GOD IS COMPLETING HIS CREATION
Sermon delivered on Sexagesima, the Second Sunday before Lent, the 19th February 2017 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes at St. Alban’s Church of England, 461 Shedden Road, George Town, Cayman Islands
Scriptures: Genesis 1:1 - 2:3 Romans 8: 18-25 S. John 3: 1-8
In Romans 8: 21 S. Paul refers to the hope that “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
BAPTISM OF EVANGELINE GRACE
Today it is our duty and our blessing to bring a child to Holy Baptism. Evangeline is the child of Ben and Tisha Hobden, and now the Lord is signifying that He is adopting this child for His own. In the words of our Prayer Book Catechism, Evangeline Grace is being made a member of Christ, the child of God and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. These are great privileges, and they are privileges that none of us deserves, privileges that all of us are unworthy of. That is one of the reasons why the Church has always seen fit to place children within the covenant of grace as the new covenant sealed by the blood of Jesus often before they have reached the age of discernment. It declares to us that His grace and love acting upon us come before any commitment or response we make to Him, and that is true whether a person is baptised as an adult or as a child. However, in infant baptism a great responsibility is conferred upon the parents and godparents, whose task it will be, in so far as the child complies, to transmit and plant their faith in the saving grace of Jesus into the developing and strengthening mind and soul of the precious ward in whose name they have spoken.
Our Scriptures today give us what we could describe as three bird’s eye views of the Creation, each one providing a perspective that contributes to our outlook. Our own personal outlook, without doubt, is coloured to a greater or lesser extent by the secular view of the 21st century, as well as by whatever we have made in our own minds of biblical and church teaching on the subject of the Creation. The biblical and church teaching on the subject encompasses, at the very least, two creations: the creation that is described in the first two chapters of Genesis, and the “new creation” that is described in a variety of forms in the New Testament. The “new creation” is depicted in the book of Revelation as the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. The former things will have passed away and the new creation will include those who have been granted entry into that “new world” via what we recite as an article of belief, namely the resurrection of the body.
The 21st century secularist view which affects or perhaps even conditions our own minds is a composite of views that are taught or portrayed in western schools and media, and this composite I suppose may in the future shift towards a more Islamic perspective, though the upheavals in the Islamic world can legitimately occasion doubts whether the westward march of Islam is quite as certain as many have believed. A thoroughgoing secularist view of creation will disqualify the actual word “creation”, preferring to be agnostic over the issue of whether a “Creator” exists. For some people the “Big Bang” theory is interpreted as proof that a “Creator” exists: for others of our contemporaries it is seen as proof that a Creator is not necessary. For some people like me the “Big Bang” theory itself needs to be exploded and discarded, as being inherently beyond any physical proof.
As we have heard, the account of creation from the first chapter of Genesis speaks of six “Days” of the divine creation of form and distinctions, followed in the first three verses of chapter 2 by a statement that on the seventh Day God finished His formative work and rested. The climax of the creation account in the first chapter is the sixth Day when Man was made, both male and female, and in which Man’s relationships both between the sexes and with the rest of creation were ordered. About the “Days” of creation there is a significant statement in the commentary of my ESV Study Bible, which says, “By a simple reading of Genesis, these days must be described as days in the life of God, but how His days relate to human days is more difficult to determine.” The theological point being made by Genesis is that there is one God, a purposive God in contrast to the fickle powers of paganism, who in His creation action upon heaven and earth ordered the earth so that it might become His dwelling place. This theological point stands eternally in opposition to the agnosticism of the secularist point of view over the issue of whether a purposeful Creator does or does not exist. Genesis declares that God spoke purposively, and His Word brought into their observed form the things that are seen. The seventh Day in the Genesis account makes manifest the intent of the Creator for his creation, because the “rest” of God does not imply a rest out of any weariness, but rather, it expresses a sanctifying or making holy of all that has been formed.
The succeeding part of the book of Genesis recounts that God’s ordered and sanctified creation is thrown into chaos through human disobedience, and the world spirals down into violence. Nevertheless it remains true that the intention of God for his creation is for it to be His dwelling place, which is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” This divine intention comes to a biblical climax in the future reality that S. John the Divine sees in his vision of a “new heaven and a new earth” in the book of Revelation. St. Paul in the second lesson today speaks of the eager hope of believers, those who are baptised into Christ, for what he calls the redemption of our bodies, the fruit of our discipleship on earth in a new union of our souls and bodies in the new creation. Indeed, St. Paul visualises the creation itself sharing in this hope, because the new creation will be linked with the present creation being set free from its bondage to corruption and obtaining the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Paul says that just as the present condition of the futility of the creation is linked to the Fall of man, so its being set free from this is dependant on mankind's redemption. As the Apostle says, though we do not at present see this, we wait for it with patience. God will have His way in the end: there will be a new heaven and a new earth in which the original purpose for the earth being the divine sanctuary will be completely fulfilled.
Our Lord's thought in the Baptism Gospel in S. John ch 3 is of the Kingdom of God, which recalls to us the words in the Lord's Prayer, "Thy Kingdom Come: Thy Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven." That Kingdom, Jesus says, cannot be seen or entered without a new birth into it, and the Church has always understood that new birth into it, the birth of water and the Spirit, in connection with holy Baptism. As S. John explains in the famous Prologue to his Gospel, those who become children of God have been born not just of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And so when Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount directs us not to be anxious about our life, what we will eat, or drink or wear, He asks, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” It can remind us of St. Paul’s words: “For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened - not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life (2 Corinthians 5:4)". “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” asks Jesus. Well, the life to which through faith we aspire, and the resurrection body, are definitely more than the food and clothing that are necessitated by the present age. If we can live and strive within a spiritual universe of our mortal destiny being life rather than death, then it will follow that we will be sufficiently sustained and covered until that destiny is achieved, no matter how difficult and narrow the path may seem.
Finally, we must recall that the central act of God in restoring His creation was the Incarnation and saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ. As an old Creed affirms, the Lord Jesus Christ, both God and Man, is yet One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking of the Manhood into God. It is because of this that, as St. Paul says, “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” In what is about to happen here we will see and take part in a small kernel of this being "set free". In whatever circumstance we are in, whatever comfort or discomfort we are knowing, whoever we may be being urged to pray for and whatever part of the world we are in or may be praying about, we may look to this as our sure and certain hope. For God’s creation will, at the End, be complete and perfectly conformed to His intention.