on which the sermon
below is based can be found at: http://web.me.com/frsparky/iWeb/r229.htm
s229e10 St Francis Church of the
Epiphany Hanmer 3/10/2010
In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.
(Fr Jim Cotter http://www.cottercairns.co.uk/)
‘the cross .. by which .. I .. have been crucified .. to the
world’ Galatians 6.14 (rearranged)
It is lovely to be here in New Zealand. You will have
already realised that I am from elsewhere! :-) New Zealand is a
lovely country, were one is close to nature in all it’s glory, most
everywhere one might live. From the vicarage in Mt
Pleasant, we enjoy views of the Pacific Ocean as we eat our breakfast,
and on our drive to anywhere else we see the snow covered mountains in
the distance soon after we get on the road. So it is
particularly appropriate to celebrate this closeness, which is
especially tangible here in NZ, and perhaps so tangible that we might
on occasion take it for granted.
St Francis is arguably one of the most popular saints in the world at
large, putting aside St Nicholas, who has so morphed into Santa Claus
that his christian origins have been entirely lost. There
would be many an atheist and agnostic who would aspire to emulate the
simplicity of Francis, and his renunciation of wealth and of this we
should be glad. Francis is particularly noted for his
communion with nature and the animal kingdom, and this reminds us of
the first and second Genesis stories, where in the one humanity is
given dominion over the animal kingdom, and in the second the animal
kingdom is created in order to provide a suitable companion for the
first human. Immediately we see two different attitudes to
animals - creatures to tame and use - and creatures who bring us
companionship and love.
Some years ago, I took up the practice of Yoga, and it often took me
back to the creation accounts. In Yoga, it is breathing,
the Pranayama, that really brings health and strength to the physical
body and this, of course, has much resonance with God breathing the
breath of life into the first creature of clay.
But it is also interesting, that for me, the Genesis accounts point
also to another vital part of life - our relationships, yes with the
creation and the other creatures - but also to our relationships, our
intimate relationships with other people. No one is meant
to be alone; neither man or woman, divorced or gay.
And this is why I have chosen the text from Galatians, and adapted it
to make St Paul’s words plain. The cross means that he is
crucified to the world. And, of course in this, he only
seeks to emulate Jesus. Jesus was crucified, not because he
claimed to be anyone special, but because he associated with
‘tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners’. He was crucified
because he had a relationship with people other than the biblically
orthodox, the religious and the devout.
St Francis is loved by many people other than those who call themselves
christians, as well as those who do, for his simplicity and for his
love for animals and nature. He points us to the importance
of relationship, and the relationship we all have with everything and
everyone around us. For me, this is the essence of the
cross of Jesus.
So often the church has seen itself as in opposition to the world
around us. So the Pope recently urged Britains to beware of
And of course, it is not just the Pope or the Roman Catholic Church; a
goodly number of Anglicans and ‘christians’ would believe
likewise. Somehow we have lost that unconditional
acceptance of the other - that Jesus practised. We
talk about unconditional love, yet we define what people believe, how
people worship, and when and with whom others might be intimate with
extraordinary narrowness. We have lost that conspicuous
love for others, no matter who they are.
Recently I attended a neighbouring parish when a newly ordained priest
was celebrating her first eucharist. And the preacher spoke
about the fourfold actions at a celebration, the taking, the blessing,
the breaking and the giving. And while this is entirely
true of the bread and the wine, it is also true of the priest, him or
herself. The priest is taken and blessed, that part is
immediately obvious. But then the priest is broken and
distributed to others. I haven’t strayed too far from my
text really. St Paul says: ‘the cross .. by which .. I ..
have been crucified .. to the world’ really expresses precisely the
And I do not mean the universal experience of parish clergy being at
the beck and call of everyone from the Bishop to the caller at the door
wanting money for ‘nappies for the baby’. I mean that we
need to have our biblical, moral, theological, spiritual, devotional or
whatever sanctuaries broken open, so that we are ordinary humans giving
ourselves to other ordinary human.
St Paul had to let go of all the prejudices towards others which led
him to set out on that road to Damascus. The Lord met him
and told him that in persecuting others he was persecuting the Lord.
The feast of St Francis calls us to a conspicuous love for all around
us, nature, the animal kingdom and humanity too. There is
so much to wonder at, to embrace. Let us appreciate the
amazing discoveries of science, who bring us pictures of the universe
beyond the sight of the naked eye through the Hubble telescope, right
through to pictures of the atomic world otherwise completely invisible.
There is so much in which to delight, there is so much to love, there
is so much to embrace, and most wonderfully, a God who encourages us to
(I am sorry to my internet readers, for this oft repeated mantra, but
this is a new ‘real’ congregation to whom I am preaching) ‘We are
called to be born again – into society – not out of it. We
are to be incarnated into the world, fully as Jesus was – not into a
holy huddle. We are to repent, to rejoice that others are found,
that others are included – not challenged, marginalised and
alienated. A theology, whether it be biblical, traditional
or whatever that removes us from the masses of people with whom Jesus
associated has gone seriously awry.
To return to the Genesis stories that set before us those two different
attitudes to animals - creatures to tame and use - and creatures who
bring us companionship and love. I point out that there are
two different attitudes to the animal kingdom. One does not
treat a rampant lion the same as one’s pet dog! Common
sense tells us to at least get out of the way of the rampant lion, lest
we become its breakfast! So I can understand the words
about having dominion over the animal kingdom - but they are not the
whole story. Indeed, because the Bible gives us another
account of creation, the Bible itself tells us that having dominion is
not the whole story.
I guess I am not the only one astonished to read in Bill Bryson’s ‘A
Short History of Nearly Everything’ a number of stories like that of
the little Bachman’s warbler which ‘by the 1930’s .. had vanished
altogether and went unseen for many years. Then, in 1939,
by happy coincidence two separate birding enthusiasts, in widely
separate locations came across lone survivors just two days
apart. They both shot the birds.”
(p572), Bryson writes: ‘It is a truly
astounding fact that for a very long time the people who were the most
intensely interested in the world’s living things were the ones most
likely to extinguish it.’ (p569) How easy it is to delude
oneself into believing that we are loving another when we are in fact
killing the other, and I am now thinking about our human relationships.
When we do not accept another for who they are, we are killing their
individuality. When we do not accept another for who they
are, we are precluding any possibility that they might have something
of benefit to offer us, even if they are not ‘christian’ or believers
God invites us into a real relationship with all that is around
us. A real relationship of equality and mutual
benefit. And this is a vision that is nothing new, nor the
idealistic musings of a ‘new age, long haired, groupie’.
From somewhere around 740 BCE, the prophet Isaiah speaks of a time
quite different from one where humanity has dominion over the animal
kingdom, when: ‘The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall
lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear
shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall
eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over
the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the
adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy
mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as
the waters cover the sea. (11.6-9) Amen, so may it be!
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