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

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Sermon at Parish Mass 2nd Sunday before Lent 2018

Icon of Holy Wisdom, State Museum of Arts, Almaty

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

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light.”
The BBC News channel has a rolling programme called “Witness”. Described as “The story of our times, told by the people who were there”, yesterday’s example featured “the son of the man who invented Lego and the biologist who was the first to discover whalesong”.
A witness is someone who tells the truth about what they have seen and heard. John the Baptist was a witness to the light that was coming into the world in Jesus Christ. Other people it seems can be witnesses to Lego, or to whalesong.
These witnesses may seem poles apart, but what connects them is a commitment to the truth. It is discovered that whales sing. Lego is a product of human creativity and ingenuity. Both things depend on truth, on being able to speak reliably about what is seen and done.
John the Baptist witnessed to the light, the Word through whom all things came into being, full of grace and truth. Here is the truth that undergirds all others, the foundation of all others. The universe is rational, consistent and truthful. But why? The universe points beyond itself to a mystery, which is itself truth. Why indeed is there anything at all, instead of nothing?
The Gospel names that mystery as a Word, an utterance, from one who is altogether other than the universe. The Word was in the beginning, and all things came into being through him. The Word through whom all things were made, and the truth of the things that are made, go together. They cannot be contrary to each other.
There can be nervousness in religious circles about science and faith. A couple of weeks ago I was at an event of Sion College, an organisation that attempts to improve the clergy. We had a lecture about the origins of the universe at the Royal Astronomical Society, followed by a discussion.
There were a lot of positive comments about the event and the need to hear more about science and its interface with faith. But there was also anxiety. One priest said to me that we should have an event on evolution, because, he said almost in a whisper, “I believe in it”. Now there’s something not quite right if a clergyman is nervous about admitting to a belief in evolution.
Yes we believe in God as Creator. But when we watch those marvellous science and nature programmes on the TV, or take the children to the Natural History Museum, do we subconsciously shut our faith away in a separate part of our minds? As though, if we look too closely, it might all fall apart? Are we afraid that the truth of our faith might be undermined by the truth we observe in the world?
Faith should tell us that science and faith cannot be contrary. The truth of God as revealed to us in Jesus is not somehow going to speak against the truth of the things that have their being through him, which is what science studies. All truth is from God, whether it is the loftiest heights of theology, or the way in which life evolved, or the discovery of whalesong.
In some years on this Sunday we have a creation story from Genesis, but this year we have the figure of Wisdom from the Book of Proverbs. Wisdom belongs to a different tradition to the Adam and Eve story. She is a personification of God’s creativity. Her characteristics are order and inventiveness, beauty and delight. For the scriptures, it is impossible to speak about God’s creativity without getting personal like this. The creator is not a blind force doing stuff by chance, but a person, with a purpose.
As Jews spread into the Greek speaking world their idea of Divine Wisdom encountered the Greek idea of the Word. Greek philosophers described the logical principle behind the universe as the Word, the Logos. But they did not know what the Word was. They supposed it to be perhaps an impersonal force, like a kind of sorting machine. But, to Jews, it sounded like the Divine Wisdom. This thinking was around when the first Christians were reflecting on who Jesus was, so that the author of the fourth Gospel could say, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us”.
The Gospel points to Jesus and says, here is the Divine Wisdom, the creative personification of God. Here is the Word, the rational principle behind the universe. Here is the truth, from whom all truth proceeds, and to whom all truth refers. And he has become one of us. Created human nature has been joined to the nature of the Word who created all things, in one Person.
Other parts of the New Testament affirm this, too, like the passage from Colossians this morning: “Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created”.
The incarnation raises our created human nature to union with God, and sets our rational questing after truth at the pinnacle of creation’s yearning for God. Far from being contrary to faith, the quest for reason and truth leads us to the truth in person, Jesus.
Faith is a gift from God. Science and reason can take us to the borders of mystery; but to go further, that mystery must reveal itself to us. Christian faith says that Jesus is that revelation, the culmination of all that has gone before in the law and the prophets, and in all the insights and feelings after God that every human culture and religion has known, as Paul says to the Athenians in Acts 17.
This invests human nature with an exalted dignity that comes not from ourselves but from God. The mysterious saying of Genesis, that humanity is made in the image of God, is fulfilled in Jesus who is God’s image of himself. This compels us to attend most carefully to the truth of the human person. Every human being bears the image of God, even if impaired and obscured case by sin. Every human being shares the human nature that was united to God in the Word made flesh.
Therefore truth, human truth, really matters. Equality and inclusion are not, for Christians, founded in political correctness, but in the incarnation. Every human being, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, disability or age, is called into union with God in Jesus. Every person at every stage of life shares in the human nature that has been united to the Word.
And the truth that we speak and live really matters. Can we trust our politicians? This really matters. Can I know that so-and-so loves me? This really matters. Can I trust in the Creator’s holding on to our lives even in the face of death? This really matters. Both faith and reason require a commitment to truth. A lie is a tear in the fabric of the universe, and ultimately a denial of God.

So, then, trust in the truth, and bear witness to the truth. That is, be truthful, and do not be afraid of the truth. Do not shrink back from new discoveries and knowledge, which can only bear witness to the Creator, even if in ways we did not expect. Hold all human life in profound reverence. All truth comes to us from God, revealed in Jesus, and leads us back to him. And every new discovery, whether in the world of science or in our lives as human persons in relationship, is a wonderful affirmation of the truth who called us into being, and calls us into union with himself.

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