Sermon for Choral Evensong & Benediction Sunday 17 November 2013
Sermon preached by Fr Gerald Beauchamp
Readings: Daniel 6; Matthew 13. 1-9 & 18-23
The other evening in the bar I was asked if I’d seen any films lately. I think that my questioner had it in mind that they hadn’t heard any references to obscure movies peppering my sermons lately. But fear not. The wait is over because the other week I went to see ‘Enough Said’.
The male lead in ‘Enough Said’ is taken by James Gandolfini whose claim to fame was playing the part of Tony Soprano in the the TV series ‘The Sopranos’. James Gandolfini died suddenly of a heart attack aged 52 earlier this year. ‘Enough Said‘turned out to be his last film. In ‘Enough Said’ he plays the part of Albert. Albert isn’t a sociopathic gangster but a slightly lost middle-aged divorced man with a daughter who’s about to go off the college and leave him home alone.
But Albert isn’t the central character. The central character is Eva. Eva is a masseur. I hasten to add that she works at the therapeutic end of the profession not the seedy end. Eva sees her clients in their homes – young executives and bored housewives – dragging equipment from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. She too is in mid-life, divorced and also has a daughter about to go off to college.
Early on in the film Eva goes to a rather smart party. It’s a large affair in a beautiful Californian home with lovely gardens. Here among the many guests she meets first Marianne who is a poet; and later she meets Albert. In the week that follows both Marianne and Albert call her. Marianne becomes a client. Albert and Eva start dating.
Around the middle of the film Eva puts two and two together. As both Marianne and Albert talk about their lives it’s obvious that they were both once married to each other. So there is a moment (and it’s a single moment) when Eva could come clean to both her client and her lover about the coincidence. But she bottles it.
We can understand why. If we are interested in someone romantically then we want to know a lot about them. Why did Albert and Marianne divorce? Was it his fault or hers or both? Eva doesn’t want another failed relationship. If you want to know how the film unfolds with its mixture of pathos and humour you’ll have to see it for yourself.
But what I’d like to address this evening is the subject of time. There was a time for Eva to speak but she doesn’t and there are consequences. And time is something about which both of this evening’s well-known readings are concerned.
Daniel in the lion’s den: Daniel falls foul of a system that tried to cheat time. The Law of the Medes and Persians was thought to reside outside time: applicable in every instance. Insisting that human behaviour can be judged in such a transcendental way however only leads to injustice. The king, Darius, thought highly of Daniel yet even he couldn’t save him when those who wished Daniel ill manipulated the king and abused the law. Even in the best legal systems the law can be an ass but when it’s assumed to stand over and against human beings it becomes not just an ass but an executioner. In real time however ‘circumstances alters cases’.
Counter to the Law of the Medes and Persians is the Lord of History. Justice and salvation are worked out within time. Daniel is righteous and therefore deserves to be spared. The story is told in a somewhat stylized way. This points us away from regarding it as an event to being more of a fable or moral tale which is probably why it has such a fascination for children. Children both delight in animals and have a strong sense of what’s fair. Daniel’s deliverance satisfies something deep in the psyche.
One of my favourite pictures of Daniel in the lion’s den is done by the popular British artist Beryl Cook. Beryl Cook’s works are unfeignedly cheerful. They’re fun and often a bit naughty. In her Daniel and the Lion’s Den a portly, hairy and very ginger Daniel is wrapped up in a blissful slumber with an equally hairy, ginger and obviously well-fed lion. They’ve settled in for a good night’s sleep so as to greet the anxious Darius at dawn. All is well ‘in time’.
And what about that other well-known piece from the bible this evening: the Parable of the Sower? It too is partly about time. Although we call it ‘The Parable of the Sower’ it’s often preached as the ‘Parable of the Soil’. Some modern commentators tend to be skeptical about whether the interpretation that Jesus gives of his parable comes directly from him or the evangelist.
Parables aren’t usually unpacked as allegories. The most striking parables are those where the hearer has to make up his own mind about the rights and wrongs and act accordingly – hopefully discovering the kingdom in the process. So the rather tortuous unpacking of the meaning somewhat weakens the impact of the parable.
The American priest Barbara Brown-Taylor encourages us to look not so much down as up. The Parable of the Sower is first and foremost about the sower. God the sower is open-handed: seed is broadcast. There’s an abandon about God’s love which allows much of the seed to be wasted. Not for God the cautious approach of picking and choosing what soil might be worthy of being planted. No, like the sunshine and rain the seed falls upon the good and the bad alike.
If we just take the first part of the parable – the story – and if we respond to the imperative ‘Listen!’ then surely our response will be something like ‘Yes, I want to live abundantly – hundred/sixty/thirty-fold – whatever!’ God the sower is acting in history – working with people like me you and me who sometimes soil and despoil the earth that God has created. We get it wrong because we so easily misuse our time and waste our time and spend time on things that flatter us and take us away from God.
People who get it right with God tend to have got it right with time. The Greeks have two words for time: ‘chronos’ gives us the word ‘chronological’ – time as sequence, one thing after another; and ‘kairos’. Kairos is a much weightier word. Kairos means ‘the right time’/‘time fulfilled’. There’s a right time to pick an apple, drink a wine, ask someone an important question or speak a word that has an impact.
In the New Testament kairos is frequently used. In Christ the time has come. The time is fulfilled. We’ll be hearing a lot about that in Advent. Christ comes in time and just in time to save us in time and save us from wasting our time.
That’s why it’s important to make time for prayer. Viewed as a waste of time by many, for those of us who know something about prayer we know that it gives everything else that takes up our time a profound shape and meaning. It helps us to be more discerning, less needy and more honest.
The film title ‘Enough Said’ is ironic. Not enough was said at the right time. It makes a good movie but it’s a poor way to live in real time. ‘Enough Said’ a cautionary tale. We need Old Testament heroes and New Testament parables to enable us to make the most of our time both now and in the future.