Sermon for the Second Sunday before Lent
19th Feb 2017
Sermon for the Second Sunday before Lent Year A
“…but seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” Matthew 6. 33.
The voice of the Creator God who spoke creation into being still speaks to us now. But all too many of us remain unaware of the God who is ‘right there’ in the midst of us; who cares for us and longs for us to be at one with Him. Our world is God’s real habitat. The Gospel this morning with its mention of ‘the lilies of the field, ‘the birds of the air’ and ‘the hairs on the human head’ all remind us of those things which have already been provided by God and which remain (gratifyingly) unchanging, even though the hairs on our heads are numbered! These are figures for our return to God as the very centre of our human being and to a place of deep peace. God’s deep peace is a greeting and a blessing for a Gaelic speaking Christian who wrote this prayer from his experience of God some thirteen hundred years ago:
Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the infinite peace to you.
Even with the possibility of deep peace, we remain stubbornly attached to our own worry and anxiety. Of course many our worries are real enough, and many of them are important concerns, especially regarding others, and they are by no means insignificant. Many of them do not have any ready resolution and we live with them in a state of real tension. It is understandable therefore that we should want rest from them, but perhaps not that we should escape from them. The poet Auden also wrote a prayer of instruction in the way of God’s peace:
And because of His visitation, we may no
longer desire God as if He were lacking: our
redemption is no longer a question of pursuit
but of surrender to Him who is always and
everywhere present. Therefore at every moment
we pray that, following Him, we may depart from
our anxiety into His peace.
There is a strong sense in which as Christians we work out our lives from where we are, as we are and as we say ‘in God’s own good time’. This is not always easy, especially in those times when there seems to be no let-up. We must, in God’ time, be prepared to bring the contemplation of God to bear on these matters as a kind of Cross. We may invite into our minds and hearts that same deep peace which was experienced by the Celtic Christian who most certainly experienced a physical environment which was harsh and unyielding in most of its particulars. The emphasis this morning on the created order is a distinct reminder that the whole earth and everything in it is both our environment, our world, but in a much truer sense it is God’s world. We are being called to see our world and the people and human situations around us through his eyes, for as the psalmist was most aware, “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein”. Psalm 24.1 (King James Version).
Matthew is telling us in today’s Gospel to take time and to ‘consider all these things’…To really consider them…As we approach the season of Lent we will set ourselves time to come to God in contemplation:
Suppose a river or a drop of water, an apple or a sand, an ear of corn, or an herb; God knoweth infinite excellencies in it more than we. He seeth how it relateth to angels and men, how it proceedeth from the most perfect lover to the most perfectly beloved, how it representeth all his attributes. God the author and God the end is to be beloved in it. Angels and men are to be beloved in it, and it is to be highly esteemed for their sakes.
O, what treasure is every sand when truly understood! Who can love anything that God hath made too much? His infinite goodness and wisdom and power and glory are in it. (Thomas Traherne (1636-1674).
There is a situation here at Holy Cross Church which lies present ‘right under our very noses’. It’s the small makeshift shelter outside this church, on the other side of the door to the Walsingham Chapel. For the past six weeks this has been a home to two people who have no other shelter or home. We have said that they may stay provided they respect the environment and keep things relatively tidy. The appearance of the shelter outside the church draws the eye and provokes different reactions in different people. One person, from another church put this question to me “How is your problem?” I didn’t know what he was talking about until he qualified what he was saying, referring to the shelter. A passing commuter commented to me that this was a pitiable thing for these people who had nowhere else to go. In the meantime there have been advices from community police and social workers who are unwilling to move them on. As the priest of this church I have a responsibility as the shelter is situated on church, rather than public land. It is proper for me, as a member of God’s church on earth to ask “What is my duty under God in this situation? Or even “What Jesus would have done in this situation?” I (we) let them stay. I have approached this situation from the point of view of my duty under God and decided that I will not act according to any nagging anxiety but rather to ‘let things be’.
If I am to depart from my own anxiety and into God’s peace then my relationship with my physical and human environment is informed by my own knowledge of who God is and what God does. He is kind and generous. He provides beyond any simple human calculation. There is often wisdom in letting things be before we interfere. I come to understand that it is important to accept a little, give a little and risk a little. It is no great inconvenience in the eternal scheme of things. Our contemplation; our ‘consideration’ (today’s watch word) of the things of God, our prayerful responses, our thought processes come together to inform us of the hard fact of human being and of all the challenges that come with it. That applies to us as much as to them, whoever they may be. Of life as provisional. Of the need to see our life on earth as a call to live in real and caring relationship to all things and all persons. As a church our mission will turn more and toward the actual and spiritual homelessness of our own times and of the need to exercise a radical, understanding and accepting hospitality. The Church must not exclude according to its own preferences. We are called to become a Church ‘turned inside out’, out onto a world which needs the love of God and the love of his people and of deep peace more than ever before…