SERMON: Reconciling Creation

Revd John Davies

Corton Denham, Weston Bampfylde,

Second Sunday before Lent, 8 February 2015

Colossians 1:15-20, John 1.1-14

 

One of the great pleasures and privileges of this strange role I have in our community is to be in a position to listen to the stories which people tell about themselves – their lives, what they’ve done, what’s happened to them to make them the people that they are.

I think it’s true to say that for each and every one of us, there has been an event, at some point in the middle of our lives, which has changed us forever, an event of which we might later say, everything that happened before that was in preparation for it, and everything that happened after it has been lived out in consequence of it. I’m talking about for some people, a marriage ceremony – after which their identity develops as a husband, wife, parent, grandparent; for others, an induction into a new position: after years of preparation and training, after which they hold a title which will always define them. For me, it is ‘Reverend’. And the day I was ordained in Liverpool Cathedral before family, friends, Christian brothers and sisters with whom I’d shared my journey so far, people who had helped to form me for this vocation, that was the pivotal moment from which everything else has grown, and which gives meaning and purpose to the whole of my life, from the beginning to the end.

[1]

People who don’t know us well tend to define us by our origins – where we come from, our family background, our schooling. But what completes us as people usually comes later. When a car crash  puts a person in a wheelchair for the rest of their lives they find themselves drawing on, and building on, all the resources of their character they have developed beforehand to be able to continue to live a fulfilled life.

Consider a moment what the defining event, the seminal moment, has been in your life….

Today’s two readings are pieces of intense theology which invite us to see our own life story as part of the life story of creation itself. And to see the life story of creation as an aspect of the life of God in Jesus Christ.

And what I’ve just said about how we understand ourselves, we can equally apply to creation.

How do we understand creation, the story of the world we belong to? Mostly we tend to define creation by its origins – by Genesis chapter one, where God brought the world into being through the words of his command. Or through Genesis chapter two, the story of Adam and Eve, the beginnings of human society. Or by taking a view influenced by physical science, in the ‘big bang theory’ of our origins in which a creator may or may not have been involved.

I want to offer another perspective to you today – that as Christians our understanding of creation comes not primarily through Genesis or a religious reading of physical science; our understanding of creation comes through the resurrection.

The earliest Christians understood creation, their origins, themselves, through the resurrection. For them, this event, above all other events in history, was the pivotal one, the one through which everything else came together. The Resurrection of Jesus, his defeat of death itself, made sense of everything that had so far happened, and shaped everything which was to follow.The letter to the Colossians is one of the earliest pieces of Christian writing we have, written either by Paul himself or his group of disciples, sixty years after the resurrection, prior to Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, so it gives us great insight into what the very first believers believed. Let us listen again to how they saw Christ in creation: as ‘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. [Colossians 1.15-20]

This is the central point of the first Christians’ belief: that we understand creation starting from and through Jesus.

Now this is a different view of creation and of Jesus from what we have often been taught.

We are used to speaking about Creation and Salvation as if these were two rather different things. Often the story we hear goes like this: first there was creation, something which happened at the beginning, then there was the ‘fall,’ however that may have taken place, in which we fell into a state from which we needed someone to rescue us; then God sent Jesus to save the situation, and now, even though it seems that in reality nothing has been saved, we know that it has been, and we hope for heaven.

This seems to be the story that’s in the background of both Catholic and Protestant orthodoxy. In this story the relationship between our present state and heaven is pretty distant; that is to say, it doesn’t look as though Jesus has made much difference, so we sit and wait, getting involved in immensely complicated moral struggles, hoping that finally we’ll be acceptable for heaven.

Now, this story deserves the sort of criticism which it has in fact received, which is that it does nothing to encourage people to take seriously the things they might do to improve this life for themselves and others, except in the most superficial way, treating the symptoms and not the causes by means of works of charity and so on, reinterpreting Christianity as participation in a social progress towards a utopia, whether religious or not.

