‘We are reduced to silence!’
A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley
by Andrew McKearney on 16 February 2020
During this last week, Sarah and I took our daughter and her three children to see the musical at Stratford of David Walliam’s book ‘The Boy in the Dress’.
It was a fantastic, creative, wonderful production, and at the end, all we could say was: ‘Wow! That was amazing!’
The story of creation from the book of Genesis is a not dissimilar response, but to the beauty and wonder of creation itself!
Few of us are unmoved by the grandeur of mountains, the power of the sea, the spaciousness of a wide-open sky, or the glory of a sunset! There is a wow-factor about them!
So in more poetic language than we used at the end of watching ‘The Boy in the Dress’, in the Bible and in our hymns we’ve found all sorts of ways of saying ‘Wow! That is amazing!’
Psalm 8 where the psalmist says:
‘When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have ordained,
what is man, that you should be mindful of him;
the son of man that you should seek him out?’
Or the opening words of Psalm 19:
‘The heavens are telling the glory of God
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.’
You’ll have your own favourites!
What the opening words of the Nicene Creed do is to take this poetry and this religious feeling and turn it into prose. Week by week we say:
‘We believe in one God, the Father, the almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, of all that is,
seen and unseen.’
The scientific quest is rightly concerned with answering the question ‘how’ – how has the universe come into being, how are things the way they are now?
The religious quest is different. It’s concerned with answering the question ‘why’. Why is there anything at all?
A New Testament scholar, James Mackey, in his book on Jesus has a fascinating discussion about miracles. There he writes:
‘…it is difficult to see that any event which happens in
this universe could be more indicative of the presence of
divinity than the universe itself. If we cannot have
religious faith, then, from our native experience of nature
and humanity, it would be difficult to see that miracles
could provide us with it.’
It’s a point well made!
The reason Christians give that anything exists at all, the answer to the ‘Why’ question, is that it is due to theoverflowing abundance of God’s love.
Our experience of human love is the closest we can get to the idea of something happening, someone or something coming into existence, not out of necessity not out of compulsion, but completely and utterly offered, created, made from the dynamic of love, a love which goes out from itself for no other reason except that it is love.
Julian of Norwich expressed memorably this insight as to why anything exists at all. In one of her visions she famously wrote:
‘God showed me more, a little thing, the size of a
hazel-nut, on the palm of my hand, round like a ball.
I looked at it thoughtfully and wondered, ‘What is this?’
And the answer came, ‘It is all that is made’. I marvelled
that it continued to exist and did not suddenly
disintegrate; it was so small. And again my mind supplied
the answer, ‘It exists, both now and for ever, because God
loves it’. In short’ Julian concludes, ‘everything owes its
existence to the love of God.’
This, as I’ve sometimes referred to before, is called the ‘positive way’ or in Latin the ‘via positiva’ or in Greek the ‘kataphatic way’. As in the Bible and in our hymns, image, metaphor, poetry are all used to express our understanding and experience of God as creator.
But there’s also another way!
If that is the right hand of Christian theology there’s also the left hand, the ‘negative way’ or in Latin the ‘via negativa’ or in Greek the ‘apophatic’ way. This way stresses the otherness of God, that God is not an object like other objects, a person like other persons.
We need to keep both approaches in mind in our talk about God our creator. Which is exactly what the story from the book of Genesis does!
The book of Genesis is surprisingly restrained in its account of creation. It says nothing at all as to why God created in the first place! And in describing how creation came into being, no dragons are cut in half to make the world, there’s no primordial fight with some great beast, nor any consort for God to mate with!
Instead God speaks!
‘Then God said, ‘Let there be light…..’
And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the
Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation…..’
And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the
Then God said…..
And God said…..
God speaks and creation comes into being!
And we are reduced to silence!