SERMON SUNDAY 10 AUGUST, 2014
Proper 14. Track 1. Year A. Gen 37: 1-4, 12-28. Rom 10: 5-15. Matt 14:22-33.
Last Sunday our brother Crispin said how impossible it is for anyone to say anything fresh on these very familiar gospels. He then went on to give many new insights. Last Sunday it was the feeding of the five thousand; this Sunday’s gospel follows on directly, about Jesus walking on the water. An equally familiar passage but not being a biblical scholar or teacher, I shan’t attempt to say anything new.
There is something to be said about the Old Testament reading, about Joseph and his brothers. Because it seems to be a combination of at least two oral traditions, it reads in rather a muddly way. Was Joseph the son of Israel, or of Jacob? Is he saved by the intervention of Reuben, or of Judah? Are they passing Ishmaelites, or Midianites, who take Joseph away? There may be lessons to be learnt from both traditions but one thing stands out, a lesson that runs through both Old and New Testaments: that God can bring good out of evil. As Joseph says later (Gen 50:20) “God meant it for good”. Joseph’s brothers wanted to kill him - their youngest brother his father’s favourite - but their wickedness led to the salvation of their whole tribe, their whole race, from starvation. Joseph, whom they had handed over, is able to invite them out of famine ridden Canaan into the plenty of Egypt. Even when that turned into terrible slavery and might have seemed a dreadful mistake, the Lord, through Moses and Joshua, were able to return them to the promised land. God meant it for good.
Later, much later, the Lord did not rescue even his own beloved Son from sinful men when they handed Him over. Yet his Son’s death led to the salvation not just of one tribe or one people on a single occasion but to the salvation of the whole human race for all eternity. God meant it for good.
At the start of the Gospel Jesus, after feeding five thousand or more, went up the mountain by himself to pray. In a crowded agricultural area like Galilee, scorchingly hot all day, it was not always possible to pray on one’s own even by going into an upper chamber. As the commentator says, his nocturnal prayer is a model for Christians who beside prayer in common also at times need periods of silent personal prayer in contact with nature. During opening hours Synagogues would always have been busy places. In the Temple itself there was the one, most holy place, where the High Priest entered just once a year - to encounter God Himself. Otherwise the Temple too was thronged all day. In our northern climate, in our post-industrial, post-agricultural north, perhaps we can’t often be comfortable sitting still out of doors, in contact with nature, to pray. It may be that the urge to take silent country walks comes from the One with whom we have to do. We need to be Alone with Him. However, thanks to the inestimable generosity of benefactors, here we do have the inestimable privilege of a Church where we can regularly be alone and in silence – in His Presence. After all, we do not have to ascend into heaven to bring Christ the Word down to us, He is near us, in our lips and in our heart – more often perhaps in the latter.
Antony Grant CR