Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
7 June 1998
This sermon was adapted for a family service pulling out details and illustrating with stories. The theological emphasis was as follows—
A funny story to begin
One day a cat dies of natural causes and goes to Heaven and meets the Lord Himself. The Lord says to the cat, "You lived a good life and if there is any way I can make your stay in Heaven more comfortable, please let me know." The cat thinks for a moment and says, "Lord, all my life I have lived with a poor family and had to sleep on a hard wooden floor." The Lord stops the cat and says, "Say no more," and a wonderful fluffy pillow appears. A few days later 6 mice are killed in a tragic farming accident and go to Heaven. Again, the Lord is there to greet them with the same offer. The mice answer, "All of our lives we have been chased. We have had to run from cats, dogs, and even women with brooms. We are tired of running. Do you think we could have roller skates so we don't have to run any more?" The Lord says, "Say no more," and fits each mouse with a beautiful pair of roller skates. About a week later the Lord stops by to see the cat and finds him snoozing on the pillow. The Lord gently wakes the cat and asks him, "How are things since you have been here?" The cat stretches and yawns and replies, "It is wonderful here. Better than I could have ever expected. And those Meals on Wheels…………!!
Will there be animals in heaven? Or just us important humans? Of course many great Christian thinkers like CS Lewis believed that animals would be in heaven but what do you think? Christians are beginning to think again about the world. We are having to think again about creation and what we understand about it. As Christian we have thought a lot about redemption but little about creation, this is changing in the church, we are beginning to ask questions about the world, why ?
- Because there is now the propensity for self destruction on a grand scale
- Society at large has become conscious of the environment (We have recyclable paper, soap without phosphates, all this would have been the stuff of cranks only a few years ago)
- Genuine concern for the environment by groups such as Green Peace, they have been activists.
The first question is, 'Where did the world come from'?
I think this is the place to start, who made the world? If you look at the pages of the Old Testament there are no big bang theories, no theories of evolution, we are not told which test tube God mixed with which. This is very sad we love to understand, but God does not give us that privilege. No rather we have a story, which tells us in broad brush principles that God made it and we messed it up. There is nothing which says whether it was made by evolution, perhaps it was and perhaps it wasn't. The old debate is rather sterile and as Christians we simply have to say we don't know how.
When Darwin wrote his book 'On the origin of the species by means of natural selection' 1859 it created rows of immense proportions. Men like Bishop Wilderforce held public debates against the likes of T. H. Huxley to condemn Darwin and his ideas., sadly it was a none argument because the Bible does not give us a chronological account of creation in either of the creation stories. Indeed modern chronological timescales are of little importance to any of the biblical writers, even in the New Testament, where the writers feel able to move incidents from the beginning of Jesus ministry to the end with complete abandon. (See the cleansing of the Temple episode in the Gospels)
It was Saint Augustine who first suggested that the Biblical writers might have been presenting a literary account of creation rather than a scientific one and that creation might have taken rather a long time. A day is a good way of separating the things that God did. This would explain how the story has day and night going on before the before the sun and moon were created!
We do not learn how God made the world but it is clear that we are expected to understand who created the world. What the Bible does is to give very clear statements about God, the world and how we should respond to it.
For example we learn that it is God's intention that people should work. Before the fall, work was planned into society as a means of us being occupied and producing from the world. God is a God of work, He is occupied six days a week. We should learn from this that it is a scandal that there are so many unemployed people in our country. I think it interesting that politicians dare to say to theologians that they should keep out of political and secular issues. This is a strange idea to the theologian. There can be no dividing line between church things and state things. God was the person who put it all together and he laid down principles for living not rules for church. So also perhaps we as Christians ought to speak out that as God is a God of work in creation he is also a God of rest. One day he rested and many people today are denied a day of rest, or deny themselves. This is not God's pattern and little wonder that so many people are stressed out on medical support to try to survive. In Britain today we have half the number of people doing twice the amount of work and having to do so for fear of being made one of the many who have no job at all.
I think an Old Testament prophet like Jeremiah or Amos would have something to say about all this because they knew it was God's world and God's voice had to be heard. You and I we live in God's world, it is vibrant and full of God's life. The Old Testament prophets saw this. They saw the mind of God in simple illusions from life like boiling pots and plumb lines, they were angry when they saw poor people and people who took advantage of the weak. Not just the Old Testament prophets either of course, but Jesus himself who spent his ministry in the company of the weak the despised, those judged not good enough, who said that it was harder for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through a needle.
Creation tells us that the world is God's and that it is good.!
