Sermon – Ss Michael & All Angels
“All Organising is disorganising and reorganising.”
Training with Citizens UK in their Community organising approach – reclaiming power by building relationships, forming alliances and connections that lead to shared energy and action. Organising seen as a dynamic ordering of individuals, groups and communities for the sake of the common good. People are encouraged and enabled to contribute, leadership is developed and energy is released as change happens.
Eg of Citizens campaign that led to the introduction of LLWage.
“All Organising is disorganising and reorganising.”
Collect on today’s feast:
Everlasting God,
you have ordained and constituted the ministries of angels and mortals in a wonderful order…
Might seem language and imagery remote from grass roots of community organising…
BUT what is the ‘wonderful order’ that the collect imagines? And how does this ‘wonderful order’ connect with us, with the realities of the world? Do angels have a meaningful place in a progressive, world engaging faith? Or are they just the stuff of crass bereavement cards and catchy pop songs? Or worse, beings inhabiting some hierarchically ordered medieval cosmology where heaven is up and we are down and beneath (in every sense)?
A central image of today’s first reading and gospel is the ladder – Jesus clearly alluding to Jacob and his dream in his exchange with Nathanael. The ladder may reinforce the sense of the medieval hierarchy of heaven and earth. However the context of the image in both passages is one of connection, relationship, presence:-
In Jacob’s dream God is ‘in this place’ – the ladder a symbol that heaven and earth are connected, and that God is close. God reveals a presence that is personal, relational and ongoing: ‘Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go’. Jacob experiences God in the midst of his journey, the stone pillow emphasising the physicality of the encounter in a place that is none other than the ‘gate of heaven’.
In the gospel Jesus is busy making new friends, forming relationships and connections that affirm those he is encountering; through these exchanges these ordinary individuals begin to be formed as a collective with power, that will in time change the world. Jesus is revealed as the one who KNOWS the ones he meets – he sees them, notices them and knows them. And in the context of these friendships in formation Jesus speaks of the ladder – God is in this place; these friendships are none other than the gate of heaven: places of encounter.
So, the ladder, climbed in both directions by angels, is a deep image of the connection between God, people and place: affirming the God who is known in this place, and may be known as present in every place; from the stones under our heads to the journeys ahead of us. Jacob and Nathanael have their world’s disorganised by their encounters – God is in their midst and their perspectives and lives become reorganised around this presence and promise.
Meanwhile ‘Angels’ are rich biblical imagery standing for the ‘connective tissue’ between God and humanity, between God and the earth; and between each and every element of creation.
This is the ‘wonderful order’ referred to in the collect: an ordering of God’s life that is known and named in places and people; in dreams and in friendships; ahead of us on journeys and in the moment that is now. Angels become ‘agents’ of connection, friendship and companions on the way.
On Friday I was in the rather unremarkable Derby Cathedral; and that too became for five wonderful minutes the gate of heaven: photo
This was a glimpse, in relationships of gold leaf, glass, sunlight and stone, of a ‘wonderful order’: of incarnation, nature and divinity all aligning. The ‘wonderful order’ opening a sense in those minutes of what Scientist and Theologian Ilia Delio describes as the ‘Unbearable Wholeness of Being’. That through agents of connection; divine – human – natural eco-systems of belonging give everything its place of grace.
However, there are other less grace filled orders that shape and often dominate our world. As a species we have developed elaborate patterns of order that control and dominate the natural and social worlds: from the capacity to eat seasonal produce all year, to self serving political institutions that fail to serve the common good. And the more we feel out of control the more order we seek to impose: our ‘ordering’ is anything but ‘wonderful’; the order undermines connection, friendship and trust; it separates, distorts, corrupts and imprisons. And the full scale of the devastating ‘orders’ we’ve imposed are becoming increasingly clear in our climate and ecological emergency.
I came across a powerful example of this in a feature by George Monbiot on tree-planting and re-wilding. He argues that Natural tree growth is usually preferable to plantations:
“In many places rewilding, or natural regeneration – allowing trees to seed and spread themselves – is much faster and more effective, and tends to produce far richer habitats…
trees planted in straight rows, in plastic tree guards attached with cable ties to treated posts, look hideous, and take decades to begin to resemble a natural forest…”
Rewinding is nature going about “organising that is disorganising and reorganising.”
We urgently need to rediscover and live within the ‘wonderful order’ of creation, of relationship, connection, and friendship; to recognise the ‘angels’ of connective tissue that animate and empower. We urgently need to become ‘agents’ of healing who are learning to live again within the web of life. We are trapping ‘angels’ of created life and divine presence as we replace ladders of grace with our own structures of control. The unbearable wholeness of being is parcelled out by systems of human devising.
“All Organising is disorganising and reorganising.”
I promised that today would also include an invitation to stewardship; and I hope my reflections on ‘wonderful order’ have spoken to what being good stewards of the earth entails: reopening ourselves to live in connection, relationship and friendship with all that is; celebrating and living the unbearable wholeness of being.
But stewardship is also about money: and the systems of human order and control are evident especially when we think ‘finance’. It’s all too easy to think and live these systems; to seek to control with tight grip the little we think we have, forgetting that we have an abundance and that what we have is gift.
As a community of faith we are part of a ‘wonderful order’ of connection and friendship within the body of Christ: this body is called to function like an organic whole with life and resource flowing around its parts to bring growth to all. To learn to loosen or grip on what we have is to begin to allow that wonderful order to emerge.
“All Organising is disorganising and reorganising.”
Invitation for us to open our lives to the wonderful ordering of God’s presence, as stewards of the earth and as stewards of our own lives.