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Sermon. Sunday. 7th February 2021 | Barn Church Kew

Readings:  Proverbs 8: 1, 22-31; John 1:1-14

An atheist was walking through the woods. He said to himself: ‘ What majestic trees!’. ‘ What powerful rivers!’ ‘ What beautiful animals!’ As he was walking alongside the river, he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. He glanced back and saw a 7 foot grizzly following him. He ran as fast as he could along the path. He looked over his shoulder and seeing that the bear was closing in on him, he stumbled and fell to the ground. Rolling over, he saw that the bear was right on top of him, reaching for him with his left paw and raising his right paw to strike him. In that moment, the atheist cried out. Time stopped. The bear froze. The forest was silent. As a bright light shone upon the man, a voice came out of the sky. ‘ You deny my existence for all these years, you tell others I don’t exist and even regard creation as some  cosmic accident. Do you now expect me to help you out of this predicament?’

The atheist looked directly into the light. ‘It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask you to treat me as a Christian now, but perhaps you could make the bear a believer.’ ‘ Ok’ said the voice. The light went out; the sounds of the forest resumed and the bear dropped his right paw. Then he brought both paws together, bowed his head and spoke: ‘ Lord bless this food, which I am about to receive from thy bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.’

Today, the 2nd Sunday before Lent is sometimes known as Creation Sunday, an opportunity we might think for doing the liturgical equivalent of saying to ourselves “ What majestic trees” or even “ Lord bless this food”. Well, our scripture readings will not let us off so lightly! They challenge us to take seriously our relationship with creation as that which is God-breathed and spoken into being by the very Word of God. They challenge us to ask what it means to be made in the image of God and to be those in whom the wisdom of God delights. They ask us to take seriously the concept of wisdom as a vital element in our relationship with creation, with God and with one another.

‘Where is the wisdom we

Have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we

Have lost in information?’         

..wrote T S Eliot in one of the choruses of his poem ‘ The Rock’.

We have more factual information about the nature of the world around than any previous generation. We have the knowledge both to speculate about the origin of life and to project into the future how the world might develop, though the present pandemic was unpredicted and  caught us off guard. We are becoming more aware how our choices and lifestyles today can affect future generations; and what we know about that projected future doesn’t sound encouraging. The rate of melting of the Artic ice cap suggests that the serious impact of global warming and rising water levels will hit us sooner than we think. By the year 2050, in the lifetime of your children or grandchildren, if not you, there will be a projected 150 million climate refugees as countries such as Bangladesh, Egypt, & Holland become uninhabitable. We know we are damaging our world; we know the consequences of potential disaster for generations.  *And there won’t be some miracle vaccination ‘.

  As part of the Lent programme  this year, St Anne’s church is organising a series of weekly informal studies on the  Christian response to climate change, and St Anne’s website has further information if you’d like to know more. In November, the UK will be hosting the 26th UN climate change conference in Glasgow. So climate change is on the global agenda , but all too often it seems we have been powerless to act because our fragmentary knowledge is not informed by wisdom or we’ve simply lacked the will to change.  Our perception of the world around us is not informed by the gifts of wisdom -open eyes, clear vision and enlightened minds.

In the ancient Hebrew tradition, wisdom and creation were bound together in the heart of the community – the Temple. That was where Wisdom dwelt with God, defining and setting the boundaries of creation and imparting her gifts to those whom she anointed.

The Temple itself was modelled on a vision of creation and at its heart stood the Holy of Holies representing the throne of God. This was separated from the rest of the Temple by the Veil, representing the material world screening the presence of God from human eyes.

St John’s great insight, expressed in the opening verses of his gospel we listened to a few moments ago, was to recognise that in the flesh and blood of Jesus the veil that hid the glory of God has been removed – in his words ‘ the Word became flesh and we have seen his glory’. In Christ the anointed one, the Wisdom of God is visible for all to see in the very material of God’s creation. The familiar, opening words of John’s gospel are a testimony to the wisdom and creative purposes of God. In Christ the whole created order holds together and finds it meaning and purpose. To be created in the image of God and to be those in whom the wisdom of God delight is to be in relationship with the whole created order. Christians don’t really have an option of being ‘green’ or not – it’s there in the very life-blood of wisdom which flows through us, in the relationships that bind us. And to close our eyes to the wilful or neglectful destruction of creation is to cut ourselves off from the source of life itself.