Protestant Christianity has despised the body, creation or anything to do with it. The Reformation had very little to say about creation which was positive. Calvin considered the natural world corrupt because of the fall. Luther taught the idea of two kingdoms—The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the World occupied separate spheres of existence. It has been largely solitary voices which have championed natural theology, theology which gave some degree of God given quality to the environment. There has been a tendency to regard the creation rather like a larder which God has given us to keep us alive. The Christian view is that the world is not a larder simply to be consumed for our own use. Creation is good and of value in itself, apart from its usefulness to mankind. So we can say that God is good and that He created the world and that it was good
We can learn a lot from the incarnation. The incarnation affirms creation. It means literally 'in flesh'. Christ took on an earthly body. This was sacramentalism taken to extreme. Jesus in taking human flesh gives new meaning to creation and earthly existence and bodies. God takes flesh just like any man. He shares the atoms, the molecules, cells and organs of humankind, the crown of His creation. He becomes a human being in anatomy , physiology, social relations and in every other way except moral culpability. In other words Jesus blows his nose on his sleeve and had arguments with his parents. All this means that the body is good, it is a sacred thing. Remember Genesis Chapter 1:31
'God saw everything that He had made and it was good'.
Remember that God created out of nothing, 'ex nihilio' . There was nobody else responsible (Heb 11:3, Rom 4:17) This is a truth Greek philosophy found unacceptable. They depreciated the physical and emphasised the spiritual. Plato said that earthly things were only copies of the true spiritual realm. On the other hand being a Christian is to say that God loves the world, He made it and we can see the residue of God Himself in it. There is no room for a dualism, a good and bad dichotomy. Everything is God's,
- 'In Him we live and move and have our being' Acts 17:28
- He is in all Eph 4:6
- Wherever we see light or life or good we see God Jn 1:4, 10
Remember the words of the Apostle John,
God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, John 3:16.
We love to quote that about ourselves, we are impressed that God loves us human beings. Unfortunately we are arrogant. The word used is KOSMOS which means everything! God loves everything including the soil and the fields, the fish and the flowers. This is nothing remarkable it is there riddled through the pages of scripture,
He is the image of the invisible God, the first born over all creation, for by Him were all things created, all things were created by him and for him. Colossians Chapter 1
Someone said to me that they preferred bottled water to tap water because they couldn't bear the thought of drinking tap water that was basically recycled water. But of course all water is recycled. We can't make water it has been on this planet since it was created in the beginning . It's been used consistently by creation ever since. We are all one, we share this planet and we need to look after it. We use bread and wine in our sacrament. (the 1970 Missal.. it shall become our spiritual drink). There are those who find difficulty with the theology of sacraments, yet surely the difficulty is restricting them to two. Actually all created matter is a sacrament, a physical means of demonstrating a spiritual reality. All matter declares God.
How will creation be restored?
So creation is of God, creation is good and God has expectations for it, but how will it be restored to the way God wants it? Well not just by us buying green soap powder. God will restore his creation and we are instruments in that restoration. Religion is not a 'spiritual' matter, it is not out of touch with earthly reality, we are surely far more bothered by religion than God. God is out there, not just in here
Praise the Lord from the earth you sea monsters and all deeps fire and hail snow and frost, stormy winds obeying his commands Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds Psalm 148:7-10
St. John Chrysostom wrote
'The Saints are exceedingly loving and gentle to mankind, and even to brute beats.......Surely we ought to show animals great kindness and gentleness for many reasons, but above all because they have the same origin as ourselves.'
An aside—I wonder if you have heard the question, what is the definition of a saint? Answer 'Somebody who lived a long time ago who has not been adequately researched'
The former Archbishop of Canterbury said of his pig raising I try to raise them humanely in conditions as close to the wild state as possible. Dr. Runcie says 'As a practical pig farmer I have found it possible to keep my pigs in conditions which respect their natural sphere of existence. I deprive pleasure from seeing their response to this more humane treatment and am sure that other stockmen feel the same towards their animals in similar circumstances'.
'all things God intend to bring together under the head of the Church. It is the Creators purpose that we should enjoy 'regular weeks of harvest'. Ephesians 1:9-10
Anybody looking at this world from a vantage points, perhaps a mountain pass or the top of a very high mountain. Or perhaps looking at the sea and its tremendous power could hardly fail to be impressed by creation. There is in the created order something which inspires us of the presence of someone bigger and greater than ourselves. We are aware of the awesome nature of the worlds in which we live and we recognise that mankind is not the all powerful. I was interested to hear this week on the radio a scientist who was speaking about the fact that he feels inadequate to acknowledge that we do not even know the origin of matter. 90% of this universe we know absolutely nothing about. It all throws into perspective the words of wisdom spouted by people such as Professor Hawking who claim to have discovered the origins of the universe and to have been able to discount God. The truth is that the majesty of creation betrays an amazing creator.
