Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
In the summer, after a busy day in the garden, I often sit to relax with a cup of coffee on the bench beside the fish pond. The pond is always alive with a myriad of tiny, and some not so tiny, creatures, all dashing about finding food where they can. But there is one creature in the pond that has fascinated me from childhood. It is the little pond skater. You may know him as water strider, water skeeter, water bug or water skipper; he is known by a variety of names across the country. What makes him so interesting is that he is anatomically built to transfer his weight to enable him to run on top of the water's surface. In other words he can walk on water! Now, reason and logic will dictate that this is impossible, yet he spends his life doing just that.
That always reminds me that reason, logic ,experience and even reading scripture can only go so far in proving faith. Beyond these it is a matter of belief, you just have to trust that there is something there to support and sustain you, which of course there is.
You may recall the Apostle Peter seeing Jesus walking towards his fishing boat across the lake. In response to Jesus' invitation Peter jumped out of the boat to walk to meet him, even though reason and his experience as a fisherman told him that it was impossible for him to do so. Still he tried but soon sank crying to the Lord to save him. (Matthew 14:29) But in that moment he discovered that Jesus was the support he needed to stay afloat, just as we Christians can be sure that Jesus is the foundation on which our faith is built. With that in mind, I can only say, when watching the tiny pond skater: 'I believe Lord, help thou mine unbelief' Mark 9:24.
There is yet another name by which our little pond skater is known in some parts; the Jesus bug! Now you can see why.
In St Matthew's Gospel we read that Jesus' disciples had asked Him, who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I suspect that His reply was not what they expected to hear: "Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.." Matthew 18:4-5 NRSV
Like the disciples we may be puzzled at that answer. What exactly did Jesus mean? After all any school teacher will tell you that humility does not rank highly with children nowadays. And in receiving that scruffy obnoxious troublemaker into her classroom is she really welcoming God? Well since we accept that God is in everything and everyone then yes, she is; unlikely as it seems! Yet within each child is an innocence, a lack of knowledge, a lack of preconceptions. I believe that it was this to which Jesus was referring.
He was, I think, pointing out to the scribes and Pharisees, and indeed to all His listeners that 'the Way', as early Christians were known, was not a religion of the book. The rules and regulations set out in the Old Testament are important guidelines, and elsewhere Jesus said that He did not come to abolish them (Matt.5:17). However, the religious authorities of the time read Scripture in a literal way allowing no deviation from what was written there. Jesus was showing His listeners,and us, that rather than being a religion of the book, Christianity was a religion of the "Word", that Word of whom St John writes: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:1-5 NRSV. The authorities of the time could not identify Jesus as the Messiah because they were locked into their texts with closed minds, which led them to view Him as dangerous and a threat to their authority; all leading to His arrest, Passion and Crucifixion.
Reading Scripture with a closed mind has been a problem down the ages and remains so to this day. It is very easy to find a verse or passage to justify our own preconceived (prejudiced?)view of situations or people. But we are not called to read Scripture in that way rather with humility and an open mind. It is only this way we will discover the living presence of Jesus in all whom we meet; even the scruffy obnoxious troublemaker. If we were all prepared to put aside our preconceptions of our neighbour and his views then I believe the world would be a happier, more peaceful place. Let us make a start today. After all is it so important to be right every time?
By now the harvest has been gathered in. We celebrated Harvest Festival last week at St Mary Magdalene. No doubt your church has done so or will be doing so shortly. Our Jewish friends celebrate Sukkot , the Festival of Ingathering on 8th October this year whilst other religions of the world will celebrate according to season. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all religions could come together for a day of thanksgiving for God's good harvest? Just one day would be a wonderful start.
Here in the northern hemisphere the leaves are beginning to change colour as they put on their beautiful red, gold and russet clothes for the final glorious autumn dance before the icy fingers of winter are felt. Then they will settle down to slumber. Yet how magnificent they look in that dance ! Meanwhile having fattened up on the food autumn provides many animals will hibernate whilst some of the birds will already have migrated to warmer climes. The harvest is gathered in, the birds and animals have eaten their fill and now all will be silent as if the whole world has died. Of course, death will come to us all but we know that the death of our earthly body is not the end. The death and resurrection of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour made sure of that.
