11th September 2023

Evensong Sermon: 3 men

Evensong Sunday 10th September 2023

A sermon preached by Canon Edward Probert, Chancellor

(Ezekiel 12.21-13.16; Acts 19.1-20)

3 men.

The first we find is the prophet Ezekiel. His book is a long and frankly hard road: it really doesn’t lend itself to casual reading, and it remains puzzling even for the devoted reader. I do not now have time to get into explanations, other than to point out that Ezekiel stood out from the herd: like most prophets, he was prone to exaggerated and strange behaviour, often of a symbolic kind; but he was also often isolated even among those who claimed to be prophets, and we heard an example of this today. He’s not only denouncing his whole people for not taking seriously the immanence of God, or the immediate likelihood of God acting powerfully among them, but he’s also denouncing his fellow prophets for saying smooth and soothing things – “‘Peace’, when there is no peace.” A man apart.

Now to the New Testament reading – Paul in Ephesus, a new city for his mission. He corrects some believers who’ve got some things wrong, he spends 3 months in the synagogue arguing with his fellow Jews, and then he spends 2 years out in the public space, persuading anyone who’ll listen to him. Miracles follow him – but not all miracle workers are welcomed by him, and we have the entertaining little account of some of those false disciples being beaten up by the demons they attempt to exorcise. Paul, a man apart, a beacon for truth.

My third is a big leap: to Luis Rubiales, and his infamous kiss on the lips of the Spanish world cup winner Jenni Hermoso – just three weeks ago today. A bizarre episode which in any rational world would probably have quickly faded from view, had he only apologised, and said he was overcome with the emotion of victory, and wouldn’t do it again. Mr Rubiales has dug himself an ever deeper hole, when he could quite easily have climbed out at the start; presumably through a combination of pride, arrogance, sexism, and entitlement. He still has his supporters – not least his hunger-striking mother – but I suspect he has cut himself off from a future in football administration. He has made himself a man apart.

This continuing story of Luis Rubiales is reminiscent of tragic narratives – King Lear, Macbeth, and so on – powerful people who work their own destruction through some flaw in their nature; they begin with a bad choice, and then compound things with further actions which lead inevitably and grimly to their disaster.

Sometimes one has to be a person apart; such diverse controversial figures as Ezekiel and St Paul put themselves on the outside of their societies, yet millennia later they are looked back on as heroes. I suspect Mr Rubiales will not seem such in even a decade. But what gives tragedy its power is its capacity to draw in the sympathy, the personal identification, of the viewer: we can see ourselves in their shoes, perhaps capable of the original mistake, perhaps capable of the ensuing chain of self-destruction.

Ezekiel and Paul both stood apart to call people to the truth as they understood it, however uncomfortable it may be for all concerned. But what about Mr Rubiales? Where does he find truth in his actions?

And where do you find truth and integrity in your own behaviour?