Sunday, 25 July 2021

Who hears the Cry of Creation
and the Cry of the Poor
in ‘Such a Time as This’?

‘The Cry of Creation: Creativity in the Church’ … an image used by some of the speakers at the USPG conference last week

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 25 July 2021

The Eighth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity VIII); Saint James the Apostle

11:30:
The Parish Eucharist, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick

The Readings: II Samuel 11: 1-15; Psalm 14; John 6: 1-21

There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘It is I, be not afraid’ (John 6: 20) … the central window above the altar in Christ Church, Spanish Point, Co Clare, shows Christ calming the winds and waves (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

This week has been the hottest I have ever experienced in Ireland. Yet, this week’s heat, and the recent deluge experienced by people in Germany and other parts of Europe, are sharp reminders that Climate Change is posing threats to the lives of all of us.

But, instead of basking in the sunshine in the rectory gardens, I spent three days this week indoors, in front of a computer screen, having an online presence at the annual three-day conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG, United Society Partners in the Gospel.

This year’s conference theme has been ‘For Such a Time as This’: the title comes from the story of Esther in the Bible, where Mordecai asks Esther to consider whether she has found herself in her privileged position at ‘such a time as this,’ a time of great crisis, so that she can do God’s will and stop a looming catastrophe (Esther 4: 14).

‘Such a Times as This’ … Mordecai uses the phrase twice in one verse.

And, in a similar way, we were challenged to think whether the Church has a voice that must speak out at ‘such a time as this’: this time when we are aware of potential catastrophes created by the pandemic, by racism, by political extremism, by gender violence, by climate change … and so on.

But Mordecai warns Esther that she if stays silent at such a time as this, she and her family may perish, but God will raise up ‘relief and deliverance … from another quarter.’

We were challenged, day after day, in such a time as this, whether the Church is going to speak out today, or whether we are going to wait silently for God to provide ‘relief and deliverance … from another quarter.’

The Cry of Creation could be heard all Wednesday morning throughout presentations that invited us to listen to ‘The Cry of Creation.’

Graham Usher, Bishop of Norwich, drew on the opening word of the Rule of Saint Benedict – ‘Listen’ – as he urged us to listen to the groan and cry of creation, to listen to the cry of the dispossessed, and to listen to God’s voice on how we can live more simply so that others might simply live.

Sadly, he quoted a survey that finds eight out of ten young people say they have never heard a sermon on climate change. Yet the Fifth Mark of Mission in the Anglican Communion calls on us ‘To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.’

If the Church engages with climate change, he suggested, then we may find we are evangelising the young.

He quoted from Thomas Merton: ‘From the moment you put a piece of bread in your mouth you are part of the world. Who grew the wheat? Who made the bread? Where did it come from? You are in relationship with all who brought it to the table. We are least separate and most in common when we eat and drink.’

Our Bible study that morning was led by Suchitra Behera, an Indian theologian working with the Diocese of Barishal in the Church of Bangladesh.

She told a moving story of hearing that ‘Cry of Creation’ in a group of elephants, grieving the death of one elephant killed by a car or a truck on a road. The elephants staged their own protest on the road against the destruction of their habitat, blocking traffic in an organised protest. And she quoted the Prophet Jeremiah on the groaning of creation:

How long will the land mourn,
and the grass of every field wither?
For the wickedness of those who live in it
the animals and the birds are swept away,
and because people said, ‘He is blind to our ways.’

They have made it a desolation;
desolate, it mourns to me.
The whole land is made desolate,
but no one lays it to heart (Jeremiah 12: 4, 11, NRSVA).

Drawing on the liberation theologian Leonardo Boff, she linked the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

The cry of creation and the cry of humanity are not separate cries.

And this close link between these two cries is clear in our Gospel reading this morning (John 6: 1-21).

Christ hears the cry of the poor, and calls on the disciples, the Church, to share what they have. They are surprised to find they have more than enough in resources they thought too meagre to feed the 5,000 with barley loaves, the bread of the poor.

And immediately after hearing and responding to the cry of the poor, Christ hears the cry of creation. He calms the waves and the waters, he brings his light into their darkest fears.

‘It is I; do not be afraid.’

We can be transfixed by fear or paralysed into inaction in ‘such a time as this.’ But if the Church remains silent at such a time as this then, perhaps, as Mordecai tells Esther, God raise up ‘relief and deliverance … from another quarter.’

As this year’s conference closed, the Revd Duncan Dormor, general secretary of USPG, reminded us that in the breaking of bread we are one body. Poverty and the assault on the earth challenge us to hear the groaning of creation, he said, and he repeated that there can be no salvation for humanity that does not include creation.

The breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup takes us to the heart of creation.

Let us break bread together. Amen.

A quotation from Thomas Merton shared by Bishop Graham Usher at the USPG conference last week

John 6: 1-21 (NRSVA):

1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’ 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ 10 Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’

15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 got into a boat, and started across the lake to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The lake became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going.

‘Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands that holy things have taken’ (Post-Communion Prayer) … Communion vessels in the chapel of Westcott House, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical colour: Green (Ordinary Time, Year B)

Penitential Kyries (Saint James):

Lord, you are gracious and compassionate.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

You are loving to all,
and your mercy is over all your creation.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Your faithful servants bless your name,
and speak of the glory of your kingdom.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Blessed are you, O Lord,
and blessed are those who observe and keep your law:
Help us to seek you with our whole heart,
to delight in your commandments
and to walk in the glorious liberty
given us by your Son, Jesus Christ.

Collect (Saint James the Apostle):

Merciful God,
whose holy apostle Saint James,
leaving his father and all that he had,
was obedient to the calling of your Son Jesus Christ
and followed him even to death:
Help us, forsaking the false attractions of the world,
to be ready at all times to answer your call without delay;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Preface (Saint James):

In the saints
you have given us an example of godly living,
that rejoicing in their fellowship,
we may run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
and with them receive the unfading crown of glory …

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Strengthen for service, Lord,
the hands that holy things have taken;
may the ears which have heard your word
be deaf to clamour and dispute;
may the tongues which have sung your praise be free from deceit;
may the eyes which have seen the tokens of your love
shine with the light of hope;
and may the bodies which have been fed with your body
be refreshed with the fulness of your life;
glory to you for ever.

Post-Communion Prayer (Saint James):

Father,
we have eaten at your table
and drunk from the cup of your kingdom.
Teach us the way of service
that in compassion and humility
we may reflect the glory of Jesus Christ,
Son of Man and Son of God, our Lord.

Blessing:

God give you grace
to share the inheritance of Saint James the Apostle and all his saints in glory …

Bread in the window of Hindley’s Bakery and Café, Tamworth Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

39, For the fruits of his creation (CD 3)
612, Eternal Father, strong to save (CD 35)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.



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