Sermon preached at Mattins on the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity (9 September 2018) by Revd Helen O'Sullivan, Chaplain

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12:30pm Eucharist
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5:00pm Evening Prayer
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Sermon preached at Mattins on the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity (9 September 2018) by Revd Helen O'Sullivan, Chaplain

Reflecting on the new start offered by a new academic year, the Chaplain calls us to remember our common purpose of glorifying God through our lives. 


It doesn’t matter how many years pass, and this summer marked my half century, the academic year - which for many has just begun, more even that the church’s year (the end of which is still some way off) always marks for me a new beginning. 

We regroup as a community, first our Vicars Choral and then our Choristers return, Cathedral staff and volunteers who have taken a break over the summer return to the familiar, routine patterns of work and recreation. Some of us will be taking on new personal or professional challenges this year and others will be looking ahead to life much the same as it has been for years.

For those for whom this year marks a new beginning - a new job, or responsibility, or retirement, the future might look both exciting with new challenges and opportunities, and a bit scary with the thought of how we will navigate these. And for those who are returning to more familiar territory, that too might be both exciting (with opportunities to put our experience into practice and improve our performance) and a bit scary (how will we find the energy and enthusiasm required to keep fresh what might feel to have become stale). 

And if you are starting something new this year you won’t be starting from scratch, because we bring into a new situation all of our past experience; and even if things are continuing much the same, things are never quite the same because we are a year older and more experienced.

But whether we are looking forward in anticipation confident in our ability to overcome obstacles or embrace challenges, or in dread fearful of not having the resources required we will almost inevitably be falling into the trap of thinking that we succeed or fail on our own merit. When things go well we feel proud of ourselves and when things go badly we feel ashamed of our failure.

Well here Revelation comes to the rescue. And not just Revelation but each of our hymns, psalms, readings, and canticles this morning reminding us of our place in creation - and that when we triumph, we triumph by the grace of God and when we struggle then perhaps it is because we have forgotten to call upon that grace.

At the beginning of the reading from Revelation, the Lamb opens the seventh seal and brings to conclusion the seal sequence, this followed a sequence of seven messages, and inaugurates another sequence of seven, seven trumpets, which in turn will lead to a sequence of seven bowls. Each sequence of seven, the divine number, is a cycle, a once round the same story, our story of redemption through the grace, and mercy, and the power of God. 

Revelation is all too easily misread as a terrifying prophecy and we fail to appreciate the vision of consolation it offers here and now. The peals of thunder and rumblings and flashes of lightening and earthquake are not the beginning of the end, but the reassurance of God’s presence as they have been so many times before throughout the history of Gods people as we read in many old and new testament scriptures that thunder and earthquake signal God’s presence. And that as the prayers of God’s people have ascended to heaven so God in response to their cries for assistance descends upon the earth in power, to triumph over sin and corruption and injustice.

In the story of Jonah, the people of Nineveh, who had lost their way are reconciled to God through God’s mercy and love, much to Jonah’s frustration that they didn’t get what they deserved. 

Psalm 119 is a favourite of mine as part of it is recited daily in the midday prayers by the community with which I lived. Through each of its twenty two sections the psalmist ploughs on through everyday frustrations and delights much as we plough on day by day but reminds himself continually of God’s providence and power and presence with him. 

The Venite, Te Deum and Jubilate Deo each affirm that we are creatures of a benevolent creator whose purpose is that all creation should exalt and glorify God, the heavens and all that dwell therein lifting their voices in ceaseless praise. Those of us lucky enough to be here on Thursday evening for Simon Johnsons recital of Holst’s The Planets and the spectacular pictures of those heavenly bodies that accompanied it was more than enough to make us wonder - ‘what are mortals that you should be mindful of them’.

What’s great about this for me is that we have a common purpose, we have all chosen to walk different paths in life but the purpose of our lives is the same, to exalt and glorify God and that we succeed or fail in proportion to God’s grace at work in us, and never on our own.

And so as tempting as it is for us to admire or to criticise our own or someone else’s abilities and achievements, the scriptures, songs and canticles we hear today remind us both in humility and in hope of our utter dependence upon God and of Gods inestimable and inexhaustible love and power.