Sermon for 2013 Annual Service
Sermon for Animal Welfare Sunday
6th October 2013 – Truro Cathedral
10.00am Harvest Festival Solemn Eucharist at Truro Cathedral
(attended by the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals)
Introit Oculi omnium Wood Hymns on service sheet
Missa Triueriensis Gabriel Jackson Psalm 100
Anthem Ave verum corpus Byrd
Voluntary Organ Graham Fitkin
Theme: ‘God’s All-Embracing Love’
Old Testament: Deuteronomy 26.1-11 ‘The Offering of the First-fruits’
Epistle: Philippians 4.4-9 ‘Joy and Peace’
Gospel: Luke 12.22-31 ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God’
According to Deuteronomy, the people of ancient Israel were accustomed to bring to the Temple in a basket each year the first-fruits of their harvest. They wanted to thank God for rescuing them from slavery and bringing them into a land where they were able to enjoy a good harvest.
“The Lord,” they would say, “brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm… He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Deut.26:8-9)
All of us who have been touched by God’s goodness in this way, can feel the urge to respond in worship and thanksgiving. That indeed is what we are doing this morning. But in the process, we can also be caught up into the amazing Reality of God. We commune with him. And as we do so, we begin to see things from his perspective, and to glimpse his vision for the world. Our horizons are broadened and our compassionate concern immeasurably extended. We no longer think simply in terms of our narrow, selfish materialistic needs: ‘What shall I eat? What shall I wear?’ But rather, as Jesus reminds us in our gospel reading, we look beyond all that to seek God’s Kingdom … on earth as it is in heaven.
God’s Kingdom is all-embracing. It is the whole created order in tune with the Will of God; and to grasp what this entails is not easy. The Church is still struggling to do so even today.
Sharing what God has given us at a local level is an obvious starting-point. As we share his harvest blessings, so we share his love with those around us. Churches have for many years distributed harvest produce amongst the elderly and the house-bound, and given to local charities that are helping the homeless and destitute.
But looking beyond the local community is rather more difficult. It was only in the aftermath of the Second World War, when concern for European refugees led to the founding of international relief organisations like Christian Aid, that a wider concern for global poverty was truly kindled. Nowadays of course it is common-place for Christians to pray at Harvest Thanksgivings for the poor of the world and to support special fundraising initiatives on their behalf. But it was not always so.
Your Dean [The Very Reverend Roger Bush] at his installation in September last year said that “We are all on a journey to a greater understanding of God’s nature.” And he is right. We have clearly moved on in that journey and have grown in our awareness of God’s all-embracing love. But clearly also we still have a long way to go.
It is my prayer that, at the start of the 21st century, our horizons will be expanded and stretched still further, and we will embrace a concern, not just for the local community, nor even the whole human race, but the whole created order.
We heard a moment ago the opening words of Psalm 100: “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth!” But how, I ask myself, can the earth ‘shout for joy’ when it is decimated by human greed and arrogance, when the habitats of wild animals are destroyed by pollution, global warming and deforestation fuelled at least in part by our ludicrously materialistic lifestyle and a desire for unbridled growth supported, it seems, by politicians of almost all persuasions? How can the earth ‘shout for joy’ when 15 large animal species are critically endangered and a further 33 in serious trouble? Jesus in our gospel reading speaks of God clothing the lilies of the field and feeding the birds, and if the choir had turned a few pages on to Psalm 104, we would have heard them sing of God blessing all creatures and willing them all to flourish and to share in the fruits of the earth, not just humans.
There is a growing concern within our society of the damage we are doing to the environment and to wild life. Whether it has the spiritual resources to deal with the problem, however, I rather doubt. The Church has an important and distinctive contribution to make. Where humanists may talk, for example, about caring for creatures like the honey bee which we may need for our own survival (enlightened self-interest), we talk of God’s care for every living creature, regardless of its usefulness and regardless of any particular liking we may have for it. Whilst many are driven by fear and anxiety regarding the future of our planet, we are motivated primarily by faith and love.
As we are drawn in our worship deeper into the mystery of God, as our horizons are stretched and broadened, may we, in the words of St. Paul to the Ephesians,
“…have the power … to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)
Reverend Hugh Broadbent
Vicar of Snodland & ASWA Committee Member