The following was given at Holy Trinity Brussels, on 26 July 2015. It was my first time preaching in the morning service, hence the special introduction. The Gospel reading for this sermon is John 6:1-21.
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.
“Rome was a flea market of borrowed gods and conquered peoples, a bargain basement on two floors, earth and heaven, a mass of filth convoluted in a triple knot as in an intestinal obstruction. Dacians, Herulians, Scythians, Sarmatians, Hyperboreans, heavy wheels without spokes, eyes sunk in fat, sodomy, double chins, illiterate emperors, fish fed on the flesh of learned slaves. There were more people in the world than there have ever been since, all crammed into the passages of the Coliseum, and all wretched. And then, into this tasteless heap of gold and marble, He came, light and clothed in an aura, emphatically human, deliberately provincial, Galilean, and at that moment gods and nations ceased to be and man came into being – man the carpenter, man the plowman, man the shepherd with his flock of sheep at sunset, man who does not sound in the least proud, man thankfully celebrated in all the cradle songs of mothers and in all the picture galleries the world over.” – Boris Pasternak
Merry Christmas! Today is a special day: a day where thousands of yards of wrapping paper gives up its life and beauty to the tearing hands of children; a day where unable-to-cope family members lose themselves in their poison of choice; a day when consumerism is celebrated throughout the western world in a gorging upon new gadgets, tools, toys, clothes and other necessities. I am sounding cynical, and I don’t want to sound or to be that. I am only saddened by these facts, because of what Christmas started out as and what it could be again: a deep, human celebration of being human, of our limited lives and of our bodies and of moral courage in the face of oppression. Christmas was the story of liberation, and I want it to be again.