7 February 2010
Second Sunday Before Lent
Rev’d Paul White
10.30 Holy Communion Woodchurch
Readings: Genesis 2:4b-9,15-25, Revelation 4, Luke 8:22-25
May I speak this morning in the name of God whom we know and worship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Day and night without ceasing they sing: “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”
Yesterday afternoon myself and several others from our congregation made a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral to see Trevor Wilmott be installed as the new Bishop of Dover. Unlike Chaucer’s pilgrims we had the joy of roadworks on the A28 and we only just got there by the skin of our teeth, but get there we did.
I tell you, the Church of England may have its failings but it sure knows how to throw a bash at the Cathedral and boy, was it a doozy. The Cathedral was packed to the rafters and just the procession in of various dignitaries and divines took about 20 minutes. Two things really impressed me during the service. The first was how ecumenical it was – although this was the installation of an Anglican bishop in the mother church of the Anglican communion this was not just the Anglican church giving itself a pat on the back – there were representatives of many Christian churches and denominations not only present but taking part in the service and sitting front and centre. There was a catholic bishop, an orthodox bishop, people from the URC, the salvation army and many many others. During his sermon Bishop Trevor thanked his Muslim friends and colleagues from Basingstoke for coming and supporting him and it really felt like the people of God coming together to celebrate the things of God.
The second thing that impressed me follows on directly from the first – being in that beautiful place, the place in which I was privileged enough to be ordained only 18 months ago, and to experience the music and the atmosphere of being surrounded by so many different people there to give thanks to God for this development in the life of the Church was to be reminded that we really are part of something much bigger than ourselves. The Church of God crosses the boundaries of denomination that we put up – during the creed we proclaim that we are part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church and being gathered together with so many Christians from across our man made boundaries it really did feel like we were part of one holy catholic and apostolic church. And this wonderful church of which we are part is not just bigger than ourselves now but it reaches back in time for 2000 years and, here is the amazing part, the church also reaches forward in time to the end of time. And not only does the church extend back to Christ and forward to the end of time but it also reaches up to heaven and we join in with the song of the angels when we sing:
“Holy, Holy, Holy.”
The Church is not just us, in this place, in the here and now. Each of us is part of something bigger, older, more universal, more eternal and of greater worth than we can possibly know. A church that is one, that is universal, that dates from the apostles and from Christ himself and, above all, one that is Holy and which partakes in the song of heaven.
And God does work in amazing ways. On Wednesday night Bernard Smith gave an excellent talk on Islam and I would highly recommend that you go as there are still two more talks in go in the series. Actually I think that Bernard may have regretted mentioning it to me because I probably said more than I should have so sorry Bernard, I promise to be quiet next Wednesday. I had my fingers crossed then, by the way.
One of the things that we discussed was the different ways in which muslims and Christians think of God. Islam tends to talk about God as being quite remote from humanity, very much ‘up there’, sovereign over creation but not really involved with the on-going life of creation. To use the lingo the Muslim view of God would be highly transcendent. On the whole Christians tend to have a slightly different view – because we believe that Jesus was the incarnation of God who came into the world in order to overcome human sin, and because we believe that God the Holy Spirit filled the church with his power at Pentecost and continues to fill us now we tend to think of God as being ‘God with us’ – again to use the lingo we tend to think of God as being very immanent rather than very transcendent. The question that was posed during the discussion, and I think it was a very important question, is whether Christians have perhaps lost something of the sense of transcendence and the different ness of God.
I said just now that God does work in amazing ways because I think that the readings we have set for today, from Genesis, from the Book of Revelation and from the Gospel all seek to remind us that God is not made in our image and, actually, we are a part of creation that is made in God’s image and that God himself is much bigger, more universal, more eternal and more transcendent than we can truly imagine.
Although we did not have the Genesis reading read for us this morning it is on your sheets and I suspect that you will be familiar with the account of creation from Genesis 2. For these purposes it matters not a jot whether we believe that this account is meant as a literal telling of the story of creation – the point is that it tells us that this being called God was present from before the beginning of the universe and that it was through God that the earth and the heavens and life came into being. God was there are the beginning and there would have been no beginning apart from God.
Just as a small aside you will know from this chapter the story that God made Adam from the dust of the ground but that he made Eve from one of Adam’s ribs and for some reason this has been used throughout the centuries to somehow suggest that women are subservient to men because they were built from spare parts. Hang on a moment – Adam was made from dust, at least Eve was made with real flesh and bones. But that is by the by for now.
And then we move from the wonderful stories of Genesis to the visions of St John the Divine in the book of revelation, from which we get the song of the angels that we have just heard and will hear again during the Eucharistic prayer. The vision of God that John has is certainly one of transcendence:
“At once I was in the spirit and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald…Coming from the throne are flashes of lighting, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass”
And so it goes on with image piled on image and these are not cosy or easy images – this is transcendence and this is holiness.
And let’s not forget that creation does not just include the earth – God also created the whole universe – in Genesis it says the heavens but in both Job 9:9 and Amos 5:8 we are reminded that God also created the stars. As it says in Job:
9 He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion,
the Pleiades and the constellations of the south.
Which means that if there is life out there on other planets then the ground they stand on, the life they have and the skies they look at where as much created by God as our own. Now that will make for some interesting ecumenical discussions.
So if it is true that Christians have lost a sense of God’s transcendence then it would be good to remind ourselves that God does bestride time and space – that he was there at the beginning of all things in Genesis and will be there at the end of time in a vision of jasper and carnelian. That aspect of God is and should remain part of our fully Christian understanding of God. But here is the good news. The amazing thing about our understanding of God is that we are not given a choice between transcendence and immanence and have to take our pick. The God that we meet in the bible and in our lives is both up there and down here with us. Yes, God created us but God also became one of us and God also lives within each and every one of us. When we meet with God the Father it will be because of God the Son and in the power of God the Holy Spirit.
“Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”