Evensong on Sunday
St Margaret’s Church, Binsey
Evensong on Sunday June 25th 2017 Trinity 2
Revd. Professor Martin Henig
Psalm 46; 1 Samuel 24:1-17; Luke 14:12 -24
Be still and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen. I will be exalted in the earth. [Psalm 46: 10]
+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
All of our readings today reflect on the centrality of God the creator to us, the creation, and as this morning’s Gospel (Matthew 10:29) reminds us, the ‘us’ includes the sparrows, also ‘known unto God’. I find that observation reassuring in a world where human agency is responsible for so much evil, so many wars and acts of terrorism, so much callousness in the face of suffering. It is comforting to hear the confidence of the psalmist that:
He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire. (Psalm 46:9)
Although that is surely a reference to the end time, the eschaton. The world is still an imperfect world and through the countless millennia from when life appeared on our earth the creation has suffered.
I have good reason to return to the sparrows, not only because I am a third order Franciscan, and remember that blessed St Francis preached to the birds, not only because non-human animals are central to my own vocation, and the sparrows who chirp and feed in the bushes outside my front window and nest in the ivy which covers the side wall of the next door house are my nearest neighbours and friends, but because I have been so influenced by a lovely reflection on the birds of the air by a close friend, Dr Sian Gronlie, who was very moved on a recent visit to Jerusalem to see a little sparrow finding a home between the great stones of the Western Wall, the last surviving remnant of the great Temple. It brought to her mind another Psalm:
Yea, the sparrow hath found her an house, the swallow a place where she may lay her young, even thy altars, O Lord of Hosts. (Psalm 84:3).
We think too little of the sparrows and swallows, or for that matter of all the other creatures which have evolved and like us are in the hands of God. If we did, we would not be so constantly inflicting cruelty on our fellow creatures for our own selfish benefit, whether to glut our appetites for meat, or for clothing in the shape of leather and fur, or to see them as legitimate subjects for vivisection or simply for sport by fox hunters or bull fighters. Indulging in these and other such disgusting diversions. If we thought of the sparrows would we trash the environment as we do? – every empty beer can tossed into the hedge is a sin against the creator; if we thought of the sparrows would we desecrate the planet for our benefit without remembering that every tree, every plot of ground is the home of other living creatures, and is literally holy ground?
Sian ends her reflection by quoting my very favourite passage passage from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, in which, in the year AD 627, a member of his court gives the following advice to King Edwin of Northumbria who is musing on whether he should recommend Christianity to his people:
When we compare the present time on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a sparrow through the banqueting-hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your thegns and counsellors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside, the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms: but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. Even so, man appears on earth for a little while, but of what went before this life or of what follows, we know nothing. Therefore, if this new teaching has brought any more certain knowledge, its seems only right that we should follow it. (Ec.Hist. II.13)
We and the sparrows are one; like them we are on the stage of life for so little time, and not one of our achievements will be remembered in future aeons except by God. All our lives should be absolutely centred on him; our Lord Jesus Christ invites us to feast at his table, but we prefer our own company; he gives us the gift of love, we prefer our own power; he offers us tranquillity but we prefer our wealth and covet yet greater possessions; we build up treasures of all kind on earth, without considering that they are totally useless in heaven.
All creation will be redeemed; yes, the sparrows as well as us-and perhaps the sparrows before us! Do not be jealous as though we humans deserve the best places, for it is no human being who calls us to the feast, but God Eternal who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit now and in the Ages of Ages. Amen.
Be still and know that I am God.