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'Thou art a sun without a sphere'

A service live from St Wulfram's Church, Grantham, during the Gravity Fields Festival, led by the Rev Stuart Cradduck, celebrating the life and work of Isaac Newton.

'Thou art a sun without a sphere' - a service live from St Wulfram's Church, Grantham, during the Gravity Fields Festival celebrating the life and work of Isaac Newton and exploring the relationship between science and religion. Led by the Rector of Grantham, the Revd Stuart Cradduck with the Revd James Robinson. The choir of St Wulfram's is directed by Dr Tim Williams and accompanied by Edward McCall. Producer: Stephen Shipley

2016 is the 350th anniversary of Newton's 'Year of Wonders' - his Annus Mirabilis - when, because of the plague, he returned from Cambridge to his family home and made massive scientific advances in maths, light and gravitational forces.

38 minutes

Last on

Sun 18 Sep 2016 08:10


Please note:

This script cannot exactly reflect the transmission, as it was prepared before the service was broadcast. It may include editorial notes prepared by the producer, and minor spelling and other errors that were corrected before the radio broadcast.

It may contain gaps to be filled in at the time so that prayers may reflect the needs of the world, and changes may also be made at the last minute for timing reasons, or to reflect current events.

Radio 4 Opening Announcement:  BBC Radio 4.  It’s ten past eight and time to go live to St Wulfram’s Church, Grantham, for Sunday Worship.  The service is led by the Rector of Grantham, the Revd Stuart Cradduck.

Stuart Cradduck:
The Lord be with you. 
And also with you.

Good morning and a very warm welcome to Grantham. St Wulfram’s has been a place of Christian pilgrimage and prayer for over a thousand years.

Today we gather to celebrate one of Grantham’s most famous sons, one of the world’s greatest thinkers, Sir Isaac Newton. 350 years ago, the young Newton, fleeing the plague that had broken out in Cambridge, returned to his home in Lincolnshire.

There he embarked upon a period of extraordinary discovery and invention, known now as his annus mirabilis, his ‘year of wonders’.   And it’s that wonder that’s expressed in our first hymn this morning by a contemporary of Newton’s – John Mason:  ‘How shall I sing that Majesty which angels do admire?’

Hymn: How shall I sing that Majesty (Coe Fen)

Stuart Cradduck:
This week marks the beginning of the Gravity Fields Festival, in which the worlds of science, the arts, and faith collide in a unique celebration of Newton’s life and legacy. As this festival begins we bring our selves and our intentions before God/into the light of God’s love.

Let us pray.

Lord God, creator of the universe, open our hearts and minds to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that we may worship you with our whole lives and be renewed by your love for all your creation. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Choir: Jubilate Deo in C (Britten)

Stuart Cradduck:
Newton’s discoveries cast new light on the workings of the created order, although he famously said “If I have seen further [than others], it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” In the reading we are about to hear, the prophet Daniel recounts how he saw, in a vision given to him by God, a glimpse of creation made new by the coming of Christ’s kingdom.

Reader: Daniel 7 vv.13-14 

As the visions during the night continued, I saw one like a Son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven; when he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, the one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.

Choir: O thou the central orb (Wood)

Stuart Cradduck:
Charles Wood’s setting of H.R.Bramley’s poem expressing the mystery and majesty of God’s creation.

Newton’s interests ranged far beyond the realms of what we might nowadays narrowly define as science. He wrote extensively on theological matters and held his vision of the world within the larger vision of his faith in a divine and loving creator as he explains in this letter of 10th December 1692

How the matter should divide itself into two sorts & that part of it which is fit to compose a shining body should fall down into one mass & make a Sun & the rest which is fit to compose an opaque body should coalesce not into one great body like the shining matter but into many little ones, I do not think explicable by mere natural causes but am forced to ascribe it to the counsel & contrivance of a voluntary Agent. The same power whether natural or supernatural, which placed the Sun in the center of the orbs of the six primary Planets, placed Saturn in the center of the orbs of his five secondary Planets & Jupiter in the center of the orbs of his four secondary ones & the earth in the center of the Moons orb; & therefore had this cause been a blind one without contrivance & design the Sun would have been a body of the same kind with Saturn Jupiter & the earth, that is without light & heat. Why there is one body in our System qualified to give light & heat to all the rest I know no reason but because the author of the System thought it convenient, & why there is but one body of this kind I know no reason but because one was sufficient to warm & enlighten all the rest.

Hymn: Christ, whose glory fills the skies (Ratisbon)

Stuart Cradduck:
We now hear a reading from the beginning of John’s Gospel in which Jesus calls his first disciples to follow him.  Our Curate, James Robinson, will then give the homily.

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them,

‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’.

James Robinson:
In the name of the Glorious and Undivided Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

350 years ago Isaac Newton was sitting in the orchard of his Lincolnshire home when the sight of an apple falling to the ground brought a sudden moment of clarity. Our Gospel reading told of another ‘Eureka’ moment. ‘I have found the Messiah!’ was St Andrew’s triumphant declaration of discovery to his brother Peter: words which heralded both the end of a long search and the beginning of an entirely new life. From then on both he and Peter would be disciples, followers of Jesus of Nazareth.

