Sermon for 9th Sunday after Trinity – Year B – 2015
“That he may fill all things”
‘They said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’
A joke, A Confession, A Question, and why we modern Christians seem to need our eyesight checking
Allegedly, the old jokes are the best – ‘Sunday school teacher – ‘what is small, flightless, nocturnal and has a long beak?’ A child hesitantly puts up their hand, ‘Well I know it sounds like a Kiwi – but given we’re in Sunday School, is the answer Jesus??’
This joke, which I first heard in an Anglicised form – (Squirrel replacing Kiwi) – at theological college, is interesting, in that if jokes are translatable within cultures, and we told it to a Christian of the Middle Ages, they wouldn’t See the joke . . . for undoubtedly Christians for the first thousand or so years of the Church’s history had a different way of speaking of the Reality of their existence – in that they might readily speak Christianly of any manner of things, and that it would seem utterly normal and entirely unforced to speak of any aspect of the created order, and Jesus Christ in the same breath.
That there was no dimension of life which we could begin to speak about in Truth, without beginning with Christ . . . That there was no dimension of life which we could begin to speak about in Truth, without beginning with Christ . . . That Jesus Christ was the key to understanding the True nature of Everything, Everywhere, and for all time – and that apart from Knowing Jesus Christ, one was as it were blind to the world . . . And if we see the world in that way, then perhaps we don’t get the joke?
Well I’ll come back to the Kiwi Jesus in a few moments, but let’s move on to the Confession. And for once, sorry to disappoint, it’s not one of mine. Rather the Confession of David, which may seem every bit as odd to our ears as the Kiwi Jesus Christ, and indeed perhaps to us at least, outrageous, but for precisely the same reasons.
We pick up the story from last week, as we remember – David – quietly humming Crimmond, ‘The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want . . .’ wanders onto the roof of his palace, and . . . Oh Hello!!!’ David sins, taking the wife of another man, and when the consequences of his actions begin to appear, he compounds his sin by having her husband murdered, and then taking her as his wife and she bears him a child.
David we remember stands for all of us Western Consumers with power over so much, and no thought for the consequences – He sees, He LIKES, he sends (he uses a servant – we moderns perhaps use the internet) – and he takes . . . But for David, unlike us, the consequences of his consumer habits are visited directly upon him, and that swiftly. David is rudely awakend from his premise that He is the centre of the universe, and REALITY smacks him in the face. ‘the thing that David had done displeased the LORD’ Davids ability to send and to dispose depends utterly on his knowing that he is the Servant of the LORD. The one who Sends, the one who sent ‘a man named John’, the One who sent the One whom we are commanded to believe in.
The LORD Sends Nathan to David, and Nathan the prophet skillfully leads David to speak the Truth from his own mouth – reminding us all, do not judge your brother, for the measure you give will be the measure you get – ‘You are the man!’ ‘You are the sheep stealer who deserves to die, as you yourself have said’
So far, so comfortable – He’s done wrong and Nathan lays it out how David is going to get it as a consequence, . . . But let us remind ourselves of what happens next . . . David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan said to David, ‘Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.’
Well if talking about the Kiwi Jesus Christ was ridiculous, and silly to our ears – surely this is outrageous!!! What is more it is amplified in David’s Psalm of penitence which we recited together – ‘Against you, you only have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight’. What about Bathsheba? What about URIAH!!! Then to make it worse, Nathan goes on, ‘Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.’ And for those who can only interpret the Sunday School teacher in terms of religious naivety and silliness, it would be hard for them to hear the judgement pronounced upon the innocent child and not think of The LORD as some capricious deity, who lashes out at the innocent . . .
And I suggest again that our problem is that we don’t see the nature of reality in the same way as those who read and heard the Scriptures in the first thousand years or so of the Church – indeed that we are those whose responses reveal us to be those who cannot see. [I think it is sobering to reflect on our attitudes to previous generations in the light of Jesus’ denunciation of those who think they see, but do not See Him] I will return also to David’s outrageous confession and the dreadful consequences of his actions
A Joke, A Confession, and a Question . . . Why as Christians – as those who in Baptism are included in Jesus Christ – should we have a concern about the Created order?? Now just ponder that for a moment – and if you have an answer, what place does Jesus Christ play in it? What does it mean to believe in Jesus Christ in terms of the ecological collapse we face?? What does the Creation have to do with Jesus??
As some of you know I have an interest in Climate Change and the impact of the human on the Created order. And so I have read many books on it by ‘Christian’ Writers, but rather strangely, Jesus is all but absent from them. Almost without exception they read the same if written by someone other than a Christian, of any faith, or none, except obviously ‘God’ gets a mention, but not Jesus. Which is troubling. If Jesus Christ is the centre of God’s self revelation – if as Jesus tells us, ‘the work that God gives is to believe in Him’. If THE Work that God gives us is to believe in Christ . . .
