Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


Harvest 2012
October 11, 2012, 10:21 am
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon preached at All Saints, Clifton, Sunday October 6th 2012

In Canada, this weekend is Thanksgiving, but although there will be turkey and pumpkin pie, Canadian Thanksgiving is not the same as the American Thanksgiving in November, commemorating the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers. It is much more like our Harvest Festival, but with a greater emphasis on family togetherness.

As is well known, I am rather fond of old songs, and the one that comes to mind now is one of Bing Crosby’s, called “Count your blessings.” The title says it all: rather than whinging about all the things that are wrong with the world and with our lives, we should give thanks for all the things that are right. There is a natural instinct- even in pre-Christian times and in post-Christian times- to give thanks for what is good.

Even so, there is an equally human tendency to take good things for granted. The difference is not in the sort of blessings we receive, but in the kind of people we are. Our Lord rebuked the Pharisees, always ready to criticise, for asking for signs and yet failing to see the signs that were under their noses. We too (encouraged if I may say so by the media) are often more ready to find fault than to give praise: in particular, we fail to give thanks and praise to God our Creator for the most obvious things, our lives, our families, food and drink, health and so on.

This is also the week after St Francis’ Day. Francis found perfect joy in recognising the hand of a loving Creator in everything that occurred to him, whether pleasant or painful. His whole life was a song of gratitude and praise- he called himself the Troubadour of God, a minstrel who wandered through the world reminding everyone of the goodness of God. Towards the end of his life, when he was afflicted with sickness and blindness, he composed what is called “The Canticle of Brother Sun”, and which we know in a variant form as the hymn, “All creatures of our God and King.”

Each stanza praises God through and for some aspect of creation: the bright and burning sun, the moon and the stars of heaven, the traditional elements of earth, air, fire and water. A recent author has pointed out something I had not noticed before. Although Francis is nowadays thought of as the Saint who cared most for animals and living creatures generally, they do not get a mention in his song: only the inanimate forces of the Universe. Strange, and worth pondering.

Pride of place is given to the sun in the sky, given a particularly courteous title by the Saint: Messer lo frate Sole, my lord brother Sun. By the time he composed these words, the light of the sun- almost any light- was indescribably painful to his eyes; and yet he praised and thanked God for it. The sun is indeed the supreme natural image of the Creator, radiantly pouring out light and warmth continually, without which life on earth would be impossible. John Keble invoked Christ as “sun of my soul”; while Wesley wrote, “Hail the Sun of Righteousness! Light and life to all he brings.”

God is our spiritual Sun, in whose light we see light itself, the natural light of the world and the spiritual light of the Gospel. St Anthony of Padua reminds us that the sun gives out both light and heat, and God gives us both Truth and Love. The truth and beauty of the world evoke our wonder and awe, but the love we receive evokes our gratitude. A great philosopher marvelled at the starry sky above and the moral law within us. The Psalmist saw the same truth, saying that “The heavens declare the glory of God: and the firmament sheweth his handiwork… In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun: which cometh forth as a bridegroom out of the chamber, and rejoiceth like a giant to run his course.” But almost immediately he continues, “The law of the Lord is an undefiled law, converting the soul… the commandment of the Lord is pure, and giveth light to the eyes.”

How do we give fitting thanks to God for all his goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men? For the means of grace and for the hope of glory? The General Thanksgiving itself tells us: we should ask a further blessing, that we should have a due sense of all God’s mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, and that we show forth his praise not only with our lips but with our lives; by giving up ourselves to his service, and walking before him in holiness and righteousness all our days.

In other words, we praise and thank God for his goodness by seeking to be a blessing ourselves to others. To appreciate and value them, even though they are full of faults, just as we are. By encouraging them, giving them hope. A prayer not in fact by St Francis, but nowadays regularly attributed to him, asks God to make us channels of his peace; that we may bring love where there is hatred, hope where there is despair and faith where there is doubt. The last part of the hymn certainly echoes additions to the Canticle of the Sun made by Francis at the very end of his journey, commending pardon and forgiveness, and welcoming “Sister Death”.

Make me a channel of your peace:
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
In giving of ourselves that we receive,
And in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God! It is meet and right so to do!

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