Evensong on Sunday 15th October 2017
St Margaret’s Church, Binsey
Evensong on Sunday 15th October 2017 [Trinity 18]
Revd. Professor Martin Henig
Psalm 139:1-11;Proverbs 3:1-18; 1 John 3:1-15
She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her; and happy is every one that retaineth her.[Proverbs 3:18]
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
‘She’ is of course ‘Wisdom’, Holy Wisdom, personified as female. In the verse before we hear that :
Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
Wisdom is not the same as knowledge, wisdom is in no sense an accumulation of facts; wisdom has nothing to do with academic competitiveness; wisdom is not an accessory to success or power.
The Hebrews believed wisdom was there from the beginning, from the very Creation; for the Greeks it could be conflated with the Logos, which the English Bible translates as the Word, and for St John that Word is Christ. Holy Wisdom, thus, takes us into the very heart of the incarnation where at the deepest level there is neither male nor female. Even though the teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, who died on the Cross in the 30s of our era was finite, rooted in place, historically a man, in death as in life, as the Logos Jesus transcended species, sex and sexuality. the place and time of birth, and – an important point- surely transcended any particular religion whether Judaism or the faith of those who attempted and attempt to follow his ‘Way’, we Christians.
Whoever we are, if we live in love, whatever our sex or sexuality we share in Christ, who is Love. That is more important than anything else we claim to profess,far more important than the religious labels we wear. We rightly acclaim martyrs who suffered for what they knew was right but we tend to consider simply Christian martyrs, that is members of our own club. I happen to be reading a book about a neo-platonic philosopher, a learned woman called Hypatia, head of the philosophical school of Alexandria, who was lynched by a Christian mob in 415 partly at the instigation of bishop Cyril. Where was love, where was compassion there? Wisdom, the virtue we see incarnate in Christ, was rather with this learned Pagan. That is not surprising; I was brought up on Plato’s Socratic dialogues in which Socrates, who lived in Athens in the 5th century before our era wrestled with the nature of the good and the identity of Wisdom. And of course, he was not a proto-Jew, still less a proto-Christian, he was a Greek. This same striving for
Wisdom is also at the heart of Eastern Religions. Those who receive emails from me will have read the ‘signature’ I employ, not from any Judeo-Christian text but from the great Indian classic the Bhagavad Gita:
I am the taste of living waters and the light of sun and moon.
I am the pure fragrance that comes from the earth.
I am the life of all living beings.
I am from everlasting the seed of Eternal Life.
Jesus who found truth in a Syrophoenician woman and in a Samaritan woman more readily than he did with some of his fellow Jews would not have been in the least surprised.
We are in that season in which the church turns its attention to the environment a little more than it does at other times. It is a time of Harvest Festivals when we should offer thanks for the fruits of the earth, It is also the season where we honour St Francis, as so many churches did so last week, sometimes holding animal blessing services. I was away, in Nottingham, at the annual Eucharist sponsored by the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals but I want to share this theme today if only to remind us all that if wisdom takes her seat in all sorts and conditions of human beings she is there with the animals created like us through the will of God, as indeed the book of Job reminds us.
Ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee;
Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee, and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee.
Wisdom is, as the final verse of today’s reading from book of Proverbs reminds us, the Tree of Life which represents the entire vegetative world.
How do we Christians treat that world to which we pay such pious lip service. St Francis saw all creation, all the mammals, birds and other creatures, even all the plants as linked to the chain of being as his brothers and sisters as did his beloved sister in God St Clare. Francis saw Holy Wisdom in all of God’s works. So how are we doing, we Christian people, piously praying in our churches? Some of us are, I am sure, living as we should, but others may I am afraid have more in common with that Alexandrian mob, killing and then dishonouring the corpse of the very embodiment of Holy Wisdom. For we dishonour the lovewe proclaim, if we treat the world, the common home of all of God’s creatures, as our plaything, not thinking of the inhabitants of a ravaged countryside. If we pollute the sea or hoover up the fish for whom the sea is home, are we not living a life that is the very opposite of a life of Wisdom?; if we cause suffering to other sentient animals by killing them in vast numbers in slaughter houses are we not in breach of the duty of love and compassion we have covenanted with Holy Wisdom? I was recently moved by a little video sent to me by the Animal Interfaith Alliance sent out by 70 rabbis, who pointed out that the original compact made by God with his creation in the first chapter of Genesis specified a diet consisting entirely of fruit and green plants, and that the Noachine relaxation permitting the killing of animals and the coming into being of fear in the world was a consequence of human sin, of a Creation expelled from Eden. Admittedly that is myth, but myth often embodies profound truth and now we know so much more about the way animals experience pain and fear, to cause it for any reason is illegitimate. If Wisdom tells us to be loving; if we believe Christ embodies Wisdom should this not lead us to reflect on our approach to a Creation that belongs to God and on our own life-styles.
As autumn slides inexorably towards winter, and the long Trinity season of growth will soon we overtaken by a time of penitence and reflection as we await the coming of Christ, and meditate on Holy Wisdom, it is time to consider what it would really mean if we adopted a true doctrine of peace, peace between humans, peace with other species, peace with Creation. I have to say I am not optimistic, for climate change seems to me to be ever more present, cruelties to other creatures, human and non-human, ever greater, often perpetrated in the name of the Divine name, who is surely utterly appalled by the carnage, and suffers again on the cross which we have made for him. The shadow of the Shoah and of other genocides since, of numerous other cruelties inflicted on innocent alone, let alone the countless millions of animals slaughtered and environments blasted in the cause of greed, are no less than an assault on Divine Wisdom herself. We face indeed a very ‘long day’s journey into night’.
It would be so easy to despair, and rationally, sometimes there seems to be no hope, but just as the green herb grows in unlikely places, even in blasted landscapes, there is still gentleness, and compassion in the world, emerging from the cracks in our despair, watered by the tears of our grief. Creation suffers; the weak, the good, the merciful all suffer as Christ suffered, but despite the darkness we see in history and at the present time and good women and men martyred from the dawn of history and the suffering endured by so many of God’s creatures, love, the Holy Wisdom of God, can never be overcome and will eventually, we pray, triumph over all the forces of evil.
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.