Almighty 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.
Almighty God, give us reverence for all creation and respect for every person, that we may mirror your likeness in Jesus Christ our Lord.
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 glory of the Saviour’s cross and enjoy the delights of eternity; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth—
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.
Proverbs 8:1, 22-31
O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
There is the sea, spread far and wide,
and there move creatures beyond number, both small and great.
He 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.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But 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.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
Sermon on the Second Sunday Before Lent
I have to confess that all of the readings for today speak to me of the same thing , even though readings are so diverse.
From Proverbs we hear about the eternal nature of wisdom. From before anything was created Wisdom was with God. Don’t we hear Wisdom say, “I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race”?
But can Wisdom or God delight in the human race today? The global catastrophes we know about cry out to be judged. – The health, environmental and moral disaster stares each one of us in the eye today, and that universal failure should call to mind our very own hubris. – Then I begin to wonder, is God or Wisdom still willing to delight in the human race? Then I ask myself: Do you feel proud of what you have done to stop the pandemic, to stop global warming, or to raise the moral fibre of humanity?
I know that I curse myself for doing nothing for the betterment of the world. I have failed to improve the environment and the society in which I live. Great guilt attaches to the whole of my life because I have not made anything better for the next generation, never mind the third and fourth generations to come. (What is that biblical quotation? – the parents have drunk sour wine and the children’s teeth are set on edge even to the third and fourth generation. I fear I have done precisely that. I am one of those parents of the children to come. Is their inheritance to be a great debt for my failure, this global disaster?) What little I do is here in these pages, reflecting on Wisdom and humanity.
If Wisdom is the background for all of creation, what have we done to show that we comprehend her in any way? I suppose we have to start with the words of the Psalmist. “O Lord, how manifold are your works!” Whatever exists – in the air, on the earth and under the water – is a gift from God in his wisdom. This is the new beginning we have all wished for during this year of global emergency.
Everyone wants to get back to “normal”. But what is “normal”? The Prime Minister and every businessman want to get the economy back – but is the normal only about
abstract concept which has nothing to do with you and your neighbour? I would want to say that until the love of the other happens, wisdom will not be appreciated within the whole of creation. So we come back to our first reading – Wisdom is at the heart of life, isn’t it?
The New Testament reading from Colossians, in fact, talks of the Christ in terms which are similar to the way Wisdom is extolled in Proverbs.
All things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
But then Paul takes this principle from the past and makes it real, here and now, to all whom he writes –
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.
The life we lead within this body of faithful people finds its direction in the head, in Christ, the Lord.
I wonder, why did Paul make this leap from Wisdom to Christ, and attribute all Wisdom’s characteristics to Christ? I think it is because there is a whole swathe of thought in the church and in the Hellenistic culture generally that commends this line of thinking – this linking of very real symbols – to make sense of the world. I think the theological speculation found in the Gospel of John is more widespread than generally thought. I am convinced by the theory of trajectories of thought, that there may not be distinct linear groups connected by the same logical arguments, but I believe such general thought patterns do cover large swathes of people. The symbols pop up far and wide. Sometimes they even come together in a particular writer or set of texts.
I have seen a similarity in the views of many communities in spite of distance in time and space. And here is one of the most interesting coalescences – between Old Testament Wisdom, the Pauline writings and the Johannine community, a complex which connects the whole of the bible, even if it is not causal.
What I have considered about the transference of the qualities of Wisdom to Christ in Paul, actually does happen between the Greek philosophical tradition and the gospeller whom we name John. That Logos, “the Word” as it is normally translated, assimilates the attributes of Wisdom portrayed in Proverbs and the gentile tradition of Greek philosophy. The blending of the two cultures, Hellenistic and Jewish, in this prologue to the Gospel of John, signifies a real joining of minds.
That conjunction of symbols and meanings is what allows faith to be expressed, and faith is not static, it moves with us through life and the symbols and meanings reconfigure themselves at every moment.
This has to be true, when I fall in love, do I not transform through the whole of my life just as my beloved does? Do I not have to work hard to understand my lover and keep our love alive? Doesn’t the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church do the same with the faith it passes on to each and every one of us in all generations? And don’t we have to make our beloved our own, whether it be my partner for life or Christ?
How have we made Wisdom our own in these parlous times? In the peril of catastrophe how have we loved each and every one of our neighbours and approached God? Have we been able to adjust to the new normal of social distance? Or do we think that the old ways are the only means to happiness? Does Wisdom not speak to us clearly in every situation?
Wisdom must speak to the situation, just as love allows us to act in every situation. As faithful people, as people faithful to God and neighbour, we are sure that ultimately everything tells us about Jesus Christ. At least that is where all our readings for today led me – to Wisdom and thereby to Christ. I hope I have not lost you in my meanderings through the wilderness of readings, meanings and symbols.