Basic Questions Series: Why Jesus?

In my previous post, I began to outline an answer to the question, “Why sin?” In brief, sin is a transcendental, i.e., formatting, condition of the human experience, because we all violently grasp something that is not ours: divinity, or being like God. Sin is this violent upheaval or attempted mutiny; as creatures, living and existing in finitude, we attempt to reign as infinite minds. We attempt to control the world around us and others like we are gods. We are not, and it is in trying to be so that we perpetuate the violence against each other, our world and our selves that we call sin today. So, why Jesus?

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Sermon Edition: Is God Interested in Creation?

The following was given at Holy Trinity Brussels on 14 June 2015. It was part of the ongoing series of the Christian response to climate change. The first week covered the beginning, from Genesis and argued that God made creation fundamentally good, and we are covered with caring for it. This is the second week, in which the idea is argued that despite some theological understandings, it is true that God does continue to care about the creation, about the environment and our place in it. Enjoy!

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. — Romans 8:18-25

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. — John 1:1-14

There is a slightly different story to the first verses of John’s Gospel. It could go something like this: “In the beginning was the Reason, logos. This Reason was the divine reason at the beginning of all things; this Reason shaped all things. This Reason was the divine light that shines, but the darkness of the world, the dumbness of materiality did not understand or comprehend it.” In fact, this is how a philosophical hymn would begin in the first century AD. These philosophers were  practicing in a school located near Ephesus, where John is considered to have written his Gospel. It is on the basis of their hymn that John penned his introduction. But, of course, in John there is a twist. For the philosophers, for those educated in Greek thought, Reason, especially Divine Reason, would never, ever, ever be associated with materiality. It is Light, aloft, aloof, separate, pure. In its purity, it is Divine, untouched, unmoved yet Moving, as Aristotle argued. John, though, in a short phrase, turns this logic, this reason, this logos, on its head. Just so you know, most translations do translate logos as word, and it does have that meaning, but also it means something like account, logic, description, even order or reason. And this logos became flesh, took on materiality, and dwelt among us. This Word became human, finite and earthly. The divine light and logic became contaminated with what is non-divine, non-light, non-reason. And this is precisely what God wanted. And this is how we begin to answer the question: is God interested in the world, that is, does God care about creation?

I want to expand this question, this thought, to a fuller version: for whom is salvation, that is, who and what is going to be redeemed, raised on the last day? John will touch more on this in two weeks, but it will be a part of the interest of God in creation. We will have to begin where we ended last week, on what last week was all about: and God saw that it was good. At the beginning of creation, God created things good — God rejoiced in what was created. God rested and walked among creation in the cool of the evening, that is, God’s presence was tangible, palpable in creation. We’ve lost sight of that because of our sin and systemic spiritual short-sightedness. But this is where we begin in answering the question of whether God is interested: the creation is good. We’ve messed it up and struggle against it, but in God’s understanding it is good. Now, as Romans tells us creation waits for the revealing of the children of God, to share in their glory, that is, the glory of freedom of redemption and of living in the full presence of God. The goodness of creation will be restored to it. What God has created will be returned back to God, restored by God’s grace and goodness. God is interested in what has been created: that is why Jesus came.

The fact that God is interested in creation, in its goodness, in its redemption and restoration, is seen most clearly in the logic of the incarnation, that is, God becoming human. That little phrase, that the Word, that God, became flesh and bone and blood overturns all other “divine” logics, which were used to separate God and creation. For example, in Greek thought, the cosmos, the whole order of things, was divided into categories: you had the heavenly, eternal, divine things residing in perfection up there and then you had earthly, dark things, changeable, moved, transitory, perishable, subject to pain, hunger, thirst. The Divine had nothing to do with the earthly, yet they existed in the same order. Christian thought, on the other hand, evolving out of Hebraic understandings, states that God and creation are different. The cosmos is created and God is creator. These are categorial differences. God had to carve out of the divine a space for the not divine. Creation is kenotic. In this space, which is not God, creation was created. Now, in this picture, it is actually easier to keep God, the Divine, and creation apart. That is, until we stop and think about it: God created because God loved. God so loved that creation was created to be in relation to God. And even that was not enough. God, emptying himself of the divine, came into creation as a creature, as Jesus. God contaminated the divine life with the created life, one of finitude, of hunger, of thirst, of pain, of death. “Why?” is the natural response. Why did God come in the flesh? Why did Jesus dwell among us? Why take on this kind of body, this suffering? In the early Church, there was a saying: “That which is not assumed (taken on) is not saved.” Jesus had to be fully human in order to bring us into the fullness of his divine life. He took on all of our nature. That of a nature of finitude, which includes being a creature in an environment, breathing air polluted, eating food contaminated, drinking water spoilt by metals and toxins. Jesus walked on this earth. God became a member of this human family, in everything that that entails. In “contaminating” the divine life with the human life, God begins to heal and restore all of us and our entire world. God introduced life back into our world of death