One could of course be tempted in an analysis of creation to say also that this creator was actually also a terrible figure, because we look at all the misery, the natural disasters and tragedies. We could say that creation was bad. This is not the picture given to us in scripture. We are told that God made all things good. So we look at the world and we say this is good it is God's but something has gone terribly wrong. The early Corinthians had got into a right mess because they were so excited about the spiritual sphere that they depreciated the physical. Paul in 1 Corinthians had to go to great lengths to say that the body would be raised. All creation belongs to God. God told His people that that when the crop was taken from the land part of the crop was to be left for the poor. An example of this can be seen in Deuteronomy 24:20. In the story of Ruth she is seen gleaning these bits which have been left. We would do well to learn once more that we are just custodians of the land, that we cannot just rape it at will. The big mistake we have made in the church is to think that there is a division between the world and God. We have used the phrase for example of the secular society. There is no such thing as the secular society. People cannot just shut out God, because this is God's world and they were made to worship Him. If people fail to worship God they don't worship nothing they worship anything. We do not live in a secular society in which people worship nothing, rather we live in a pagan society where people worship anything. Look at the God's of our world they are all around you, they can be god's of materialism, of selfish pride, gods of sexual fulfilment and hedonism, a whole range of things. The Bible tells us that we are made in the image of God, we are like a coin which is cast out of a mould, we have the print of the creator upon us, not just you and I but all of God's creation. For this reason our work of evangelisation is not one of taking a strange God to people and trying to convince people that he exists. God is not a stranger in enemy country, rather it is the task of enabling people to recognise the God who made them, to use the collect of today which was the prayer of St. Augustine,
'you made us for yourselves and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.'
People make all sorts of attempts to fill the unfilled God shaped blank in their lives, of course this is called religion. We are not in the business of religion, making systems to keep ourselves fulfilled, we are in the business of introducing people to their long lost friend, God Himself. It was Tillich who said that Christ came to save us from religion. Christianity should not be about formulating a religious cult, whether it be Anglican, Methodist, Roman Catholic or whatever, it is about a person, God Himself who is known through Jesus Christ. Christ is there to show us the Father. Of course it is our task to take the message of the living God to the people among whom we live. We gather together to be a missionary people. This is difficult if you are into religion. If you like religion you will be keen on church and there will be some subtle boundaries between church and what you do the rest of the week. This is true for the quick fix brigade of Charismatics as much as the Anglican performance and the club Methodists. In the telling words,
'when the service is over the worship begins.'
We gather together to learn how to be people to serve God in His world and to share in God's work of restoration. We do not wait for heaven to start living the standards of God's kingdom, we start living them now. This means that we must learn to care now for the things which God has made beside ourselves.
Some poems and prayers
I wonder if Christ had a big black dog all curly and woolly
with two long silky ears and a nose round and wet, and two eyes brown and tender that shine
I'm afraid that he didn't because I have read, how he prayed in the garden alone
For all His friends and disciples had fled, even Peter the one called a stone
And I am sure that the big black dog, with heart so tender and warm.
would never have left him to suffer alone, but creeping right under his arm
Would have licked the dear fingers in agony clasped and counted all favours but loss
When they took him away would have trotted behind and followed him right to the cross
Hear our humble prayer, 0 God, for our friends the animals especially for animals who are suffering; for a11 that are overworked and underfed and cruelly created for all wistful creatures in captivity that beat against their bars; for any that are hunted or lost or deserted or frightened or hungry; for all that are in pain or dying; for all that must be put to death. We entreat for them all thy mercy and pity, and for those who deal with them we ask a heart of compassion an gentle hands and kindly words. Make us ourselves to be true friends to animals and so to share the blessing., of the merciful. For the sake of thy Son the tender hearted Jesus Christ, our Lord. AMEN
Little things that run and quail And die in silence and despair! Little things, that fight, and fail, And fall on earth and sea and air! All trapped and frightened little things, The mouse, the coney, hear our prayer! As we forgive those done to us—the lamb, the linnet and the hare Forgive us all our trespasses, Little creatures everywhere! Lord Jesus Christ, who has taught us that without our Father in heaven no sparrow falls to the ground, help us to he very kind to all animals, and to our pets. May we remember that you will one day ask us if we have been good to them. Bless us as we take care of them; for your mercy's sake.
He prayeth well who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast;
He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small,
For the dear God who loveth us
He made and loveth all.
William Blake 1757-1827
0 Lord of all creatures, make the man, my master, as
faithful to other men as I am to him.
Make him as loving to his family and friends as I am to him.
Make him the honest guardian of the blessings which you have entrusted to him as I honestly guard his own.
Give him, 0 Lord, an easy and spontaneous smile, easy and spontaneous as when I wag my tail.
May he be as readily grateful as I am quick to lick his hand.
Grant him patience equal to mine, when I await his return without complaining.
Give him my courage, my readiness to sacrifice everything for him in all circumstances, even life itself.
Keep for him the youthfulness of my heart and the cheerfulness of my thoughts
0 Lord of all creatures, as I am always truly a dog, grant that he may be always truly a man. AMEN
Lord our God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made keep us from all cruelty to beasts, birds or any of thy creatures. May we always remember that thou hast made both them and us, and show them the mercy that we have received from thee; for thy Name's sake. AMEN
A robin redbreast in a cage puts all heaven in a rage. A skylark wounded in the wing doth make a cherub cease to sing. He who shall hurt the little wren shall never be beloved by men. William Blake 1757-1827
O thou Little Brother, that brimmest with full heart, and having naught, possessest all, surely thou dost well to sing! For thou hast life without labour, and beauty without burden, and riches without care. When thou wakest lo it is dawn; and when thou comest to sleep it is eve. And when thy two wings lie folded about thy heart, lo there is rest. Therefore having this great wealth, that when thou singest thou givest thy riches to all. St Francis OF ASSISI 1181-1226