Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.
Sermon delivered on 5 November 2017 (John 1:1-2).
Central Presbyterian Church, Hamilton.
The Rev. Dr. Gregory Davidson, Ph.D.
Good morning Central Presbyterian Church. This doesn’t happen very often. In fact, I can’t remember it ever happening. I had, this week, a sermon prepared on this passage from Genesis, on forgiveness. Until I read the remarks of our Governor General, our Queen’s, our head of state’s representative in Canada. And hearing, them this week, I’ve prepared another sermon, on a topic we’ve already touched on this Fall, but one that I cannot help but preach on, given our highest ranking citizen’s words, this week. And I preach this sermon, without judgement or cherry picking, it is simply a response to that incredibly pervasive view in West – secularism.
Our governor general, captured that view this week, when she said, in a list of other view to be scorned as not sophisticated enough, in a tone of dismissiveness: “And we are still debating, and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process.” That is that surely, the idea that God is God, is so unsophisticated, it need not even be debated. Passe.
Now a few things, before we even get started this morning. May I remind us, that God matters in our country? May I remind us, the number of people in Canada who share Christian, and if not Christian, then another faith, in a Creator. May I point out, the depth to which the secular movement, the new atheism, is touching our country? That here the Queen’s representative – and think for a moment of the Queen’s Christmas messages – that the Queen’s representative is, with some irreverence, if I may say, questioning as unsophisticated, a form of scientific colonialism, the view of those who believe in the presence of the divine at the formation of the world. God’s existence. May I remind us, on a national note, how our Charter of Rights and freedoms, that we so cherish, begins? Our Charter begins with God. It begins recognizing the existence of God. The new Western play-toy of secularism is not in our Charter. It begins like this — whereas, it says, Canada is founded upon the principles that recognize the supremacy of God and rule of law…So there’s food for thought, I believe, serious food for thought, in the Queen’s representative speaking in a way that questions the very foundation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada. May I remind us that God is not dead. That the reports of God’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
May I remind us that science doesn’t hold all the answers. Has limits. To the man in the hospital room, surrounded by doctors and nurses who hold medical reports, that may not give answers, science has limits. To the engineers and young soldier practioneers steering drones from half a world away that drop bombs, science has limits. To the parents using PGD, to choose in advance the eye colour and other characteristics of unborn children, deep down, on reflection, science has limits. It is just this week that Christian Smorra of the CERN lab in Geneva reports in the journal Nature that for the first time the magnetc moments of matter and anti-matter, protons and anti-protons were measured more precisely than ever before, and were found to have the same magnetic moment, a finding that suggests, scientifically that all there should have been at the very beginning of the world was a large flash, one part cancelling out the other. A finding, which “reveals the vast depths of human ignorance about the cosmos.”
We’re Christians, or on a journey, where one day we might call ourselves such. So let’s think through the new atheism that is so strong, very strong, in the West at this moment in history. And you’ll remember some of these points from September and the work of Timothy Keller. There are problems with atheism, thinking points, that turn us towards the existence of God.
One, If we say there is no God, and in fact we are the product of randomness. Or in the words of our GG, oh my goodness, a random process, if that is true, and there is no God involved, then you say to your friend around the table — well, if life came into the world randomly, if our life and therefore our bodies and brains are the result of a random, unordered process, then how can it make sense that this very thought you’re having is rationale, sensible, to be trusted, if just random. It’s a very good question. If we think we have ordered, rationale thoughts that we can trust, how could they come from randomness.
Two, If we say there is no God, what do we do with meaning. Our purpose. We are left to create our own identities. And in creating our own identities we need to be wary they are differentiated from the identity of others. We need recognition. And creating our own personal purpose with no reference to being a creature of a Creator, can actually enslave us.
Three, If we say there is no God, what do we do with moral feelings and with human rights. Why do we as humans think that one way of treating another person is better than another. Why is your opinion of what is fair or correct more important than mine. The only way is if there is some higher law. God’s law. The divine law. From which comes our morals and the rights, as in our Charter, we believe belong to each human.
Four, If we say there is no God, how do cope with suffering. What resources to do have. When we are broken, is there a God to whom we can turn, who promises always to be near us, even in pain and suffering. The apostle Paul puts it this way — Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, 4 who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ.
Five, If we say we have no God, we will take something, and we will turn something else in our lives into a god. It is how we are made. To worship and serve a God. St. Augustine, Lord, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you. David Foster Wallace, who has an atheist much of his life, wrote these words, when he was near death. “ln the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. .. pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you.” We are made to worship God; and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.
The fool, says the Psalmist, says in his heart, there is no God.