We must realize that the reason for God’s incarnating and assumption of our finitude, our creaturely-ness, must be because God does not want to save ‘souls,’ a mutation of Hebraic thought by Greek metaphysics, but bodies — those weighted, earth-bound, finite things we all are. God is immensely interested in creation, because in the fullness of the Trinity God wants to be in relation with creation, with us. “For God so loved the world.” That word in Greek in kosmos, and it refers to more than just people. It is about the whole created order, the structure and expanse of the universe. There is beauty out there that only God sees, that only God knows. One day we might see it, but God has been enjoying it for millennia. The logic of the incarnation is that God steps down into creation, to be a part of creation, in order to be contaminated by creation, and instead of us corrupting God, God redeems and heals us, and shows us what it means to live, to live the fullness of life in these our bodies. We are made into new creatures by the grace given to us through Jesus Christ. We have and we are the first fruits of a cosmological redemption story. We are not the end or the final result of God’s plan of salvation. We are merely the beginning.

“The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” We cannot make creation better than what God has made — we do not have that power, but God has given to us the responsibility to steward creation and make the grace and the love and the peace of God known throughout it. Is the love of God present in toxic ponds and streams? Is the grace of God manifest in acidifying oceans, which threaten to kill all life in the seas? Is the peace of God know in cities and fields destroyed by war and greed? No. Creation waits for us, the ones whom God has sent, to bring about its release from decay and destruction. God is interested in this, because God made creation good. God stepped down into creation, contaminating and emptying himself in the person of Jesus, to save us and the whole cosmos. We are the first fruits; we hold the promise. So, what are we doing about it? Do we love God and our neighbour in how we steward His creation? Do we participate in the cosmological redemption of creation in what we buy, in what we eat and drink? Are we bringing the love, the grace, and the peace of God to our world, that is, our fellow human beings and the full creation that God has made?

May we who have been bought at the highest price, the body and blood of the divine, live into the cosmological story God has been unfolding. May we groan, may we work, may we strive for the coming of the glory of the children of God, the fullness of redemption. May we dwell as the Word dwelt, in the power of the Spirit of God, serving and loving others and the whole world. May we wait with patience, hope and expectation for the coming of the Kingdom, for the coming of the new creation, a resurrected creation, in which heaven comes to earth and the whole universe is filled with the knowledge and the love of God. Amen.

Sermon Edition: People of the Spirit

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’ But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
        and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
        before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

— Acts 2:1-21

When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning…I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

— John 15:26-27; John 16:4-15

 

Listen.

Have you ever just listened to the sound of breathing? Whether the breaths are deep or shallow, quick or even, the sound of breathing constantly fills our ears. Without breath, we would not be here. To breathe is to live, to continue in this existence. It is one way that we measure life: from life’s first cry to final breath. Most people average ten to twenty breaths a minute, but you could get by with breathing deeply four to six times, breathing from your gut and not your chest. It is a mysterious process — not in terms of scientifically understanding it, because we can now. Scientists and doctors, at least, know all about alveolar tissue, how our blood gets oxygenated by the air we breathe in, and how that enables all our cells to live and function. But in terms of the experience, it is mysterious. We take in this invisible stuff, something that is other than us, we who are visible, tangible, unitary, and we make it, that which is invisible, intangible and multiple, part of us. If we didn’t do this even for just a few minutes, we would die.

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Ti€s that Bind

“Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessities for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind? How can you, how dare you, defraud the Lord, by applying it to any other purpose?” — John Wesley

19. 28. 334,570,678. 9.5. Members of the eurozone. Members of the EU. Population of the eurozone. GDP of the eurozone, in trillions. But numbers are sanitary things. They do not “lie,” but they can be manipulated. They do not get at any existentially real truth. What, in truth, is the euro about?

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