You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
Uncle Fred kept bees on the smallholding on which he and Aunt Tilly had built their home, a neat and tidy little cottage on a large plot of land deep in the country. As a child it seemed to me to be miles from anywhere. Certainly it was well hidden from the road surrounded by fields for as far as the eye could see. It had no mains drainage, gas or electricity supply, the water came from a well in the yard, whilst the toilet was a chemical affair down the garden (!) but it was a warm, welcoming, loving home for all that. There always seemed to be something cooking in the kitchen, Aunt Tilly loved cooking. She was a large jolly lady, one of my grandmother’s sisters; there were six in all, plus at least three brothers. Fred and Tilly had first met at the village school as children; eventually they got married and brought up their family in this cottage where they had spent the whole of their life together. When we were young Dad would sometimes drive us over to see them. It was a fantastic adventure to play in the garden; not carefully manicured like ours at home, but to a child, wild and exciting. The geese could be very territorial but like the chickens had free run of the garden, so it was fun collecting eggs from all sorts of hidden places.
Uncle Fred had always kept bees so that what he did not know about them was not worth knowing. And he was always ready to share his knowledge with anyone who asked. I remember him telling me that one of his hives might contain around 35,000 bees in high summer dropping to 5,000 in winter. Each bee had his or her own particular task depending on its age, he said. A worker bee, (female, of course), would spend the first half of her life in the hive before flying out to pollinate plants, collect pollen, nectar and water; then she will only live for another 20 days. There was always a good supply of honey in the house; Uncle Fred reckoned he got 40-60lb a year on average, so that their neighbours, friends and family were well supplied and there was always plenty for their local Church Summer Fete. Aunt Tilly attended the village Church regularly each Sunday but could never persuade Uncle Fred to go; except for his wedding and that one last time.
The old cottage was pulled down a while back to make way for an estate of expensive new modern houses. The bees too are long gone, yet looking back, I find it quite remarkable that 35,000 tiny creatures can live and work harmoniously together for the common good, each performing their allotted task when we humans cannot.
There is a lot we can learn from these tiny industrious creatures that God created with the same love and care that He created you and me.
These days the world can look a bleak and frightening place, whilst in our own lives we have times of fear and worry. Sometimes we seem to be facing a long dark tunnel from which there seems no escape. Everything is getting on top of us. Sadly, pain is real and can’t be avoided this side of eternity. Some of us may have more years behind them than in front –sorry to remind you! Yet there is light, there is hope – just look out of the window.
As I was clearing some of the overgrown bushes in the garden yesterday I came across a deserted blackbird’s nest carefully tucked into the branches of the thorny cotoneaster bush. Such a neat tidy little nest formed of woven twigs and grasses with a lining of mud. How did you make that, Mrs Blackbird, having only your beak to work with? Where did you learn the skill not only to form such a sturdy structure, but how to place it on such a firm foundation? Is there a University somewhere that runs a Building and Construction course for blackbirds? Then across the garden I marvelled at the sheer skill involved in the design and building of the intricate and beautiful web that Sister Spider had woven. For such tiny creatures, having what we humans would describe as limited intelligence to be able to do this is, I think, pretty amazing. What is even more amazing is that God should have given these tiny creatures such skills. But He has, and for a purpose, for as the Bible tells us: “O Lord, what a variety of things you have made! In wisdom you have made them all” (Psalm 104:24). And, yes, that includes us!
With a heavy heart, I threw the now empty and unwanted nest into the bin. It had served its purpose of providing a safe home for fledgling chicks. It was now abandoned having outlived its usefulness. Yet as I did so I was reminded that new life will return. Next year Mrs Blackbird, or her daughter will return to build a new nest in the bushes of our garden where she will raise her young family. And next year too, Sister Spider will weave new webs between the shrubs to catch the insects to feed her offspring. The cycle will begin again. So you see, there is light, there is hope.
In the same way the old, empty husk of man will pass away but by faith it will be renewed into eternal life for as St Paul says: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” 2 Corinthians 5:1 NIV.
Whatever our worries, our fears, let us take comfort from those words. Deo Gratia.
We all worry at times. What sort of day will it be? Will my train be on time? Will the kids be safe at school or university? Will he or she get home safely? Will the money stretch to the end of the week, let alone the month? Do I have enough in my pocket for a meal? Where will I sleep tonight? How will Dad cope on his own now that Mum has gone? Will I make my appointment?
