Reading Ramblings – June 22, 2014

Date:  2014 Narrative Preaching Series #1, June 22, 2014

Texts: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; John 1:1-3, 9-14

Context: For roughly the next 23 weeks, we’ll be doing something a little different.  Instead of continuing with the Lectionary A readings as we have since the beginning of this liturgical year, we’re going to experiment with Old Testament Narrative Preaching.  My goals for this project  are three-fold:  Firstly, to provide a historical framework for the Old Testament, showing it as a story moving from Creation to the Incarnation of the Son of God and helping us to understand how it all fits together a bit better.  Secondly, I hope to provide a theological context for the Old Testament.  Why has God revealed and preserved these events and episodes to us?  What do they teach us about God and ourselves and our relationship?  Thirdly, I hope to draw out the Christological aspects of the Old Testament stories.  How do they point towards or anticipate or demonstrate the need for the Son of God to enter our world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth? 

This is a new experiment for me, and I trust that you’ll indulge me as we revisit some familiar and not-so-familiar Sunday school stories to see how they matter to us many years after we put away our flannel boards. 

Genesis 1:1-2:4a— As luck would have it, we just read this last week!  However we’re re-reading it again because we must always remember that God is the beginning of all things.  There is nothing that exists outside of God’s permission or will.  Nothing can exist without his sustaining it moment by moment.   We tend to think of the universe in terms of laws like gravity, but these laws have an author, and as the author, God is not bound by these rules that He has created for our benefit.  We shouldn’t be surprised then, that creation points to the glory and handiwork of God!

Psalm 19 — This psalm proclaims the glory and wonder and beauty and righteousness of God as manifest first in the general revelation of nature, and next in the special revelation of His Word.  As creation itself is a constant source of awe and wonder in regards to our God, so His Word serves as a constant source of joy and strength, wisdom and beauty. 

Our response is to worship the author of creation, and to recognize against his perfection and majesty our own sinfulness, our own need for redemption, for re-creation.  Only in God is this possible.  We are not capable of perfecting ourselves.  Unless God comes into his creation to save it, we would remain doomed. 

John 1:1-3, 9-14 —  All creation finds its source in God, and specifically in God speaking it into creation.  St. John links the Word of God in Genesis with the Word of God made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth.  That Word is not somehow separate from God but is one with God.  He has always been with God and He has always been God himself.  Wherever the Word is revealed, there is life.  When the Word came to dwell in human form, the hope for real life came to creation.  The gospel accounts emphasize the many acts of healing and restoration that Jesus performed, and John ties these to the creative impetus of God as manifest through the Word of God. 

What God began with creation, He draws nearly to completion in the Incarnation.  The perfection of creation begins to be restored.  The unity of heaven and creation begins.  We cannot see it, any more than Jesus’ followers could see it clearly during his time with them.  God calls us in faith to see what He is doing, a work that is simultaneously in plain sight and hidden.  It is hidden because of our sinfulness, because of our rebellion that blinds us to the very work of God under our nose, just as it blinds us to his presence in the natural order around us.  But the work of the Incarnate Word of God is to undo that sin, to restore humanity and creation to the perfection present at the start of the universe.

In answering the challenges of our day as to where is God in the midst of our suffering, we must begin with this assertion—God is everywhere.  Not the pantheistic god of nature-worshipers, who see divinity in every leaf and ladybug, but the pervasive, immanent presence of the God who created all things and divinely maintains them from moment to moment.  Such a God is always present, even in the midst of sin and tragedy.  Such a God could act at His discretion to avert any particular event or series of events.  He could dull the edge of the hurricane so that people were not killed.  He could avert the terror of the gunman seeking to destroy the lives of those around him.  God is capable of anything, including preventing acts of evil.   I believe that He often does, though of course tragedies averted are always harder to identify than tragedies committed, and it is clear that He does not divinely dissuade all acts of evil or harm.  

But we must also recognize two things.  Firstly, that these acts are fundamentally our fault and problem, not God’s.  They are the result of sin in dizzying combinations that are sometimes volatile enough to take human life.  Secondly, we maintain that God has already acted.  Before the hurricane, before the gunman.  He calls us to faith in his Word in flesh, Jesus.  In his Word, evil has already been defeated.  We still suffer the effects of evil as it writhes in its death throes.  But evil can no longer truly, meaningfully hurt us.  It can damage us.  It can cause us to suffer.  It can even kill us.  But these things are temporary.  They do not stand.  They are not the final word.  The natural disaster that obliterates villages is not the final word over those who die.  The gunman’s desire to inflict misery and suffering will not last.  It has already been usurped by the promise of joy and peace and eternal life free of suffering or the threat of suffering. 

By remembering God as the creator and sustainer of all things, we look for his work in each moment of our life, in ways large and small.  We give him thanks for the everyday beauty of sunrise and sunset, for the gift of love and friendship.  And we can continue to give thanks in the midst of suffering and hardship, that He sustains us in the midst of sorrow or grief of shock, promising us moment by moment that He is with us through his Holy Spirit that hovered over the nothingness before the dawn of creation.  We are never alone, never forgotten, never lost. 

Such a faith requires a big God.  A God big enough to create us all, and therefore a God big enough to redeem us all. 

 

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