A sermon preached by Canon Dr Tom Clammer, Precentor
May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all of our hearts, be now and always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
On Friday I conducted my final Friday Cathedral Assembly for the Cathedral School, and we were thinking about thinking. If that sounds overly tautological to you, bear in mind that last week included World Philosophy Day. So we were thinking about thinking. And we thought about the importance of exploring on the journey. About having with us a torch to light the darkness, and a map to help us orient ourselves, and friends to share the journey. Asking questions is really important.
The question I commend all of you, is, if you are in church and you notice that a few verses have been missed out of a reading, ask why. Those of you with the Music Scheme in front of you will notice that five verses were missed out of today’s second reading. Why? Those verses contain the parable of the mustard seed, and the parable of the yeast. Both stories about how the smallest spark of faith can be used by God to grow a wonderful harvest. It’s a shame they were missed out.
What you won’t be able to discern is that there are a whole bunch of verses which some traditions include in our rather longer reading from Daniel. Nestled in between verses 23 and 24 of Daniel’s extraordinary chapter 3, is what is known in the later tradition as The Prayer of the Three, and it is, purportedly, what Shadrach, Mishach and Abednego sing while they are inside the fiery furnace. It is likely to be a later addition to the text, but it is rather extraordinary, and you’ll find it in the Apocrypha, in the middle bit of the Bibles scattered around the choir stalls, should you wish to peruse it. But those of you who come to choral matins during Lent will recognise it as the Benedicite. It is a prayer, or a song of praise really, about the whole of creation. It begins “bless the Lord all ye works of the Lord, praise him and magnify him forever.” And it goes on to list everything that praises the Lord: the heavens, the Angels, the waters, the seasons, the mountains, whales, birds, animals and finally it names humanity, and then specifically three people: Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael, which are the Jewish versions of the Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
So choristers, and lay vicars, when you come to sing the Benedicite, and when we hear it, bear in mind that this is a song of universal praise, a confident statement that everything in creation is holy, and glorious, and that is sung at the point where the people articulating it are being put to death for not worshipping according to the laws of the state. It is therefore an extraordinarily generous and hopeful song.
The same hope and generosity we find in the parable of the weeds of the field. It is not our job to decide who is in and who is out. We don’t get to go and clear the weeds. Largely I suppose because we might ourselves be weeds and not notice it. God is the only person who gets to judge. Our job is to grow to the best of our ability surrounded by all the various creation. And to know, as we learn in those verses that were missed out tonight, that actually we only need mustard seed’s worth of faith, a tiny pinch of yeast. Because just as God is the only person who gets to judge, so too he is the only one to take that tiny seed and through the miraculous operation of his grace, turn weeds into trees, and dust and ashes into glory. Amen.
O God, heavenly Father, who by thy Son hast made all things in heaven and earth, and yet desirest to draw to thyself our uncompelled love and devotion: Grant us grace to understand the manifestation of thy Son Christ the Lord and Saviour of mankind, and to engage all our affections in thy service, and labour to spread the gospel; that when he shall come again in great glory he may find a people gladly awaiting his kingdom; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord
O God, whose days are without end and whose mercies cannot be numbered: Make us, we pray thee, deeply sensible of the shortness and uncertainty of life; let thy Holy Spirit lead us in the paths of righteousness all our days; that when we shall have served thee in our generation, we may have an abundant entrance into thy everlasting kingdom; through thy mercy in Jesus Christ, our only Saviour and Mediator.
Almighty God, whose sovereign purpose none can make void: Give us faith to stand calm and undismayed amid the tumults of the world, knowing that thy kingdom shall come and thy will be done; to the eternal glory of thy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.