Trinity 16 Service

St Margaret’s Church. Binsey

Evensong on Sunday 11th September 2016 [Trinity 16]

Psalms: 124 & 125; Isaiah 60; John 6: 51-69

Revd Professor Martin Henig

I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.[John 6:51]

+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has joined the Orthodox Patriarch and Pope Francis in asking Christians to use the time between 1 September and 4 October to focus attention on our call to care for Creation. As those of you who have heard me preach will know, Creation is central to my Christian mission, but a combination of holidays and attendance at the annual Eucharist of the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals on the first weekend of October means that this is my sole opportunity within the month  to preach on the topic.

The parable of the lost sheep in this morning’s Gospel  was opportune, for it  brought to mind Our Lord’s care not just for humans but for every single creature. This is reinforced in this evening’s New Testament reading : the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. Indeed, the lyrical words in Isaiah seems to look forward to the eschaton when everything will be resolved.   It is a wakeup call for all creation and specifically for all humanity to respond.

I was listening to a commentator involved in producing the long established Television space-drama Startreck. She believed that its optimism about human beings finding a home in an ever expanding universe was justified , and that human beings were a good thing in creation. I am afraid I am not so sure, and I see plenty of grounds for pessimism if  we simply base our hopes on human history. My optimism, the reason I don’t give way to despair, has quite another source which does not depend on shallow  speciesist triumphalism.

On a visit earlier this year to  Hampi in Karnataka, southern India,  I entered the great Virupaksha Temple which is the most lively and active sanctuary on the site. There were many visitors, worshippers and tourists, the same mixture of humanity that one might encounter in a cathedral in Britain. Of course there were differences, for this was after all a Hindu temple predominantly dedicated to Lord Shiva, but a less predictable difference was the presence of other creatures. The monkeys, macaques, were really enjoying themselves, able to come and go as they pleased and doubtless fed by the many visitors to the shrine. They were of all ages, and what especially struck me were the games of the very young monkeys who took especial delight in a dark corner of the temple, into which a beam of sunlight penetrated through a gap in the roof. They were leaping to try to catch the sunbeam, then jumping over each other with sheer exuberance, just like human children. Did the little monkeys believe that they could catch the sun, or was this simply make believe? Needless to say, the older members of the family looked on  with I imagine amused tolerance. That is not the only time by any means I have been struck by simian personality. Of course these creatures have similar cognition to us, the ability to experience joy but also to experience fear and pain. I could not help reflecting that similar primates are kept and experimented on in laboratories, by human beings; I could not help reflecting on our treatment of even closer cousins, the great apes- gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, hunted, imprisoned in zoos and circuses and again in some instances the subject of experimentation. Of course we know now that virtually all animals are complex in similar ways. Most of us have observed this in cats and dogs, and yet the pigs, sheep, cattle and hens which are equally complex (pigs are certainly as intelligent as dogs) are treated as mere commodity, bred for slaughter. Anyway the point is not the intelligence of any living being but that being’s capacity to suffer and feel pain. If one thinks about that in the light of living for Christ, one cannot but be disturbed and horrified.

I  reflected on this in the recent Ecumenical Animal Retreat at Charney Manor where I spoke of the inhumanity of human beings to other creatures and, indeed, to other humans in the light of Pope Francis’s inspiring Encyclical, Laudato Si’. This is an extraordinary, wide-ranging document which includes observations  on  the link between the way rich people and rich nations marginalise the poor and despoil creation, obliterating forests and mistreating other living beings. The same people who exploit the plants and creatures of a place also deny rights to indigenous people. The title of the  Pope’s Encyclical is taken from St Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Creatures. Francis came to realise fully  that we are simply part of God’s creation, and that the elements in which we live, and our fellow creatures are all to be regarded as our brothers and sisters.

Hope cannot be based on an ever more dominant and greedy humanity, but rather on God’s love for the whole of creation. Our own knowledge is negligible before the wisdom of God, and that demands humility. If we destroy what God has made, we are deficient in love so how can we expect that divine love to live in us? We were not created to dominate and bully, to make war on others, to kill and to maim. If we do so we are at one with those who tortured and killed Christ, God Incarnate. If we do so how can the truth live in us? No, we with the rest of creation were made by God to live in harmony, to live as scripture tells us to praise our Creator and to let him dwell richly in us. And that may mean, it almost certainly does mean, a very radical change in the lives of all of us.

+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.