The Second Sunday after Trinity
We sing along/listen to:
Lord, you have taught us
that all our doings without love are nothing worth:
send your Holy Spirit
and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love,
the true bond of peace and of all virtues,
without which whoever lives is counted dead before you.
Grant this for your only Son 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.
Sing along/listen to:
There was a political and religious crisis that shook our country to the core. It’s one that still has deep ramifications today. It’s one that resulted in division and separation. It’s one that resulted in death and persecution. We could be forgiven for thinking that with such descriptions that could be virtually any point in British history, not least in our own times.
The event took place in 1535 and culminated in the death of Thomas More, the then Lord High Chancellor of England. His death sparked a new chapter in English political and religious life, which challenged the conscience and convictions of Christian people.
Thomas More had risen to the highest position in the state, second to the King. He was a lawyer, linguist, reformer, philosopher and renaissance humanist. More was a deeply spiritual man and challenged Henry VIII’s divorce, after he became infatuated with Anne Boleyn, and on the grounds that his wife, Catherine of Aragon had not produced a son and heir.
More paid the price for his conscience.
He was stripped of his title, he was separated from his family, he lost his freedom, he was imprisoned, found guilty by false trial and he was eventually beheaded on 6th July 1535 at Tower Hill.
Just before the axe struck his neck, More addressed the crowds who had gathered, he spoke up, bravely, saying: ‘he will die ‘the King’s good servant, but God’s first’.
In the life of Thomas More we see a picture of a man confident in his faith in God.
In our readings today we hear of two episodes of fear. The fear of Jeremiah, with ‘terror all around’, as his enemies conspired against him, wanting him to fail, wanting to inflict violence, wanting to prevent his mission from God. Eventually, Jeremiah would be assassinated for his unpopular message.
And then, the fear that Jesus speaks of in the Gospel, fear of the master and fear of those who can kill the body. Fear is to be expected in such circumstances.
We are all afraid. We all fear something or other in our lives. For some people it’s death, for others it’s enduring illness – both of which have resonance at the moment – or social circumstance; or failure, or unemployment, or lack of education, or the fear of unhappiness, for others, it will be the fear of life itself.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus reminds his people ‘not to be afraid’, do not be afraid of the things around us, the things that attack us.
Thomas More was afraid of the King. Who wouldn’t be? His fear was justified. Jeremiah was afraid of his enemies, they were powerful and wanted him dead. I’m sure if we were faced with such trials, we would consider simply giving in to make it stop. Thomas didn’t. Jeremiah didn’t. Yes, More was removed from his family, he was stripped of his status and position, he was imprisoned like a common criminal, he was made a laughing stock in front of his peers, and of course finally, he was executed; but he did not give in. He was scared no doubt – but he did not let his worry overcome him. He held fast to the words of Jesus: ‘Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul’. Rather, as Jesus reminds us, and as More displayed in his own life, his primary concern, his primary fear, was the fear of failing God, the only one who can kill body and soul! He said this: ‘I do not care very much what men say of me, provided that God approves of me’.
More knew that God approved of him – even if the King did not.
Jeremiah knew that God approved of him – even if the people did not.
They were both undoubtedly scared, wracked with fear. But they remained ever faithful to God – considering themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus as are second reading puts it.
Through all those trials and tribulations, we are called only to worry about how we are with God who Jeremiah, realised was at his side. He says today: ‘the Lord was with me’.
The Lord was with Thomas More as he was executed. The Lord is with those Christian people across the world who face ridicule for their faith, who face violence on a daily basis, and those who face death.
The Lord is with those who are despised in and by Society by going against the grain – by those daring to make a stand, for God’s sake.
The Lord is with each of us in our own trials, in our own sufferings, in our own problems, in our own fears, and still he calls us not to be afraid.
May we spend our lives – even if they are ones of fear – fearing and so loving the Lord – for those who lose their life in this age as Jeremiah did, as Thomas More did, as countless Christian martyrs did, will find it in the age to come. Amen.
whose mercy never fails:
deepen our faithfulness to you
and to your living Word,
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We sing along/listen to: