Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

February 4, 2013, 9:20 am
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon preached at All Saints, Clifton, Sunday February 4th 2013

Psalm 147; Gen 1.1-2.3; Matt 6.25-end

Our psalm and readings tonight have a creation theme. It was the custom in ancient times to begin the cycle of Scriptural readings in the lead-up to Lent, and so we have the wonderful poem on the Creation that forms as it were the prelude to the whole Bible. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Of course this is not a scientific description: how could it be? It is more: it is the affirmation of mankind’s wonder and thanksgiving for the world we live in, an affirmation of the supreme power and wisdom and benevolence of the One who made it and gave it to us, and an affirmation of our appreciation of and gratitude for that gift.

The scribe who composed this poem in its present form utilised elements of the world-view current in his time, the world view of an intelligent Babylonian- someone not unlike the Magi who came to visit the infant Christ. First there is the recognition that the world is an ordered place, not simply a chaos. It is filled with light- not just physical light, but the light of intelligibility. We can and should seek to understand it, as well as admire it. The ancient scribe thought of the sky above, so blue and clear, as a solid dome, with God’s abode beyond the visible universe. Land, sky and sea all had their proper furnishing, trees and plants on the earth, the lamps of heaven in the sky. They have their inhabitants, fish in the sea, birds in the sky, animals upon the land. God made it all, God delights in it and thinks that it is good. Finally, having built this Temple, as it were, God creates a priest who will both watch over it all, and give glory to God.

Time and again in the Scriptures the theme of creation re-occurs, for instance in this evening’s Psalm.

PRAISE the LORD, for it is a good thing to sing praises unto our God;
He telleth the number of the stars, * and calleth them all by their names.
Great is our Lord, and great is his power; * yea, and his wisdom is infinite.
Who covereth the heaven with clouds, and prepareth rain for the earth; * and maketh the grass to grow upon the mountains, and herb for the use of men;
Who giveth fodder unto the cattle, * and feedeth the young ravens that call upon him.

Though he is so great that he can count the stars, infinite in power and wisdom, yet he is concerned that men and beasts are fed, yes, and even the young ravens! So it is no surprise that our Lord, too, teaches the same:

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?

If we are “worldly”- servers of Mammon, like the heathen Gentiles- we will always be anxious about worldly things- food, clothing, etc. “Anxiety” is a purely human condition- it is unknown in the natural world. There is a harmony in nature whereby all creatures are sustained according to God’s plan. We should be confident in his goodness, since we are far more to be valued, as having a conscious and free relationship with God.

For Matthew, the term “Gentiles” always has unfavourable overtones. They are the “Goyim”, the outsiders, those who do not belong to Israel, the favoured nation. Matthew takes for granted the Jewish perspective: Christ regularly tells his disciples, “Don’t be like the Gentiles.” But he also takes for granted a certain Universalism: the Good News comes through Israel, but it is for all humanity. The opening of Genesis is not about one people, but all people. We are priests of creation because we are human, in the first instance. Through us creation finds its articulate voice.

This morning, we heard St Luke’s account of the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple. unlike Matthew, Luke writes from a more Gentile point of view, but still the Jewish root of the Gospel is central. Mary and Joseph bring the child to the Temple, because they are faithful observers of Torah. The Temple is God’s House, a tiny, man-made replica of the Universal Temple that God built for himself in the Week of Creation. Jesus comes here, time and again, because it is his Father’s house, the place where he belongs.

Like Matthew, but in his own way, Luke wants to emphasise both the Jewish root and the universal outreach of the Gospel. As Simeon takes the child in his arms, he recognises him as the bringer of salvation to all: “A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” In the beginning, God said “Let there be light!” At the Exodus, before the liberation through Moses, we read that at one point there was thick darkness over all the land of Egypt, but all the people of Israel had light where they dwelt. The light came first to one people, but it was always meant for everyone: “A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” Jewish root, universal outreach.

One final point. Earlier in his Gospel Luke gives us the song of Zechariah, the “Benedictus” of our Morning Prayer. Here too we have the theme of light: “The day-spring from on high has visited us; to give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death: and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The light is not given us so that we may simply sit down and admire the view. It is given us so that we may get up and walk, to “guide our feet” as we journey through this life to our heavenly home.


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