A Sermon by Pastor Gervase Charmley, Bethel, Hanley
Christ came to save sinners! The miracles of Christ are signs, and so are the signs of the Apostles. The healing of a disabled man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple was the prelude for a sermon about the sin of man and the salvation that is in Christ. The text is Acts 3
Jesus continues to do … a sermon by Pastor Gervase Charmley, Bethel, Hanley
The Gospels tell the story of what Jesus began to do and to teach, but he continues to do and to teach. Acts 1 shows us Christ’s promise of the Holy Spirit, the persecrtive of his second Advent, and the preparation of the Church.
Purity in Danger: a sermon by Pastor Gervase Charmley, Bethel, Hanley
Spiritual seduction is a real danger! Paul brought the Corinthians to Christ, but now false teachers, so-called “super-apostles,” are trying to lead them astray. Paul points out the danger of seduction, the deception of false teachers, and the devotion that God’s ministers have.
Jeremiah is often seen as a prophet of doom, but that is unfair to him. He was when all is said and done a prophet of hope, though also a realist. He preached consolation, and grace triumphing over judgement.
A sermon by Pastor Gervase Charmley, Bethel, Hanley
Wise men from the east came to Jerusalem seeking the new-born king. They were pilgrims, seeking to worship. King Herod, old and paranoid, wanted to kill the Messiah. The Wise men found the Lord Jesus and brought praise to him – and so shall we.
“Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
17 Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me.”
We are at that point in the lectionary where the Evening Prayer readings are from one of my favourite books of the Bible, and having written a lot about some quite difficult concepts in some very difficult poems, I wanted to take some time with the Book of Ruth – hence starting with those wonderful words of Ruth to her desolate mother-in-law Naomi – or “Mara”(bitter).
The story will be familiar, but bears repeating. Ruth is a Moabite woman. Descended from a son of Lot, the Moabites moved into a hostile relationship with the Israelites after their women seduced Israelites into worshipping Baal (Num 25.1-3, 9; 31.16) God had commanded that no Moabite should enter his Assembly and decreed that Israelites should not help Moabites. It would, given this, have been quite understandable if, after Naomi had lost her husband and sons, and thus Ruth and Orpha had lost their husbands, both daughters-in-law had stayed in their own land and let Naomi go back to ther land of Judah, where, to put it mildly, nothing awaited them. Widows were among the most vulnerable members of society, but at least Orpha and Ruth were young enought to be marriagable, and as neither had children, they would have a chance of finding a husband. They both offer to go with Naomi, but when she discourages them, Orpha kisses her and leaves. Ruth does not – instead she gives the impassioned speech quoted above.
For all she knows, Ruth is condemning herself to permanent widowhood with a mother-in-law who lacks any means of sustaining herself, let along Ruth. But Ruth is loyal to her beloved mother-in-law and swears an unbreakable vow to go with her and share her fate.
I love my mother-in-law, and whenever I read those words of Ruth’s, I know they apply to me. She has been so good to me that I feel I owe her my loyalty, not because I do, but because I love her, and if you love someone you go with them on their road, however hard that road might be. I am delighted that my mother-in-law had agreed to come to live with us, it keeps her much safer than being in London would, and she adds so much to my life that she has become the mother I never had. So it is with real feeling I read Ruth.
Gleaning the barley was a recognised “thing” for the poor – it was one of the obligations placed on landowners to let those who had nothing glean what they could. Ruth swallowed any pride and did that for the two of them. Boaz, the landowner, is impressed with the fact that, unlike many gleaners, Ruth has been hard at it all day. It says something about what unprotected women in such circumstances could expect that Boaz issued orders for young men to leave her alone – her vulnerability to abuse was extreme, with no protector. Boaz makes himself that protector.
