Sunday 5 January 2020
The God Project
Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:(1-9,)10-18
Context: a Norfolk country church
Aim: exploring God’s intentions
It’s Twelfth Night, and tomorrow is Epiphany; the trimmings and lights go away for another year, the parties are over, the ‘left-overs’ are eaten up, the thank you letters are posted (or emailed) and life gets back to normal. What was it all about – as we watched the nativity plays, sang the carols, ate too much and hopefully heard some good sermons?
Today’s lectionary takes us far away from sanitised stables, woolly sheep, shepherds and wise men. We go back four and a half billion years or so to the beginning of the divine Project. The creation was kick-started, maybe with a Big Bang, who knows? Slowly, over those billions of years life evolved and quite recently, in this creative process, human beings emerged. But right at the beginning, from the very start was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God, and everything in the creation came through him, and in love God chose human beings to be in him before the world began.
Bringing in the Kingdom of Love
So – Plan A was set in motion. And why? It seems that God wanted sons and daughters who would grow up to help in the family business of bringing in his Kingdom of Love. It wasn’t to be a rush job, no forced compliance or overwhelming evidence. Everybody worshipped something, but Abraham got the message that God wanted a relationship, not a set of rituals, and so the ‘Chosen People’ emerged. The idea was that they would share their insights with the rest of the world, but they preferred to keep God as their personal property, and down the years the desire to control people and be powerful squeezed out the relationship and replaced it with an ever-increasing set of rules and practices and exclusion clauses. However, from the beginning, built into Plan A, was a rescue clause – the Cross from before the foundation of the world – which needs a bit of unpacking.
It’s here that mystery and amazement take over. The Gospel narrative and our Christian faith tell us that the Almighty Power that set the creation going really gave us free will to make real choices that he will honour; that he refrains from compelling his creation to comply with his wishes and instead chooses to come among them and live the life intended, accepting that this will make him vulnerable to our rejecting him.
So, we come to Christmas. God was deadly serious. No privileges, no sheltered upbringing, he entrusts the Word to a village builder and a teenager in a very unsafe environment.
We know nothing of the boy who grew up in Nazareth. We can guess at loving parents, a thoughtful rabbi in the synagogue school, a busy life, early apprenticeship in the carpentry trade. By 12 years old – possibly bar mitzvah time – Jesus appears to be aware of his vocation. He’s asking leading questions of the Temple intellectuals, who must have been impressed with him or they would have told him to get lost. We can only guess that they were discussing the nature of the long-expected Messiah – another David, Judas Maccabaeus, or the strange ‘Suffering Servant’ of Isaiah? He has another 18 years to think about it.
By the time he is 30 he has a clear idea of his calling – yes, he is God’s special person, he is to bring in the Kingdom of Love which will require the use of power. What sort of power? So, we have what must have been his own account of how he rejected the usual pathways to power and chose instead the Power of Love.
I think it very likely that at first he really hoped he might win the support of the religious hierarchy, that they would recognise his calling from their Bible. But Jesus’ ministry was about restoring the lost relationship; including rather than excluding the sick, the outcast, the foreigner; which meant he was constantly knocking down the carefully constructed scaffolding that that kept the hierarchy in power. He was a threat to the existing order. He had to be got rid of.
Jesus seems to have realised quite early on that this was the case and warns his disciples that the road ahead is rough. Despite all his efforts, right to the end they still seem to think that there is going to be a triumph with them sharing in the glory. They simply cannot see him as a loser. Jesus is so alone; nobody has a clue about what he’s really doing. We get a glimpse of his pain: when approaching Jerusalem, he is in tears. He had so hoped …
The decision to use the Power of Love instead of the familiar methods to achieve your ends, was to go countercultural, to steer by a different star, not go with the crowd – hardly surprising that his followers missed the point. Would we do any better? The final crunch time came in Gethsemane – that desperate prayer. Was he right? Was there really no other way? Apparently not. The incarnation is about God in Christ taking to its logical conclusion his extraordinary decision to give us real choices. In effect he is saying ‘You can join in the family business of bringing in the Kingdom of Love, or you can reject it and go your own way. You can love me or throw at me all your hatred – but what you cannot do is stop my love or the Kingdom.’ The incarnation is about us too, the possibility of you and I was there from the start. We have to decide what to do with it. There is no Plan B.
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