Sermon : Sermon for the Second Sunday before Lent Year B 2024
The opening prayer today and all three readings look back to the first moments of existence to discover what meaning and direction the universe might have, and what part we might have to play in caring for it, and for ourselves. Each of the readings seek to explore what God’s plans for us might be, opening out the possibilities of what it means to be human; and each reading reminds us that we are made in the image and likeness of God himself, called to be creative, inventive, and dare I say it (?!) energetic in furthering God’s plans for his world.
In Proverbs we hear a hymn in praise of Wisdom, a power that from before time worked with God to bring all into being. This hymn comes from a whole collection of Wisdom writings which began their life in the reign of King Solomon. Solomon attempted to create a sophisticated culture within his court, gathering wise elders around him, rather as the Pharoah had done; a community which treasured its own traditions, whilst exploring the wider world, and those things which can unite and guide humanity wisely. This school of thinking became vital when Israel returned from its exile in Assyria. The nation desperately needed reform and direction. The poor were being exploited by the rich, and there was little concern for the needs of the less fortunate. The voice of the prophets had fallen silent. Groups of elders now began to teach and set down the principles on which they believed society should be based, and in this setting the powerful image of Lady Wisdom was born, personifying all that is good and creative about human existence. She was described as working from before time begam at God’s right hand to further his plans.
Two other images have their base in the Creation stories, and both appear in today’s readings. In the same way they are depicted as divine powers working alongside God to bring life into existence. Genesis speaks of The Word of God.’ God only has to utter an idea and it comes into being. “Let there be light- and there was light.” Then we hear how the Spirit of God, moves over the dark waters of chaos, bringing about order and beauty. And all three images came to be useful as the early church attempted to describe who Jesus really us, what he is about, and how we might be called to share in his saving action.
In the song of Lady Wisdom she is seen wandering through the streets of Jerusalem, looking out for those who might join her to be schooled in the ways of furthering God’s kingdom of justice on earth. She is eager to communicate with anyone willing to dedicate their lives to the rebuilding of society. She ends her journey speaking to those who gather at the city gates each day, the place where business and legal transactions and political decisions are made, dealing with the realities and raw materials of everyday existence wisely and carefully. This hymn of praise then goes on to describe her role as a divine assistant as the universe comes to be. She shares energetically with God in creating all that is, doing it, we are told, playfully and joyfully, and God takes delight in her too and all that she does so faithfully.
It is easy to see how all three ideas began to influence ideas about the identity and character of the promised descendant of King David, the Messiah. And so, as the first Christians reflected on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus they saw all these images as true to who he was-
Holy Wisdom, Word of God, and the one on whom the Spirit has come to rest. They began to understand that even before his entry into human history God’s Son already shared in the purposes and plans of God his Father. Paul wants to open our eyes, as Jesus followers, to the wider world, to the bigger picture, encouraging us to share in God’s plans, even though the task may seem daunting. Paul assures us that we all have a place in that purpose.
In another letter, to the church in Corinth, Paul gives Jesus the title The Wisdom of God. He realises that not everyone will understand or accept our message “ We preach a crucified Christ” he says. “and that is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, Christ is the power of God and the Wisdom of God.”
We should not be put off by the fact that we face indifference, ridicule and even persecution. Although we might not think of ourselves as very wise or influential in the world’s affairs Paul reassures us that we have a share in God’s power to change the world for the better, and even our vulnerability and clumsiness still speak of God’s presence. We are part of God’s new creation; the bigger picture.
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom. The weakness of God is stronger than human strength,” Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God– our righteousness, our holiness and redemption.” God recreates us, forgives us, and empowers us, giving us a share in the life of Jesus and his Spirit.
In today’s epistle Paul is dealing with problems that have arisen in the congregation. Some of them are caught up in ideas about calling down the power of angels. Like other Jewish sects some of them thought that by getting to know the names of various angels they might use their influence to get things done. More efficiently! This is a distraction for Paul. Even the angels themselves, he says, were created by Wisdom, they are his messengers, but it Christ himself who is all that we need. Both Paul and John use the word “fullness” ‘Pleroma’ to describe the all-powerful love of God that we meet and experience in Jesus. Paul quotes what we think is a very early Christian hymn which confidently describes Jesus as the one who holds all things in being, and works to bring them at last into peace and fulfilment.
And then in the Gospel we come to the glorious climax of today’s scriptures. As John’s Gospel opens he deliberately takes us back to those first words and images of Genesis. Once again he wants us to look at the bigger picture. God is the Lord of all people, all creation; all that exists; and his Son is the Wisdom, and the Word, and the Spirit filled one who calls us to play our part in creation’s well-being. Just moments later Like Lady Wisdom Jesus begins to playfully invite people to find out more what God wants of them. “Come and see” he says to Andrew and then to Nathanael. Holy Wisdom, the Word, the Spirit filled Messiah has arrived, promising to answer our deepest longings and questions, and assuring us that creation has meaning and direction, and that we have a place and purpose within it.
David Ford in his commentary of the fourth Gospel puts it beautifully. God, he says, “plunges into the complexity and messiness of history and ordinary life.” God arrives to share with us in the untangling of light and darkness, but with a realism and determination that faces all that is thrown at it. Later in this Gospel Jesus will announce, “My Father goes on working, and so do I.” and he implies that this is what we need to be doing as well!!!
We are called to live hopefully. “The Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness has never been able to overwhelm it. “ Once again David Ford describes this beautifully, “ The Gospel is written to draw people into the ongoing drama of love, that follows Jesus into darkness, in the confidence that love, and not darkness, has the last word.” Paul and John both encourage us to see that despite our frailty and foolishness, and the messy reality we deal with each day, we are enabled and empowered by our reflection on God’s word, and by our sharing in the Bread of life and the Cup of Salvation, taking our part in the combat against darkness, and claiming the victory of vulnerable but ultimately triumphant love.
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