Birds of the Air
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Does the road wind uphill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole day?
From morn to night my friend.
For many people, even, dare say, some of us here that verse from the poem Uphill by Christina Rossetti must resonate. Life, especially when we are coping with another period of bad weather, another hurricane just a week after the last. When daily we hear of more deaths from Coronavirus and more people being infected by it, when we so much want to put the winter behind us and enjoy the spring and summer but we know there are a couple more months to go before we can expect any relief, then the road does seem to wind uphill all the way.
And that is not to mention those more individual worries, the family member who is ill, the bills for gas and electricity and community charge. The need to get out of bed in the dark each morning.
Fill in the other things that you have that worry you or drag you down. So that original question still stands.
Does the road wind uphill all the way?
And the answer, yes to the very end, as given in the poem does not immediately offer any hope. But that is the human response. To lift our eyes beyond the road, no matter how difficult that may be and to listen to Jesus gives us hope, gives us a different answer because Jesus says do not worry about your life, look at the birds of the air, look at the flowers in the field. How comforting those words of Jesus are. Do not worry about what you will eat, what you will drink what you will wear because if God looks after the birds of the air and even the lilies of the field are more glorious that Solomon or you or I in all our glory, then do not worry, it can do you no good. And in our relatively safe and secure part of Bristol, in our comfortable lives it is tempting to leave it there and feel reassured and complacent.
But if I lived in Zimbabwe I would be recovering from years of dictatorship and deprivation and fear and entering another phase of the same under a different leader. And I would be living with drought so that anything that I planted to grow and feed my family would shrivel and die, I would be living with hunger and people dying from hunger. Forty three percent of the population are in danger of starvation in a country that was once the bread basket of Africa.
South Africa too is suffering from a water shortage. Whilst in Bangladesh I would be praying for no more floods as the country itself could be submerged and in the Maldives, that popular holiday destination just a very small rise in the level of the ocean would mean the islands would vanish under the sea.
In our own country today there is flooding in Yorkshire and Wales, Herefordshire and Devon. People’s lives are at risk, people have lost everything.
Looking after creation and sustaining and renewing the life of the earth is a call from God and the wish of our diocese. But there are great injustices too.
As I drive along Kellaway avenue, just around the corner I see more caravans parked there, and although I have tried to meet someone living in them I have not been successful. The homeless enjoying the hospitality at the Night shelter with which some of you have been helping have just spent their last night there. And for people in each of the situations I have described
the words of Jesus, do not worry, look at the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, must ring very hollow. But we have in this situation a perfect example of taking some phrase from the bible out of context and so not getting the right message because Jesus goes on to say ‘Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.’
That is our calling, to follow Jesus, who is God, to do as he asks and strive for his kingdom. The kingdom where fairness and consideration for others exists. The kingdom where avarice and corruption do not exist, the kingdom where there is no discrimination, positive or negative.
The kingdom where the culture of I, I, I does not exist. The kingdom where the weak are supported and the lame made whole the kingdom that can come about if we all play our part. If we just realise that to help one person is to start changing the world. If we believe in that old saying that all it takes for evil to triumph is for one good person to do nothing. For one good person to be afraid to speak, afraid to break the silence. Garth Hewitt, a troubadour, a singer and writer puts it like this in one song:
When they came for the communist
I never said a word,
I’m not a communist so I pretend I never knew.
When they came for the Jew, I was not there,
I’m not a Jew so why should I care?
When they came for the Unionist I never said a word.
I’m not a Unionist so I pretend I never heard.
When they came for the Catholic I was not there,
I’m not a Catholic so why should I care?
I didn’t speak up, I didn’t speak up, no one heard my voice
Cause I didn’t speak up.
But when they came for me there was no one left who could speak for me at all.
So it is not sitting back thinking things do not concern us, it is not sitting back congratulating ourselves because we don’t have to worry, because after all Jesus said Look at the birds of the air, look at the lilies of the field. It is not sitting back, it is seeking the kingdom of God. It is not putting ourselves first and thinking only of what benefits us. The I, I, I , culture.
The ills of our time and the imbalance of the world are not how God designed it. Each time God put order into the chaos and as this wonderful world and the systems which uphold it and surround and support it and give us delight, as each part was created God saw that it was good. And when it was finished God saw that it was very good.
It is our species which has messed it up with our greed and our avariciousness and our warmongering. We need to seek the kingdom of God, to seek it firstly by taking our example from God himself when he rested after creating everything. To take quiet time, to stop ourselves rushing round, to sit in our metaphorical deckchair on the beach, or armchair, or be on our knees listening and praying. Because it is through prayer and quiet reflection we will have the guidance and strength to rebuild creation and seek the Kingdom of God. As Lent approaches this is the opportunity to create new patterns of prayer.
I end with another quote from Garth Hewitt.
You can be the voice for those who cannot speak. You can be the eyes for those who cannot see. You can speak the words of their unspoken cries. You can take the pain and you can right their lives. Amen-