Sunday 19th February 2017
The Second Sunday before Lent
Holy Trinity, Cuckfield
BCP Evensong
Proverbs 8.1; 8:22-31
Revelation 4

There are phenomena called 'ear worms', tunes which you simply can't shift once they get into your head; and in my case these frequently appear from nowhere, with no prompting nor logic. Thus it was that twelve days ago I could not shift Thomas Tallis's setting of the great Nativity motet O Nata Lux out of my head while we were ascending in the rotating cable car to the summit of Table Mountain, overlooking Capetown, to enjoy one of the most spectacular views of human habitation, a stunning example of what man has created alongside the much more imposing natural landscape. Fortunately the setting dropped out of my consciousness until, four days later when we were enjoying a spectacularly outrageous fine dining experience, tasting just about all the edible ingredients God has ever made, it came back. The simple, even facile, point which a preacher might make at this point is that there is an unbreakable connection, within the economy of the Holy Trinity, between creation and incarnation; and further, that in our First reading the link is made between creation and The Spirit. Granted these two observations, however, I was sorry for the appearance of the tallis 'ear worm' on both occasions because I sometimes become worried that as Christians, the followers of Christ, we are somewhat over-incarnational, that because Jesus was born of a woman and lived among us this is so much a simpler idea of Godhead for us to identify with that we are not careful enough to remember the Creator God to whom we pray through Jesus.

The voice in the First Reading emphasises the centrality of humanity to creation; we are not, following the chronology in Genesis, the end of a process, some kind of logical conclusion to creation; we are not even, though the narrative can mislead us to think so, a grand climax; we are, rather, the purpose of creation, without us it would not  be; the mountains and seas and animals and birds simply provide a context within which we can exercise our God-given capacity to love God and each other freely. That is the point, in a sense the only point, we were made to love.

Which brings us to our Second Reading, Chapter Four of Revelation. The previous two Chapters contain various pieces of advice to the newly founded Christian Churches, based on some pretty harsh condemnation. The last of these series of admonishments and encouragements is my favourite, concerning the Church at Laodicea which is "neither too hot nor too cold", a perfect summation of how not to love. After the condemnation and advice comes the big worship scene in Chapter Four, worship being, if you like, a clerical word for love which, - surprise! surprise! - takes all the spontaneity out of the process and replaces this with kind of choreography or architecture, which we call liturgy.

Now don't worry, I'm not going to ask you all to step out of your neat and tidy rows to dance. After all, in my experience many Anglicans even find exchanging The Peace a bit of a problem but I am asking us all to think anew about worship based on our created purpose.

So let's start at the end. It's not only our DNA but also our culture which turns us against the idea of dying which, conversely, provides a great body of evidence that, in spite of setbacks, misfortunes and disadvantages, we would rather be here than not; indeed, given how we fight to survive, we would rather be here than with God in Heaven. And, therefore, if we like it here, the least we can do is thank God for where we are, not just on the big days but every day because, after all, we enjoy the world every day.

Next, we need to make a mental shift from the kind of formal thanks which we accord in public ceremonies to a more heart-based approach which shades us towards an idea of  love. The problem here is that our experience of human love is tempered by social expectations. To paraphrase the famous passage in Ecclesiastes (Chapter 11): there may be a time to love but there's a much longer time to exercise self control. But whatever the virtues of intense love and firm self control and the balance between them, the same considerations should not apply to loving God. WE have tried all manner of techniques to intensify this love from set prayers to deep meditation but what I like most  when I encounter it is an outburst of spontaneity. I love the unguarded moment particularly when it's likely to get the actor into trouble. There's something delightful and,  at the same time, off-putting about the blind beggar Bartimaeus throwing off his cloak and presenting himself before Jesus (Mark 10:46-52); but remember the result.

No sermon on these two readings would be complete without a comment on the state of creation as we live in it and are part of it. Perhaps alleviating the inequality between human beings is the most critical long-term human project but the most urgent is protecting our planet from our own greed: I have no time for those who  tell me how much they love their grandchildren but are climate change  deniers. As for inequality, I am not simply thinking of what we see at the moment but the  more insidious inequality created when we finance our lavish lifestyle with debt that our children and grandchildren will have to repay.

We have become altogether too reasoned and reasonable, too well ordered and orderly, too intellectual and clever about our predicaments.

We need to be more aware of our exalted state as made in the image of God as the purpose of creation; and we need to be, on that basis, more aware of our Creator's exalted state. I doubt I will persuade you to dance in the aisles but we should all pray that we will cultivate the freedom in creation to dance in our hearts.