Walking with God

I’ve heard from many that the season of lockdown we are enduring is coming to be known as “the great indoors!” Unable to enjoy the sunshine and Spring weather as we usually would – BBQs with friends, camping trips, fishing on the river, ice creams and fish and chips on the beach. We’ve instead found new and wonderful ways to make the most of our homes and gardens. Many of my friends have made incredible blanket dens in their lounges (and these are 20 somethings, not just toddlers!) and on my daily walk I’ve really been enjoying admiring the gardens that are in bloom! One of our family friends even turned their summer house into a “pub” for the bank holiday – affectionately naming it the Davies’ Arms!
The daffodils came and went, the blossom brought smiles to long days in lockdown and we’re finally reaching the pinks and reds of the summer peonies – my personal favourite. The past 8 weeks or so seem to be a blur of indoors and outdoors, making the most of new spaces, finding a balance between screens and the fresh air. The guidelines from the government back in March to “stay at home”, whilst proving difficult, have certainly not limited us to seeing new joy in our gardens, parks, patios and whatever sort of green space you many have. It is interesting that in such a season of restriction – we have taken up the challenge to nurture our land and cultivate beauty in whatever ways we can!
I was pondering this lately and was wondering what it is about nature and the outdoors that is such a vital part of our human condition. Why do we feel the mental health benefits of gardening, going for long walks or listening to the birds sing first thing in the morning? I think it could be because it connects us to something bigger and the scriptures shed some light on this. In the bigger story of life as told in the Bible, humanity begins by walking and talking with God in the Garden of Eden and ends in a renewed heaven and earth. What starts in a garden in Genesis, culminates in a Garden City in Revelation. Between this story of creation and re-creation is the time we live in now – a time of de-creation. Of sin, of troubles, of worry, of stress and strain and of turbulence. Our journey began walking intimately with God in his perfect creation and we know it will end as we intimately return to Him. But in the meantime, perhaps nature is the most natural
human way of connecting with our God in the midst of an often-uncertain world. A chance to step out of the narrative of the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and return to a place of intimacy with the Creator. The one with whom we were made for relationship.
In Genesis, we see God establish this Covenant with the creatures of the Earth in the story of Noah. The Lord makes several promises in this passage. He says “while the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” suggesting that he has set up the natural order and rhythm of the world to endure and continue, even in the most difficult of times. He promises to provide for us abundantly, saying “And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything” – encouraging us to steward our natural resources well, particularly with those in need. And God goes one step further to embed these wonderful promises, by placing a rainbow in the sky. A colourful, vibrant reminder that the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth is steadfast through the ages. This reading reveals to us that from the beginning, God is intrinsically entwined with all He has created – plants, animals and humans alike. The rainbow has come to be a symbol of hope and thanks lighting up the windows of our nation at this often dark time, but it also speaks of a deeper encouragement. A message from God to people the world over which says I hold each and every one of you as dear children and I will guide you through this time.
This is affirmed later in the Book of Acts, in which Paul declares to the people that the Lord God is the author and creator of all things. He reminds the religious people of Athens “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” The Apostle Paul is clear in his remarks which point to God as the one who gives life and breath to every living thing on this Earth. There is a wonderful song that sings of the overwhelming, never ending, reckless love of God. In it, the worshipper cries “before I took a breath, you breathed your life in me”. This is a beautiful reminder that we are carefully crafted, priceless, fearfully and wonderfully made. You are carefully crafted, priceless, fearfully and wonderfully made, just as you are today. Perhaps in creation, looking up at a blanket of stars, or staring out at a panoramic view we
get a glimpse of the majesty and wonder our creator – the one who values everything he has made. From the tiny ant to the depths of the rainforest, to you and to me.
But as we come to our Gospel reading, John wonderfully reveals that God is not just a God of the outdoors. He is a God of the indoors, the internal too. Perhaps God would do well in lockdown! Yes he resides in the beauty and awesomeness of nature, but he is also intimately in relationship with us as human beings. We don’t just experience him externally, He is living each day in us and through us. He is upon us, before us, behind us, beside us, within us, all around us. He hems us in and tucks us up just like a parent does to their sleeping child. He is indoors, outdoors all at the mind-boggingly same time! And we know this to be true through Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit to his disciples. He says “you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you”. Jesus does not ascend to heaven and leave us in the wobbly ways of the world, he sends His very spirit to be with us. God does not abandon his creation and nor does he abandon us. He is forever invested in us, interested in us, wants to journey with us through our lives. Jesus says “I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you”. How wonderful to know that we are made not just as objects created by God, but as individuals whom God knows intimately and whom he cherishes. Jesus invites us into a deep relationship with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit – this is the wonderful adventure of faith. And as we accept this invitation, we are caught up in the most beautiful thing this world has to offer. A relationship with God where we are both fully known as ourselves and fully loved and accepted.
Far from a socially distant deity who floats absentmindedly on a cloud, keeping his distance God is a God of relationship. He is involved with every little nook and cranny of the world he has made. That’s why God sent His Son Jesus. He sent Him to dwell among us. The Message Version puts it wonderfully in the opening to John’s Gospel saying “he became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” God was 100% divine, but also 100% human, how wonderful to know we have a saviour who lived and died to simply come closer to us.
We thank God for his nearness today and His loving care for every living creature, every plant, every leaf, every dew drop, every snowflake, every sunrise, every teardrop, every laugh, smile and rainbow he has made. And my prayer is that you
would know closeness with God both in the world around you and deep in your heart. Today is also rogation Sunday, a day where the church particularly recognises and give thanks for God’s presence in creation and for all he has given us. We ask for His blessings on the fruits of the earth and the labours of those who produce our food. At this time, many farmers and producers are experiencing great difficulties and we think particularly of them, that they would also know God’s protection and presence in their lives and livelihoods. To end, I want to share a short collection of photographs from people’s gardens as I know many of you have been busy during lockdown growing your own veggies, potting plants and working so hard to feed families, neighbours and the country! This is a small tribute to gardeners and farmers great and small across our country working with God our creator to feed, sustain and nourish!

Grace Lomas, Easter 6, Rogation Sunday 17th May 2020

Rev'd Jonathan Smith

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