1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Job 7:1-4; 6-7
The following contribution uses the Church of England Lectionary and not the Revised Common Lectionary’s texts named above. Old Testament Reading will be Prov 8:1,22-31, Psalm 104, Epistle Col 1:15-20 and Gospel John 1:1-14.
SECTION ONE: NOTES ON THE READINGS
Old Testament Reading Proverbs 8.1.22-31 – Wisdom’s Part in Creation
Proverbs 8 and Colossians are linked. Col. 1.15-20 refers to the ancient Jewish idea of the divine ‘Wisdom’, God’s ‘second self’- the one through whom all things were planned and created. In Proverbs 8 we see the figure of Lady Wisdom who is calling people to come to her to learn how to be genuinely human. In verses 22-31, we read how ‘Wisdom’ was present and involved at the creation of the planet.
This theme was developed further in Jewish writings and later we read the beautiful poem in Paul’s letter to the Colossians where Jesus is now in the position that Wisdom had been in the Jewish scriptures. Jesus is shown to be the one through whom all things were made and through whom God has reconciled all things to himself. In 1. Corinthians 1:30 Paul states that Jesus ‘became for us wisdom from God’ – essentially equating Jesus with wisdom itself. Thus, in Colossians, he relates the search for wisdom to coming to know Jesus.
These two readings show how not only was everything created ‘both through him and for him” but also how God rejoices in his inhabited world and delights in the human race
Psalm 104:26 – end
Psalm 104 belongs to the so-called ‘Wisdom’ Psalms. N.T. Wright has written that he regards Psalm 104:19-24 (the verses immediately preceding our reading for today, as one of the ‘greatest lines in all scripture, a moment that draws together Genesis and Proverbs and looks on – to the poetry of St Paul.
God has created the world in such a way that the great lights of the sky – the sun and the moon – bring order to the lives of animals and humans alike. The psalmist celebrates the amazing multiplicity of God’s creation and the fact that it is done wisely – ‘in wisdom’.
‘Matter’ matters because it is God’s ‘matter’, made not as a temporary ornament for a world doomed to decay and death but as the raw material for the new world full of glory.
Irenaeus said, ‘The glory of God, is a human being fully alive!”
The writer of Psalm 104 is one such human being, not only celebrating God’s filling of the earth with his glory but embodying that same reality in the life of praise.
‘In wisdom”: the Hebrew is behokmah. Proverbs 8.22 says that YHWH ‘created me at the beginning of his work’ and this, in turn, looks back to bereshith, ‘in the beginning’, the first word of scripture. This in turn leads on to Paul’s line of thought that he picks up in the glorious poem of Colossians 1.15-20. There he sets out, after the fashion of a Hebrew Psalm, the balanced account of all things being created in, through, and for, the Messiah and then all things being redeemed in, through, and for him.” Paul leaves us in no doubt that he is picking up and affirming this tradition of ‘creation through wisdom, the linking together of Genesis 1 and Proverbs 8.
The Messiah, he says, ‘is the place where you’ll find all the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Col. 2.2-3) and HE IS THE BEGINNING, THE FIRSTBORN FROM THE DEAD – HE, through whom all things were made. (Col. 1:15, 18)
N.T. Wright writes: ‘Everything that Israel’s scriptures had said about ‘beginning’ and ‘wisdom’ has come rushing together in Jesus himself. The resurrection has gloriously reaffirmed the goodness and God-givenness of the creation and has restated God’s intention to fill it all to overflowing with his own love, life, and glory.
Thus, although creation as it now stands must go through the valley of the shadow of death, God will bring it to new life by his Spirit, and this will lead to the great prayer that the glory of YHWH may last forever, that YHWH may rejoice in his works.
This reading is always used at Christmas (see too Christmas 2020 by Revd Margot Hodson)
Interesting for today is the connection between John 1 and Genesis 1.
John 1:1 ‘In the beginning was the Word……..’
Genesis 1:1 ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light, “and there was light.
Word: In Genesis God creates the world by simply speaking it into being.
Light out of darkness. Something out of nothing.
Jesus’ ‘Words’ are also uniquely powerful: ‘He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet, be still.’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (Mk. 4:39)
Or as in Luke 5:24-25 ‘Then Jesus said to the paralytic, ‘Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home.
Jesus speaks so eloquently, persuasively, and powerfully, that everything he says and does communicates God to us.
As such, his words are uniquely endowed with the power to remake our broken world. No wonder he is called THE WORD.
‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.’ Whatever else John is going to tell us, he wants us to see his book as the story of God and the World, not just the story of one character in one place and time. This book is about the creator God acting in a new way within his much-loved creation. It is about the way in which the long story that began in Genesis reached the climax the creator had always intended.
And it will be done through ‘THE WORD’. In Genesis 1, the climax is the creation of humans, made in God’s image. In John 1. The climax is the arrival of a human being, the Word becomes ‘flesh’. John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us.
The Word is bringing into being the new creation, in which God says once more, ‘Let there be light.’
In Revelation:21: John saw a new heaven and a new earth – at last heaven and earth are united, joined together fully and perfectly. But this is just the final chapter of the long, long journey of God’s people. This final chapter started that first Christmas when Jesus was born. Love came down at Christmas to dwell with us humans. Love came down at Christmas, to show us humans the way back to God, Love came down at Christmas to begin the final act of redemption. Far from rejecting physical, earthly things, God shows his love and affirmation of these things by coming to live here himself – to become part of His world through the life of His son, Jesus Christ.
