Sunday 8 August 2010

Of honey-bees and human beings

Address given on 8th August 2010, the 10th Sunday after Trinity, at Templederry, St Mary's Nenagh and Killodiernan

What wonderful creatures honey-bees are!
Last week at the Nenagh Show one of the most popular stands was the Beekeeping Association’s, where I watched bees at work through glass inside a sealed hive. What business, what industry!

We all love honey of course, and the finest church candles are always made from beeswax. But even more important is the service bees give the rest of creation by pollinating flowers. I am concerned not to have seen a single honey-bee in my garden this year - not one! I think their absence may account for the bad set on my broadbeans. So I’m planning to take a beekeeping course this winter, and set up a hive in the garden, to see if that helps.

Wild bee colonies have been killed off, we are told, by the Varroa mite, an alien species human beings have inadvertently introduced from overseas. This is just one of many ways in which human action is damaging biodiversity – in other words, unravelling the wonderful web of life which God has created on this planet. He made it through evolution, the mechanism he has chosen to continuously create new life.

Bees have evolved in an intricate three cornered dance of life with flowering plants and animals including ourselves. In this dance, plants provide pollen and nectar to sustain bees; bees in return pollinate the flowers so that they can produce fruit and seeds; the fruit and seeds in turn sustain animals, which in wonderfully ingenious ways distribute seeds to start a new generation of plants.
How wonderfully God's purposes are worked out! God’s purpose in creating bees, I think, is simply that they should be good bees, playing their part in the dance of life alongside all the other creatures he has created to sustain the web of life. The scarcity of bees should shock us out of complacency. We thwart God’s purpose if we do not protect them.

In God’s eyes, I think, we are not so very different to honey-bees!
Surely God’s purpose in creating us is simply that we should be good human beings.

Like bees we are small, vulnerable creatures, short-lived, subject to disease. Unlike bees, I suppose, we are made in God’s image, as souls with consciences. We are able to reflect on what is right and wrong, and to plan for the future, in a sense to be co-creators of it with God. But with this privilege also comes our susceptibility to those spiritual diseases which we call sin - spiritual diseases like greed and selfishness, which all too often lead us to hurt our fellow human beings and damage God’s creation.

Todays readings tell us much about how to be the good human beings God wishes us to be - and how to resist our innate susceptibility to sin.

In the OT reading, Isaiah (1:1,10-20) proclaims a great insight.
God has no use for empty rituals and sacrifices, says Isaiah. From the dawn of our species human beings have sought to placate, even manipulate, gods they have seen as angry and untrustworthy as well as powerful, in order to benefit themselves – and many still do today. But all this is folly: ‘What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; … I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity’.

Instead, Isaiah tells us, God wants us to ‘cease to do evil, learn to do good’. God will bless us when we behave as good human beings should, treating others as we would want them to treat us, if our circumstances were reversed – a principle often called the ‘golden rule’, which we Christians share with many others of different faiths and none. We are to ‘seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow’.

In the NT reading (Luke 12:32-40), Jesus reveals deeper truths.
Jesus understands that people are often selfish and greedy because they are anxious and afraid for the future. So he tells the disciples – and through them, us – that we should put aside such anxiety. God knows what we need, and God will give us all we need when we work for his kingdom – in other words, when we try to be the good human beings God wants us to be. ‘Do not be afraid, little flock’, he says, ‘for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom’.

God has given us all that we have - and we have been given so much, haven't we! - in order that that we may be generous with it, not hoard it. What we give away, to those who need it more than we do, is in Jesus's words ‘an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys’. If we want to be good human beings we must focus on that kind of spiritual wealth, rather than accumulating material wealth, for as Jesus says, 'where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’.

And we must be alert at all times for opportunities to respond generously, as and when God prompts us to do so. As Jesus puts it, ‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit’. We should not put off calls on our generosity, waiting perhaps for a better time or a more pressing need to come along. We are mortal – we do not know when God will knock on the door to call us out of this life. ‘You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour’, says Jesus. And it would be shameful - shameful, when he does come knocking - as we know he will - to admit that we wasted the opportunities he gave us - the opportunities to act like the good human beings he created us to be.

Just at the moment we are hearing a great deal about the devastating floods in Pakistan, caused by exceptionally heavy monsoon rains. 14 million people have been affected and more than 1600 people have died already, with more likely. The aid agencies are calling urgently for donations to help relieve their distress. You might care to ask yourself this, ‘Is God giving me this opportunity to give generously to help those who are suffering now?’

Let me finish with prayer:

O God, grant us the grace:
to cease to do evil and learn to do good;
to be unafraid and generous with your gifts,
so storing up unfailing treasure in heaven;
to be always alert for opportunities
to be the good human beings you created us to be.
In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord we pray.

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