It’s the task of a lifetime to seek to understand where knowledge and wisdom begins; of seeking to grow in relationship with the wisdom and word of God made flesh; of seeking to glimpse and respect God’s glory in that which appears mundane, or ordinary; and in all things learning each day to tread lightly on God’s glorious earth.

I began on a light hearted note. I want to end with something more profound on the theme of wisdom and creation which speaks to our current situation as we approach the season of Lent.

It’s from a short series of reflections on the pandemic by Rowan Williams, which he wrote a year ago and recently published as ‘Candles in the Dark’. * 

‘ Here we are nearing a serious Lent, looking around for signs of a transfigured world; looking around what seems a wasteland with no timetable to reassure us that things will be back to normal any time soon. We can’t do what we’d normally do to show our devotion; we can’t gather in celebration and share the food and drink of God’s kingdom.

As we contemplate the coming months, not knowing when we can breath again, it’s worth thinking about how already the foundations have been laid for whatever new opportunities God has for us on the far side of this crisis. The small actions we take to protect one another, to keep open the channels of love and gift; finding new ways of communicating, even simply meditating on how our society might become more just and secure – all of this can be the hidden beginning of something fuller and more honest for us all in the future.

The great question, as and when we have emerged from the immediate shadow of the pandemic, will be: What have we learned? Christians should be able to prompt, and to build on some answers.

Ultimately the question for us as a society is whether we have grownthrough the solidarity into which we have been forced. What if the change has already begun? What if something of a new world has been seen afresh and has kindled a new force of longing for generous, equitable, joyful living together? ‘

Amen .May it be so!

* ‘ Candles in the Dark’ Rowan Williams  SPCK 2020

INTERCESSIONS – 7.02.21

The news is dark, the world seems dark.  But there is light and we ask you:

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

In the northern hemisphere we emerge from deep winter with Spring just visible in the distance.  Snowdrops hang their elegant heads, robins chirp from lofty trees lining the Kew streets.  Nature is performing its act of annual resurrection reminding us that healing and renewal is possible, even in these suffering times, and we thank you for this.   We thank you for the Christian belief in Jesus’s resurrection and for the message of hope that it gives us. 

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

Many good things have happened during this last year and this week in particular we remember Captain Sir Tom Moore, aged one-hundred who walked one-hundred laps in his garden and raised millions of pounds for the NHS and the spirits of people all over the world.   We thank him and pray that he rests in peace.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

We thank you for all those trying to alleviate the suffering – key workers in the NHS, in education, in care homes. We thank you for the scientists being able to produce vaccines so quickly, the planners for organising distribution, and the doctors and nurses for administering it.  We thank you for everyday individual kindnesses and actions, and for the opportunity to reflect and find new ways of living, serving others and finding meaning.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

Healing takes time and we pray for all those mourning the death of their loved ones and trying to live on in the aftermath; for those thousands of people sick with Covid 19;  for those anxious for jobs and livelihoods;  for those struggling to care for school children while trying to do their job.  Let us not forgot what can be hidden by the enormity of the pandemic:  those who are homeless; those who have had medical treatment postponed; those slipping into further poverty.  And further afield, let us remember those thousands of migrants struggling to find a home; and those people in Myanmar living with fear and uncertainty under the recent military coup.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

We pray for our two churches and for everyone involved in keeping them open for quiet prayer and meditation and for organising and taking part in Zoom services.  We pray in particular for Guinevere and Irene who for a nearly a year throughout the pandemic and more recently during the interregnum have seamlessly, and with infinite courtesy, managed the parish office as if nothing untoward was going on.  We pray for the important meeting next week when the church wardens, and all those responsible, will be deciding about a replacement for Peter Hart.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

We pray for the sick in body, mind and spirit, and for all those who love and care for them and who may be adjusting to a new reality and need all your support and strength.  We think in particular of:  Peter Low, John Lynch, Canon Robin Morrison, Annie Woolmer, Gemma Fryer, Revd Neil Summers (St John the Divine, Richmond), Margaret and Hugh, and Anne Freebody, the other grandmother of my grandchildren, who has just caught the virus.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

A few days ago, my husband, Charlie, opened his computer to the following words on the screen:  ‘If we prayed as much as we worried, we’d have a lot less to worry about’.   Let us keep praying.

Merciful Father accept these prayers for the sake of your son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

Harriet Grace