Sunday, March 1, 2009

In all things ... God

I like having company when I do the washing up after Sunday lunch.  And Geoffrey Smith has been good company.  A stalwart on that favourite after-Sunday-lunch programme on Radio 4, Gardeners’ Question Time and many a TV gardenin
g show – I have enjoyed his gentle sense of humour.   As tributes were paid to him over the weekend following his death at the end of this week, one comment caught my attention.  He had a love of the garden and of things that grow – so much so that he would talk to them and lovingly nurture them.  He had a recipe for those times when things get on top of you.  When things were weighing him down he would simply look at a flower.


Geoffrey Smith is in good company.  The book of Job tells the story of someone weighed down by the ills of the world.  It is the book in the Bible that grapples with unwarranted suffering and poses the question how can you cope when everything goes wrong.


The Book of Job recognises the truth Geoffrey Smith held so dear.  It is in the book of Job that some of the finest passages celebrating the wonder of God’s creation appear.


Time and again Job senses the awesome nature of God and as he looks at the beauty of God’s creation he holds it in wonder and in awe.  As the book unfolds it is that sense of wonder and awe he has with the God who is beyond all his understanding that he is able to look at his own situation and get it somehow into perspective.


Here in Job 9 he has a sense of the awesome power of the God of creation as he looks at the mountains and their grandeur, at the beauty of God’s world, and as night falls he looks up into the night sky and senses the wonder of God.


It was from Job 9 that our Call to Worship came.

God is so wise and powerful

No one can stand up against him.


We cannot understand the great things he does

And to  his miracles there is no end.

As we gather together in our worship, how good it is simply to wonder at the greatness of God.  Let’s do that as we read one of those passages, let’s couple with it one of the wonders of God’s world here on our doorstep – the River Severn with the second highest tides in the world, as Jenny and Ted saw it the other week, the snowdrops at Colesbourne and the night sky in all its splendour!  After our reading we will sing our praises to God.


Job 9:1-10


A time of praise and worship with Hy-Spirit


I am so frustrated when science and religion are seen only to clash with each other.  The more I learn about science the more in awe I am at the wonder of the world of God’s creation.


Some people, not least those scientists who reject any belief in God, with an eighteenth century, philosophical idea of God that is not a very helpful way of understanding the nature of God.


It received its classic formulation by someone called William Paley.  He suggested that if you discovered a watch with all its intricate mechanism lying abandoned in a field you would be quite right to deduce from a study of the watch that it had been made by a skilful watchmaker.


Look at anything in the garden, not least one of those wonderful flowers that meant the world to Geoffery Smith and you can conclude they must have been made by a skilled flower-maker – and that’s God.


It’s all right as far as it goes.  But it’s not the only way of seeing God.


I think it’s helpful to go back beyond William Paley to earlier ways of seeing God.


It was not so much that God is like a watchmaker who has made his watch and there it is.  Rather God is in all things.


Take the 17th century poet, George Herbert and one of the hymns that I have chosen for a marathon hymn sing in aid of the Anthony Nolan Trust: its opening words catch something for more helpful for me …


Teach me, my God and King,

In all things thee to see.


Now that opens up a different set of possibilities.  Look at the wonder of anything in the natural world and in the universe and beyond … don’t look for a mechanistic deity like the watchmaker.  Instead, learn to see God in all things.


He is there at the beginning, he is there in creation, he is in that life force that energy that brings things into being.  He is there at each stage of evolution.  Whichever way evolution goes, whichever branch of the tree survives – God is there.


Teach me, my God and King

In all things thee to see.


For there is nothing in the present or the future, in height or in depths, nothing in the all of creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.


George Herbert was living at a time of great scientific advance.  Having been born in Montgomery, he had spent a short while in Oxford University, before becoming Public Orator of the University of Cambridge.  Thomas Harriott, the Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University was one of those on the cutting edge of scientific discovery.  An astronomer he had accompanied Walter Raleigh as navigator on his voyages of discovery.  He had been implicated in the Gunpowder plot, and he ended up teaching mathematics and astronomy in the University of Oxford.


