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Ordinary Sunday 25, Year C
Season of Creation ‘Cosmos Sunday’
South Sydney Uniting Church
September 25, 2016

Psalm 91:1-6,14-16; Luke 16:19-31

Thank-you for your warm welcome, and for the invitation to share some thoughts on the Cosmos, which is the final topic in this series for the Season of Creation.

Last week it was about storms and the story of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. At Northmead Uniting, where Sue and I were, we were invited to think about storms in our own experience – possibly wild weather, but more often stormy times in our relationships. The cosmos is like that too, with a wide range of meaning, taking us from the depths of the space and time to the innermost places of faith and hope. There, too, we each have our stories.

When I was a teenager, growing up in Ireland, I had lots of opportunities and encouragement to find joy in so many things. There was the life of our family, including much music-making, the unfolding world of knowledge and friendships, particularly through school and then university, travelling all over Ireland on a bicycle and walking the hills, enjoying the welcomes and conversations with country people, and much else. My sense of the cosmos – which is all that we know, experience and imagine – was rapidly expanding.

Until I was about 17, churchgoing was not part of it. However, I am ever grateful for the humility and wisdom of my parents and how they encouraged each of us children to ask questions, followed by their respect for the journeys of hope and meaning which each of us chose to follow. Over those years I was on an exciting journey of discovery of the powerful methods of science and what these make known. Teaching about that subsequently became my professional work. At the same time, my intuition grew that this extraordinary cosmos has a deeper meaning and purpose than could be reached even by the amazing insights of science.

In time, amidst the faithful encouragement of prayerful friends, I became convinced that Jesus was to be for me the Way, the Truth and the Life. Over the many years since then, my reflections on the cosmos, and on where its deepest meanings lie, have drawn on both scientific and Christian ways of understanding.

I reckon that questioning of our place in the cosmos – all that we experience, see and imagine, goes back to the beginnings of human consciousness, to the dawn of the story of humankind. Each of you has your own story of questioning, wondering, and suffering too, and your own experience of encountering and walking with Jesus on the way.

Psalm 148 is a beautiful expression of wonderment, and it has endured precisely because it has touched so many people over some 2500 years or more. Psalm 148 is full of praise to God, and wonder at all God creates and has created. Imagine Israelites of long ago singing it in their family and national gatherings. Imagine Mary and Joseph, with their growing family of children - Jesus and his little brothers and sisters - singing it at home or with their synagogue in Nazareth. Imagine Jewish and Christian people since then, all saying or singing it to share in grateful wonder at all that we see, experience and imagine. And here we are today, continuing that ancient tradition of expressing wonder at the creation, and praise to the Creator.

The good order of nature, on which we so depend– the sun rising and setting, the stars in their place, the way seasons come and go, the life cycles of plants and animals, are so basic to our lives it is easy to take them for granted. Our thriving also depends on good order in human affairs. That is so often frustrated with relationship breakdown, selfish and careless acts, greed, bad management and good intentions with unforseen and destructive consequences. That is the world in which we live.

In the NT, the Greek word kosmos is basically about good order – how the heavens and earth are ordered, and about the divine purpose and potential for human affairs. It only occurs once in today’s readings, in the Gospel, where Jesus says “The bread that I give for the life of the kosmos is my flesh” Here kosmos is translated as “world”, as it is in the 68 times or so that it occurs John’s gospel. In John, the immediate meaning points to the “world” or “cosmos” of human affairs, in all their ambiguity,. In that love we find love and hate, generosity and selfishness, and all the falling short which in English translation is sin. Jesus gave himself so that the disordered world, whether your life or mine, our communities, our nations, or all humankind, might become ordered and more fully reflect the image and glory of God.

But the memories of Jesus, and how he was interpreted by the first Christians, go far beyond seeing Jesus as Saviour for humankind. This greater vision has its most dramatic expressions in the prologue to John’s gospel, the beginning of the letter to the Hebrews, and in the reading we had today from Colossians 1:15-20. These verses may well be a hymn or creed – praising Jesus as the Christ/Messiah and Lord, far, far above the Roman Emperor or other claimant to power and glory. Drawing on the ancient Jewish reflection that Wisdom was present with and in God in bringing all things into being, Jesus is Christ/Messiah, and Jesus is the Wisdom of God. These verses proclaim Christ’s creative and sustaining presence in all things, seen and unseen, on earth and in heaven. The words “all things” occur 8 times in those few verses, so that vision of Christ’s presence in and to all things is powerfully emphasised. This early expression of Christian praise is both inclusive and open-ended. The “all things” are seen, they are unseen, they are on earth, and they are in heaven. To our forebears 2000 years ago, “heaven” and “the heavens” were the inaccessible and mysterious realm “up there”. In the heavens, the Sun and Moon travelled across the heavenly dome, water for rain was stored, and the stars were placed in orderly array and with different degrees of glory. Their mystery and inaccessibility helped shape the language used to speak of God, who is unseen, and what might be if the reign of the unseen God were fully present in Earth. “Your will be done on Earth, as it is in heaven.”

 Today, we have a very different cosmology. The beauty of what we see with our unassisted eyes is now the visible expression of a vast universe of galaxies, radiation and mysterious dark matter and energy, set in a cosmic fabric where space and time come together. Whether ancient or contemporary, wonder at the physical cosmos still provokes us to reflect on why this amazing universe exists. We still ask, “what does it mean?”, and “how do we fit in?” That popular explainer of science, Paul Davies puts it neatly: “The most intriguing question is, why are we here asking why are we here?” Now, as in ancient times, looking at the heavens still has power to provoke the deepest of questions, and bring us back to the relational meaning of heaven. How do we relate rightly to all that is, and to the source and destiny of our existence – to our God?

The vision of Christ in Colossians ends with these words: “and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” Christ is not only the one through whom God creates and sustains all things. Jesus’ death on the cross brings healing, reconciliation and fulfilment of all things – bringing in the divine destiny of the cosmos, of God’s good and beautiful order for humankind and for all things, seen and unseen.

The first gatherings of disciples of Jesus were driven by the unshakeable conviction that Jesus, though crucified, was risen from the dead, present in them and present to them. In the NT writings, the church is described as the “body of Christ”, and the breath of life in the church is the Breath of God, the Holy Spirit. The risen Christ is described as the first-born of the new creation, and the church is witness to that new creation coming into being in the midst of their world, and ours – their cosmos, and ours.

I am very appreciative that we share in the Eucharist together today. It is the sacred drama enacting Christ’s life entering our lives. For us, its cosmic outworking is the call to live as part of the Body of Christ, and be participants in God’s re-creation of the cosmos. The cosmos is vast and wonderful, but it is also as close as our bodies themselves, our closest relationships, and the world we experience every day. Our part in God’s work of cosmic re-creation is about participating in Christ in the immediate cosmos – the world of relationships, with each other, and with the whole web of life and environment on which we depend. And when we grieve at the wars, broken relationships, environmental destruction and other ways in which humankind disrupts God’s sacred cosmic order, we return to Jesus on the cross. Jesus’ passion, love and suffering take us to the eternal heart of God and reassure us we are not alone. When we see movements of hope and healing taking place, God in Christ is already there, bringing in the new creation with creative and redemptive power. So let us in awe and in wonder, rejoice and long to share in God’s wisdom, in the life of the risen Christ, and in the re-creation and healing of our little part of the cosmos.

In the closing words of Psalm 148, Praise the LORD, Hallelujah.

Theme: Christ, the Wisdom of God, and the Cosmos

Question: What is our place in God’s work of cosmic reconciliation?

George Emeleus

Homily by Dr. George Emeleus