... WE PUT NOT OUR TRUST IN ANY THING THAT WE DO

Sermon delivered on Sexagesima Sunday, the 8th February 2015 by Bishop Nicholas J G Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands in the service of the Holy Eucharist.

Scriptures: Proverbs 8: 1, 22-31     Colossians 1:15-20     S. John 1: 1-14

S. John 1: 2-3 He was in the beginning with God; all things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.

Coloss 1: 16-17 All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together

Proverbs 8: 29-31 When He assigned to the sea its limit ... when He marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside Him, like a master workman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing before Him always, rejoicing in His inhabited world and delighting in the sons of men.

These three texts have been selected from the two lessons and the Gospel reading today to display three views of the connection between God and His creation.

The first is from the Prologue to St. John’s Gospel, a passage which we naturally link with Christmas, since it is always read at that time. “He was in the beginning with God, all things were made by Him”. The “He” and the “Him” that are stated to be with God refer to the eternal Word, the Son of God, the Agent by whom all things were divinely made. The Prologue passage then goes on to outline the continuing connection, one of enlightenment, from the eternal Word towards the created world.

The second is from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians, from which the second lesson was drawn. “All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.” Once again the “He” and the “Him” refer specifically to God’s beloved Son. When we recite “By Whom all things were made” every Sunday in the Nicene Creed, we too are saying that by the beloved Son all things were made: by His agency, so to speak. We are not actually referring to the Father as Creator at that point, and it is easy to miss that. St. Paul is saying the same as St. John. The Son of God existed from before the creation of the world, and was entirely involved in the creation of the world. And St. Paul teaches also that there is a continuing connection between the Son of God and the created order. “In Him,” says St. Paul, “all things hold together.” The created order is held together, held up, because He is present. The Epistle to the Hebrews says, “He upholds the universe by the word of His power.” Perhaps we should find that both comforting and a little scary. But I do believe that the Physics of the 21st century will through a recognition of electrical current-conducting plasma throughout space, begin to find a resonance with this basic theological statement, because we will no longer consider that either the earth or the sun or any other object in the solar system or indeed in the galaxy is disconnected and uninfluenced by that which is outside it. God is well and patently able then to influence weather patterns or subterranean movements in the earth, for example, or to influence any part of the universe, and indeed to uphold or not uphold the universe by His own word of power.

The third text was from the book of Proverbs, and it teaches of a delightful Wisdom that accompanies God in His activities of creation and sharing in His delight with what is made. Most modern translations choose the reading that describes Wisdom as a master workman, doing God’s bidding, but another reading describes Wisdom as a little child, obviously thrilled to bits with what is going on. As Christians we are taught that Christ is both the Word of God and the Wisdom of God. We should never forget either the delight or the expertise with which God and His beloved Son act upon His creation.

There are many ways in which God reaches out and touches His creation. So far we have thought about the action of the Father and the Son in upholding and changing the created order, and indeed we can find a word on the action of the Spirit in this way as well. But we think too of the coming of Jesus Himself in sacrificial action as a man, when God reached out and not only touched, but held onto His beloved world. "God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." There is a need for us human beings to respond in a tangible way to God's initiatives. It is God who makes the first move, for instance a direction or invitation: the divine “Let it be done” is spoken, an affirmative that creates or redeems. Climaxing His appearance on earth, the Son of God commanded His Church to make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. And then it is up to man to respond. If we are in tune with the divine Yes of creation and redemption then we too respond with a firm human Yes. When man responds with some form of No, for instance by ignoring God's direction or invitation, he rebuffs and does injury to the One who invites him, but it is he himself who really gets hurt. As the Lord Jesus said to the rebellious St. Paul on the Damascus road, "It is hard for you to kick against the goads." We are called to make choices, to say No to false gods and to the allurements of the world and of sin. If we fail to make and hold to those choices we imperil our Yes to God, we imperil our discipleship.


CHRIST THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD
In the Scriptures today we have a great declaration that the ground upon which we rely, the depths from which water springs, the mountains that tower above us and the positioning of the earth in the cosmos were effected not by blind chance, but through the wisdom of God. These visible things testify to an invisible Wisdom that proceeds from God Himself. To say No to God therefore is a fundamental rejection of Wisdom. We can certainly reflect on how so much of the trouble of the human race, both in the past and today, witnesses to a lack of wisdom. In the mad rush we see around us for self-gratification of all sorts, which leads to no end of human oppression and war, impoverishment, sickness, abuse and personal unhappiness, our generation that claims to know so much testifies to its rejection of wisdom. Yet Jesus said, It is better to enter Eternal Life with a hand cut off than to enter eternal darkness with both hands. So if it makes for more wisdom, better would it be for us to know less, to cut off those experiences by which man becomes unwise. It is the beloved Son of God Himself who stands in the place of wisdom at the creation of the world. It is declared that Christ has the standing of the first-born of creation: he is before all things and in Him all things hold together; and not only so but, as declared by His Resurrection He is the first-born from the dead too, the Head of the Church, the One from whom redemption and reconciliation flows. How unwise our world would be to reject Christ our wisdom, the one who holds together the creation and reconciles all that became estranged through sin and the devil.

If we see in the politics of the world around us a growing human attempt to control everything, a growing human attempt to hold everything together without reference to the One who does just this, a growing attempt to re-write civilisation in our own image and to our own design, we should reflect on today’s themes more deeply. Does it not in the end boil down to one more attempt by man to build his tower of Babel? Man once again is trying to arrogate to Himself the attributes of God the Father and God the Son. That attempt will of course end in the chaos that it always has done. But we should not ultimately be afraid, if we remain, as St. John enjoins us to remain, in the Father and in the Son. The universe, after all, was created and is upheld by the word of His power. So, indeed, “Credo ut intelligam”, as St. Anselm said. We need to believe before we can begin to understand. We should meditate on the words of our Collect today; it is no bad thing if as the Collect says, “we put not our trust in any thing that we do.” Holding fast the connection that the real Lord offers us, we may go on walking by faith and not by sight: by faith in His expert and felicitous upholding, and not by the blinded sight of our ageless blunders and their resulting chaos.