Psalm 104:26-end, Proverbs 8: 1,22-31, Colossians 1: 15-20, John 1: 1-14
An atheist was walking through the woods. He said to himself: ‘What majestic trees!’. ‘What powerful rivers!’ ‘What beautiful animals!’ As he was walking alongside the river, he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. He glanced back and saw a 7-foot grizzly following him. He ran as fast as he could along the path. He looked over his shoulder and seeing that the bear was closing in on him, he stumbled and fell to the ground. Rolling over, he saw that the bear was right on top of him, reaching for him with his left paw and raising his right paw to strike him. In that moment, the atheist cried out. Time stopped. The bear froze. The forest was silent. As a bright light shone upon the man, a voice came out of the sky. ‘You deny my existence for all these years, you tell others I don’t exist and even regard creation as some cosmic accident. Do you now expect me to help you out of this predicament?’
The atheist looked directly into the light. ‘It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask you to treat me as a Christian now, but perhaps you could make the bear a believer.’ ‘Ok’ said the voice. The light went out; the sounds of the forest resumed and the bear dropped his right paw. Then he brought both paws together, bowed his head and spoke: ‘Lord bless this food, which I am about to receive from thy bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.’
Today, the 2nd Sunday before Lent is sometimes known as Creation Sunday, an opportunity we might think for doing the liturgical equivalent of saying to ourselves “What majestic trees” or even “Lord bless this food”. Well, our scripture readings will not let us off so lightly! They challenge us to take seriously our relationship with creation as that which is God-breathed and spoken into being by the very Word of God. They challenge us to ask what it means to be made in the image of God and to be those in whom the wisdom of God delights. They ask us to take seriously the concept of wisdom as a vital element in our relationship with creation, with God and with one another.
‘Where is the wisdom we
Have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we
Have lost in information?’
..wrote T S Eliot in one of the choruses of his poem ‘ The Rock’.
We have more factual information about the nature of the world around than any previous generation. We have the knowledge both to speculate about the origin of life and to project into the future how the world might develop, though the present pandemic was unpredicted and caught us off guard. We are becoming more aware how our choices and lifestyles today can affect future generations; and what we know about that projected future doesn’t sound encouraging. The rate of melting of the Artic ice cap suggests that the serious impact of global warming and rising water levels will hit us sooner than we think. By the year 2050, in the lifetime of your children or grandchildren, if not you, there will be a projected 150 million climate refugees as countries such as Bangladesh, Egypt, & Holland become uninhabitable. We know we are damaging our world; we know the consequences of potential disaster for generations. And there won’t be some miracle vaccination.
As part of the Lent programme this year, St Anne’s church is organising a series of weekly informal studies on the Christian response to climate change, and St Anne’s website has further information if you’d like to know more. In November, the UK will be hosting the 26th UN climate change conference in Glasgow. So climate change is on the global agenda , but all too often it seems we have been powerless to act because our fragmentary knowledge is not informed by wisdom or we’ve simply lacked the will to change. Our perception of the world around us is not informed by the gifts of wisdom -open eyes, clear vision and enlightened minds.
In the ancient Hebrew tradition, wisdom and creation were bound together in the heart of the community - the Temple. That was where Wisdom dwelt with God, defining and setting the boundaries of creation and imparting her gifts to those whom she anointed.
The Temple itself was modelled on a vision of creation and at its heart stood the Holy of Holies representing the throne of God. This was separated from the rest of the Temple by the Veil, representing the material world screening the presence of God from human eyes.
St John’s great insight, expressed in the opening verses of his gospel we listened to a few moments ago, was to recognise that in the flesh and blood of Jesus the veil that hid the glory of God has been removed - in his words ‘ the Word became flesh and we have seen his glory’. In Christ the anointed one, the Wisdom of God is visible for all to see in the very material of God’s creation. The familiar, opening words of John’s gospel are a testimony to the wisdom and creative purposes of God. In Christ the whole created order holds together and finds it meaning and purpose. To be created in the image of God and to be those in whom the wisdom of God delight is to be in relationship with the whole created order. Christians don’t really have an option of being ‘green’ or not - it’s there in the very life-blood of wisdom which flows through us, in the relationships that bind us. And to close our eyes to the wilful or neglectful destruction of creation is to cut ourselves off from the source of life itself.
It’s the task of a lifetime to seek to understand where knowledge and wisdom begins; of seeking to grow in relationship with the wisdom and word of God made flesh; of seeking to glimpse and respect God’s glory in that which appears mundane, or ordinary; and in all things learning each day to tread lightly on God’s glorious earth.
I began on a light-hearted note. I want to end with something more profound on the theme of wisdom and creation which speaks to our current situation as we approach the season of Lent.
It’s from a short series of reflections on the pandemic by Rowan Williams, which he wrote a year ago and recently published as ‘Candles in the Dark’.
‘Here we are nearing a serious Lent, looking around for signs of a transfigured world; looking around what seems a wasteland with no timetable to reassure us that things will be back to normal any time soon. We can’t do what we’d normally do to show our devotion; we can’t gather in celebration and share the food and drink of God’s kingdom.
As we contemplate the coming months, not knowing when we can breathe again, it’s worth thinking about how already the foundations have been laid for whatever new opportunities God has for us on the far side of this crisis. The small actions we take to protect one another, to keep open the channels of love and gift; finding new ways of communicating, even simply meditating on how our society might become more just and secure - all of this can be the hidden beginning of something fuller and more honest for us all in the future.
The great question, as and when we have emerged from the immediate shadow of the pandemic, will be: What have we learned? Christians should be able to prompt, and to build on some answers.
Ultimately the question for us as a society is whether we have grown through the solidarity into which we have been forced. What if the change has already begun? What if something of a new world has been seen afresh and has kindled a new force of longing for generous, equitable, joyful living together?’
Amen. May it be so!
Rev Canon Nick Darby