On 4th October, the eighteenth Sunday after Trinity, and St Francis’ Day we had our annual Creationtide service in the cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. Our cathedral was transformed into a wooded grove full of animals. The congregation included big cats, elephants, reindeer and plants. Helene Milena preached the following sermon. The readings were Psalm 104:1, 11-23, Job 39:1-8, 26-30, Luke 12:22-31.
Today we are celebrating creation. Although there is no official Creationtide in the church year, many Anglican churches around the world choose to celebrate creation in this part of the year. For those in the northern hemisphere it is the time of harvest, gathering the bounty of the fields and orchards to keep us fed during the cold months. For those in the southern hemisphere it is a time for the plants to awake as the days lengthen and the soil warms. It’s time for planting and weeding in the hope of a good harvest later in the year. For an international church such as ours, it is an appropriate time to turn our thoughts to creation.
We could choose several Sundays for this celebration but choose this one as it’s on or near St Francis’ Day. St Francis is known for responding to God’s call by leaving a life of luxury to live a simple life of a monk. It is for this reason that the current Pope took the name Francis, as he too is a man who lives a simple life, shunning the luxuries available to him. St Francis is also known for his great affinity with the natural world. The Celtic saints had this sense of oneness with creation but it was lost to many Christians as the Roman church took precedence over the Celtic, until St Francis reintroduced the idea.
Riches and a good life have a habit of pulling us away from an understanding of our place in the natural world and our needs which are supplied by it. It was the New Age movement which placed an emphasis on ecology and care of the environment in the 20th Century. The Church has trailed behind in this understanding, yet we have little excuse. From the beginning God made it plain that he expected us to work for the good of his creation, tending and taming it but not exploiting it. Until recently we had forgotten that and simply ravaged the earth for what we wanted, regardless of the consequences. Only now are people beginning to examine the outcome of our greed and seek to redress the balance if possible.
Despite what we have done to the earth, there are still places where we can admire God’s handiwork and be blessed. Even in built up areas we can see the sky, feel the sun on our faces, perhaps see some of the sunset colours or notice a rainbow. Birds seem to manage to thrive in all sorts of unlikely places, though their songs may be drowned out in all but the quietest times in cities. Flowers and trees colonise very small areas of soil, even between paving slabs or in gutters. That itself seems to be a miracle of creation, that drive to live and grow which takes any opportunity. It gives us a chance to appreciate the natural world.
If we can get away from buildings, it’s even better. Often those who feel separated from God find they can connect to him through looking at what he has created. It is known that those who tend to suffer from depression often feel a lifting of their spirits when they come in contact with the sights, sounds, textures and scents of the natural world. The psalmist finds so much to admire: running water, birds, plants which feed both humans and animals, wine and oil and bread to enhance our lives, trees for the birds, places for the goats and hyraxes to live. He also recalls the seasons, the sun, the moon and the darkness which provides cover for some of the animals.
The mystery of all this is beyond us. Scientists continue to discover new wonders about the universe, our planet and the environment in which we live. New living creatures still emerge and those once thought extinct are occasionally found once more. However, even scientists often admit that they are limited in what they can explain. As Johannes Kepler stated, science is simply “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” And Albert Einstein, perhaps the epitome of the great scientific mind, said, “Everyone who is seriously interested in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe – a spirit vastly superior to man, and one in the face of which our modest powers must feel humble.”
The only one who fully understands creation is God as he the Creator, the one whose word brought everything into being. In his conversation with Job, God makes it plain that he didn’t just set the universe going and leave it to fend for itself. God continues to take an interest in his creation. The way that God describes the habits of the creatures he has created, shows that God is still in love with his creation.
God values the birds and feeds them, yet he values human beings more. He makes the flowers look beautiful even though they live such a little while, yet will supply clothing to us also. It’s too easy to look at the problems in life instead of trusting that God will help us to find a way through. God knows what we need, he understands our situations perfectly, just as he is aware of animals giving birth and birds soaring on the wind. We can trust him to provide for us. It’s not easy advice to follow – to stop worrying and start trusting – but it’s worth doing our best to follow it. Instead of concentrating on ourselves, we are to reach beyond ourselves and work to bring in the kingdom of God.
When things are difficult, we can try to do as St Francis did and praise God for his creation which is truly wonderful. Some of you may be familiar with The Canticle of Brother Sun which Francis wrote and which I would like to share with
Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
to you be praise, glory, honour and all blessing..
To you alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no one is worthy to call upon your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through Brother Sun,
who brings the day and through whom you give us light.
He is beautiful and radiant in all his splendour!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Praise be you, my Lord,
through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be you, my Lord,
through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather
through which you give sustenance to your creatures.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night.
He is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us
and who produces varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.
Praised be you, my Lord,
through those who forgive for love of you,
and bear infirmity and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by you, Most High, they shall be crowned.
Praised be you, my Lord,
through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no living man can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will
find doing your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.
Praise and bless my Lord,
and give him thanks
and serve him with great humility.