The events of Christmas show Love coming down to show humans the way back to God – through repentance and a new start. The events of Easter – the resurrection of Christ unite heaven and earth and God’s kingdom is established on earth. Humans have been shown the way to forgiveness and new life and are invited as ‘renewed’ people – that is people as originally made by God – to learn to live as such people in the kingdom – to turn their backs on the ‘ways of the world’ – as ‘God’s renewed, forgiven people; to learn to live as God wants us to live in preparation of the final, full coming of God’s kingdom – the complete re-uniting of heaven and earth – when God himself comes to live with us on this EARTH and evil is once and for all banished.
SECTION TWO: DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE
All our readings today illustrate how much God loves this world that He made. Just how he relates to and affirms the earthly things he made and loved.
Last month the Anglican Communion and particularly Anglicans in Africa lost a very dear and beloved Bishop. In fact, the first Woman Bishop in Africa: Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya.
She was a true pioneer in many ways. ‘She modeled leadership as leadership of heart and hands that inspired and motivated so many around her.’ She inspired people to love God and to love this Earth, our home. She was a very hands-on person, planting trees, collecting litter, and promoting reforestation and biodiversity conservation.
She also made the connection between the Eucharist and Creation.
“Eating and drinking the bread and wine,’ she said, ‘enables us to touch the clouds, the sun the earth, everything in the cosmos. Christ is food – not bread alone – being food he is life.
Hungry people are all over the world – they do not have life in abundance because they do not have food.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury responded to the news of Bishop Ellinah’s death by talking about the many seeds she had sown across the world. He said, ‘You have taught us, you have inspired us, you have shown us the way. Now it is our task to let those seeds grow.”
‘To be of the Earth is to know
The restlessness of being a seed,
The darkness of being planted,
The struggle towards the light,
The pain of growing into the light,
The joy of bursting and bearing fruit,
The love of being food for others,
The scattering of your seeds,
The decay of the seasons,
The mystery of death
And the miracle of birth. (John Soos)
Somewhere along the way, many Christians have been directed down a false path.
The path which emphasises that Jesus came to this earth, died on the Cross, and rose again to save us from our sins. I thank God with all my heart that, that is true and possible BUT it is only part of the truth – of the reason Jesus came. He came to save the whole of this PLANET EARTH. To save what God had made and loved and continues to love and care for. Jesus came to renew all of Creation and best of all he came to RE – New us, to save us from our sins and to show us once again how he wants us to live, how he wants us, as was our original task – to look after, to care for this world just as he would. We can only do that if we repent of how we have gone wrong and Re-Turn to Him with gratitude and humility.
That is why God came down to earth in his Son Jesus Christ – the very act of becoming human affirming our bodily humanity and the integrity of His Creation – he came to establish His Kingdom. That is what all four Evangelists – Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John in their different ways are so passionate that people see and act upon. Jesus often said, ‘The Kingdom of God is at hand, is near.’ And so it was in his person, in his teaching, in his lifestyle and as each person comes to accept him as their Lord and Saviour – learns to live as he wants us to live – caring for all that he loves so much – so the Kingdom begins to grow and flourish more and more.
And when, at last, ‘Heaven and Earth are joined together – the Kingdom in all its perfection will be established, once and for all here on this totally renewed Earth. God, himself will reign here amongst his people and evil will be done away with forever.
A prayer Bishop Ellinah wrote:
‘Creator God, we thank and praise you for giving us the opportunity to be co-creators with you and to ensure the sustainability of ‘Mother Earth’ our meeting place with God. God as a community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaches us as the Anglican Community to work together for mutual respect with one another and your creation. We repent for our negligence leading the earth to be in peril from loss of habitats and species. Help us to be caretakers of your gifts, protecting the land from abuse, and ready to share with all in need. Amen.
SECTION THREE: ADDITIONAL MATERIAL
CollectAlmighty God, you have created the heavens and the earth
And made us in your own image:
Teach us to discern your hand in all your works
And your likeness in all your children;
Through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
Who with you and the Holy Spirit reigns supreme over all things,
Now and for ever.
Post Communion Prayer
God our creator,
By your gift
The tree of life was set at the heart of the earthly paradise,
And the bread of life at the heart of your Church;
May we who have been nourished at your table on earth
Be transformed by the delights of eternity;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
And finally, the last verses of Proverbs 8:
32 ‘And now, my children, listen to me:
happy are those who keep my ways.
33 Hear instruction and be wise,
and do not neglect it.
34 Happy is the one who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates,
waiting beside my doors.
35 For whoever finds me finds life
and obtains favour from the Lord;
36 but those who miss me injure themselves;
all who hate me love death.’
Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus by Lois Tverberg (Zondervan)
Sitting at the feet of Rabbi Jesus by Lois Tverberg & Ann Spangler (Zondervan)
Surprised by Hope by Tom Wright (SPCK)
Finding God in the Psalms by Tom Wright (SPCK)
Revd. Elizabeth Morton-Bussmann
Environmental Officer, Diocese in Europe, Church of England.