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Genesis 1.1 – 2.3  &  Romans 8.18-15

When my daughter Alison announced the acquisition of her first tattoo, I was a bit taken aback.

Taken aback, not by the fact that she wanted a tattoo – part of being a parent these days is about getting to expect the unexpected – no, I was taken aback by her choice of subject matter for the tattoo.

She didn’t want any words – love, joy, peace; mum, dad, Milo.
She didn’t want a heart, or a star, or a butterfly.
She wanted an image of Darwin’s First Tree of Life!  

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(She’s studying zoology!)

This ‘branching out’ of different species from a common ancestor lies at the heart of Darwin’s theory of evolution.  One species will, as it were, split into two, one going one way and developing in its own way, the other going another way and developing in its own way.  So the natural world diversifies, and the myriad different forms of plants and animals emerge.

This accords perfectly with the biblical reflection on creation in Genesis!  Each of the six days of the story are about a ‘branching out’ of creation, a separation of one thing from another, the beginnings of ‘diversification’ within the natural world…

1.     light & darkness
2.     water & sky
3.     sea & land
4.     days & nights
5.     ‘swimmer’ & ‘flyers’
6.     animals & humankind

This is not, of course, where the problem lies for those who don’t accept the whole evolution thing.
It’s not the description of what happened that is a problem, but how it happened, what caused it to happen.

Evolutionists would say it was due to ‘natural selection’; and creationists would say that it is  ‘the will of God’ (To simplify things greatly!).

My problem with the creationist’s view is that it is fine if we are talking about bunnies and butterflies, about spider’s webs and crystals formations…
– but what about the cancer cell or the mad dog?
– or the terrorist or the earthquake?

Why would God create (or allow to be created) all the destructive things we so often come across in life?
Are they meant to be a test? …or a challenge? …or a punishment?
Are they a reflection of humanity’s ‘fallen’ nature?

You could begin to think that this creator God may not be the kind of God we would want as a friend (never mind an enemy)!

Leaping forward to Romans 8, we can see some of these contradictions being aired by St Paul:

  • the ‘sufferings of this present time’ being contrasted with the ‘glory about to be revealed’
  • the ‘subjection to futility’ and the ‘bondage to decay’ contrasted with ‘obtaining the freedom of the glory of the children of God’
  • the ‘groaning in labour pains’ contrasted with the ‘first fruits of the Spirit’ and the ‘redemption of our bodies’

There is an acknowledgement here that the process of creation might not yet be finished and that the story has still not yet ended.

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them.”

This does not mean that we look like God, or that God looks like us!
It means that we share with God that thing that makes God God; – that that ‘God thing’ is reflected in us.

But what is the ‘God thing’?  What is it that makes God God?  What is it about him that is most typically God-like?

Power?  Wisdom?  Remoteness?  Invisibility?  Knowledge?  Love?  Strength?  What do you think?

I think it’s ‘freedom’.  I think that it’s God’s ability to ‘do what he wants’.  I think that the most God-like thing about God is that he answers to no-one else, and that there is nothing else anywhere that can stop God being God.

This is reflected in the Biblical creation story in the words: ‘And God said…’

“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.”
And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’
And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’
And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night;
And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.’
And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.’
Then God said,‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness;

God ‘said’, ‘And it was so’.

What God says, happens!  And nothing can stop it from happening!  Total freedom from any restraint.

And that, I think, is his ‘image’, his defining characteristic.

And it’s that freedom that he imparts to his creation, the freedom to ‘be’, the freedom of a human body cell to be cancerous, the freedom of a person to take another’s life, the freedom of the earth’s tectonic plates to shift, and cause earthquakes.

Now that would be scary, if it were the end of the story.  But we’re not at the end, we’re just partway through the process.

And the process is driven, not by randomness, not by whim, not by accident, but by love.

God’s word is spoken in love – his will is achieved by love – and creation is perfected through love.

So, I’m with St Paul on this…              (Rom.8.18-21)

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jesus said:
“You are the salt of the earth…
You are the light of the world…”
Mt.5.13,14

I went to London last Thursday – for a meeting with a General Synod working party – about the formation of a “professional association” for clergy in the CofE – pretty boring stuff for ordinary mortals.

The meeting was in the Covent Garden area, not far from Trafalgar Square, and an area with quite a lot of theatres – I arrived there a bit early for the meeting so I popped into St Paul’s Church (Covent Garden – the ‘Actor’s’ Church!) – a pretty unremarkable church.

But when I went in I was hit by the smell of incense!  It was the morning after Candlemas, and I guess they’d had a service there the evening before, so the smell was still quite strong.  I love the smell of church incense – and I was instantly transported to somewhere wonderful!

I find that many smells have a similar effect on me.  They transport me somewhere.

I remember my first trip the other way round: from London to Manchester – interview for my first curate’s job – and when I stepped off the train at Manchester Piccadilly, the smell of hot oil and diesel hit me – and I was transported back to the steel works in my home town – transported back by smell alone!

I think that our sense of smell is connected directly to our memories – hardwired in our brains.

So I think that it is significant that Jesus, in today’s gospel, when he tells us what we are, he tells us that we are to be two things that impact directly upon the senses: salt and light!

You will note that he does not tell us to be preachers, or teachers, or philosophers – people who make their impact upon the minds of others – instead we are to make our impact upon others’ senses (specifically taste and sight).

Both salt and light are pretty hearty things as far as our senses are concerned.

Salt – both in deficiency and in excess – can either make, or totally ruin, a meal.
(Some Christians can be so lacking in ‘salt’ that they make no impact upon us at all, while some can be so over-salted with the gospel that they make us run a mile!)

And light – a vital component for all sight – without light we are all in the dark – and there is no sight, nor colour, nor vision.

We, as followers of Jesus, are to be salt and light – giving flavour and colour to the world – and hitting people where they know they’ve been hit (as it were) – without, of course, getting up their noses!

We are, in other words, to by-pass their minds, and aim for something deeper, something much more visceral within them – to be something that tickles their taste-buds and lights up their lives.

Notice that in this Gospel account, Jesus goes straight on from telling us that we are salt and light, to talking about the Law (the OT Law, the Law of Moses).

The Law was a preoccupation for the Jews of Jesus’ day (as indeed it is for those of today, of course), and it was a particular problem for Matthew (the writer of the Gospel).

Matthew is writing (particularly) for Jewish converts to Christianity – who might be a bit loath to tinker with what has hitherto been at the heart of their faith – The Law.

The problem with the Law was that it did not work.
It did not create good and holy people.  It created lawyers!

And the task of the lawyers was to find ways of getting around the law (in both senses of ‘getting around’!).

And it all became a kind of game.  The Law says this, the Law says that – but this bit maybe affects that bit – so you can do this, but not that – but if you do that, then maybe you don’t need to do this.  The Law became the subject to interpretation.  It became an intellectual exercise – a mind game.

Jesus knew that the Law would not (could not) save anyone – but he also knew that it was a gift from God – a gift that was to draw us closer to Him – something to be lived, rather than obeyed.

The Law was a collection of ‘pointers’ – commandments that pointed us to something greater:
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt.5.20)

The real law lives in our guts, rather than in our heads.

It is all about ‘sensing’ the ‘rightness’ of the written law – and translating that into our everyday thoughts and actions – it’s about seeing the light and tasting the truth.

We are salt for the earth!   We are light for the world!

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