The problem with this ‘creation-fall-redemption-heaven’ story is to be found less in the relationship between ‘redemption’ and ‘heaven,’ which is where the fighting has gone on, but in the relationship between creation and redemption. The problem is in our seeing creation and salvation as two different sorts of thing.

First there was creation, an initial movement on the part of God, then there was salvation, a sort of rescue operation, in reality a very different sort of thing, with only the most tenuous of relationships with what went before. There is a big difference between a factory, where cars are made out of raw matter, and a mechanic’s garage, where they are repaired when they break down. The operations are of a different nature. Well, if Creation and Salvation are two different sorts of thing, it is not at all clear that there is a real relationship between the Creator and the Saviour; or, in other words, it’s not clear what God has to do with Jesus. [2]

So here the writer of Colossians helps us greatly – by reconciling Creation and Salvation in the resurrection of Jesus.

[This passage of scripture changes our] understanding of God as Creator from someone who once did something, to someone who is doing something through Jesus, who was in on what the Father was doing through him from the beginning. Creation is not finished until Jesus dies (remember his final words on the cross – ‘it is accomplished’). Creation only fully begins, in a completely new way, in the garden on the first day of the week.

This means, and here is the central point: we understand creation starting from and through Jesus. God’s graciousness which brings what is not into existence from nothing, is exactly the same thing as Jesus’ death-less self-giving out of love which enables him to break the human culture of death, and is a self-giving which is entirely fixed on bringing into being a radiantly living and exuberant culture.

It is not as though creation were a different act, something which happened alongside the salvation worked by Jesus, but rather that the salvation which Jesus was working was, at the same time, the fulfillment of creation.

This was the power and the authority in Jesus’ works and words and signs. Through him the Creator was bringing his work to completion. The act of creation was revealed for what it really is: the bringing to existence and the making possible of a human living together which does not know death; and Jesus was in on this from the beginning. Such is our world that God could only be properly perceived as Creator by means of the overcoming of death. [3]

Now you might justifiably say, but where is this overcoming of death? Our world is full of death; creation itself is dying, we are told. Many will sympathise with the diatribe against God which came from Stephen Fry this week, in which he asked, “Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?” [4].

Our Colossians reading today tells us that ‘in [Jesus] all things hold together’. It explains that  ‘through [Jesus] God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.’

As a result of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, Creation is in the process of leaving death behind. As a result of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, Creation is in the process of being reconciled.

Note that we are not changed instantly in those seminal moments which define us – becoming a good parent, a good partner, a good policeman, a good priest, is the slow work of a lifetime. In just the same way, Creation is not changed instantly by the Resurrection. It is a work in progress. So death is in the process of being defeated; the principalities and powers of this world are in the process of being reconciled to God.

When we embrace the meaning of the Cross and accept the power of the Resurrection into our lives, we become part of God’s work of reconciliation of Creation. As we pray each day to play our part in this work we discover ways to live it out. Whether by tending the garden or playing with the grandchildren, whether by holding the hand of the hospitalised or making ethical investments, we are playing our part in the reconciliation of Creation in the light of the Resurrection.

Or as John later put it, we are taking part in the activity of becoming God’s children. The seminal moment which now defines us is the moment we decide to embrace Jesus Christ:

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. [John 1.13]

 

Notes

[1] John Davies, On Ordination, written for friends, family, parishioners, June 2001.

[2] James Alison, Raising Abel: The Recovery of the Eschatological Imagination, pp.49-50. Link to the passage from Girardian Lectionary: Creation in Christ. See also Resources on Colossians 1:15-28, Girardian Lectionary, PROPER 11 (July 17-23) – YEAR C / Ordinary Time 16.

[3] James Alison, Raising Abel: The Recovery of the Eschatological Imagination, pp.55-56.

[4] Watch: Stephen Fry brands God ‘utterly utterly evil’, Telegraph, 31 January 2015
By | 2017-03-30T00:42:03+00:00 February 8th, 2015|Sermons|0 Comments

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