You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
A week or so back I wrote about the idea attributed to St Francis of Assisi; ‘Preach and if necessary use words’. I want to explore this idea a little further today. When taken it in conjunction with a comment I read recently by the Franciscan Richard Rohr ‘Nature itself is the first Bible’ where better to look for inspiration than in my own back garden?
Here is a photo of an evergreen climber scrambling through the forsythia, the lilac and the rose bushes. Its Latin name is Passiflora caerulea, but is more commonly called the Passion Flower. Have a look at the flower – take as long as you like. Reflect on what you see. What is God showing you, telling you in this flower? Are you struck by the intricate design of the flower, the pure white petals or the stamens? Do you see them as the 15th and 16th centuries Spanish Christian missionaries did as symbols of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ? Perhaps God has another message for you.
And what about the little insect on the stem, perhaps too difficult to see? God gave that little insect eyes to see, feet, wings, a heart and a brain to carry out the task He set for it. If God takes such care with so tiny an insect how much more does He care for you? Remember ‘So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.’ Matthew 10:31NIV. OK, sparrows are bigger than this tiny insect but you get the idea. If God can design and create such beauty in such tiny creatures and flowers, yet also created the Sun, the moon and all the stars of the heavens – and you and me - how can anyone say there is no God? There most certainly is and He lives everywhere – Emmanuel – God-with-us, God-within-us.
But what do you see in this photo? What is God telling you today? Look, see, reflect and then offer a prayer, certainly a prayer of thanksgiving but also a prayer asking God to tell you what more He wants of you.
It is very difficult nowadays to find some peace and quiet. Yet we all need a quiet place, somewhere to step back from the constant noise of the world, to think and to pray. But everywhere there is noise; traffic noise, dogs barking, neighbours shouting, kids screaming, and music blaring. Not to mention the wall to wall coverage of world events on TV and the constant demand for attention from social media. Who invented Twitter, by the way - and, why?
Yet spare a thought for those who have a hearing difficulty; whether profound deafness or an inability to hear clearly. They often suffer a sense of isolation, of exclusion, a frustration at not being able to join in. Perhaps also a sense of fear; what are they saying that I should know about? I recall spending a night in a hotel when the fire alarm went off. All guests were accounted for bar two, a husband and his wife. Someone, perhaps wrongly went to investigate and found him fast asleep whilst his wife who was profoundly deaf sat up in bed reading. Neither had heard the alarm and so they were blissfully unaware of the danger! Fortunately it turned out to be a false alarm.
I wrote much of this, in my head at least, during the week but could not think of an ending, a message. Then about five o’clock on Sunday morning I seemed to hear someone say: “Are you still moaning because you can’t hear as well as you could sixty years ago? What about all the other gifts and talents I have given you? Don’t they count for anything? I have given you a family, friends, oh and a garden too. You can see, touch smell and taste. I have also given you the ability to write. Just because you are 77 years old don’t think you can just sit back and watch endless repeats of mindless day time TV. I have called you to be my disciple. I have given you a task; to tell people about my Creation and to tell them where you have found me today. And I have given you the tools to do it. So what are you sitting around moaning for? Get on and spread My Word. And stop worrying about what to say. St Paul reminded you that: ‘Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ Galatians 4:6. So, MY Spirit will guide you.” Yes, OK Dad, Abba. Well it was Father’s Day.
The point is that whatever disability we may, or may not have God has a mission for us, a task. We just need to ask Him what He wants us to do today. After all as Jesus said: ‘Ask and it will be given to you...’ Matthew 7:7(NIV). We do not need perfect hearing nor do we need a social media account. Just listen God will make Himself heard.
This week I offer a verse from the Old Testament for you to think about. ‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.’ Genesis 2:15 Look at those words again ‘to cultivate and care for it.’
Whilst the Garden of Eden refers to the whole of God’s creation, even a quick look from the kitchen window will show what a wonderful gardener God is! Each year, at the right season, the plants flourish bringing beautiful flowers for us to enjoy, or wholesome fruit and vegetables for us to eat. God’s boundless bounty provides for all our needs and man was settled in God’s creation to take care of it. Thus we all have a moral responsibility to do just that. In fact, we have a twofold responsibility.
As I have said before, climate change is a reality; the world’s resources are finite. Our planet is in very grave danger, largely due to our greed, overconsumption, and reckless exploitation of those limited resources. Of course, the very nature of greed is that there is never enough, yet as St Francis of Assisi pointed out nearly nine hundred years ago, there is enough; enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed. So we must all make choices and decisions about what action we need to take. Should we use up the dwindling and polluting stock of fossil fuel, for example, when renewable energy is not only cheaper but a good deal less harmful to the planet? It seems a vast majority of countries in the world think so. Would we not be wiser to heed the words of an unknown speaker: “live simply so that others may simply live”?
But we must also remember that caring for creation includes not only caring for the environment, the plants and animals, but also for one another. The decisions we take regarding care of our planet will affect the lives of our grandchildren and great grandchildren; but can you imagine a world in which everybody treated one another with equal respect and dignity regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, nationality, appearance or social class? Would that not be much better place in which to live? And man is capable of showing care and compassion in the face of terrible tragedy; a love for one’s neighbour as I illustrated last week.
Remember that: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ John 3:16 KJV. This surely is the central point: God loves the world, His Creation – He would not have sent His Son otherwise. Thus the whole of creation, people, animals and indeed the earth itself are to be respected for their own sake. I believe that we are called to show our love for God and care for His creation in our everyday lives and actions.
Preach the Gospel and if necessary use words!
Our next door neighbours are moving away. We will be sad to see them go as they have been in that house for the past seventeen years; their children were born and grew up there. Who will move in? Since this road is in the catchment area for three good schools they will almost certainly have children, but beyond that, who knows?
That makes me ask, who is my neighbour? Obviously the people who live next door qualify, but what about the little old lady who, because of her lack of height, was unable to reach the carton of cranberry juice from the top shelf in the supermarket? Was she not my neighbour, too? Being over six feet tall it was no problem for me to reach up to get it for her.
But perhaps the recent terrorist attacks have answered that question loud and clear. The aim of the attacks was to divide us as a community, to set one race or religion against another; to create discord, division and hatred, the exact opposite of neighbourliness. Yet the result was to show that we will not be manipulated in that way. The vast outpourings of solidarity, of coming together of people of different ethnicity demonstrated that quite clearly. The concert in Manchester last evening attended by so many people affected by the previous atrocity raising as it did millions for charity makes the point that we will not be divided, that we care for our neighbours. And of course there were numerous examples of individual of neighbourliness. For example, the homeless man who cared for an injured child until paramedics arrived. We may have passed him by sitting on the side of the street without taking notice of him but when he felt called to help he did just that. When asked, his comment was that just because he was homeless that didn’t mean he didn’t care. Or the off duty police officer who without a care for his own safety ran towards the London attackers to get innocent people out of harm’s way.
After the London attack Archbishop Welby said: “Anger is an understandable emotion but it must not be directed at those of the Muslim faith.”
God made man in His own image; He made no distinction as ethnicity. God made man and woman of all races and religions to live together as neighbours in peace and harmony; so let it be.
Here is an extract from a prayer I found this morning that I think is appropriate:
‘In a world that often and easily forgets you Lord, give me the Spirit’s gift of reverence; give me a spirit of profound respect for you and for all the people you call your own. Amen’*
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time work for a number of years