Choral Evensong Sermon 26 September 2010
I have a good friend who lives in Dedham in Essex. Vivienne and I met him and his wife in a Church in Colchester not long after we got married, and not long after they got married, and we have been friends ever since – we are Godparents to each others children, sometimes go on holiday together, that sort of thing.
My friend has done all the things that one is supposed to do in this life. In addition to getting married, going to church, having a child he has worked hard all his life, he has built his own house, in fact I can almost still feel the bruises on my head from when I helped him plasterboard it. He has never been unemployed, he reads the telegraph and I suspect that he may even be a bit of a tory.
Friendship does mean being able to forgive your friends some things.
But unfortunately my friend made one big mistake and that was to choose to work in the public sector, in this case the Audit Commission. The Audit Commission is one of the bodies being closed by the new government and for the first time in his life he is staring redundancy in the face.
But of course he is not alone – his wife works for a Borough Council in Essex and her job is now far from secure, I have another friend who is a civil servant in the MOD whose job is under constant threat. When the comprehensive spending review is announced in October it seems likely that there will be tens of thousands of redundancies from the public sector and I have no doubt that we will all know someone who is affected. Some of those people will find work in the private sector but many of them will go from being productive tax-paying members of society to being unemployed claimers of benefit, at least while we still have a benefit system.
And redundancy is not confined to our public sector. Many of you may have heard that Professor Stephen Hawking has declared that God Himself is redundant. As many of you know I used to be an employment lawyer and I can tell you that redundancy pay is based on age and length of service. If God is really being made redundant then there have to be even more cutbacks in the budget because it is going to be a big pay out!
But what does Stephen Harking mean when he says that God is redundant? Well, evidently he has done all his sums, and shown his working out and it seems that there was no God necessary for the Big Bang to start off the universe because the laws of physics are capable of producing a big bang without a God to light the blue touch paper. Today we are celebrating Harvest Festival and giving thanks to God for all the things he has blessed us with but following the logic of Stephen Hawking we are wasting our time because in the same way the laws of physics are capable of starting and growing a universe so are the laws of biology perfectly capable of germinating a seed in the ground and bringing it to fruition, and when we celebrate a new child being born it is outmoded to think about God knitting the child together in its mothers womb because, again, we understand the biology and there is no God-shaped gap in the system.
We seem to have a plethora of scientists at the moment who seem to think that because they are clever scientists that they can also make theological pronouncements about the existence of God. The fact is, of course, that it only takes a moment’s thought to realise that if God created the universe to grow and to bring forth the life and abundance that we are celebrating today then it would be created with the laws of physics and chemistry and biology and everything else in place to enable that to happen.
The fact is that science and religion are different, and quite rightly so. When a scientist designs a new engine for an aeroplane that I am going to fly in I want that design to be based on evidence and not on faith. But that does not mean that evidence is more important than faith in every area of life, whatever the hubris of certain celebrity scientists may say.
When the scientist asks the Christian for proof of God’s existence in creation we may point to the beauty of a sunset over the sea, we may point to a meadow rippling in a summer breeze, we may point to the love in a child’s eyes we may even point to the warm glow of faith in our own hearts and the scientist would only see a setting sun, a meadow, a child who wants attention and some unprovable emotions or feeling. And of course they would be right, using only the eyes of science, but they would also be completely wrong.
God is the creator and we are part of and live within the creation. God made that creation motivated by pure creative love and he imbues that creation with love and with meaning. The fact that the eyes of science are blind both to concepts of love and meaning is part of the nature of science, and that is fine – science can function without either – but we should not allow that blindness, and the pronouncements of people like Professors Hawkins and Dawkins to make us doubt the knowledge in our own hearts that God stands behind and above and within creation.
So did God simply start creation and then leave it to its own devices, like some clock maker leaving a self-winding clock to get on with it? If that is what we thought then God would indeed be redundant. As Christians we believe not only remains an active part of creation through his holy spirit and that he actively entered into creation by becoming one of us 2000 years ago in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and that it is by participating in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that we are reconciled to God our creator and made whole.
And so we recognise not only that there is love and meaning underlying the universe as a whole but each one of our own lives has a meaning that finds itself brought to life most vividly when lived in relation to the God of love who created us. We recognise that the harvest not only of the crops around us but the harvest of our whole lives is not the product of chance but is a gift from God and we are here to give thanks to God for all that he has done in our lives.
But let’s not forget one final thing. God is not interested solely in our thanksgiving for what he has done for us, nor even in our worship. Once we say yes to the possibility of God then we can no longer be blind to the needs of those around us. God is not redundant but through no fault of their own many people soon will be and they will join the millions of unemployed. Our own harvest may be plentiful but the same is not true around the world and grain prices rise as supply dwindles and there are people in almost every country around the world who will go to bed hungry tonight. Being a Christian is not just about possessing the eyes of faith that see differently from the eyes of science and living in a loving relationship with God – being a Christian also means walking in the way of God in Christ and that means helping those most in need, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, binding up the broken hearted and not just preaching Good News to a world in need of love but being Good News to a world in need of saints.
Let’s give thanks for the harvest of our lives, and ask God to send us out into the harvest field in his name.