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The Second Sunday of Creationtide – Canon Timothy Goode

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Preacher: Canon Timothy Goode 

Date: 10 September 2023,  The Second Sunday of Creationtide

Before we moved up to York, I went to a superb exhibition on St. Francis of Assisi at the National Gallery and through that visit was encouraged to seek out Franco Zeffirelli’s film on St Francis, ‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon’.  Towards the end of the film there is an extraordinary scene when Francis goes to Rome to petition the Pope for permission to found what will become the Franciscan and Poor Clare Orders, religious communities of men and women that to this day take the three-fold vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Picture the scene. Francis is ushered into the opulent Papal audience chamber to present himself to the Pope, passing armed guards as he makes his way. He kneels before the Pope who is seated on a throne some dozen or so steps up, with the great Papal crown, hovering majestically over his head.

To his left and right are rank upon rank of Cardinals and Archbishops. They all know inside out the protocols of the Papal chamber and they look down with utter disdain on this petitioner, dressed solely in a simple habit.

Francis unrolls the scroll and starts falteringly reading the prepared dry legal petition, but his heart is simply not in it. He rolls up the scroll, and in place of the text he exclaims at the top of his voice,

‘Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap, nor gather into barns…’

And before he can complete the biblical quote, bedlam ensues. How dare he, in his simple habit, challenge the opulence and power of the Papal court – the cheek of it.  Red hats and golden mitres are knocked off in the scuffles that follow; screams of abuse are levelled at Francis and he is physically removed from the chamber.

As the melee recedes all eyes turn back towards the papal throne. The Pope is standing, his right arm raised high. His face looks as if in some sort of shocked trance. They follow the arch of the Pope’s finger as it points towards the ceiling of the chamber, and there above him painted as a great mural on roof of the apse, is Christ as the ruler of all, the Almighty. By those few words of Francis, the Popes heart, mind and very being, is re-directed towards the very core of the Christian faith – Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh.

Francis is summoned back into the chamber, and the rest, as they say, is history.

And today in the opulence and splendour of this Minster, like the palatial Papal chamber, we too hear those same words in this morning’s gospel – of the birds of the air, and the lilies of the field – and we too are directed to what matters – to the very core of our faith, to our confidence found in our Lord Jesus Christ.

God sustains. God is good. Through the goodness and provision of his creation Jesus advises us that we should not worry about what we should eat, or drink; that we should not worry about our clothing. Surely this is good news!

Well, yes, it is good news, if you are like me and know where our next meal is coming from, or when our thirst will next be quenched; it is good news when we wake up in a comfortable bed and have access to a full wardrobe of clothes; it is good news when we are comfortably employed.

But how does this message land for those who are not fortunate enough to have the basics to sustain their life? Then this passage should pull us up short, for Jesus, as he so often does, is pointing all of us not towards to some carefree Utopia, not towards some esoteric heavenly dwelling place, but towards the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom we pray for every time we pray the Lord’s prayer. ‘Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven’.

If we are being directed by Jesus to God’s kingdom through his two picture images of the sparrows and the lilies, then we are being offered a kingdom that feeds, a kingdom that quenches thirst, a kingdom that clothes: a just kingdom of profound love, equity, generosity and hospitality. A Kingdom, as conjured up in today’s passage from the Book of Revelation, where the water of life flows, a Kingdom of abundance and a Kingdom of peace.

It therefore follows that there can be no place in God’s kingdom for the oppression, insecurity and exploitation of God’s people; no room for the ugliness of hunger, deprivation, and fear; no room for the marginalisation and diminishing of people due to their race, gender, sexuality, economic status or disability; no place for the rampant exploitation of the world resources and the wilful destruction of its fragile eco-systems. For these are not characteristics of the kingdom – they are its opposite, and we are bound by faith and compassion to do all we can, individually and corporately, to eradicate those things that obscure the love, the beauty, the grace and the liberation that God wills for the whole of God’s creation.

For, if we are the Body of Christ, then – as this season of Creationtide reminds us – we are inextricably bound to one another in mutual relationship, and to God’s created order. We are called to be stewards, stewards of each other, investing in the flourishing of the God given potential of our neighbour and stewards of God’s extraordinary creative action, the very planet we live on and whose wonderful bounty offers us more than we each can ever require.

And it is the very creative action of God that we are celebrating today. For as a church we are today investing fully in the flourishing of Rosanna, drawing attention to the reality that she is a unique and precious child of God, created and formed in the divine image, fearfully and wonderfully made. As a unique child of God, through her baptism, Rosanna is being welcomed into the Body of Christ and through the liberating lifegiving waters of baptism she and we are being offered a vision of the freedom of sparrows and the glory of lilies as we are offered a tangible glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven.

In today’s Gospel Jesus presents to us the demands of the kingdom and we pray that throughout her life Rosanna will respond to those demands by walking faithfully with Christ, mirroring the immeasurable love, generosity and hospitality of God, Christ’s name emblazed on her forehead, bringing the light of Christ to the dark places of this world.

But, my friends, as Rosanna is being baptised, let us also respond by reaffirming our baptismal vows so that, as parents and Godparents, friends and fellow members of the Body of Christ, we may model and mirror for Rosanna the immeasurable love, generosity and hospitality of God and be that light which no darkness can repel. For it will be through our lived example of Christian discipleship that Rosanna will first come to learn and experience the Christian faith.  We are called as Christ’s body here on earth to be co-workers with God in the divine creative action, for God calls his church to be a sacrament of the Kingdom – a sacrament of love, equity, generosity and hospitality,

And so, Rosanna, thank you. Thank you that through your baptism this morning you are blessing us all with a wonderous glimpse of the freedom of sparrows and the glory of lilies, a vision of the Kingdom of God. May God always be your light and may you always know of God’s presence alongside you and God’s love surrounding you, every step on the way. Amen.

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