Matthew 7:24-27 by Rev’d Mark.
I love Harvest Thanksgiving Services. As I was a gardener before being ordained I need little excuse to be given the opportunity to praise God for the wonders of his creation. There are so many things that we have to be thankful to God for, and this is right at the top of the list.
In praising God for his wondrous creation we think of the usual things, the soil and the sunlight, (and although we do like to complain about it) the weather that brings the life-giving rains. It doesn’t matter where you look, from the planetary forces that drive the whole thing to the micro-organisms that although we don’t realise, we are completely reliant on. We should be humbled by all of this, the intricate beauty that is all around. It never ceases to amaze.
And today we are praising God for the results of his creation. The goodness of food, food that many of us shared on Friday night. The variety of it, how it brings us all together, how we bond over a meal.
Today’s Gospel reading, although not about food as such, can be seen as a comment on how we don’t always act in ways that protect God’s creation, the creation that nurtures and supports us. How we build houses on dodgy foundations, not thinking of the long term effects of our actions, too busy with short term gains.
We gladly behave in ways that does damage to the very systems that we depend on, grabbing more than our fair share whilst others go without. If our children behaved like that at a party, taking the best of the goodies for themselves and letting others go hungry then surely we would have words with them about their behaviour and we would be right, because it is always easier to recognise the greed and selfishness and injustice when it concerns other people than it is to spot it in ourselves.
Today we are going to sing, “All things bright and beautiful”. It reminds us that God is seen in all of his creation. We sing that his will is done on the just reward of labour, in the help that we give to our neighbour, in our worldwide task of caring for the hungry and despairing.
There is one plant that Jesus would have been very familiar with, and that is the Olive Tree and he would have known that it can take up to 30 years before an Olive Tree becomes productive. The ancient Greek philosopher Sophocles described them as, “the tree that feeds the children” not because kids love olives (in my household olives are only beaten by broccoli and Brussels sprouts for just how disgusting they are) but because it took what was then a human lifespan for them to bear fruit.
But as the average lifespan of an olive tree is between 300 and 600 years a bit of long term planning produces big results. The oldest Olive tree in the world is in Crete and it is approximately 5000 years old.
People who grow olives know that it takes commitment, that their foundations have to be built on solid ground. They know that they won’t see the fruits of their labour overnight but it will be others that reap the benefit of their work and perhaps they have a lot to teach us as we try to sow our seeds of faith in God’s kingdom.
Our hope is not just for our children and our grandchildren, just as we are inheritors of countless generations of pilgrims who have gone before so others will come after us. When we work for a world that will show gratitude to God by the way we care for the soil and share the harvest we are building on solid ground.
As followers of Jesus, we have every reason to believe that our commitment and patience and hope will not be wasted but will bear fruit in a multitude of surprising ways, not just in the hymns that we sing, but in the way that we hold God’s creation in our hearts and in our actions.
Michael and All Angels: Genesis 28, 10-17 & John 1, 47-end
I don’t know what you think or feel about Angels, but what I can say is that Angels have always caught the popular imagination. Abba sung about them, and so did Robbie Williams, and of course many of the great hymn writers have written about them. But do we, or dare we, believe in them?
Well, like Abba, I need to be upfront and clear and declare that ‘I believe in angels.’ I believe in them because angelic belief is doctrinally orthodox belief. Just think about it: in a few short minutes I am, during the Eucharistic Prayer, going to suggest that when we come forward to take the sacrament of the Eucharist we do so ‘with the angels, archangels and all the company of heaven,’ and that as we do so we are going to join with them in singing the unending song of praise: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might heaven and earth are full of your glory, hosanna in the highest,’ and that, to borrow a word from the Old Testament reading, is an ‘awesome’ thought. When we pray, our praise is so directed towards heaven and the very stuff of eternity this place, this church, truly, unequivocally, demonstrably, really, truly becomes ‘none other than the House of God.’ Angels exist, first and foremost, to remind us that there really is a world beyond the here and now and that the implication of this is that our praise and worship must be the very foundation of our Christian life.