I had an appointment at our local hospital the other day, nothing serious, but still it caused a little concern, as any visit to doctor or hospital tend to do. On the bus home – it’s so difficult to park the car at the hospital, and expensive, too. Anyway, from the window I noticed that the trees were beginning to put on their glorious autumn clothing; their leaves quietly changing from greens to vibrant reds, golden yellows and velvety browns before dropping to the ground. The giant old oak trees lining the street had shed some of their little acorns so that many crunched beneath my feet as I walked the last quarter mile home An abundance of food that will keep every squirrel in the neighbourhood and beyond satisfied for a very long time, whilst leaving plenty to grow into new oak saplings - the next generation - and still some to spare!
Then I thought of Jesus’ words since they remind us: ‘And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? He goes on to reassure us that ‘... your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things’ and ‘all these things will be added unto you.’ Matthew 6:24-34 KJV (AV)
In those moments coming home I saw not only the beauty of God’s Creation but also its abundance. That is where I found God that afternoon. That is when I realised that He was there with me all along, at the hospital, on the bus and on my walk home! So why did I worry about the hospital appointment? What good did worrying about it do? In the event it all turned out ok.
You will all have worries today, its human nature, but take comfort in St Paul’s words: ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ Philippians 4:6-7 (NIVUK)
Deo gratia. Thanks be to God.
How often we repeat those familiar words; but do we really mean them, or do we just repeat them by rote?
Recently, in a homily, Father Michael said: "If you really want God's Kingdom to come on earth you need to do more than pray for it." Prayer is the most powerful weapon in our armoury, of course but as St Teresa of Avila once said: “God has no hands but yours...” God needs you, me, all of us to do His Will. Yet with so much violence, hatred and etc., in the world today I can understand why some people simply pull the sheets over their heads muttering “Well, what can I do about it?” But we all have a duty, a responsibility to bring about God’s Kingdom on earth. Others will say: “I am not qualified do anything.” But God does not call the qualified He qualifies the called. Look at the motley bunch of individuals that Jesus gathered round Him to be His disciples; fishermen, tax collectors and the like. None of them was learned in the Jewish law as were the Sadducees or the Pharisees whom you might expect Jesus to call. They certainly were not qualified to heal the sick or preach God’s Word and yet that is exactly what they did and very successfully too! How then, did they manage that? The Bible tells us: ‘When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place..... All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability’ Acts 2:1-4 NRSV. That’s how! And since the Holy Spirit resides in each of us today; we received it at our Baptism and it is nourished at the Eucharist, it enables us to serve God just as those disciples did long ago. Jesus lives within us and fulfils his Divine ministry in and through us.
Still we say, “What can I do on my own?” St Paul returns to this question on several occasions in his Epistles to the young churches. Writing to the church at Rome for example, he says: ‘For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.’ Romans 12:4-5 NIV. So, although we may feel that alone we are not be able to achieve a great deal, together and with God within us then: ‘For with God nothing shall be impossible.’ Luke 1:37 KJV. Indeed, Jesus reassures us: “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20 NIV.
God’s Kingdom will come on earth, but only if we have faith, pray and work together, with God- in- us, to make it happen.
Last week’s Reflection spoke of our need for silence in which to reflect and to pray, but sometimes we need to speak out. This is not a political blog, but I make no apology for saying that as Christians we are called to speak out against social injustice in any form; especially on behalf of those unable to do so for themselves.
For example, there is conclusive evidence that the increased number of hurricanes that have recently devastated parts of the Caribbean and the US are the result of global warming – man’s abuse of the fragile earth of which we are stewards. In Siberia large areas of permafrost are melting producing quantities of methane that will damage the planet. Yet still there are those who deny its existence. But the need to diminish our carbon footprint is obvious. We can reduce our demand for fossil fuel by taking the bus, cycle or even walk instead of using the car, for example. But it is vitally important that we speak out against those who deny the existence of global warming, whoever they are.
BUT equally, we are called to speak out against those who incite violence, racial or religious hatred or intolerance of any kind. The love of our neighbour calls us to stand up in defence of our fellow man when he cannot. If we do not, then who will? Remember the words of Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), a prominent Lutheran pastor who emerged as an outspoken public enemy of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Various versions of the quotation, which stems from Niemöller's lectures during the early post war period, exist, but his point was that Germans—in particular, he believed, the leaders of the Protestant churches—had been complicit through their silence in the Nazi imprisonment, persecution, and murder of millions of people. Though there has recently been a worrying rise in support for far right in various guises, hopefully we have moved on from those terrible times. But evil still exists, everywhere: - ‘Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.’ 1 Peter 5:8 NIV - and there is a constant need for us, as Christians, to speak out against it, whenever and wherever it raises its ugly head. Are we afraid to do so? Take comfort in the Lord’s word to Moses: ‘Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say’ Exodus 4:12 NIV.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years