The theme of death and resurrection occurs regularly in both Old and New Testament writings. Just think of Noah and the ark or Jonah and the whale for example. Of course, St Paul devotes much of chapter 15 of his first letter to the Corinthians to the subject. In verse 42 he says: What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed' Exactly so, for our farmers are already ploughing the fields to plant winter wheat seed to be harvested full grown around July next year. However St Paul goes on to say that: What is sown is perishable , what is raised is imperishable'1 Cor 15:42. I take heart from that and from his letter to the Romans where he says: I am certain of this, neither death nor life..... will be able to come between us and the love of God, known to us in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:38-39. How wonderfully reassuring is that?
Let us hold fast to that blessed assurance as we wonder at the glory of autumn's final dance .
On Sunday we celebrated Harvest Festival at St Mary Magdalene. As it was the fourth Sunday in the month the traditional Evensong was replaced with a Celtic style service at which I was asked to give a reflection. I took as my text Mark 4:3-9, the sower scattering the seed for next year's harvest. We sang the familiar harvest hymns, of course. This is my reflection, I hope you enjoy it:
'After putting on a brilliant show of flowers during spring and summer the plants, shrubs and bushes are now getting down to the important business of producing seed to carry on the species. The bright red berries of the firethorn attract the birds who will feed on them during the hard winter to come, whilst the insects, birds and animals will feast on the fallen apples to put on the necessary fat to survive. That way the seeds get distributed, the birds and animals get fed, and the cycle of nature continues.
Now, the aquilegia matures a bit earlier than some plants, indeed the seeds are already swelling in their pods. However, it doesn't wait for you to collect the seeds in a neat little brown envelope to store, so that you can plant them where you want next year. Oh no, it is quite happy for its seed pods to ripen and then explode scattering seeds across the garden! As a result next year there will be lots of little plants growing in every nook and cranny whether you want them there or not!
Jesus' audience would have understood His parable of scattering seeds, some falling on stony ground whilst others fell on fertile soil. They would have understood, too, the symbolism of God's Word as seed.
Now since God works through us, it is our job to till the soil, mulch it properly, plant the seed, which is the Word of God, and care for it. After all, there are many in the world who need to come to hear His Word. We are called, then, to imitate the aquiliegia plant by spreading the Good News, enthusiastically and joyfully so that God's message gets into every nook and cranny of the world. Only that way will even more people come to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.'
I am often asked why I write so much about the garden.The answer, I think, is that it has so much to teach us. It does not surprise me that our Franciscan brothers and sisters say that nature is the first bible. Just look at the glory and abundance of God's Creation displayed there; the ripening fruit falling to the ground now, the dazzling colour of the leaves before the fall to cover the driveway in Autumn, the birds and tiny insects each with heart and lungs just like you and me. The Franciscan view can be seen further in the seasons through which the garden passes, for there is: 'a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted' Ecclesiastes 3:2 NRSV. This coming Sunday we will celebrate Harvest Festival at St Mary Magdalene when we will give heartfelt thanks for God's bounty.
Yet as that festival demonstrates, the plants must die before their seeds are reborn next year. So too must we and here the garden provides an allegorical representation of our life, for remember that the Hebrew word for garden is Paradise and you will be reminded that God created the heaven and the earth and all living creatures, including mankind, to live in the Garden of Eden - the first Paradise. It was man's disobedience to God's will that led to his expulsion from that garden into the desert in which he wandered until the coming of the Messiah. In the Bible our next garden encounter is Gethsemane symbolizing the death of the 'old' man but leading to the garden in which St Mary Magdalene encountered Our Risen Lord and Saviour; man reborn. Finally after this life we arrive at that great celebration described in the Book of Revelations, the garden where we will live with God eternally. From Paradise we came; to Paradise we will return.
Let us then give thanks to God for the glory of His Creation, for the abundance of His bounty, and for all the lessons of the garden.
As Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 says: There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for everything under the heavens. A time to be born and a time to die.
