Saying ‘Yes’ to the Kingdom of God

IMG_7132This weekend the political leaders of the G7 nations have been meeting in Cornwall. Described on their website as “the only forum where the world’s most influential and open societies and advanced economies are brought together for close-knit discussions”, it brings together the UK, America, France, Germany, Canada, Italy and Japan. Added this year are Australia, India, South Korea and South Africa who have observer status at the conference. There are some notable omissions, like Russia and China, but the statement does say ‘open societies’. The G7 meeting has been an opportunity to address some of the most serious issues of justice facing the world – economic, environmental and medical – under the strapline ‘Build Back Better’. As I said in my installation sermon, the fairtrade movement has reworked that to ‘Build Back Fairer’.

High up on the agenda is the environmental emergency facing the world and to underline this, there is a relay taking place, organised by the Young Christian Climate Network, walking from the G7 in Cornwall to the COP26 conference in Glasgow in November. COP26 has the strapline of ‘uniting the world to tackle climate change’ and it’s under the auspices of the United Nations. There is a Welsh leg of this relay, walking from Swansea to join up with the main walk when it reaches Bristol and it will be calling here in the Cathedral on 8th and 9th July. There will be some special events around this. More details to follow.

Ecological images featured in our readings this morning. Our first reading from Ezekiel (17:22-24) used the image of the mighty cedar tree dominating mountain tops. Cedars can grow to 40m or 130 feet high. They can grow at altitudes of between 1300 and 3000m (somewhere between 4300 and 9800 feet). That’s the equivalent of between 1 and 3 times the height of Mount Snowdon. I found one steep enough. The cedar is prized for its fine grain, attractive yellow colour and fragrance. Its resin is an essential oil.

Once dominating the mountain slopes of Lebanon, the cedar is facing a crisis of its own. Global warming threatens it from fire, infestations of saw flies and warmer springs lulling it to sprout sooner and therefore become vulnerable to late frosts. The cedar is both a symbol of prosperity and vulnerability to climate change.

The Gospel (Mark 4:26-34) gave us parables of seeds growing and the ripening grain. The mustard seed grows into a mighty shrub. These are taken as symbols of the Kingdom of God, of it growing from small beginnings but becoming something mighty. They are symbols of the Kingdom being organic and needing to grow, not just something imposed or even off the shelf. We have to commit to it, let it work on us and grow into it. It takes commitment, passion and openness to the fire of God’s Spirit to shape and ignite us with this flame.

The great challenges around climate change can seem overwhelming. What is my feeble efforts in the grand scheme of things? But the mustard seed, a very tiny seed, is a reminder that great things can flow from small actions. Never underestimate the power of one small prayer, changing one small corner, and the influence it can bear. Wherever someone says ‘Yes’ to God’s Kingdom, a small corner is set aside and dedicated to it. And one of the Five Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion is care for the environment and stewardship of creation.

Greta Thunberg, the environmental campaigner, wrote a little book, well it’s a collection of her sayings, a couple of years ago called “No one is too small to make a difference”. From one small schoolgirl’s protests she has become a household name across the world and has given a face to a movement. And movements need faces, people we can relate to, if they are to prosper and effect change. Being someone who says ‘Yes’ to the Kingdom of God makes you such a face, such a figure for others to relate to.

Saying ‘Yes’ to the Kingdom of God means seeking to live the Holy Trinity, which we thought about a couple of weeks ago: looking to shape our lives on God who is mystery, present in Jesus Christ and inspiring through the Holy Spirit. It is to absorb and live the story of faith, through entering deeply into the Bible, into Christian thinking over the centuries and how that connects with today. The strapline for that is Scripture, Tradition and Reason, the three pillars of Anglicanism. It is to live a life that seeks to be shaped and shape according to all our faith inspires us with. 

Small mustard seeds, mighty cedars, the climate challenge facing the world, in God’s grace we can be a place that says ‘Yes’ to a different way of being, one that strives for justice, flourishing and the good of creation; one that lives for the glory God and the hope of all people.

Sermon for Trinity 2, Newport Cathedral, Sunday 13th June 2021

About Ian Black

Ian is an Anglican priest and Dean of Newport Cathedral in the Church in Wales. He was previously Vicar of Peterborough and Canon Residentiary of Peterborough Cathedral in the Church of England Diocese of Peterborough. He served as Rural Dean of Peterborough for 5 years. Prior to moving to Peterborough, Ian was in Leeds for 10 years, as Vicar of Whitkirk and as a member of the Chapter of Ripon Cathedral. He has also worked in Kent in Maidstone and as priest-in-charge of a group of parishes in Faversham. He was a Minor Canon of Canterbury Cathedral, a prison chaplain and Assistant Director of Post-Ordination Training for the Diocese of Canterbury in partnership with the Diocese of Rochester. Prior to ordination Ian had a career in tax, both with the Inland Revenue as a PAYE Auditor and a firm of Chartered Accountants as a Tax Accountant. Ian was born and grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon and is a former head chorister at Shakespeare’s Church – Holy Trinity. He studied in Canterbury, Lincoln Theological College and has a Master of Divinity degree from Nottingham University. He is married with two sons. Publications include three books of prayers: Prayers for all occasions (SPCK 2011), Intercessions for Years A, B & C (SPCK 2009) and Intercessions for the Calendar of Saints and Holy Days (SPCK 2005). His most recent book, Follow me: living the sayings of Jesus, was published by Sacristy Press on 1st July 2017. There is also a hymn based on this – Christ the Saviour. Other online writings can be found under the Books & Publications tab above. He has been writing online since the mid 1990s and was a contributing blogger to the ReJesus website. Ian is a keen photographer and these frequently appear in his Facebook and Twitter posts.
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