I wonder how we might describe our own relationships with Christ to have begun? For some there probably was a moment of discovery, of sudden illumination, comparable to Andrew on the Galilean shore, or indeed the young Isaac Newton in his orchard. But I suspect that many of us might struggle to pin down a moment when - or even articulate a reason why - we came to believe what do.

Newton’s fallen apple helped him to resolve the problem of why the moon and other celestial spheres moved the way they did. He used mathematics to unravel the secrets of the mechanics of the cosmos. He developed his three laws of motion and his theory of Universal Gravitation. Objects move and change direction, he determined, because of the effect of other objects. Something will only start moving if something else moves it massive force that has an attracting influence on other objects.
These findings gave us a clearer insight into how things, from apples to planets, relate to one another. What I want to suggest this morning is that we might also use them to help us conceptualise how and why we relate to God as we do.

There is something in Newton’s theories of gravity and motion that speaks to me of the Christian concept of Grace: the idea that we don’t discover God on our own, or achieve our own salvation. God makes the first move. We only move towards God because he moves us! Our hearts turn to him because he works upon us, draws us to himself, just as the earth attracts the apple.

Saint Augustine wrote of this phenomenon powerfully and profoundly, his insights earning him the title ‘Doctor of Grace’. In his autobiographical work the Confessions, in which he tried to trace his own rocky journey to faith, he recognised that before he began to look for God, God first was searching for him, breaking down within him the barriers which kept them apart: ‘I learned to love you late’, he sighs, ‘But you called me; you cried aloud to me; you broke the barrier of my deafness. You shone upon put my blindness to flight.’

Augustine saw that God’s love was at work mysteriously and inexplicably within him. It is a realisation that echoes profoundly with me. I can give you a list of good reasons why I am a Christian, but ultimately it is Grace, God’s gravitational pull upon my heart and mind, which is responsible: I keep on my study desk another line from Augustine’s Confessions, which is there to remind me of this on those days when I question myself. It simply reads: ‘A storm in my heart brought me here’.

‘A Storm in the heart’, a twitch on the thread, as G K Chesterton imagined this divine impetus that gets us moving on our pilgrimage of faith. And although we must cooperate with it if we are to continue on that journey, ultimately it is the reason why we believe. And it presents to us a God whose love for us is unconditional, whose desire for us is immeasurable. A God who wants us to be with him.

This pattern is present in our Gospel too: the disciples who first recognised that Jesus was the promised Messiah on the beach by Galilee, made their discovery only after Jesus had first approached them and invited them to ‘Come and See’.

We will all at certain times in our lives, like our planet as it travels in its orbit, pass through periods of glorious light – perhaps of great illumination in our relationship to God or of great clarity with regards to our hopes and aspirations; but we also will pass through periods of darkness, of feeling lost, alone or out of control, and even time spent in the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ as the 23rd Psalm puts it.

It is important, in good times and in bad, to recall the tender hold that God has on our lives; both the workings of his grace upon us, to support and guide us when we need it most, but also his desire for us to be with him. There is no greater discovery that we can make. Amen.

Hymn: My Love, my Lord, was crucified (St Magnus)

Stuart Cradduck:
Like our first hymn this morning, those words are by John Mason.  Our prayers are led by Jacqueline Bell.

Prayers (Rev’d Jacqueline Bell)

Let us pray

God of all creation, creator of heaven and the earth light of the world.

We thank you for light, for sun and moon, for plant and animal for land and sea. We thank you for your ongoing revelation to us of the wonders and mysteries of the
universe and for the ways in which you have created all things to exist and flourish together.

Lord of all wisdom [here in Grantham on the 350th anniversary of Sir Isaac Newton’s year of wonders] we remember all who have contributed to science throughout history. We ask for your blessing upon this town and all involved in The Gravity Fields festival. May all who enter this church of St Wulfram experience your wonder and glory.

We ask for your blessing upon Christians involved in science and on the whole scientific community today. We bring before you all students and teachers beginning a new academic year in schools, colleges and universities throughout the land. We thank you for their commitment to science and ask that you continue to nurture their enthusiasm and reverence. Forgive us lord for when we have turned our knowledge to cruelty and selfishness. We ask that you guard humility enlighten minds and teach us all to use science and technology for good.
We pray for all who are sick in body mind and spirit, for all who devote their lives to the discovery of medicine and cure. Help us to use your gifts to save life and to dwell in peace, unity and freedom together.

Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name.  Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, As it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, For ever and ever. Amen.

Stuart Cradduck:
And so to our last hymn this morning which reminds us of the love that God has for us in all circumstances: ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea.’

Hymn: There’s a wideness in God' (Corvedale)

Stuart Cradduck:
May the Angels of God watch over you, may our Lady Mary, our patron St Wulfram, and all the saints of God pray for you, and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit, be with you now and always. Amen

Organ Voluntary: Con Moto Maestoso from Mendelssohn’s Sonata no. 3 in A Major