Sunday, 7 February 2021

Wisdom and Word: Second Sunday before Lent

 Audio version here 

Proverbs 8. 1, 22-31, John 1.1-14

Are we having fun yet? Probably not, is the answer. So many of the things we do for recreation are off limits at the moment. Pub lunches, concerts, sporting events, even just a friend popping in to see you for a coffee - they all feel like distant memories.

The word “recreation” is an interesting one. We often use it to mean just something that feels like fun, whatever that is for us, but at its root, recreation isn’t simply about letting off steam or having a rest or distracting ourselves for a while from things we’re fed up with. The clue is in the word itself. It is re-creation. True recreation should re-create us, make us new, heal us at a deep level. A meal in a fancy restaurant might do that, but we can find that all we’ve got to show for it is an increased waistline and a decreased bank balance. Not all recreation re-creates, and sometimes true re-creation comes through things that didn’t seem like fun at all at the time. It’s only looking back that we realise they were just what we needed.  

Today’s Bible readings are all about creation and re-creation. They might not seem like the obvious ones, though. They’re not the stories from the book of Genesis, where God says, “let there be light” and there is light, or where he creates Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Instead, we heard about the mysterious figure of Wisdom, personified as a woman, in our Old Testament reading, who rejoiced with God as the world was made. And in the New Testament that famous passage about the Word of God, through which “all things came into being.” The identity of that Word isn’t named in the passage, but we all know who John means by it, and John knows we know. He’s talking about Jesus.

Wisdom and Word; two very important concepts which overlapped in Hebrew and Greek thinking and aren’t easily translated accurately into English. Wisdom is more than cleverness, and Word is more than just something that is spoken. A very inadequate way of summing them up might be to say that they were thought of as the ways God got things done, God’s action in the world. In the book of the Wisdom of Solomon, which is in the Apocrypha, so not found in all Bibles, the writer imagines a prayer that Solomon, famous for his wisdom might have prayed. “You have made all things by your word, and by your wisdom you have formed humankind…Send her forth from the holy heavens, and from the throne of your glory send her that she may labour at my side.” (Wisdom 9.1-2 & 10) It was God’s Wisdom, he goes on to say, that rescued the Israelites from the trials and tribulations that came on them through the ages – going with them into slavery in Egypt and leading them out again.

By the time of Jesus, a parallel idea from Greek philosophy of the Word, logos in Greek, was commonly used to talk about the organising principle behind the universe. That’s what John’s drawing on when he calls Jesus the Word. He is the one through whom God is creating a new world, a new kingdom. He is the one who now says “let there be light” to the darkness he encounters. And there is light. St Paul describes Jesus as the Wisdom of God too, in 1 Corinthians1.24, a wisdom that might look like folly to some. The cross looks like failure, nonsense, says Paul, and yet through it, God acts to save us.

Of course, Jesus isn’t just a personification, like that figure of Lady Wisdom – a way of speaking about something abstract so we can understand it more easily. He’s an actual person, the Word made flesh. He’s the expression of God, God making himself known, in a way that those who encountered him could hear and see and touch directly. He embodied what had previously just been an idea. When people who had been mangled and broken by life met him, they found re-creation, healing, a new identity as children of God. If anyone is Christ, there is a new creation, said St Paul in another place. (2 Cor 5.17)

The concepts in the readings we heard today might be a bit complicated – all that Hebrew and Greek philosophy – but when we dig down, though, they are all about something we all long for, a world made new, ourselves made new.

It’s no accident that we hear these readings about creation and re-creation today. In the Church’s calendar, this is the Second Sunday before Lent. It doesn’t sound very inspiring, but it does what it says on the tin. It tells us that Lent is just around the corner. At its heart Lent isn’t about giving things up, like wine or chocolate. It isn’t about making ourselves miserable as we contemplate our faults and failings. It’s a time when we are reminded of the basic truth of Christian faith, which is that it's ok not to be ok, that we don’t have try to mend ourselves – we can’t anyway. That’s God’s job, not ours. I don’t know about you, but I find that hugely reassuring, a great relief. God’s Wisdom delights in the human race, rejoices in the inhabited world, we are told. She dances for joy in hearts that are open to God’s help. At last, at last, God can get to work in those hearts. The Word of God comes among us, full of grace and truth – telling us what we need to hear, but also showering us with love that we haven’t earned, can’t earn, don’t need to earn – it is his gift.

We may not think of Lent as a time of recreation – if all we mean by that is fun – but it can certainly be a time of re-creation, of healing and growing, if we will let it be. And all we have to do is show up, as we are, in the presence of God. He can do the rest. As someone once wisely said, “God can mend a broken heart, but only if he has all the pieces.”

So, two weeks away from the beginning of Lent – Ash Wednesday is on Feb 17th – how are we planning to bring ourselves to God this year. There are many ways to do so. Sometimes giving something up really does help – it clears the decks, de-clutters us a bit. But we can take things up too. We can do something extra to serve others. We can make space for prayer and reflection.

There are lots of resources around to help us do this, online and offline, but if you’d like to join with others from Seal Church this year, you’d be very welcome, whether you ever been part of a Lent Group here before or not. Our Lent course this year will focus on four questions Jesus asked people who came to him, simple questions which made them think, and might make us think too. There will be various ways of accessing the course. You can join in Zoom sessions with others either on Monday mornings or Monday evenings – email me to get the links. Or there will be videos covering the same material, which you could use on your own or with friends, and printable versions too.

Whether you join with us, or do your own thing, though, I hope you’ll find a way of opening yourself up to God’s wisdom and God’s word this Lent, so that we can all discover God at work in us, rejoicing and delighting in us, bringing us the grace and truth that will truly re-create us.


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