(Genesis 8:20-9:17; Acts 17:22-31; John 14:15-21) I’ve been thinking a little bit about bird song.
The song of birds is one of the most wonderful gifts we have in the world of a nature. One of those gifts that perhaps we don’t notice as much as we should – perhaps because it’s there all the time. Or we’re too pre-occupied to stop and listen. Or because (in a built up area like ours) the birds are simply drowned out by so many other noises.
The beauty and variety of birds’ song is amazing, all the same. And also, in one sense, a bit of a mystery.
Obviously birds call for different reasons – to attract a mate, to guard a territory, to warn of a predator, or to hold the group together. Yet somehow it feels there is more to it than simple survival or the purely practical. It sounds like the birds actually enjoy singing. (Not the crows and gulls and the like).
In this sense bird song is one of the more obvious ways in which (as writers have pointed out from the psalmist onwards) the creation gives glory to its creator. Not, as it were, consciously and deliberately, but by simply being what it is and doing what it does.
“They have neither speech nor language, yet their sound has gone out into all lands and their words to the end of the world.”
Of course, as part of God’s creation, we share in this – in this responding to our creator. And it is, as Paul’s speech to the Athenians suggests, something that is, as it were, natural and instinctive and proper to our being. It is part of our DNA – part of the way we have been made: so that we would ‘search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him – though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “in him we live and move and have our being.”’
What is different is that, unlike the birds or the rest of the creation, we have a conscious mind and a free will, so that the exercise of thought and will and conscious choice is necessarily brought into our responding to God, sometimes to reinforce it and drive it forward. At other times our choice, the way we order our lives, our attending to other things, leads us to reject or overrule or contradict that being in
relation to God that is natural to us.
But – praise God – the former of those things is more true for you than the latter. Something in you has responded to, or at least turned towards, the call of God. You have, as it were, heard the song. You have not allowed it to be drowned out, overlooked, ignored. Instead you have, just by being here, begun to join in the movement, the company, the chorus that is returning to God – seeking after him, giving glory to him, wanting to be in harmony with him. Something prompted by love and longing and listening that is even more wonderful, and just as mysterious, as the song of the birds.
Now that that may be how you think of it. ‘I’ve just come to church.’ But actually we do need to get at the roots of why and how we come to be here. Or else we might find ourselves trapped within the consumer mentality of our time – we come in order to get something. And to think of the church in purely functional terms – these are the things that happen, and these are the people that do them.
And we might also be in danger of disconnecting what we’re doing here with everything we’re about in the rest of our lives. But if what we’re doing here has something about it that is intrinsic to how and why we are made, then it has everything to do with what we’re about in all aspects of our lives (and everybody else’s lives as well, in fact).
I want to suggest that if we are ill-at-ease, unhappy, stressed, that’s a symptom of something being out of place, out of harmony, in our lives. That we are not the person we are meant to be, that God has made us to be. And if we feel dissatisfied, unfulfilled, incomplete it is a sign (if you want to put it like this) that we are not doing what God wants us to do. Or perhaps we’re doing things we shouldn’t be doing. Or
we’re doing them for the wrong reason – for ourselves, for money, for prestige, simply to fill the time – instead of being part of, or undertaken in the spirit of, our offering of ourselves back to God.
What, I wonder, puts joy in your heart? What fires you up? What makes you feel good about yourself?
What gives you satisfaction? What gifts or abilities do you have within yourself?
These are the sort of questions, I think, we need to begin with when we think about the shape and purpose of our lives, about our work and how we spend our time beyond work, and about our place in the church and our sharing in its ministry and mission.
Our work, does it have some sense of vocation (or rightness) about it? The way we use our time, is it a useful and enjoyable and satisfying use of our gifts and abilities? And in church, what more might we be able to offer back in the service and praise and mission of God?
Like listening to the birds, sometimes we need to stop and listen to ourselves, and to the call of God. And if you need help with that, or would like to do it in the company of others, let me know. Because the Diocese provides a short course called Here I Am to facilitate that. You can find details about it in this leaflet, copies of which have been on the table at the back of the church for 2 or 3 weeks. It’s a course we
could easily offer here at St Mark’s or run in collaboration with other churches in the deanery if there was the demand.
Or if you just want to talk about your life and its shape before God, or how you fit in at St Mark’s and to the church’s work, or just feel the need for a change, then come and talk to Beth or I. Or if nothing else, go and listen again to the birds. And be reminded what a joyful thing it is to know and serve the living God.