Those verses came to mind when I learned that our old friend Fred had died last week.His passing was not unexpected as he had been unwell for a number of years. That said, he would never let his illness get in the way of taking a full part in everything he set his mind to do. If there was ever a job to be done Fred would be the first to say "I'll do that", and he did to the best of his ability. He was a very useful chap to have around and will be sorely missed by a lot of people, including me! Fred had spent some time in Zimbabwe although he had returned to this country with his wife several years back. Interestingly he died on the same day as Robert Mugabe, the ex-president of that country. Two men of different races, colour and status, yet God made each of them in His own likeness and knew each of them, as He does each of us, intimately and by name. Now, whilst ex-president Mugabe is reputed to have amassed a great deal of money over time, I don't think Fred was that well off financially, although he was rich in so many other ways, and generous with what he had, too. But then does financial wealth really matter that much? After all as a first century preacher once said:' Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you;never will I forsake you"' The important thing to remember is that although their paths through life took such different paths nevertheless God walked with each of them on their journey.
So as we remember dear old Fred in our prayers, let us take comfort in Ecclesiastes 3:4 'A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance' and rest assured that however hard the path may seem, whatever obstacles are put in our way, our God will never leave us nor forsake us. Thanks be to God.
The lavender bushes in the garden are in full bloom now so that the bees are taking full advantage of the sunshine to feed on the profusion of nectar they produce.Last evening as I put out the waste bins for collection in the morning a bee stung me on the hand. Although painful at the time I can understand why he did that. He was afraid of this large shape that had intruded on his space.
Fear is a natural but very powerful emotion .that affects us all in some way or another. It may be fear of flying,fear of spiders or perhaps the consequences of illness or of death. I suppose it all comes down to a fear of the unknown which is what the bee felt, I am sure.Then maybe there is a fear, real or imagined of other people, especially if those people are well, different in some way. Can we put aside our fears and, dare I say it, our prejudices to accept them or do we reject them? The word compassion is easy to say but putting it i n to practice is another matter! Then Jesus' words come to mind: "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even those who do not believe love those who love them." Luke 6:32. With God's help we can overcome our fears and accept the unknown as the Psalmist wrote many years ago: 'I sought the Lord's help, He set me free from all my fears' Psalm 34:4
Over the last few days and weeks the number of birds in the garden seems to have declined. No doubt the parents are exhausted after all that egg laying,fledging, and feeding their youngsters. I am sure some of you can relate to them having raised your own family.
Many birds are resident to this country but some will soon set of for warmer climes. The swallows, for example will soon be gathering on the telegraph wires before making their arduous journey to the southern tip of Africa where they will spent the winter months. Spare a thought for the young ones born just a few months ago as they make their 8,000 mile trip. The journey will be beset with danger and difficulty; from the wind and weather, but also from predators like hawks and man. There journey takes them across an area where shooting birds is legal. Yet every year they fly in hope of a safe passage to Africa and a safe return to the UK in spring. Very soon the Brent geese will return to feed on the grasslands of East Anglia to avoid the harsh Arctic winter. You will notice that they fly in a V formation. That way the lead bird bears the brunt of the wind and weather whilst those following in his slipstream have an easier time. Apparently it has been proved that this is the most efficient way of group flying. In due time another bird will take the lead allowing his companion to take a rest, which seems a good example of charity.
Why do these birds take such enormous risks? Maybe it is instinctive, yet they follow their leader faithfully. Our life on this earth is also a journey fraught with dangers and difficulties, joy and sadness, but like the birds we travel in hope; a hope of finding something better, perhaps a better, more enduring life. The birds travel by instinct but we are sustained in our journey by faith. Faith does not minimize the dangers but a firm faith in God, Our Creator, will enable us to overcome all earthly difficulties.
Now, whilst we should not assign human values to our feathered friends, nevertheless they do seem to exemplify the three spiritual virtues of which St Paul spoke in his letter to the Corinthians,(1 Corinthians 13:13) Faith, Hope and Charity.
We all need a little encouragement from time to time. A kind word or gesture, even if unexpected, makes a huge differencewhen thegoing gets tough.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years