St James’ Church, West End, Southampton SO30 3AT Registered Charity Number 1132863
Photography: Donna Ash
The Eden Project in Cornwall was opened in the year 2000 after taking 5 years in its construction from an abandoned clay quarry. The project consists of domes containing the range of biomes found on the earth’s surface. It is an incredible experience to walk through the different ecosystems -
In our Old Testament reading from Genesis we heard about God’s Eden Project. It was the second version of the creation narrative. The first Creation story in Genesis Chapter 1 described humanity as the culmination of God’s labours with man appearing on the 6th day before God rested on the 7th day. Man’s appearance was closely followed by that of woman and they were given the privileged role of being stewards over all the earth, that is, the plants and animals that had already been created.
In the Creation story we have just heard man was created first from the dust of the ground and then the Garden of Eden with all the other living things are created to keep him company including a woman to be a partner for the man.
Having these two different versions of Creation in Genesis makes a problem for Creationists who take the Genesis stories as factual accounts of what happened.
The date that Genesis is thought to have been written was about 6th century BC probably following the period of exile of the Jewish nation in Babylon. While in Babylon they would have heard the colourful and dramatic stories of the Babylonian gods creating the world. Many of the early civilisations have their own creation narratives -
On returning from exile the Jews wanted their own unique version. They wanted a record of how the God worshipped by the Jewish nation the one, true, powerful but loving God wanted a living and breathing relationship with humanity and brought the world into existence. The word Eden means delight -
The act of God putting humans in a Garden of Eden to be good stewards has been a significant aspect in the relationship between God and mankind. God is in control, but humanity has a vital and responsible part to play -
It was interesting to see in the Guardian newspaper on 21 January 2019 that research carried out in 2015 found that physical work in a garden or allotment yielded significant improvements in mood and self-
The story in our Gospel reading is referred to as a one of the ‘nature miracles’. It demonstrates the biblical view of creation as not just something that happened in the past, but a continuing involvement of God in his world.
Jesus, as Lord of the Universe, shows his calm authority as he sleeps peacefully in sharp contrast to the fearful panic of the disciples when they are caught in a boat in a storm and they feel that they are in danger of sinking. We are surprised that the disciples as fishermen are afraid for their lives in this situation.
Jesus is showing them and us by calming the storm that he is the Son of the Creator. He has inherited the power as well as the love of His Father. Perhaps this incident will come into Peter’s thoughts when soon after this episode on the road to Caesarea Philippi Jesus will ask his disciples ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Peter will be able to say with confidence that Jesus is the Messiah.
God took a risk when humanity was created…
We daily hear about chaos in news reports from around the world from man-
However, God does not want our boat to sink. Our panic in our present chaos increases the awareness of our limitations and makes us open our eyes and our hearts to turn once again to the Creator who is still present in his Creation! God wants us to continue to share in his Eden Project.
When I was little I would occasionally be allowed to go fishing with my dad. I say allowed, because it was actually for my father a time when he could escape the busyness of his work life and just simply sit and enjoy the peace and quiet of the river bank, certainly not to have to entertain a young child; but eventually I too learnt to appreciate this time of quiet companionship.
Of course, there was also the benefit of catching a few fish, that would be placed to wriggle around in the keep net until it was time to pack up and go home, and they would then be returned to the freedom of the water, presumably to swim free until the next time that they took the bait of the fly hook of another fisherman.
But there were also the days when we would sit there in virtual silence and the keep net would remain obstinately empty. For Simon Peter and his partners, James and John, it must have been one of those days when much effort had brought little reward. Yet, suddenly here was this man inviting them to try one more time.
No doubt they were tired and weary, and also slightly sceptical, but something about him gave them a sense that they should do as he asked and trusting his confidence they cast their nets once more into the water and were suddenly faced with a catch that was almost overwhelming in its abundance.
It was miraculous, but what was even more surprising was their response, that they would immediately leave all that they knew and depended on to become followers and fellow missionaries with this young man. I guess it is this last outcome that most of us find difficult to understand and imagine ourselves duplicating but it is the whole story that leads us to see why this might be so and what it says to us about discipleship.
We know that Jesus will often use the situation he finds himself in to help people understand more clearly the point he is trying to make, so a miraculous catch of fish to a group of fishermen would certainly bring home the point very effectively. However, we can see that this was already being mirrored in his interaction with the crowd. Here was a sea of people, like a lot of people nowadays, who were beginning to realise that they were in deep water, all around them the water was foaming in turmoil and although they had the freedom to go anywhere, it was usually only in the direction that the tide took them.
