Sermon by Stephen Linton 20.02.2022

St Mark’s 10.30  20/02/2022

God of Creation

Psalm 65; Luke 8: 22 – 25

Our readings this morning tell us of God in charge of his creation.   In Psalm 65 we read of God forming the mountains, stilling the roaring seas, caring for the land, and enriching it abundantly.   It tells of our awe at the dawn, and of God’s provision of abundant harvests; of hills and valleys metaphorically clothed with gladness, and all nature shouting for joy.   And in our gospel reading from Luke, we found Jesus asleep in a boat on the lake of Galilee, and being roused by the disciples at risk from the storm.   And of Jesus commanding the storm to cease.   So we have a God of creation, and God still in control, both of natural events and of the provision of all that humankind needs.

But this raises a number of questions for us to consider this morning.   Can we still believe in a God who is the Creator, which militant atheists deny and ridicule?   And is God still active in his creation:  is God still in charge?   And what then should be our role and attitude to the world around us in the light of huge concerns about the future of our planet?   Lots of big questions for us to think about!

So firstly, what about the Christian belief in a Creator God, when some would suggest that modern science has abolished the need for that myth?   Let me begin with a story.   It was a stormy night, and two people were gazing out to sea in the darkness.   They both spotted a light flashing out at sea.   One of them, a physicist, collected some instruments from her car: a watch to time the flashes, a photometer to measure the brightness, and a spectrometer to record the spectrum of the light.   As she drove home, she stopped to take further readings to do some triangulation calculations.   When she got home, her husband said, ‘Did you see anything interesting tonight?’   ‘Yes’, said the physicist, ‘I saw some visible spectrum radiation from a heated tungsten filament, making a consistently repeating pattern of flashes at an intensity of about 2,500 lumens, at a distance of 850 meters offshore’.

The other person on the cliff-top that night was a teenager going home from Sea Scouts.   When he got home, he called out to his mother, ‘Mum, I saw a boat out to sea signalling SOS and telephoned the coast-guard, and they sent out the lifeboat’.

Incidentally, you will no doubt applaud my political correctness in making the physicist a woman, but actually I’m wrong, as only a man could be such an anorak.   So the physicist must have been a man and the Sea Scout a girl.

Now who was right in their interpretation of what they saw?   They were both right.   The physicist made accurate observations, came to logical conclusions and was able to give a clear and entirely correct answer to the question, ‘How?’   ‘How was this light produced?’   And if he had been an ophthalmologist or neurologist, he could also have answered the question, ‘How has my eye detected this electro-magnetic radiation and how did my brain become aware of this external stimulus?’

The sea-scout, on the other hand, saw the same phenomenon, but chose to answer the question, ‘Why?’   ‘What is the purpose of this heated tungsten making apparently non-random pulses of visible light?’   ‘Who is behind this observation, and what is he or she communicating through this bit of science?’

Now when we come to the Genesis story of God as Creator, we face a similar problem.   Are we being told in this passage about how our world came into being?   Or are we being given some answers to the question, Why?   If we are not clear on that, then we inevitably end up with what we perceive as a contradiction between science and the Bible:  the apparent conflict between what we read here and evolution theory, the fossil record, scientists’ findings on the age of the earth, and the big bang theory.   But what we read in Genesis 1 and Psalm 65 has little or nothing to say in answer to the question, How?   Our Bibles are not scientific textbooks.   Let’s not forget the earlier mistakes of the church when they condemned people like Copernicus and Galileo for suggesting that the earth revolved around the sun, when the Bible seemed to say the opposite.  

But let’s not fall into the opposite trap of assuming that science can answer the question, Why?   Issues of morality, responsibility, and worth are theological or philosophical questions where the Bible can give answers that science can’t begin to address.