Humans are designed and created to worship, we can’t escape this fact. The only question is therefore ‘what is the direction of our worship to be?’ Is it to be inward looking and self congratulatory, or outward and upward looking, towards God? There are really only two choices and the angelic mandate is to orientate our worship towards God.
But praise and worship isn’t the only angelic task, for Angels are also heralds of God’s word. Angels remind us that God’s ability to speak into the here and now isn’t contingent on human will, or human intellect; to believe in angels is therefore a call not just to praise and worship but also to humility and to an understanding that there truly is a greatness to the mystery of our faith.
Our faith is a transcendent and mysterious faith and angels remind us of this as they draw us into a company that is far greater, wider, and more diverse than we can possibly begin to imagine. So can I encourage you not to just to believe in angels, but to be open to the exquisitely angelic? Can I encourage you to become angelic?
Now don’t panic, I am not expecting you, although it might be interesting, to turn up next week for our harvest festival in floaty white dresses and tutus!
Rather what I am asking you to consider is integrating the various angelic roles into your life of discipleship. I am asking you to make prayer, praise and worship, central not only to your Sunday by Sunday way of life, but your daily life; to become as the ‘angel voices ever singing.’
I am also asking you, like the angels, to wait on God, listen to His word and then proclaim it. I am, finally, asking you to become part of God’s army, the ‘church militant’ if you like, fighting for good over evil and justice over tyranny, for that is also part of the angelic vocation.
Angels are God’s ambassadors and so should we be.
If we take inspiration from the Angels through the vibrancy of our sacramental worship, through attending to God’s work and then proclaiming it to all who have ears to listen, and if we dare to fight for the good and speak truth to power, then we will be both an ambassadorial church, an angelic church, and a missional church.
We will be a truly Christ-like church, Amen.
Holy Cross Day
Let me begin with a story:
About nine years ago I found myself in the retreat centre for the Ely Diocese for a three day period. The reason I was there was that I was on something called a Bishop’s Advisory Panel, or a B.A.P. A B.A.P. is the selection conference you go on to be assessed for your suitability to train for ordained ministry. One component of the assessment is that you have to give a short presentation to a group of fellow candidates. So one afternoon I found myself listening to a presentation given by a very academic type. It is fair to say that the presentation was not going well. In fact the presenter, who did end up getting ordained, knew that his presentation was unravelling so, in an effort to rescue his the situation, he decided to ask the following question: what is your favourite hymn?
I quickly settled on an answer, and blow me the first person in the group nominated my hymn. Then the second person nominated the next hymn that came to my mind and thus it continued, and I began to panic; big time. In fact my brain froze and I couldn’t remember a single hymn! This troubled me deeply because I happen to know that I have been singing hymns since at least June 1974, for this was the date on which I received my primary school hymn book: Christian Praise. I had at that stage been singing hymns for around 40 years yet I couldn’t remember a single one of them.
Finally, just as it was getting to my turn a hymn came to mind, chosen probably because my B.A.P. was just after Holy Week: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. When I vocalised my choice I experienced two sensations: a feeling of approval from the assessors and a sense that my fellow candidates were thinking ‘you smug so and so.’
But, the truth is that we, God’s people, should spend some time on a regular basis surveying The Wondrous Cross. We shouldn’t do so only on Good Friday, for it is through surveying the Wondrous Cross that our faith deepens, our discipleship grows, our innate holiness is ripened and we grow in Christian wisdom. We need to regularly gaze at the crucified Jesus, for the cross is the place where we learn about two things: what humans, you and me, are capable of at our very worst and what God is truly like. When we learn to survey the Wondrous Cross what we see is human weakness and divine strength. What we see is the limit of human power and the limitlessness of divine power. When we survey the Wondrous Cross we see human hatred encountered and transformed by divine love: what we see is Love, Love, Love; that’s what we see, and begin to absorb for ourselves when we stop at the cross.
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