Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Sermon at Parish Mass 2nd Sunday before Lent 2015

Proverbs 8.1,22-31
Colossians 1.15-20
John 1.1-14

Stephen Fry caused a stir last week when he was asked on an interview programme what he would say if he met God face to face. Fry is well known as an atheist, and his answer was that he would say, “how dare you”, and take God to task for evil things that aren’t our fault, such as childhood cancer. A God who deliberately created such things, according to Fry, must be “capricious, mean minded and stupid”.
Now it has to be said that Fry has hit upon what for many people is an obstacle or an objection to faith. If there is a good God, why do evil things happen? But we need to look at the kind of god that is being criticised. The god that Fry doesn’t believe in seems to be some sort of designer and controller. But is this the God of the scriptures?
There are gods like that in the scriptures, but they are the gods of the nations who are but idols. Gods who control the weather, the harvest, war, and so on – if you can persuade them to be on your side they will control things in your favour. We might imagine these gods like the Wizard of Oz, sitting hidden behind a curtain, pulling the levers and working the dials of the universe. And we might indeed criticise such a god for the evil things that happen if he doesn’t work the controls properly.
But the story told by scripture is of a God who is altogether different. This God is a mystery who cannot be depicted or even named, the self-existent without explanation: “I will be who I will be”, is all the answer Moses got when he asked for a name.
This God reveals himself as creator, the source of being, the reason why there is anything at all rather than nothing. But if God is the cause of the universe this means that God is not any kind of thing or being within the universe, as the gods of the nations were believed to be. Unlike them, God remains unfathomable. God is not one of the gods.
The God in whom Christians believe is revealed in the story of Israel told through the law and the prophets. And, ultimately, in Jesus, whom Christians believe to be God come among us in a human life. In Jesus the unfathomable God becomes intelligible. We still cannot say what God is, but we can say what God is like, by looking at Jesus.
It is absolutely at the heart of our faith to say that when we look at the man, Jesus of Nazareth, we are looking at the Creator of the universe. Any lesser claim is simply not Christianity. It is there in the New Testament through and through.
We have heard two examples this morning. St Paul writing to the Colossians sets out his teaching of Christ, the image of the invisible God, that is to say, the unfathomable made intelligible. In him all the fullness of God dwelt, through him all things were created, in him all things are reconciled, through the resurrection he is the head of the new creation. The man Jesus is the cosmic Christ, God made visible, the key to the existence and redemption of everything.
St John, in his wonderful prologue, speaks of Jesus as the Word made flesh. The Word was a Greek idea, a kind of rationale and principle of existence. In Greek philosophy this was not necessarily personal, more a kind of force or power. But Jewish philosophers, before the time of Jesus, had interpreted this idea in terms of the Divine Wisdom, God’s creative power, often personified in the Bible as a feminine figure, as in this morning’s reading from Proverbs. So St John is saying, the Word, the rationale and principle of existence, which is God’s creative wisdom, has become human and lived among us, and we have seen him.
So, from now on, when we are asked, what is God like, we can point to Jesus, and say, like this.
Jesus completes the revelation of God the creator. Creation is good, Genesis tells us. And yet there is evil, both evil suffered and evil done. The scriptures acknowledge this. Many of the psalms are extended meditations on evil and suffering, lamenting, questioning, asking where God is in all this. Then there are the books of Job, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and so on.
Now the psalms are prayers, not answers. We are not told why evil things happen. The scriptures instead tell of Israel meeting God again and again in the place of suffering and loss. They tell of Israel discovering that this God is a saviour, who cares passionately about his people.
That pattern and story, of God who makes himself known as saviour in the place where evil is experienced, comes to its fulfilment in Jesus. He lived out the story of Israel in person, even to the point of rejection and death on a Roman cross in occupied Jerusalem.
In this above all we see what God is like. The unfathomable becomes intelligible in suffering the evil that is done in the world. The Creator experiences to the full the fracture in creation, the suffering of the innocent, the pointless meaninglessness of it all.
Because, above all, God reveals himself in Jesus as love. It is through love that he came to us, in love that he shared our life and death. And all so that we might live in love, the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit from before the universe was made. All so that we might become children of God, as St John says.
This is what God is like, and this is why God is not a controlling god like the idols of the nations. Control is not compatible with love. Love requires freedom. Love cannot exist without the possibility that love might be rejected, without the risk that things other than love might happen. That is why the cross is the necessary price of love in a world that does not want to love.
But the cross is not the end. The Creator’s work is not complete. The Divine Wisdom, the Eternal Word, is still at work. In the resurrection the new creation is revealed. The wounded universe is healed and made new. And in the wounds of Christ, which his hands and feet still display, we see that, somehow, beyond our imagining, even the futility of suffering and death is re-created into something glorious.
To understand what God the Creator is like, we need then to look at Jesus, who has died, and has been raised to the glory of the Father. For he is the firstborn from the dead, the head of the new creation. In him we see creation completed in the only way that is compatible with love. And in him we see what is prepared for all of us, and indeed for the whole creation, even if now it is, as St Paul says, “subject to futility” and “groaning in the birth-pangs”.
The Book of Revelation at the end of the Bible describes that new creation as being like a glorious city where:
‘The home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’
The God we see in Jesus is not unconcerned with the suffering of the world. Quite the opposite: he comes to meet and suffer with and alongside his creation. This is not the controlling god that some people might want or imagine. But God is what God is, and the gods of our own imagination are but idols.

And the true God gives us a sure and certain hope, founded on the love that will not fail, hope in the ultimate healing of this broken and wounded world, the taking of everything into the resurrection, which in the Creed we call the life of the world to come.

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