Jesus, through his teaching was casting the net as the Word. This was not a net that was set as an entrapment, but a means by which God could rescue his people. As it says in Psalm 18, ‘He reached down from on high and took hold of me, he drew me out of deep water’.
There was a growing realisation that without God they were lost, and Jesus was there to remind them of this. Simon Peter’s obedience and trust that what he was being told was a good thing, put him on his first step to acknowledging who Jesus really was. But this realisation also made him fearful; since the prodigious haul of fish only proved the awesomeness of God’s power and made his or anyone else’s effort pale into insignificance. ‘Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man’.
Yet, Jesus’ response was that they should not be afraid. The fact is that when they and we are drawn into God’s presence he asks us to part of his mission, to be his ears and eyes, his hands and feet, to work together as the body of Christ. And just as Simon Peter called for his partners to help with the extraordinary catch of fish, we never do it on our own, whether as individuals, or one church, but as the whole Church.
So the disciples were to be sent out to catch people. To use the Word to act as the net to draw them closer to God, and that net was to be cast far and wide. Just as each net of fish brings up not just one type of fish, but gathers many, so that diversity is reflected in the many different types of people who are called and seek to be in his presence. God is not looking for any particular type of person, just those who are willing to be transformed.
Of course there are always going to be as few who for some reason want to wriggle out of and escape the net, but for those who choose to believe and to take up the challenge there is no reason to hesitate, real freedom has been gained, grace offered and accepted and the task of catching people for God begun.
Chance encounters have the potential to alter lives. As we look back on our personal life experiences we have all had nudges to be in a particular place at a particular time and that has resulted in a significant change in the direction of our lives. At the time we might not have been aware of God’s hand at work, but later reflection removes the ‘chance’ element in the encounter and we are thankful!
Our Gospel reading this morning related a chance encounter like that. It was a chance encounter of three different generations of God-
Simeon and Anna were representatives of the oldest generation in the encounter. They were part of the faithful remnant who, all through the long centuries, had kept faith and hope alive; Mary and Joseph as the parents were the middle generation and the infant Jesus, God’s Son, was the youngest.
Simeon and Anna were regularly seen around the Temple in Jerusalem. From Luke’s description it was obvious that Simeon fulfilled the vocation of a prophet although according to the Jewish teachers of that time, the spirit of prophecy had departed from Israel after the prophet Malachi and its return would be a sign that the longed-
Simeon clearly illustrated three aspects of the Spirit of prophecy-
Anna, was described as a prophet by Luke -
Mary and Joseph’s presence in the Temple that day with their baby must have been planned in advance. They could have performed the rites of obligation after the birth at their local synagogue, but they chose to travel to Jerusalem as they were aware of the responsibilities they had as the earthly parents of God’s Son. Perhaps their concerns that day showed through their body language and attracted the attention of Simeon. They were poor country folk who had come to do the right thing according to Jewish traditions, but they could only afford the poorest offering for sacrifice for the birth of their first-
There were three parts to the obligation laid down to be completed and Simeon could help them through the procedures that were new to them. The first part involved the purification of the mother so that she could return to the worshipping community after childbirth. The second part was a redemption of the first born male through a gift to the priest, and the third part was to dedicate the child to the service of God.
It was when Simeon took the baby in his arms that he must have felt overwhelmed by the presence of God. The light of God’s love shone out of this baby. The words of the Nunc Dimittis immediately overflowed from his lips -
The song is a prayer to God. It is joyful, it is hopeful, it declares the Messianic role of Jesus to be a light to all nations. Israel’s glory is to be shown as a revelation and redemption to the whole world. Simeon had fulfilled his role and he was now free to die in peace.
The second part of what Simeon said was a prophecy to Mary. The joy and praise turns to a warning that the Messiah will cause division and He will be rejected by many. The idea of a Suffering Messiah is introduced. Jesus will transform ideas and will challenge existing religious authorities. Mary is warned that there is anguish and suffering ahead for her, but Jesus will be good for all people.
The message of Simeon was reinforced through the words of Anna who was so overcome with this encounter that she became the first evangelist. We can imagine her spreading the good news of the arrival of the Messiah to everyone she encountered from that day onwards.
Mary and Joseph left this chance encounter with much to think and pray about -
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