The Old Testament can appear to say some very strange things. The Bible reading for this morning was from the Book of Deuteronomy, and has the following instruction:
“If you come on a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs, with the mother sitting on the fledglings or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. Let the mother go, taking only the young for yourself, in order that it may go well with you and you may live long.”
I was not sure whether to be appalled by this endorsement of nest stealing or applaud an attempt at sustainable hunting. As so often when reading the Bible, context is everything. This passage, probably drawing on laws from around 1000BC, reflects a society where wild-fowl were a useful extra source of protein in an age where death from starvation when the rains failed was a very real possibility. The writer is urging his reader to act responsibility, to ensure that there will continue to be wild-fowl in the coming years. In much the same way, we impose restrictions on shooting and fishing.
The passage struck a cord with me as just a few minutes before I had read that the pair of Peregrine falcons that were nesting on the Clee Hill had been deliberately poisoned; the police are trying to identify the criminals behind this. I suspect that if the writer of Deuteronomy were to read of this incident, he would sadly conclude that all was not likely to go well for us in our society. Perhaps those responsible should learn from him or her.
Rev David Poyner
It was almost exactly a year ago that I introduced you to the vicar, the imam and the rabbit via a joke sent to me by a colleague at work. After diligent work by a member of the congregation from Billingsley, I can now reveal the next chapter in their adventures.
A vicar, an imam and a rabbit wander into a blood donor clinic. The nurse says “what blood group are you”? The rabbit says “I think I’m a type O”.
Those who show kindness by making us laugh have surely entertained angels unaware.
Rev David Poyner
The news this week has featured two big stories. On Monday it was the breakaway super-league; five of the top English clubs and Tottenham Hotspurs had agreed with clubs in Italy and Spain to form their own league in preference to playing in the UEFA Champion’s League. I could not quite see why it was necessary for leading politicians to drop everything to attend an emergency meeting of the Premiership, (the elite, breakaway league formed by the top 24 English clubs thirty years ago) and threaten changes in the law. However, I was equally unimpressed by the reason trotted out by the president of one of the Spanish clubs for forming the super-league; he said it was about “saving football”. As was pointed out by the Rev Sam Wells, that takes a strange view of what was to be saved in the name of football; twelve powerful European clubs and bad luck to Aston Villa, Kidderminster Harriers and everyone else. I am not sorry it has collapsed.
The language of being “saved” is often used in Christianity. I am sometimes uncomfortable with how it can be used in this context; again, an obsession with the individual and a narrow focus on belonging to an “in-club”. This is not how the early church understood Jesus’s message; they were quite clear that through Jesus, God was reaching out to all humanity. Which brings me to the second story; the “Earth Day” summit on Thursday, where President Biden led the way in pledging real action to reduce climate change, to “save” the planet; to save creation, using vicar-speak. And this ties in with another conviction of the early church; that through Jesus, God was not just reaching out to humanity but was embracing all the universe, the entire natural world. Of the two visions of salvation that we have been offered this week, I know which I think is cross-shaped.
Rev David Poyner
John Donne’s insight
I write this reflection shortly before the funeral of Prince Philip, on Saturday (17th). I suspect I, along with many others throughout the country, will be watching it. I find it hard to ignore the sight of any funeral; a hearse with a coffin always stops me. It of course speaks of my own mortality; it makes me reflect on the Christian hope, that life in Christ never ceases. Death brings us all to the ultimate reality that is God, but along the way it also brings us into contact with shared grief and loss at the ending of a person’s life.
Some four centuries ago, the priest and poet John Donne picked up on some of these themes when he heard the tolling of a funeral bell, for a person unknown to him. I think he felt the same emotion as I do; in the Kingdom of God, we are all involved in mankind.
“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Rev David Poyner
Like many people I was saddened by the news of Prince Phillip’s death, just a few weeks from his 100th birthday. Of course I knew he was in poor health, so perhaps the news should not have been a surprise, but I still had to reread the email carefully to make sure it was correct. Prince Phillip was part of a generation that was tough!
I suspect Phillip himself would have been the first to admit to faults. He was notoriously outspoken; in these times of heightened sensitivities about giving offence to others, he did sometimes seem as though he was from another age. I suspect he was strong-willed and enjoyed leadership. This is not necessarily a problem; we need leaders, but it does not always make for easy working relationships or good publicity. There again, my guess is the World War 2 naval officer prioritised leadership over public relations.
What I am most struck by is Prince Phillip’s sense of duty. Well into his 90s, he braved pouring rain and cold to carry out his functions, at some cost to his own health. He gave up his career in the navy to support his wife in her role as Queen. He always seemed to be there when the Queen needed his advice. But he was also aware that he did have power and influence in his own right and it seems to me that he tried to use that for the common good. Perhaps his greatest legacy to young people is the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, to encourage qualities of leadership and self-belief in them. He was the first president of the World Wildlife Foundation; a keen shooter, he was also aware of the importance of conservation and care for the environment long before this became fashionable.
Today (Friday), at 4.00pm, a small group of us assembled at Billingsley Church, to toll a bell and then say prayers for Prince Phillip and those who particularly feel loss; his own family. This Sunday evening, in a change to what is planned, our evening service in Billingsley Church at 6.00pm will focus on the man and his life, giving us time to reflect on the themes of duty and service. At times such as these, I am reminded of John Donne’s words on hearing a funeral bell toll, his recognition of our shared humanity; “Ask not for whom the bell tolls… it tolls my friend for thee”.
Rev David Poyner