It was 400 years ago this year that Thomas Harriot made a remarkable instrument using lenses and tubes.  He was one of many all over Europe racing to develop a way of looking at the stars and at the moon that would take the world by storm.  It was not Thomas Harriot who got the accolade for being the first to use this new scientific device.  It was Galileo Galilei.


As Galileo’s story is told at his 400th Anniversary in this International Year of Astronomy it is sad that people will dwell on the clash between church and science once again.


The reaction of those in the church who rejected Galileo and hounded him out, was not typical of everyone.


George Herbert was one of those not troubled by the advances of science.  He simply found it even more awesome as those advances opened up for him the wonder of God’s world.


It was between 1613 and 1615 that the word ‘glass’ was first used of a telescope.  It wasn’t long after that that the deeply devout George Herbert wrote this poem as part of a collection only published after his death that explored the depths of the Christian faith in the most wonderful of ways.


You can just imagine the scene – he has seen his first telescope.  His first glass.  It is beautifully crafted from brass – a precision made instrument.  It’s enough just to look at it in wonder at its beauty.  Indeed you can picture George Herbert walking around it and letting his eye rest on it.


A man that looks on glass

On it may stay his eye.


How true.  Simply look at this remarkable piece of engineering and marvel.  But wait a moment there’s more that you can do.


Take it out into the dark of a clear night sky.  And then don’t simply allow your eye to rest on it, but put your eye to the eye piece and look through it.


Imagine, you have never seen a telescope before. You have never looked through a telescope at the moon, at Jupiter, at Venus or at the stars!


It’s wonderful.



A man that looks on glass,

On it may stay his eye;

Or if hepleaseth, through it pass,

And then the heaven espy.


Wonderful.  Here in this poem, we encounter the awe and wonder that science evokes in the  heart of a deeply devout believer in God.


That’s the awe and the wonder I shared with the  Brownies at their sleepover last weekend as we went into the garden and spotted the very things Job had seen – the bear, the hunter, the Pleiades.  There they were.  And we could all see them.


Teach me, my God and King

In all things thee to see.


But this awe and wonder in George Herbert’s heart did not only make him see things differently, it made him do things differently too.


See God in all things, and all things become important in the eyes of God and in the presence of God.  Even the littlest of things in what we do in our lives  become all important.  On this St David’s Day it is not only St David who celebrated the little things, it is the little things that George Herbert of Montgomery wants us to see to be all important.


Teach me my God and King

In all things thee to see

And what I do in anything

To do it as for thee.


This is exactly what Paul is getting at.  As we come to the realisation that there is nothing in all of creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, so we need to realise that in living our Christian lives we must heed his words in Colossians 3:17.  Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.


Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.


That if you like is the measure of everything we do.  Is this something I can do in the name of the Lord Jesus?  It is also the spur to all we do.  Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.


If mathematicians and astronomers were making discoveries about the universe, chemistry was still in its infancy.  Alchemy was the quest to find a substance that would turn base metal to gold, the dullest to the shiniest and most splendid of metals.  Such a substance had a technical name:  tincture.  Others were looking for an elusive stone that would turn all tings to gold.  To find that most famous stone that turns all things to gold was the quest many set out on.


George Herbert was sceptical of such a quest: in due course alchemy proved very much a dead end.


But do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus and the dullest things can be transformed.  Maybe this is the tincture that can turn the dross of our daily humdrum living to the gold of God’s presence.


The thing is that this is open to everyone.


All may of thee partake:

Nothing can be so mean,

Which, with this tincture, “For thy sake”

Will not grow bright and clean.


Do things for Christ’s sake.  Whatever you do, do it “for thy sake’ and see the difference it makes.  All things grow bright and clean.


The tincture is this ‘clause’  “For thy sake”


This applies across the board to the very meanest of tasks.  Maybe even washing up after Sunday lunch!


A servant with this clause

Makes drudgery divine;

Who sweeps a room, as for Thy laws,

Makes that and the action fine.


This is the famous stone

That turneth all to gold:

For that which God doth touch and own

Cannot for less be told.


That’s the whole point.  God’s touch is on everything.  Everything is God’s.


Teach me, my God and King,

In all things thee to see

And what I do in anything

To do it as for Thee.



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