Martin Fletcher's Sermon, 19 February 2017

2 before Lent                                                                                 
19 February 2017

(Genesis 1:1 – 2:3; Romans 8:18-25; Matthew 6:25-34)

Jesus taught his disciples, saying:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,  yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?”  For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

This is the gospel of the Lord.

As many of you will know, I was away this week: on retreat. I went to stay with the Benedictine community at Alton Abbey, in Hampshire – just over 30 miles away – but in many ways also a world away!

At Alton Abbey there is ample evidence, in line with our Collect today, of ‘reverence for all creation and respect for every person’. It is wonderful to behold. A small example: at the breakfast table are placed jars labelled ‘Our honey’ – they enjoy making it and they enjoy sharing it with their guests!

Whilst I was at Alton, the General Synod of the Church of England had gathered in London. Well, let me put what I am sure we are all thinking into words. The Synod debate on same-sex marriage may not have reached the outcome that some people sought, but it was a sign of the Church’s desire to show ‘reverence for all creation and respect for every person’. There is no doubt the debate will continue.

The reality of the Church of England, as the General Synod reminded itself, is that it is the established church of this country, rooted in the Reformation of 500 years ago. As such, the ongoing process of reformation needs to be prompted not simply by public opinion but also our Church’s three guiding principles of Scripture, Tradition and Reason.

I was struck, as perhaps some of you were, by a contribution to the Radio 4 ‘News Quiz’ on Friday evening. They were discussing this week’s deliberations of the Synod. One panel member suggested that it was ‘about time God gave us a new Bible’: the current one, in his view, was clearly out of date! He could hardly have realised that the Old Testament reading set for today would be the creation story, but he did refer to it, adding that he thought it should be updated to mention dinosaurs! In trying to be funny, he was making a serious point – and an alarming one.

Alarming because he clearly understands that Scripture can only be taken literally – with no room for interpretation, no room for the organic growth in Tradition based on the use of Reason. In this way, he will be speaking for many in mistakenly regarding Scripture as irrelevant.

So the Church has a job to do here, proclaiming to a changing world God’s unchanging gospel of love – whilst also upholding ‘reverence for all creation and respect for every person’.

So how might we interpret today’s gospel passage? In hearing again that teaching of Jesus, ‘not to worry about tomorrow’, we will no doubt each have immediately called to mind the various concerns and challenges that we are carrying around with us!

What came to my mind is another verse from the Bible, which featured in one of the readings I heard at Alton Abbey last week. It is a verse with which we will all be familiar, but the version of the Bible they use there, the Jerusalem Bible, gave it new meaning for me: ‘unload all your worries on him, since he is looking after you’ (1 Peter, chapter 5, verse 7). To me, these words speak of a dynamic relationship, in which both we and our Lord are constantly playing an active part.

We can be assured that our risen and ascended Lord is interceding for us at the right hand of his Father and our Father. So we simply must ‘unload all [our] worries on him, since he is looking after [us]’ – even if our prayer, to quote another verse with which we will be familiar, is simply this: ‘Lord, I believe, help my unbelief’ (Mark chapter 9, the words of the father of a boy suffering from epilepsy).

So let us not worry but pray; unload! I close with these words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, writing about a man called Samsonov who wished to be free of worry:

‘His daily prayers, mumbled in haste while his thoughts raced ahead to cope with more mundane matters, were like washing one’s hands fully dressed: a mite of cleanliness so small as to be almost imperceptible. But concentrated, dedicated prayer, prayer that was like a hunger that must be satisfied and for which there was no substitute – that kind of prayer, Samsonov recalled, always transformed and fortified him’.

 

‘Unload all your worries on him, since he is looking after you’.

 

Thanks be to God. Amen.