This is part one of a sermon delivered by Father Martin Johnson on February 28 at All Souls Anglican Church, in Wheaton, IL. Part 2 will run tomorrow. We’re thankful for Martin’s kindness in allowing us to post his sermon.
As one gets older, one is brought up before weakness whether one likes it or not. And one sees, at the end of all one’s recurring and accruing weaknesses, the specter of death.
And yet: from that death, if one is a believer, and has received even the tiniest seed of faith, one also encounters, more and more, a deeper acknowledgment of the unfathomable mystery of eternal life, the life of the age to come, which springs from death.
Reading Genesis 15, the images could hardly be more provocative; a burning torch, smoldering in smoke, the dismembered halves of sacrificial animals lying about: a covenant cut; and through this path, the Presence of the Living God: Holy Fire: a God who says: May it be unto me, as with these beasts, if I betray the promise I am making you today.
And when Jesus stands upon those same ramparts, and gazes upon that same Temple, He sees the same vision, as the Prophet had foretold: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!
Do not get between a mother and her young; that is the law of Nature. Do not; for she will give her life for theirs; and take yours, in the bargain.
I remember, in those weeks and months I would spend working in the Canadian Rockies, I would get up early to hike up tunnel Mountain and back before breakfast. The danger was not the trail; that was gentle enough. The danger was that, somewhere along the way, you would get between a brown bear and her cubs. Heaven help you, if you seemed to present a threat to those cubs.
The film March of the Penguins, which depicts the yearly journey of the Emperor Penguins of Antarctica, who leave their ocean habitat to walk inland to their ancestral breeding grounds, court, and, if successful, hatch of a chick. For the chick to survive, both parents must make multiple arduous journeys between the ocean and the breeding grounds over the ensuing months. One particularly poignant sequence shows the carnage which is suffered when the adult penguins make of their bodies a living barrier to protect their young from the ferocity of an Antarctic winter storm. When the winds have died down, so, too, is the icy landscape studded with the lifeless forms of the dead parents.
A force of nature: the love between mother and child; the impulse to sacrifice self.
We may even think of it as supernatural, this impulse to self sacrifice; we may think of it as eradicating the boundary between the human and the superhuman; the divine, as embedded, in the place where humanity and Divinity meet and interpenetrate, where God works His salvation not just with, but within our very creatureliness.
Creation, though reddened, by the fall, retains God’s very image in it. Psalms 104:26 says:
O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
32 When you send forth your spirit, they are created, ¨
and you renew the face of the earth.
33 May the glory of the Lord endure for ever; ¨
may the Lord rejoice in his works;
The clear connection between the Creator, his delight in His creatures, and their delight in Him, is set forth again and again in Scripture. God shows Himself — gives Himself, in what he has made, in what he sustains by His power. Psalms 65:11
You crown the year with your goodness,
and your paths overflow with plenty.
12 May the pastures of the wilderness flow with goodness ¨
and the hills be girded with joy.
13 May the meadows be clothed with flocks of sheep ¨
and the valleys stand so thick with corn
that they shall laugh and sing.
I revel in these words of life, all of creation, all the creatures laughing and singing. Why do so few of us take THESE words literally?
A hostility to God; and God’s Life, I guess. Our residue of the Fall, the suspicion, the mistrust in Our Creator that haunts us, and blights our witness to Him; and blights our use of His Creation.
Christ, the Creator, enters into His Creation, puts Himself into our hands, and we show, as we nail Him to His Cross, what it means for the Living God to fall into the hands of sinful men and women.
Please read part 2 tomorrow.