The good news brothers and sisters here at Central, is that we are part of an ancient, historic, yet future looking body, called the church. And as part of the church, we confess that God is God. Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Father, Son, Holy Spirit. The one for whom the early Christians literally gave their lives to believe in. The one who is known to us in the crucified young man Jesus.
And it is in Jesus, that the story of our lives, make sense. Because God continues to work in the world and in our lives. And there is a future in God, that God is planning and working, in this world. Our calling, our task, our journey is to keep Christ before us in all we do. To have his life infuse our lives. To have his peace infuse our peace. To have his mercy infuse our mercy. One theologian puts the Christian life, under Christ, under God, in the power of the Spirit, like this:
The Christian Gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.” Keller.
In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
“For truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God…'” Genesis 33:10
Jacob meets this brother after years of running, lies and fear. And he find in his brother the sweetest of responses.
It is something Jacob seeks. It is something Esau gives. It is a gift.
Nothing in the story tells us if Esau second-guessed, thought it over or regretted it afterward. He simply gave it.
It’s a gift that points us to Christ, in whom we are forgiven, free and right with God.
Let us pray: In you, O Lord, I put my trust. Amen.
“Abraham built an altar there….and called that place, ‘The Lord will provide.'” Genesis 22: 9,14.
Abraham builds an altar. Stone upon stone that becomes a place he will never forget.
It is a moment for him where God interrupts his imagination and startles him with possibility and provision.
I remember reading in an unpublished journal, a phrase someone had sketched in the margins: Sometimes the darkest roads lead to the brightest places.
It was that way for Abraham. With Christ, it is that day, everyday, with us. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will not fear.
Let us pray: Thank you God, thank you that you fill my life with hope, even when in the world and in my heart there seems to be little. I look to you, provider, life-giver, God of hope. In Jesus name. Amen.
“The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go…'” Genesis 12:1.
God calls Abram and Sarai in Genesis 12:1 and this marks a turning point. Before chapter 12, death seems to reign. After, it is call, promise and life.
But the call, for Abram, is something to answer. One way or the other. It is a moment for him and Sarai that we all have. How they respond defines their life. Go into the unknown, with faith. Or stay where they are and make it on their own.
Jesus said, “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.” We have been given much, and out of God’s abundance to us, we respond.
Lord God, grant that we may say ‘yes’ to your call to follow, in faith and in trust. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh.” The Lord, Genesis 9:15
We can easily think of limiting God. Of reducing God to an idea, a place, an experience in the past.
But the story of Noah and the Rainbow ends with an outrageous promise. That the Lord, creator of sun, moon and skies, promises to be our God and the God of all. The promise is not limited by any conditions. The promise does not stop with a few. But for all time and with all people and all the earth.
Lord God, grant that we might look for you this day, today, even now, in the good lives you have given us.. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’ 4But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; 5for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” Genesis 3:3-4
In Genesis 3 there is a basic tension between what God says and humanity’s ability to live it. The boundaries are clear. They exist. There is a better way to live. God gives it. But as much as the first humans may want to exist in harmony with God and God’s intention, they find that on their own power they cannot.
The New Testament talks about that tension this way: “ I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate….Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.” Romans 7: 15-20
Part of the Good News is actual power for living God’s good ways – and that’s available through trust in Jesus Christ.
Lord God, grant that we might hate sin and trust in Christ’s power to transform our wills, emotions, words and actions, to be in harmony with you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” Genesis 1:1-2
In the beginning – in fact before it – there was God. And after the end there will be God. We live in the middle. In God’s good creation. All we have is from God.
From nothing, from ‘a formless void’, God created. This is a fundamental action of God, the creator. Terrence Freitheim says, “God’s creation is going somewhere; it is a long-term project, ever in the process of becoming”.
It’s a basic belief we share. That, as part of God’s creation, we are going somewhere. God is always at work among us. That wind still blows.
Lord God, guide us through this week in the assurance that as our Creator, you are still forming and shaping us, and our church, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
P.S. Please remember Margaret in the church office, with busy start to the church program year, the Blessing of the Backpacks liturgy this Sunday the 10th, the Almahamid family we sponsored from Syria as their three children begin school in Hamilton, and all the children and youth at Central heading back to school. A special donation was made this week from the Benevolent Fund to purchase back to school supplies for 25 children at the Good Shepherd’s emergency residential centre. Thank you for your generosity in giving to this fund!
Here some resources that I have used in worship, and have found helpful. A work of Christian art, connected to a Scripture reading. These are PDFs, set for printing.
Matthew 6: 19-21 – The 7 Acts of Mercy, Brueghel the Elder, 1559.
Matthew 8: 28-34 – Jesus heals the demoniacs, 14t c. Lower Rhineland Homiliary.
Matthew 14: 22-33 – Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water, Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1907.