Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
We have had a bit of rain here recently which has refreshed the grass and the plants. Of course, it has also refreshed the weeds, which are a constant problem for gardeners! After all, no gardener plants weeds in his lawn as a matter of course and they do seem to require increasing attention. It has been said that a weed is simply a plant in the wrong place, but what purpose do they serve?
Weeds certainly do not get a good press in Holy Scripture but then Jesus is using them, along with their counterparts, wheat, in his parables to represent something else, i.e. as allegories. Wheat represents the believers, the just perhaps, whilst the weeds represent the unbelievers, the unjust. Yet as Matthew tells us: ‘He makes the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous’ Matt 5:45 NRSV.
Again, no farmer in his right mind would deliberately sow weeds alongside his wheat crop. Yet the concept of rotational farming, where a field is left fallow for a year, has been common practice for a long time. More recently the European Union paid farmers to set aside part of their land whilst we gardeners are encouraged to leave part of our gardens untouched for the benefit of the wild life.
St. John Henry Newman once said: “God created me to do Him some definite service.” A service specific to him and to no-one else. I take the Franciscan view that all of Creation is one family with each element having been made with a specific service for God in mind. So Brother Sun and Sister Moon, wind and weather, as well as each tree, plant, animal, bird, insect and, of course, human being has his or her specific task to perform; a service not allocated to anyone or anything else. In the plant world, for example, since it is in the wrong place, the clover that has taken root in my lawn is a weed. Therefore I should dig it up it and dispose of it. But wait, the humble bee is feeding on the nectar it provides before going on to pollinate another plant and in due time serve as food for a passing bird. So the clover in the lawn is performing the service it was created to do.
And, like Newman, you and I have been created to do a definite service. We may not know what it is, but as Thomas Merton once wrote: ‘My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end, nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.’
That mission, that definite service, may take us out of our comfort zone. We may have to meet with people, take on tasks or enter situations we would rather avoid, but if that is what we are called to do, then so be it. As Merton says: I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
With that assurance, what are you waiting for? What am I waiting for?
This Sunday’s Gospel reading is Matthew 16:13-20. Here Jesus asks his disciples who people say he is. I believe that this question had bothered the disciples for some time. Did they all accept Peter’s seemingly startling response?
As I told you recently, I gave up my rabbinical studies to follow the carpenter around Galilee as John, the locust eating wild man of the desert, had suggested. Many people are following him just now, but I think some are simply attracted to what they see as magic tricks whereby he appears to heal people. Yet his healing cannot be a trick as he has cured all sorts of illnesses so many times. It seems that demons obey him and leave their victims, the deaf hear, the lame walk and the blind see. These must be miracles. Then there is his teaching. He is a charismatic chap so that people listen to him, even though what he is saying is sometimes quite disturbing and perhaps uncomfortable to hear. For example, he often challenges authority by suggesting that we focus too much on the strict interpretation of the words of the law. That upsets the elite, I can tell you! After all, the Lord handed the law down to Moses for us to obey, and they believe we must follow it to the letter. Nevertheless, what he says makes a lot of sense. But who is he? Jesus certainly isn’t just a penniless carpenter from Nazareth, so is he Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets, as some say?
Well, just yesterday as Jesus was teaching the crowd a couple of blind men started making a fuss. They had heard that Jesus had cured other blind persons and they wanted to be healed too. The disciples tried to hush them up, to send them away, but the men were having none of it. They just shouted even louder. But it was what they cried out that struck me: “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David”. They were addressing Jesus as ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of David’! Now, our books teach us that the Messiah who will lead the Jewish people in glory will come from the line of David, but why would these simple, ragged, blind beggars think that this is he? Having been blind for years they don’t even know what he looks like. Then I recalled a passage from one of the scrolls we had to learn as students.
When the time came to choose a new king, the Lord instructed Samuel to go to the house of Jesse since the successor would be found from amongst his sons. Samuel thought any of them suitable but the Lord rejected them all. Instead he chose the youngest, the shepherd boy David. A seemingly strange choice but then: “… the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” So, being blind, the beggars could not see the outward appearance of Jesus, but the Lord had inspired them to look at the heart of his message, at what Jesus had been saying and doing, his teaching and his healing. In that case is Jesus the long awaited Messiah?
At that He turned to me and asked: “Well, what do you think? Who do you say I am?
In these dark days .when coronavirus is still causing havoc across so much of the world, where there is so much sadness, pain and anguish, it is perhaps understandable to ask "Where is God in all this?" After nearly forty years wandering in the desert, often going without food or water and still not reaching the Promised Land, the Israelites must have felt exactly that. "Where is God?" Towards the end of his life Moses gave the people this assurance: 'The Lord himself goes at your head; he will be with you; he will not let you down or forsake you. Do not be afraid or discouraged' Deuteronomy 31:8 RSV. We too can hold firm to that assurance; God will never let us down or forsake us. He will always be with us. For that assurance I thank God.
My Intercessions for last Sunday took the Lectionary readings as a basis, since they speak of our faith in God who will never let us down. . I reproduce them here in the hope that you will find comfort in them.
God is faithful to us through all the storms of life, yet our faith in God is so very small
Faithful God, we thank you that our churches are opening so that we may worship you together in communion and share the Eucharist once more. Hear our prayer for those of our family who are unable to join us here at present. We bring before you too, all those who are persecuted for their beliefs and may not pray openly. Strengthen Peter and John our bishops, Michael, Graham and Peter our Priests, and all your Church in the service of Christ, that we who confess your name may be united in faith, live together in love, and reveal your glory to the world. Lord in your mercy
Faithful God, the world is a stormy place, racked not only by the coronavirus pandemic but also by hatred and violence, confusion and bewilderment, restlessness and fear. As your Son stilled the storm, so we pray that your calming and reassuring presence may be sensed, bringing peace and goodness, righteousness and hope. Lord in your mercy
Faithful God, sometimes in the storms of life we let each other down, we mishandle opportunities and come to the end of our strength or patience. Bless us with your love that will never let us down. Give grace to us, our families and friends that we may serve Christ in one another and love as He loves us. Lord in your mercy
Faithful God, we bring to you those who are suffering in mind, body or spirit. We remember especially those facing long and incurable illness; those cast down by the cares and sorrows of daily life. In your mercy maintain their courage, lift their burdens and renew their faith, that they may find in you their strength, their comfort and their peace. Lord in your mercy
Faithful God, we place in your loving keeping all those who have died, knowing their dependence on you and your limitless mercy. We thank you for them and their gifts to the world, and ask that we may in our turn come across the waters of death to meet you and live in your company for ever.
On another topic my friend Lauren offers a Sonnet for the Feast of the Transfiguration which can be found on Malcolm Guite's website: https://malcomguite.wordpress.com/2020/08/06/a-sonnet-for-the-feast-of-the-transfiguration-6/
Do have a look at this beautiful sonnet, it is well worth it.
May God walk with you and bless you all.
I am an Authorised Local Preacher in an Anglo Catholic parish church, in the Diocese of Essex UK