Part 2: God the Son
Sermon by The Revd Dr Brutus Green
Based on readings: Jeremiah 17:5-10, 1Corinthians 15:12-20, Luke 6:17-26
So today we have the problem that sequels are rarely as good as openers, especially in trilogies; with the exception, of course, of the Godfather, Star Wars and Aliens. Aliens of course is pertinent to today, thinking about the Son, as it’s largely a reflection on motherhood — I made Rhiannon watch four of the films during our pregnancy, which, as a way of preparing for childbirth, was far more helpful than NCT classes and hypno-birthing.
Now last week, in discussing how to approach God the Father, I suggested we begin by seeing the world as created, and how that leads us to acknowledge a creator; not as a being like you or I, but as seeing within the world a joy, a gift, a sense of truth, beauty and love that points to a source of goodness from which everything comes. Not to look to God as another being, but rather as the meaning that stands behind what we value. That where we begin to see universal values of judgement, from where we acknowledge some things as true, beautiful or good, we see the creator.
We’re on easy ground here. This sort of God, philosophers like. And we can talk across religions with this God. From Yahweh to Allah to Brahman this God fits across languages and cultures; this God is transcendent, while still suggesting some fixed principles as to what it means to be human and in the world.
But today we are at the Second person of the Trinity. And the Son makes everything difficult. [As you’ll know if you’ve had children.] That Jesus existed is not in question historically; neither is his basic character and mission. For millenia people have found his teaching relevant and impressive, which is no small matter. And we should not underestimate the novelty and clarity of his teaching. For what might seem to us simple and obvious even after its widespread acceptance continues to challenge and correct.
Perhaps you saw the BBC’s recent Les Miserables; or sing to yourself Anne Hathaway’s (or Susan Boyle’s) rousing if vitriolic “I dreamed a dream” in the shower every morning. Even in a country that had been Christian for 1800 years, the characters representing Christianity, the Bishop and Jean Valjean, feel the force of society’s antagonism in characters like Javert and Thenardier, representing merciless judgement and self-promotion. The quality of mercy is not strained, but neither is it commonplace.
Jesus teaches to look beyond rules to the human; his persistent demand for humility, honesty and compassion, mean that he speaks as a reformer in every age and culture. We have a snapshot of the central section of his teaching in today’s Gospel, known as the Sermon on the Mount. The Gospel writers deliberately mimic the Old Testament story where Moses comes down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments to teach the Law. This for the disciples is the New Law. Only it’s not really a law at all. It’s an attitude and it relates very closely to the prophets as they describe the new relationship that is coming between God and God’s people.
So in Jeremiah we have: “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
And then in Ezekiel: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you… and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus articulates what it means to have this new heart and new spirit. The New Law he is giving is not rules but the attitude and character of the new people of God. To follow Jesus is to recognise our poverty, our weakness, our lack; and to recognise that this is where God is found. His essential teaching is that God is with those who suffer, mourn, and struggle. He’s teaching a solidarity of humanity. That wherever we look in the world and see difficulty, that’s where we should be because that’s where God is.
Which is certainly not to say God is miserable or when you see someone unhappy it’s a sign of great godliness; but in their struggle, pain and grief — where they’re most essentially human — that is where they’re closest to God. That is where our Christian duty is to be alongside them and praying with them and for them.
The ancient hymn ‘Ubi Caritas et Amor, Deus Ibi est’ translates ‘Where Love and Charity are, there is God.’ But to get beyond the fluffiness of our thinking about love and the the impersonal, paternal bent of charity, a better translation would be: ‘Where there is human solidarity, that is where you find God.’
This is the New Law. The sequel to the Ten Commandments, the Law 2.0.
But while many would sagely nod their heads at this great reformer, this genius of moral philosophy, that is obviously not where as Christians we stop. Because Christians assert that Jesus is God. Now this is one of those statements that is deceptive in its simplicity. I think the way children take it is commonly the way people understand it. God is synonymous with authority. Saying Jesus is God is really saying that in his teaching he has authority.
But it’s more than this. God, I’ve been arguing, is the meaning to which all creation points. That all the glimpses of eternity that can be seen within nature; the beauty of art and creation, the truth that is understood in moments of clarity; the big moments when we recognise what’s important, what endures; the truths of human conscience, which recognise right and wrong in ways which go beyond culture and background.
That transcendence is fully present and revealed in Jesus. The meaning of the world is somehow given in this one human life.
Now doubtless this seems odd and you have to ask, why this person?Why just one man? Why a man even? It’s known in the business as the “scandal of particularity”. Why should eternal truth be revealed to such a limited audience and geography?
But this itself reveals the nature of the divine. That a peasant from a remote, unimportant nation; a tortured and executed criminal; an ordinary, marginal figure — is the person in whom is revealed the measure of the universe.
As I’ve said before, Christianity is not an abstract religion. It claims everyone has that divine spark. Every person matters. The person who seems like nothing, whose life can be extinguished arbitrarily; in him, the divine love is revealed. Which means you and I, in this small nation, have the attention of God. In our poverty, our suffering, our difficulty, God is there. And if we are caused to lose everything for love of our brothers and sisters, God will make himself known and ain’t no bushel going to hide that away.
So yes, it is all unlikely, improbable, miraculous even. But if that message of Christianity is true; if every human life matters and God is to be found in solidarity with our difficulty; that glorious ethic which has moved the souls of so many great people, the Martin Luther Kings, Mother Theresas, Dietrich Bonhoeffers and Edith Cavells; then should we be surprised that God reveals himself in this way and not with some tremendous show of shock and awe?
In John’s Gospel you will read of signs of increasing wonder, water into wine, feeding the crowds, healings and resurrection. But this is not where God truly, openly displayed. That is reserved for the cross, where there is no miracle; where solidarity with human suffering is raised as a sign to all the world.
The resurrection, then, is the vindication of this. As St Paul in the New Testament lesson says: ‘if Christ has not been raised, we are of all people most to be pitied’ Because if death is the final end we are back with the atheists: then all this world is tragedy and there is no redemption. This great love sees no justice, no restitution, no value, no meaning. But when we consider those great sacrifices made in War and Peace, the assassinations, the torture the terrorism; we can choose to believe and hope in a restitution such as will recompense our many tragedies a thousand-fold. That the solidarity with humanity taught by Jesus and shown on the cross is but a glimpse of the great overcoming of evil by good; and the final truth that love wins.
This will always be the testing point of faith; not in abstract ideas, but in the practice of solidarity and love.
You may find Christ an easy presence with you, or a distant figure on the edge of history; he may be a figure you can wrestle with, like Jacob and the angel; but it’s by your ability to follow him in finding solidarity with the suffering people of the world that your faith will be proven. It is by your love for your brothers and sisters that God in Christ is made known.
To believe in God the Father, is really simply to believe that there is a meaning to life.
To believe in God the Son is to believe that the meaning to life is love.