Fourth Sunday in Lent – Father Simon Smyth

Finding God everywhere!

“Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well: and it was about the sixth hour.  There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink.”

This woman of Samaria came to the well to draw water.  This was a daily task, an essential part of her daily round, her daily routine – one of the things that simply had to be done every day, a part of her everyday life.  We are not told if she found this daily task boring… we may well suspect that she found it lonely.  For she went to draw water at the hottest part of the day, at the sixth hour – noon.  Perhaps, given her lifestyle (“thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband”) she wasn’t popular with some of the other women –or maybe, given her lifestyle she was too popular with some of the local men who saw her as ‘easy’ in that judgmental way that men too often do.  Either way she preferred to come in the noon heat when no-one else would be there so as to avoid either male advances or female recriminations.  She carried out her daily, possibly boring, certainly arduous and physically demanding, routine alone.  “It was a task that was familiar and repetitive.  She rounds the corner as she approaches the well, she rounds the corner of the pathway that she knows so very well – but today everything is different as she comes round the corner: there beside the well is the Son of God.  In the midst of her familiar daily work there is Christ – but at first she does not realise who it is.  And so Christ says to her, “If you knew the gift of God, if you knew who it is who is saying to you give me a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Are we not like this woman?  How often “we do not ask.  We do not recognise who it is …we are bored, inattentive, blind, deaf…” We must “wake up, come alive, rediscover the sacramental nature of reality; the whole cosmos is one great Burning Bush.  We are to find Christ present in all persons, in all things, in every daily task.  The Christian is the one who wherever he or she looks sees everywhere Christ and rejoices in him…”

When Moses encountered God at the Burning Bush he was told “Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” But, you may very well ask, what was so holy about this ground that it required this act of respect or reverence, the removal of shoes?  This was the ‘back of beyond’, “the backside of the desert” , ‘off the beaten track’…  You may protest that one bit of desert’s much the same as another – and such an obscure out of the way bit certainly no better or more holy than the rest.  What made this ground so holy?  What made this bush so special?  In a word: God.  “God called unto [Moses] out of the midst of the bush” – the presence of God made the bush holy, the presence of God made the ground whereon Moses stood holy ground.  An encounter with God renders or makes the place where that encounter happens, holy.  So this ordinary, nothing special desert ground was extraordinary, very special, holy ground because God was there.  Both out of respect or reverence and possibly also because it was not safe for Moses to go any closer he was told not to go near.  At one level this was any old bush in any out of the way bit of desert but it was changed, it was transformed into a bush that burned with fire and yet was not consumed and the ground around it was holy ground – because God was present in the midst of the bush.  The fathers offer a symbolic or allegorical slant on Moses’ removal of his shoes: shoes being made of leather are made from the skins of dead animals, so to remove them is to come alive to the reality that is before us and around us.

The whole universe, the whole creation is one vast burning bush where we encounter God: in the beauty of a sunset that He has painted, in the thundering power of a Niagara Falls that He has poured forth, in the power of the waves crashing against the granite cliffs… in the clear bright song of a small bird… in the awesome severe beauty of the desert… the night sky strewn with stars… the beauty of distant galaxies revealed to us through today’s telescopes… the intricate working of the human body… a baby being born… These are just a tiny, tiny few of the multitude of ways we experience God in His creation.

To the Christian, nothing is common, whether the back end of the desert or anywhere else, nothing is of no consequence or even of little consequence – in everything we see there is something of God.  God is not remote from the universe, having, as it were, wound up His creation like a clock and then left it to run its course – no, God is immanent in His creation, sustaining it moment by moment… “Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things…” to quote a prayer to the Holy Ghost from Terce, the Third Hour Prayers.  The poets of the Romantic Revolution who “rejected the empty, materialist, utilitarian universe…Wordsworth, Coleridge and others” express this wonderfully.  To “the devout Anglican) Wordsworth the universe was “a kind of divine live being.”  Though this was no pantheism, no worship of nature – rather was it panentheism: the recognition of and worship of God in nature.  Wordsworth wrote of “something far more deeply interfused“… Gerald Manley Hopkins wrote of “the Holy Ghost over the bent World” brooding; he considered the “world…charged with the grandeur of God.”

God in and of Himself, is “unknowable in his essence…beyond and above all that we can think or express, yet closer to us than our own heart… through our prayer and through our active service in the world, we discover at every moment his divine energies, his immediate presence in each person and each thing.  Daily, hourly we touch him.  We are, as Francis Thompson said, “in no strange land.”  All around us is the “many-splendoured thing”; Jacob’s ladder is “pitched between heaven and Charing Cross” [as busy and at first glance as apparently mundane and unspiritual as any other London road]  “In the words of John Scotus Eriugena, “Every visible or invisible creature is a theophany or appearance of God.”  The Christian is the one who, wherever he looks, sees God everywhere and rejoices in him,  Not without reason did the early Christians attribute to Christ this saying: “Lift the stone and you will find me; cut the wood in two and there am I.””
“Heav’n above is softer blue, Earth around is sweeter green!
Something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen;
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow, flowers with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know, I am His, and He is mine…”
And not only in everything we see is there something of God; how much more so in everyone we meet – for everyone we meet is an image or icon of God. That’s why when I cense round the Church I cense both the icons of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ and of His saints and the people, all you, for you also are images or icons of God.  And when you meet with a Christian, with one who has received holy communion, who has received the Body and Blood of Christ surely your reverence for that person should be even as your reverence for the holy communion that they have just received.  For you reverence that bread and that wine for you know this to be the Body and Blood of Christ then surely your reverence for one who has just received that very Body and Blood should be no less…

God is everywhere.  I struggled with a title for this sermon (not that sermon titles are necessarily that important but having entitled the other sermons in this series it seemed odd to leave this one untitled) – Finding God in the Daily Round, the Daily Routine; Finding God in the Ordinary… and in the end I just gave up and wrote the obvious blinding truth: Finding God Everywhere!  Hear again the words of Bishop Kallistos Ware: “The Christian is the one who, wherever he looks, sees God everywhere and rejoices in him.”

I finish with two further quotes, firstly a hymn by George Herbert, The Elixir – the title derived from the alchemists, those who sought the secret elixir that would transform base or ordinary metal into purest gold:

“Teach me, my God and King,
In all things thee to see,
And what I do in any thing,
To do it as for thee…

A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav’n espy.

All may of thee partake:
Nothing can be so mean,
Which with his tincture (for thy sake)
Will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
Makes that and th’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.”

And finally, the quote with which I ended my sermon for the First Sunday in Lent: “God is always present and waiting to be discovered now, in the present moment, precisely where we are and in what we are doing.”