St Mary’s Lansdowne Road
Eleventh Sunday of the Year (Fathers’ Day) 17th June 2018
The Archdeacon came to see me the other day. He’s a senior priest who helps the bishop and does a lot of the administrative tasks for the bishop. Fr Hawkins, our Archdeacon, came to preach here two years ago as some of you may remember. Now, if you promise not to tell anyone, when he came on Saturday I didn’t really want to see him. First, it was Saturday and that’s normally my day off so I was annoyed about that. Secondly, he and I were going to something I didn’t really want to go to anyway. So, I was a bit annoyed. We strolled across the Vicarage Garden and I thought I would try and cheer us up and get us off work by pointing out the roses and so I said, “Oh, look, Father! Aren’t the roses looking beautiful?” Trying to be jolly and happy. And do you know what he said? He said, “Well, Father, looks like they need a bit of dead-heading to me.” I nearly struck the man down there and then!
Today, as we celebrate Fathers’ Day, it could almost be Harvest Festival with the readings we have! In Ezekiel 17 we heard how on top of the mount of Israel a tree will be planted. It must be peaceful there or you wouldn’t plant a tree as it would get destroyed. It must have some water and some earth, though one of the great things about a cedar tree is that it doesn’t need lots of soil to grow. And this is a tree where many birds will find rest. It will be of benefit to others. This same analogy is used in Psalm 91, as we heard where the “just will flourish will the palm tree,” that is those who recognise God’s laws and live their life by those standards, those whom the Lord looks favourably upon and has filled with His grace: they will flourish. It is because of the action of God’s power that the mustard seed, “the smallest of the seeds on earth” can grow into the “biggest shrub of them all.” We are to be part of the one vine of Christ, my friends, and know that there we are to be the human beings God created us to be.
Three little thoughts about what this tree analogy teaches us for our discipleship:
First, notice how it doesn’t matter where the trees are planted, even up a rocky mountainside, like the cedar of Ezekiel’s vision. All too often we blame our context for not being able to bear fruit: it’s tough at work; we live in Tottenham; the flat isn’t right etc etc. One of my favourite saints is St Theresa Benedicta, or Edith Stein as she was called before she became a Carmelite nun. She was in her late forties when World War II broke out. She was of Jewish heritage, living in Germany. Her life was under threat and she was also quite properly concerned that her presence as a non-Aryan, “not a proper German”, would threaten the life of her fellow sisters. She was sent to the concentration camps eventually and there she died. Never once did she complain about the circumstances of her day and say that if only things were different she’d be a better Christian. Never once and she had it much harder than we did. That image of light and darkness in chapter one of St John’s Gospel comes to mind: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5). Powerful stuff.
Secondly, this is the case because it is God’s action. In the Psalm we heard the beautiful image of the people of God being planted in the house of Lord. Imagine yourselves now maybe with your feet in compost. Wiggle your toes as you sit here in the house of the Lord and think of the nutrition you’re receiving by being here, the grace of the Sacrament of the Mass, filling you, imbibing you, giving you all the grace you need to surrender yourself to the will of God. The power of God is sufficient for us, we just need to co-operate with it, participate in it, choosing His ways rather than the ways of darkness or greyness or my way or their way.
Thirdly we will be judged on what fruit we will bear. I was quite pleased with the roses in the garden, though undoubtedly some dead-heading was needed but clearly they weren’t good enough for the Archdeacon! The only judgement that matters, of course, is what St Paul referred to in our second reading as, “the law-court” of Christ. What fruit do you bear? Not, “What might you have done if things were different?” But “each of us will get what he deserves for the things he did in the body, good or bad.” Yes, this judgement awaits us both an immediate judgement on the day we die and a later judgement on the Day of Judgement, on That Day.
Having celebrated the wonderful Feast of Pentecost just under a month ago we might properly consider which fruits of the Spirit we produce. These are different to the seven gifts of the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2-3). For these gifts the Bishop prays over candidates for Confirmation. So, there are twelve fruits of the Spirit, fruits which if evident in our life show we are indeed with the Spirit on the path to Heaven: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity, as listed as nine fruits in Galatians 5:22-23.
Here’s a few examples from the Scriptures:
- Think of the love Ruth shows her mother-in-law, Naomi, whose two sons have just died. Ruth stays with Naomi in a foreign land, not thinking of her own happiness but of the needs of this poor woman before her (Ruth 1:16).
- Think of the joy Paul shows in the midst of problems, when he is in prison in Rome but encouraging the Philippians to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).
- Are you a peace maker, not skirting round difficult issues and sweeping them under the carpet, but trying to enable others to overcome differences on important issues? Think for example, of Paul and Barnabas and Peter and Mark rubbing along despite differences at the end of Acts 15.
- Are you patient, able not to snap at incidents, such as we see in our Lord Himself, who utters, “My hour has not yet come,” and knows He must bear insults and patiently go to His death (I Peter 2:22-23).
- How about faithfulness? King Saul became jealous of David’s military success, you may recall (I Samuel 18:8) and the relationship deteriorated. David gets a chance to end it all and to kill his enemy, Saul, but he doesn’t because Saul is still the King: “I refused to stretch out my hand against the Lord’s anointed” (I Samuel 26:23). He remains loyal, faithful.
- Gentleness is surely what St James and St John, the sons of Zebedee lack, when they are angry at not being granted access to the Samaritan village. In response, they cry out, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from Heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54) Our Lord, who is Himself “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29).
- The prophet Daniel exercises self-control in difficult circumstances. He’s in a land which does not recognise God and there he could have given in to the practices of the world. It was illegal to pray to anyone other than the wicked King and Daniel did not give in to this. So much of the food was forbidden by the religion of the Jews but he did not give in. He exercised self-control when it would have been easier to conform to the world’s way of doing things.
We, my friends, by being here today, in the wondrous and sacramental presence of God have been, as our Psalmist said, “planted in the House of the Lord.” Let us, whether we’re dads or not, bear fruit, the fruits of the Spirit: modesty, self-control, chastity, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness.