SERMON FOR CREATIONTIDE 3
As I have doubtless mentioned before, before I got ordained, I spent a year working with the Franciscans in a Friary inDorset. It was part of my own self-imposed discernment process: spend a year in a friary, and a year in an inner-city parish working as an assistant. If I still believed I was called to be a priest, then I would accept my calling.
As a discernment process, it was a good one, although looking back I’m surprised that not only did I come through it persuaded of my vocation, but relatively sane.
I had many jobs in the Friary, sharing in the work and prayer of the community. One of my jobs was to help out in the kitchen, and there was one Friar there who particularly I loved helping out. He was as camp as anything and because I was his “soux chef” he insisted on calling me Sue.
Now even in a purportedly peaceful environment like a Friary, the kitchen could be a frantic place. Catering for twenty friars, thirty guests and possibly a couple of dozen Wayfarers was no easy task. The Friars took it in turns to staff the kitchen, and there was a little bit of rivalry in terms of preparing a really nice meal. Some of them were relatively high-born and were used to high-standards. Memorably, there was only one occasion where I ever heard someone speak on the Thursday (which was the quiet day in the Firary). It was at dinner, where the cheese and biscuits were being served. Ringing through the silence came a rather posh, very wounded voice saying to the person next to them, “it is considered very bad form to cut the nose off a stilton”.
So standards were really quite high. But this Brother, I’ll call him Bart, was relaxed about the whole thing. If you were chopping vegetables, he’d sharpen the knife and say, “let the knife do the work”. If you started drying anything up, he’d wave you aside. “time will dry them better than we will”. His soups were legendary, people always mentioned them as being the best soups they had tasted. His secret was to take the leftovers from the previous four days, including the porridge from breakfast, put it all in a pan and whizz it up. And it always came out right. He cooked very simply. “From the Garden, in the pan, on the plate” he said. “Let the food do the work”
It wasn’t laziness. He wasn’t lazy. It was something different in him, which the other friars didn’t have, which I didn’t have. It was that he didn’t care about being a great Chef. He just liked food to taste good. And he found that happened when you let the food do the work.
This week in our creation story, we see God adopting the same tactic. Things really start to happen on the third day. The dry land is formed, the grass covers it, the flowers appear, and the tress begin to grow. And I can’t help noticing, God is remarkably calm about it.
Somehow you can’t imagine God saying “oh, I’ve had a terrible day. So much to get through. Land, and Trees and flowers, so many fruits. Honestly, Kiwis are so complicated. And tomorrow’s the sea creatures! Honestly – how many molluscs do you need?”
It’s a story of incredible bounty and blessing, springing up from the earth. Not of God sweating himself to the core. There is no urgency, just potency, things happening, things flowing, things growing. Just God’s “letting be.” Letting things grow, after their kind.
One of the things that became very clear to me in the childrens’ course that has been going on, is that we, I, am not very good at letting things be, letting God do the work. I realised that I was starting with the idea that somehow it was my awesome, impossible, terrifying responsibility to make sure that the children from our churches were stuffed with as much God as we could possibly pack into them – I needed to give them information, tradition, ideas, enthusiasm, all the tools I felt I needed to be a good Christian. And that idea really intimidated me.
And of course, it’s completely unnecessary. I was assuming I had to do God’s work for him – but in reality I should just be trying to get on with my own, and trusting God to do her bit. Because God is in them already. God can do the work, has already done the work, and we are just there to let God let them grow. That requires us to release our grip, to trust in God’s way – which is to let things grow after their kind.
Too often I think in the past the church has felt like a sort of doctrinal sausage factory, churning out people who believe the same thing, stuffing us with the so-called correct ideas about God. That can often close off new ideas about God, it can close off imagination, reduce God’s opportunities for getting through to us. Instead, we should be like Brother Bart, just giving space and time, and letting God let us grow “after our kind”, each in different ways according to the different souls that we all are.
Churches often look to other, more “successful” churches and imagine that they are supposed to be like those churches – and they strive to be like them, sweating themselves to be like them. Very church should be kind and outward looking of course, but sometimes smaller churches hang on to Social Justice Groups, Christian Aid Collections, people go to bible studies that they have no interest in, organise fundraising events that no-one wants to be involved with, because there is a weighty burden of what it is to be a church; we struggle to keep up the franchise model of good churches. But perhaps we should just allow themselves to be what God is letting us be, according to our kind.
Sometimes we too feel that we ought to know more than we do, that we ought to be cleverer, know the bible better, be less doubtful about issues of faith. And perhaps too we need to just release our grip a little, and allow ourselves not to be what we think we ought to be, but allow ourselves to let God let us grow according to our kind.
By the end of my time in the friary, I was in a very calm place, the same sort of calm place, I think, that Bart was in when he cooked. I was relaxed. My memories of the place were only of laughter, long walks, climbing trees, banter in the kitchen, peace in the chapel.
And yet looking back, I did an awful lot of things. I worked in the kitchen and in the garden, I spent four hours a day in the Chapel, I helped in the homeless shelter, I catalogued a whole library of books, I wrote notes on every book in the bible.
It was because I was allowing myself to grow. I wasn’t working. I was letting God let me grow, following my interests, my passions, my likes, according to my kind.
The sort of prayer we did there, was just quiet time. Just quiet time – not striving to be in contact with the divine, not waiting for God to appear on the other end of a celestial telephone. It was just space. Just blank space. I didn’t really know what it was for then, and I’m not sure we should be thinking of it in terms of being “for” anything. But I think some of it was about just giving ourselves time to release our grip and our egos and our desires, and give God some room to let us grow.
Brother Bart was a splendid cook. He had a special gift. He let the food do the work. There was literally joy in the food he make, you could taste it. You could taste his kindness, his gentleness, his joy of life in the food. You really could.
We can see that in our creation too, if we look. The impossible beauty of an autumn sunrise. The sound of rain dripping from a leaf into a puddle. The laughter of a child. God has infused creation with himself, and it is a wondrous, joyful, beautiful place. We can taste the goodness of God in creation.
I wonder what the fruits of our creating would be. We often think about how much we have achieved, but what have we put into that achievement? What do the fruits of our lives taste like? I know sometimes I put in the meanness of worry, the blandness of drudgery, the sharpness of anger, the bitterness of stress or regret.
But when we give God time to let him do the work, when we give ourselves blank space, just to pause, then the fruit of our works are made of better stuff that that. Spiced with wonder, light with laughter, rich with thought, and wisdom, clean with honesty.
God calls all things to grow according to their kind. When we let ourselves join in creation, when we let ourselves be what God is releasing us into being, then our burden I believe will truly be light, and the fruits of our labours will be rich indeed.