Vicar’s sermon The second Sunday before Lent 4.2.24 Proverbs 8.1, 22-31: Psalm 104: John 1. 1-14

How utterly frustrating. The vicar has emerged like Punxatawny Phil (the groundhog) after Christmas. Indeed, with the Feast of Candlemas now behind us we have ‘turned towards Christ’s passion’ and the journey of Lent…and then those pesky folk who put together our lectionary throw us all a curve ball by presenting us with John’s Gospel, chapter 1 as our reading this morning. It’s the Christmas reading! We’re all set to follow Jesus, the adult out into the wilderness for 40 days, primed to read stories of his adult life and yet here we are: right back at ‘the beginning’. Just as Christmas disappears in the rear view mirror our reading takes us back to the midnight service on Christmas Eve: ‘In the beginning was the word’. Really? Again? Must we hear these words again?
I know what I’ll do. I’ll preach on the Old Testament…or the psalm, but (oh dear) what are we to make of them? The author of Proverbs seems to have gone all philosophical and the Psalm might best be read by David Attenborough as the psalmist ponders creation. Nothing for it then but to jump in and see where we land…
The readings have in common a belief that God’s work is seen in creation: that there is a Creator behind all that is. Lady Wisdom (to give her her title) claims to have been alongside the Almighty at the very beginning of creation. The psalmist is clear that creation is utterly dependant upon God to sustain it: without His life and breath all turns to dust, but when His spirit is present ‘the face of the earth is renewed’. God’s works are ‘manifold’ (many) and ‘in wisdom He has made them all.’ This belief in a Creator is found in many faiths, not least our own. Our creed boldly states ‘We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.’ It’s fairly upfront isn’t it? maker of heaven and earth, all that is…even the stuff we can’t see! But what our readings also add is that this Creator didn’t just kick everything off and then step back to watch His creation from a distance: God is still creating, His Creation is an ongoing, active thing. Again, note that verse in the psalm: ‘you renew the face of the earth.’ Creation is being renewed all the time by God’s overflowing love and energy. Is it any wonder then that time in your garden, or out in the fresh air can be so restorative? Is it any wonder that human beings are brimful with creativity and intuition, they love making stuff, crafting, knitting, baking, woodworking, music making – God’s creativity courses through His Creation and we share in it.
The lesson from the Proverbs draws upon the Israelite idea of a triple decker universe. This ancient people all those years ago thought the world was flat and that it lay suspended between ‘the heaven’s above’ and ‘the waters beneath’. The thinking was that above the firmament of the heavens there was water and beneath the foundation of the earth there was yet more water. This water could flood the world (did flood the world at the time of Noah): Chaos then was never far away…But God, in His mercy, sustained the universe and all that is within it. God, in His mercy had divided the waters above from the waters beneath. God, in His mercy had separated the dry ground from the sea. God (this God) is a God of order and protection. Everything in His creation has a place and a role and human beings are protected by His care. So when you sweep the floor in the kitchen or fold the washing off the line; when you cut back the shrubs in the garden or lay out a new flower bed; when you file away your papers or sort through the recycling so that everything goes to its proper place you are reflecting the good order that lies within the character of God. Disorder, chaos is not godly: either in our homes or in our nation.
When we affirm our belief in God as the Creator we are also saying something about the purpose and meaning of all life. We don’t have to ditch our scientific discoveries or theories about the beginnings of ‘Life on earth’. Far from it. These simply serve to enlarge our vision and appreciation of the wonder of the universe – whether we are gazing at the galaxies (light years away through the great telescopes on earth or in orbit above the earth) or whether we are discovering how the tiniest of elements of life forms (looked at through our microscopes operate in wholly unexpected ways) scientific discovery presents us with more and more reasons to praise God. Our Creation stories don’t address the ‘how’ of creation, rather, they address the ‘why’.
And it’s at that point that we land in John’s gospel and his famous Christmas reading, for the ‘why’ of creation is addressed in these words as we see God finding a way to enable human beings to regain their status as children of God: God seeks relationship with the whole of His creation, through us, through human beings.
I learned earlier this week that in the Musee Dorsay in Paris there is a restaurant and that, at the one end of the restaurant there is a gigantic clock face that looks out across Paris. So you can stand in the restaurant and literally look through Time into the world beyond. What a powerful image for what God is up to in Jesus that is! The ‘Almighty’, God, the Lord (however we conceive or imagine Him or Her – all our words fail) is clearly beyond and above every ‘thing’ that we can conceive or imagine. We can only use images or descriptions drawn from our experience to describe the Lord – we have no other language to describe the indescribable. But this God, however we conceive of Him determines to reveal Himself in and through Time, in a person (an individual, a man called Jesus) so that we might better know Him and He better know us. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (that 33 years) we are able in time and through time to look at what God is like.
The One ‘who drew a circle on the face of the deep, who fixes the heavens in their place and marks out the foundations of the earth’; the One who ‘created a place for Leviathan to play in the sea’ and whose life brings food out of the earth ‘in due season’ – this great Creator God, is seen in the person of Jesus. No wonder John struggles with the language! For him, the idea from Proverbs of ‘Lady Wisdom’ being alongside God at Creation is transformed into the description of God’s living and active Word bringing life and light to the world and bringing a new creation into being as people respond to and recognise Him. All three of our readings are attempting to describe the world working in harmony with its Creator.
A moment ago I said that we don’t have to ditch our knowledge of science and its advances to be people of faith. But if all we have is our science then we don’t have enough. We have the ‘how’ (sort of…maybe…possibly: in my experience scientists are fairly reluctant to say ‘definitely’ ) but we don’t have the ‘why’. Our faith stories, (these scriptures), point us to a God who pours himself out in love as He creates and sustains the universe. They show us a God who carries the pain of the world, feels its rejection and suffers its indignities as His creatures turn away from Him and deface the Creation that He declared to be good. But they also show us a God who empties Himself to become flesh and to live with us so that we can see His glory not just in the heavens above or the earth beneath but in the person of a man who lived and breathed and suffered and died with us and for us.
And so the Creator, Redeemer (and indeed the Life Giver: the Spirit) are of a piece: three persons, one God delighting in the human race and seeking to renew us all as we welcome His presence into our lives.

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