What does that mean?? Our question might be to Jesus, what does it mean to believe in you?? Nothing less than to See Everything in terms of the Person of Jesus Christ, Incarnate, Crucified, Resurrected and Ascended . . . and our forebears in the faith shaking their heads and inviting us to see things as they did, with the eye of faith in Christ. With the eye of faith. Faith is not so much about what we think, but what we See . . . to be born of the Spirit is about our Sight, and Christ Fills our entire field of view
When God took on human flesh in the person of Jesus, he took on materiality. God who is Spirit, embraced not just humanity, which is the focus of nearly all modern Christian piety be it liberal or Conservative, he embraced the whole Cosmos. This is the Gospel, of Jesus Christ. God in Jesus Christ is revealed as the Creator of all that is, and apart from Knowing Him, we cannot Know the Created order
Listen to St Paul as he writes to the Colossians. [Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. Like a drumbeat – ‘all things, all things, all things’ Whatever is going on on the Cross, it goes further, much much further than ‘a mechanism for dealing with human sinfulness’, insofar as we see sinfulness purely in terms of moral infraction. The descent of God in Christ into human flesh through the obedience of The Blessed Virgin Mary – his death upon the Cross – his resurrection from the Dead and his Glorious Ascension into the presence of the Father – is nothing less than God in Jesus Christ taking to himself the entire Cosmos. God was in Christ reconciling himself ‘to the world’
And so Paul again this time from our epistle this morning When it says, ‘He ascended’, what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.
So back to our medieval friends . . . how we damn the medieval era, turning into a term of abuse . . . and yes there were things that were wrong, but brothers and sisters, human action would not have wrought the devastation we wise moderns have caused – because to look upon the creation was to see it in Sacramental terms. God in Christ had taken the Creation to himself, and as to wound our neighbour was an offence against God, so too to wound Creation, for was not Christ Sacramentally present in the materiality of bread and wine?? Had not God in Jesus Christ taken hold of all things?? Was he not Sacramentally present in the person who hungered? Was he not Sacramentally present in the very dirt of the ground, he descended into the lower parts of the earth . . . The medieval imagination would not permit for example ploughs driven by more than a couple of oxen, for the very ground was to be treated with reverance, after all were we not made from mud oursleves? Did not Jesus Christ take on the dust of which we are made?? Not that he WAS those things, – but that apart from HIm, theuir true nature could not be known.
That we might seek to release all the energy we could possibly do to extract every last ounce of everything from it, and then to fill the gaping wound in the earth with the detritus of our madness, would be understood for what it is an offence against Christ himself . . .
That, in a very sketchy outline is the Truth about the Creation and our lives in the light of it. That is why if the Sunday School teacher was perhaps hoping that the answer might have really been Jesus, he or she was groping towards some truth which the church has known since the beginning, yet has forgotten. And why David’s Confession is Truthful, against you, you only have I sinned, for in sinning against my neighbour, I have sinned against you O Lord, for you in Christ fill all things. I was blind and I did not see you . . .
And the child?? There is a line of thought which some Christians fall into when seeing the death of the innocent – that somehow in the mysterious purposes of God it is ‘necessary’ as ‘God works out his purposes and we are drawn as humanity deeper into the truth of God’ That brothers and sisters is Blasphemy . . . no, the child dies because our actions have consequences. That in losing sight of the one for, through and too all things are made – the one who fills all things – we lose sight of the reality of our very existence and becoem as blind bulls in shops of the most delicate china.
Yes, we may well come to our senses, see what we have done, and repent of destroying the created order, but the innocent will continue to die as a result of our consumptive madness. We were called to live our lives in the light of Christ who fills all things, we chose not to and the consequences were and are visited upon the countless innocent.
But has God no answer to this?? Indeed he does, His answer is the One who inhabited the dust of our lives, the Innocent one who died for the sins of the World, who stepping down so far taking up the lost and the last and the weak and poor and those who die for no fault of their own. God will see that they are recompensed and more than fully, for he raised Him who stepped down into the depths to the highest place, and feeds those who hunger because of our refusal to share, and gives abundant life to those who die in their powerlessness – for he gave up all power, he hungered and thirsted . . . and as The Innocent One – assumed all the innocent in His death and was raised with them . . .
In repentance we turn once more to the one who fills all things, we face Reality – and we too hear the words of the Lord to David ‘Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.’ And in Love and mercy and Grace he once more says – come to my table – Here in Bread and Wine – here in heaven and Earth Woven together – here in my Body and my blood ‘Remember me’ . . . I have often said, we all need our eyes opened to the Truth manifested in the Eucharist – for it is the Truth about everything. For truly – he is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things. In that is God’s Judgement, In that is God’s Life extended even to us