In Jewish Law the nearest male relative had a responsibility for vulnerable female relatives, and it would often, as we see with the Samaritan woman at the well who follows Jesus, be the case that an unmarried brother would marry his brother’s widow. In that event, any child of the marriage would be recognised as a legitimate heir. Naomi realises before Ruth the potential benefits of winning the favour of Boaz, but Ruth presumes nothing. In a foretaste of the words of Our Lady, Ruth is content to be a “handmaid”. Naomi is wiser in the ways of the world and tells Ruth to smarten herself up and get herself down to the threshing floor and be there for Boaz so he can’t avoid noticing her.
Boaz, like Joseph, is a righteous man. There is a closer male relative, and Boaz gives him the chance to buy back the land sold by Naomi, which will bring with it responsibility for Naomi and Ruth; he refuses. Boaz is therefore within his rights to buy it and what comes with it. The one possible obstacle, the prohibition on marriage to a Moabite, is overcome by Ruth’s loyalty in making the God of Naomi her God – in that she reverses the older pattern of Moabite women seducing men from the God of Israel. Her virtues, loyalty, humility and dedication, win for her the hand of Boaz – and her son, Obed, becomes the father of Jesse, the father of the great King David. Thus it was that, tucked away in those genealogies which we so often pass over during Advent, that a Moabitess becomes a key figure in the ancestry of David and part of the genealogy of Our Lord.
It is a story which never ceases to move me. Ruth’s loyalty, in the most desolating of circumstances, was rewarded by God in a way she could never have known. But she did not do what she did for any reward, she did it for love.
Never known as anything
but an absence, I dare not name him
as God. Yet the adjustments
are made. There is an unseen
power, whose sphere is the cell
and the electron. We never catch
him at work, but can only say,
coming suddenly upon an amendment,
that here he has been. To demolish
a mountain you move it stone by stone
like the Japanese. To make a new coat
of an old, you add to it gradually
thread by thread, so such change
as occurs is more difficult to detect.
Patiently with invisible structures
he builds, and as patiently
we must pray, surrendering the ordering
of the ingredients to a wisdom that
is beyond our own. We must change the mood
to the passive. Let the deaf men
be helped; in the silence that has come
upon them, let some influence
work so that those closed porches
be opened once more. Let the bomb
swerve. Let the raised knife of the murderer
be somehow deflected. There are no
laws there other than the limits of
our understanding. Remembering rock
penetrated by glass-blade, corrected
by water, we must ask rather
for the transformation of the will
to evil, for more loving
mutations, for the better ventilating
of the atmosphere of the closed mind.
An absence of God does not mean that God is not there; it merely means we cannot see him; we live by faith. “Adjustments” can be read as a poem of spiritual growth and challenge. Little by little we grow; we come closer; we acknowledge him as much in what we do not do, the adjustments we make. But if we make the adjustments, are they the corrects ones?
We are familiar by now with the importance of the “passive mood”. Neither through our prayers and invications, nor in our thoughts and writings can we make God appear to us. It is our understanding that is at fault. We are brought back again to Jesus’ words about the faith of little children.
Mthr. Carys points out that the very rhythm of the poem reflects its direction. The first part has a “busyness” about it, as it deals with us. It adjusts to a “gentler soundscape” as we move into accepting and surrendering to God’s will, which we cannot hope to make conform to our understandings; our understandings need to make an adjustment. The following lines challenge us in their ambiguity. Can he really be suggesting that the silence has something to say to deaf man, or that we should not pray for the bomb to swerve or the knife to be deflected? And yet, if we stop a moment and accept the challenge, we see what he might mean by making adjustments. I know some deaf people who do, indeed, embrace their deafness and object to the way our society regards them as “disabled”. That bomb may swerve from those we do not want it to hit, but may hit others who are equally deserving of our prayers, though we do not know and so cannot name them:
It is with a start that the lines “ask rather for the transformation of the will to evil” hit us – that certainly ventilates my closed mind, but it remains closed to that idea, though I see its challenge. There is here an echo of Thomas’s own pacifism, which does indeed at one level involve a surrender to the evil in this world.
As we “see” in the light of the Incarnation, we see most clearly that however much we blame others, or intangible things for what is wrong in the world, it is the human heart and will, turned to evil, which need transforming – and that adjustment comes in the surrender to God’s will – and it comes little by little.