This Too Shall Pass

July 23, 2017

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Preached by Canon Susan Wallace using Romans 8: 12-25 at Sung Eucharist on Sunday 23rd July, the Sixth Sunday after Trinity.

There is a story told of King Solomon that one day he wanted to humble one of his ministers, so he gave him an impossible task.

“I want you to find me a ring” he said “A ring that has magical powers: if a happy person looks at this special ring, they become sad, and if a sad person looks at it, they become happy. Solomon knew that no such ring existed, but he gave his minister six months to search the earth to see if he could find it.

On the night before the King’s deadline the minister was getting worried. He decided to take a walk in one of the poorest quarters of Jerusalem. He passed a merchant who was setting out the following day’s wares on an old worn carpet. “Have you by any chance heard of a magic ring that makes the happy wearer forget her joy and the broken-hearted wearer forget his sorrows?”

The old merchant smiled a knowing smile, and stooped down to take a plain gold ring from his carpet and engrave something on it. When the minister read the words on the ring, his face lit up with a wide smile.

The next day he went to see the King. “Have you found what I sent you after?” All the ministers laughed and King Solomon grinned .  Yet, to everyone’s surprise, the minister held up a small gold ring and declared, “Here it is, your majesty!” As soon as Solomon read the inscription, the smile vanished from his face. The jeweler had written four simple words on the ring “This too shall pass.”

“This too shall pass”. A phrase that would make a happy person sad but a phrase which would give hope to someone having a difficult time. In these four brief words Solomon was reminded that his riches wouldn’t last forever. Instead of humbling his servant, he was humbled himself.

Later the King sat sadly in his bedroom, gazing at his ring, and his favourite wife saw him there. “What ails you my king?”

“I am looking at this ring” he said.

“Show it to me” she said. “This ring. Has two messages” she added, and she turned it on its side and showed him the edge.

“You see the golden circle” she said. “This unending band of precious gold, without beginning and without end shows you that true love, and faith and hope last forever and everything and everyone transformed by eternal love. Many things will pass, but this thing will never pass away. The king smiled once again and embraced his wife because she too, had spoken truth.

And so here we are at a moment of passing: the ending of one thing and the beginning of another, particularly for those of you who are leaving the choir. But we do so encircled by the love of God and our family and friends. We do not have to let any true friendship go, ever.

It is true that this is a moment of passing and of change, but really, we are constantly changing and most of the time we simply don’t notice this. All the time we are beginning and ending. Your body is constantly replacing old cells with new ones at the rate of millions per second. By the time I have finished reading this sentence, 50 million of each of our cells will have died and been replaced by others. We’re not even the same person we were a month ago.

Today’s reading from the book of Romans reminds us that God is dynamic and it reminds us of God’s work in creation, constantly giving life and growth, pruning and decay. From time to time all need to leave the old behind and move towards the new. If we refused to ever leave, or grow or change, then we would still be crawling in a baby-grow that had burst at the seams shaking a rattle –  and our esteemed director of music would look very silly conducting in one of those. Remaining static is not an option. There is a world out there in need of life and love and music – a world where St Paul says the very creation is groaning in pain because it longs to be healed, a world in need of talents just like yours. Music has the power to heal others: to calm the anxious, to comfort the bereaved, it even helps in pain management. Every one of you choristers has that gift  – and scanning the faces of the congregation I know a lot of you do too. The Spirit of God has given it to you and is growing it within you. The dynamic of the Spirit is always outwards. The Spirit is constantly sending us where we are needed.

In the book of the Acts of the Apostles chapter 2, Luke describes a wonderful community of believers who shared everything.Yet  this lovely community didn’t last long. By chapter 8 a severe persecution had begun against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. But as they scattered they spread good news everywhere they went, and if those believers had never left Jerusalem we might never have learned the message of Jesus:  the gospel of love and forgiveness. As you go out you too can share good news, but you can do more than share it,  you can be good news for all those you meet.

I’m going to finish with a few final words from Paul who reminds us that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory: the colour, the light, the music, the mystery, the joy –  that is about to be revealed to us in the world to come. We don’t yet know what that will look like or sound like, but it will be amazing. Although this moment will pass, and we will have many meetings and partings as our lives progress – the best – the best is yet to come.