TRINITY 11, 2014 Sermon by the Vicar
Readings: Exodus 3:1-15, Romans 13:8-end, Matt 18:15-20
This Church is fortunate in being set in a green island with people to care for its grounds, and with a good number of people who know quite a lot about plants and gardens. In a dilettante way, I share some of this enthusiasm, even if I lack the knowledge. One tree I have always been keen on is the tree boswellia sacra. You will immediately identify that of course as the frankincense tree, so plentiful in Yemen, Oman, Somalia, but best of all on the island of Socotra off the Horn of Africa. Recently, I gave some talks on the incense trade and routes for the export and sale of incense from the tree boswellia. This must have been riveting, as one man who had been asleep on the front row for the whole of the talk woke up at the end and signified that he wanted to ask a question. “ Fascinating talk, padre,” he said, “ but why so much talk about incest?” As summer ends and Autumn begins, we move with our ecumenical partners into the season of Creation Time. You will find details of how we plan to mark this season in the hand-out Creation Time at St John’s, but I wanted to speak today about why it matters and what it means, by focussing on two themes which also, for me, come through the readings set for today. These are Organic Growth and Harmony.
So first, organic growth. Churches, like trees and plants are organic, and if they grow or decline, they do so organically – at least in times devoid of warfare and persecution. You could define organic growth as encouraging the natural order to enable the plant or the church to flourish. Churches like plants need constant nourishment and nutrients. Churches receive their nourishment and nutrients from the riches of the spiritual tradition they inherit, which includes of course the biblical inheritance. In order to grow, churches must first draw on their nutrients to be fed. I hope we are doing this here. You see the evidence of organic growth all around you – Here are just three - over £1million raised in three years for the complete restoration of this church to make it fit for purpose in the twenty-first century, new areas of ministry in music and children’s work, and a flourishing Filipino Chaplaincy. All organic plants have shoots which are healthy and growing and others which are less productive and need encouragement. As you know, one of the areas where we underperform in this church is in the level of giving of regular worshippers which we call stewardship. Healthy giving and healthy commitment is a very sure sign of spiritual vitality. When I first started to be involved in the church as an adult, it was only when I was asked for money that I realised this was a real organisation as opposed to a talking shop. This autumn we are asking all our regular worshippers, new or long established to prayerfully consider their giving. Archbishop Justin Welby has said “Everything to do with money is simply theology in numbers.” We also recognise the need in healthy churches, to nourish our minds and the importance of study and learning something new by putting on an ecumenical Bible study course this autumn. So in most areas of our church we we see organic growth springing up, and in areas where growth is poor – such as our giving, we need to give this attention and to encourage growth there too. I know many people give sacrificially and generously, but also many do not, and we are developing a reputation in the Diocese for being less than aspirational in the level of giving per head. If you are the sort of person who needs a biblical hook for that, Paul in his Letter to the Romans could encourage you when he says, “ Salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.” We have moved on. We have grown.
Now to Harmony. At the same time as knowing that the natural order has a wonderful harmony, we also know that it is red in tooth and claw. In a recent walk I saw a hawk make off in a spectacular stoop with a small rabbit. It was both violent and beautiful. So too in organic groups such as churches and other human communtites. They need frameworks for conflict resolution, if the strong are not to unhealthily dominate. The Gospel today provides one such framework with its encouragement that when two or three are gathered together in Christ’s name, he is among them. Benedict recognised this too in his maxim for Benedictine communities “ Restrain the strong. Encourage the weak.” This has always been my maxim for Parish ministry. Conflict resolution needs also to be at the heart of organic communities such as churches and nations. Let me take the example of what is happening in Iraq and Syria right now. The violent group of mercenary terrorists who call themselves IS, but are neither a state nor Islamic, have brutalised minority communities including Christians and forced them to flee from their rightful and ancient homelands. We are not standing idly by and wringing our hands in the face of this evil. We have responded immediately by sending money for relief – over £100,000 so far, we are collecting clothes and blankets for use by refugees, and we have kept up the pressure on our elected political representatives for a generous and appropriate asylum policy- which at the moment is neither of those things. The public appeal we have made in this area is still waiting for a response. The tragic truth is that there might be no response, as there is no policy. But the pressure will be kept up. Please watch the news carefully on September 3rd as a national campaign is launched, led by the Churches. We need our politicians to respond to this, and not simply by nervously looking over their shoulders at UKIP. We can and will make a difference to lives shattered by violence in Iraq and Syria. We can and will contribute to the building up of stable and safe environments in those countries, even if it is by abandoning the foolish and failed western mantra of the Arab Spring. Our interlocutors in the region, from the beginning, have asked the western press not to use this term, but of course this fell on deaf ears as our press follows its own formulaic mantras, impervious to its effect on others. In conflict resolution, we need to remember the early church maxim that our life and our death are with our neighbour. This is true in the international order too, with the churches and faith communities leading appropriate action now in the absence of policy from our elected leaders. Our life and our death are with our neighbours.
So be encouraged in this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, that God is constantly doing new things in his Church, generally through organic growth, and sometimes through conflict to harmony. Through the signs of the natural order, and through the depth of our own spiritual tradition, particularly through the sacramental signs of Baptism and Eucharist, we can see that God is indeed making all things new –which is why we put these words on our doors for all to see. So come with us on this autumnal journey of creation time – ask yourself where you are growing and where you are dry. Ask yourself also what you can do to help the growth of the church here and further afield- as near and far are organically connected through the sacramental unity of baptism which we already enjoy. And remember that is is God who goes with us – in the reading from Exodus, he describes himself as I AM. This takes us to our deepest resonances with God the ground of all being – I was, I am I will be. This eternal God is with all of us all the time. Isn’t this amazing, and doesn’t it make you want to respond with generosity and thankfulness?
The Rev'd Canon Dr William Taylor
TRINITY 11, 2014 Sermon by the Vicar