by Martin Luther King, student riots, sit-ins and marches, and violent police crack- downs there have featured in news bulletins. And what happens in the States is quite often reflected subsequently in our own country. The ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign has once again brought to our attention that issues of systemic racial inequality still need to addressed here in the UK, as well as in other parts of the world.
A photograph in my latest copy of The Church Times depicts a demonstration in Birmingham. A young white woman is holding up a home-made cardboard placard with the slogan, ‘I shouldn’t have to protest this. Enough is enough’, written on it. I remember similar demonstrations when I was at College — it seems that every generation in recent times has tried to ‘make a difference’ by exposing the evils of exploitation, slavery and discrimination, but progress continues to be slow. '
I notice also, in the same photograph, that all the participants are wearing face- masks — no doubt in years to come archives of ‘the summer of Covid-19’ will record this particular phenomenon, Fortunately, there are straws in the wind that lockdown is gradually easing, although whether things will ever return to the previous status quo is perhaps debatable. But at least we can now open up our churches and places of worship for private prayer, and here at Sidlesham St Mary’s will, thankfully, be opened up once more for this purpose, although please do adhere to the social distancing and hygiene guidelines as indicated in the notices on the doors.
As I write, it is still unclear when and in what form services may resume but we might, all being well, perhaps look forward at least to a special service for All Souls’ Day when we can remember those who have lost their lives, as well as give thanks for the exceptional service rendered to so many by NHS staff and other frontline workers.