 

So Psalm 65 and Luke 8 tell us that God was the ultimate agent of creation, and that he is still in charge of his creation.   He’s not the sometimes-quoted example of the watchmaker who wound it all up and then walked away, leaving creation to get on with it.   No, God is in charge, providing the harvests and stilling the storm.   Producing awe in the minds of those who are willing to look and see God at work.   The Bible doesn’t tell us how he did it, but just that he did it.   That this was no chance happening, a random billion-to-one-against chance occurrence.   Creation was purposeful, planned and controlled by God.   So if God used a Big Bang, or later a process of infinitely slow refinement by natural selection and evolution, then in my view that can only help us understand in a tiny way some of the miracles of the mechanisms behind God’s creative action.   It does not invalidate God’s role at all.   Indeed, the more that science discovers, the more we should be amazed at the marvels of the world around us.

Most medieval astronomers and mathematicians, including Copernicus, Galileo and Newton, were convinced Christians.   Science basic is seeking to understand the natural laws and mechanisms on which God’s creation is based.   It was Johannes Kepler, the great 16th century astronomer, who said this: ‘O God, I am thinking thy thoughts after thee.’

The second question that I posed is, to my mind, much more difficult.   If God is still active in his creation, in charge and all-powerful, we can happily credit him with the good things:  the wonders of what we see, and the abundance of his provision.   But what of the bad things:  natural disasters, earthquakes, tsunamis, drought, floods, and the consequences for so many in our world today?    Now some of those disasters are as a consequence of human activities, exploiting and abusing God’s creation, by deforestation on a massive scale, by intensive farming methods and pollution, by demanding more and more resources without mitigating the inevitable damage to our environment.

But not all can be blamed on human abuse of God’s creation.   There have always been natural phenomena that cause tragic loss of life or economic catastrophe.   Those phenomena are intrinsic in the wonderful world in which we live.   So why does God not intervene?   Ultimately all we can do is to trust in God, and leave those difficult questions unanswered.   But we do know that God in Christ shared in some of our sufferings, and, when tragedy strikes, I think weeps with us.

And lastly, in the light of all this, how are we to live in God’s world?   Genesis 1 teaches us that God gave us a special role in his world: to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.   We are to look after God’s world, to harness its riches, to harvest the food that we need, to investigate the spectacularly rich resources of energy and raw materials, utilising the insights of science and technology that are in-built in God’s creation.   But in doing so, we are not to exploit or spoil the world God has created.   Christians should have green credentials, as we seek to work in harmony with God and his creation.  

And so we should be leading by example.   In our use of resources, we should be careful not to abuse them.   Our attitude to power consumption, recycling, excessive packaging, food waste, and travel, should show respect for our Creator God and his wonderful creation.   And we should be mindful of the effect what we consume has on those in our world who are poor, disadvantaged and powerless.   So where we can we should be avoiding air-miles in our choice of food, be willing to pay an economic price that rewards those destitute workers who harvest or produce the items that western society regards as essential, and support those organisations that not only give direct aid, but also seek to encourage development that enables the poor in what we should call the two-thirds world to become self-sustaining.   Tear Fund is a good example, funding local organisations who can direct aid to where it is needed and providing funding for projects that will enable those communities to become strong and self-sufficient.  And to do that in the name of Christ.

And so this morning we rejoice in God’s good creation.   We are amazed at its beauty, its intricacy, its astonishing and mind-boggling scope.   We trust in the God who created it all, and who continues to provide and sustain it.   And we still trust in him when things happen that we can’t understand.   Because we acknowledge that he is our God who loves us, cares for us, and in Jesus came to share in our human frailty and suffered with us.

And we resolve to do what we can to protect that creation and use its resources wisely, always thankful to God for his love for us.

Let’s pray:   Father, Creator God, when we consider the wonders of your creation, we are amazed that you are interested in each one of us.   Help us this week, to marvel at the beauties of your world and its order; help us to care for your world where you have placed us; and help us to seek to serve and please you, who made us, and loved us, and cares for us day by day.   Through Jesus Christ our Saviour, Amen.