Lent Sermon – Salvation for All
Sermon by the Revd Jennifer Brown
12 Feb 2012 (2nd Sunday before Lent)
Readings: Proverbs 8.1, 22–31; Colossians 1.15–20; John 1.1–14
It feels a bit strange, having the opening verses of John’s Gospel as our Gospel reading again so soon (relatively speaking) after Christmas. But by hearing John’s beautiful prologue to his Gospel again as we approach Lent, we are reminded that the incarnation – God becoming human – is about more than just a baby in a manger. Hearing this reading just two Sundays before the start of Lent helps us to separate the incarnation from any sentimental ideas we might have about Jesus. The incarnation was not only about being born, it was about being prepared to suffer and die for the sake of the whole world.
Like the Easter story, the Christmas story that we so closely associate with this Gospel passage, is about salvation.
Why was the incarnation necessary? There are various answers to this question, but perhaps the starting point is that we find it very hard to imagine God. We need to know what God is really like. “No-one has seen the Father,” Jesus says later in John’s Gospel. God is not a physical being, confined by and within the created universe. But God can and does break through the boundary that exists between heaven and earth. He did it through his Spirit in his calls to the patriarchs and prophets ofIsrael, and in the inspiration that led to the writing of the scriptures, such as the passage from Proverbs that we’ve heard this morning.
Like John’s prologue, the passage from Proverbs tells us about the place of Wisdom, which many have understood to be the Logos, in the work of creation. The Wisdom of God existed before creation and, in fact, was key in establishing the creation (“I was with him as a master worker…”). So the creation of the world was not a foolish act – a moment of madness on God’s part. In God’s wisdom, the laws of the universe were laid down so that the universe, the earth and life would develop and become capable of knowing God and returning his love.
The final lines of this passage from Proverbs are important: “[I was there]” Wisdom says, “rejoicing in his inhabited world, and delighting in the human race.” It is not just humanity that is pleasing to God.
The Logos rejoices in the whole inhabited world. God interacts with all created beings, not just humanity. There are some who would say that this is a ridiculous idea, downright foolish, but asSt Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom.” We, too, should rejoice in the whole inhabited world, delighting in our fellow creatures and treating them as precious individuals loved and delighted in by God. Foolish it may seem, but that is the wisdom of God.
And it was that rejoicing in the inhabited world, that delight, that led to the incarnation and that allows us to see God. We may not be able to see God in his natural habitat, as it were, but we do see him, in our world, in the person of Jesus.
Colossians tells us that, “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.” In other words, Jesus is the embodiment of the wisdom of God; that same wisdom that rejoices in the whole inhabited world and delights in the human race. In Jesus, we see God’s innermost self revealed. As Paul goes on to say, “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.”
The purpose of the incarnation is, indeed, salvation, but not salvation for humanity alone. All things in heaven and earth are being reconciled – restored – in Christ. And the peace that is made through the cross is not only peace between God and humankind; nor is it only a peace between human beings. It is a peace that extends to the whole created order: peace between God and his creatures and, ultimately, peace within creation.
God’s original intention for creation was for there to be peace, mutual flourishing between his creatures, and delight. It is this peaceable existence that is seen in the Garden of Eden before sin crept in. And it is in that peaceful existence that God himself can feel at home. Genesis depicts God as walking in the garden, engaging in an intimate relationship with his creation. That is the relationship that is being restored through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Through Christ, creation is being brought to the state where the boundary between heaven and earth is no longer a barrier, and intimate relationship with God is restored.
But what does this mean for us? What does it mean that Christ is the image of the invisible God? Well, first and foremost, it shows us what it means to be made in the image of God. We know from Genesis chapter 1 that human beings are made in the image of God. Sadly, this has often been used as justification for saying that we are the most important thing in all creation, and creation is here only to serve our needs. But the image of God within us is distorted by sin. So when we see a pure image of God, in Christ, what do we actually see? According to Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “though he was in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”
So when we see the true image of God, what we see is one who is willing to become the slave, or servant, of those lesser than himself; one who is willing to die for the sake of creation. That is what it means to be part of the Church, the body of Christ. This is what it means to deny oneself, take up one’s cross and follow Christ. We may not have to die for the sake of creation, but we must be willing to limit our lives for the sake of others; for the sake of the whole inhabited world.
This has profound implications not only for how we should treat one another, but also how we should treat our fellow creatures and the planet. It is a huge challenge to us, and one that I hope we are willing to take up. We are not only to be recipients of the peace made through the cross, but we are to be imitators of Christ, and should ourselves be peacemakers. As Christians, we should work to bring peace to human society and also to the non-human world. This means working to end cruel practices and violent treatment of our fellow creatures, things so often done in the name of human benefit.
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that they are to preach the good news to the whole creation.
How else can that be done except by treating the non-human world with the love and care that God himself lavishes on it?