Second Sunday Before Lent 2015 (8 February)

Almost three billion miles out in our solar system there is a tiny object - just about the size of the piano. It was made by humans and it has been travelling away from earth since 2006. In 2007 it passed by Jupiter and sent back some very fine pictures of the giant planet and its moons. Then it went to sleep for the long voyage that would take it to Pluto. Just a few days ago the spacecraft New Horizons wakened and began to take photographs once more. The images just received of Pluto and its moon Charon are no more than shining dots but by 14 July we are promised truly magnificent photographs of our most distant relative.

Then it is hoped that we will be able to see features such as hills, valleys and rock formations on Pluto and Charon and to make observations of the smaller moons in this family of planets. It is amazing to think that human intelligence can travel billions of miles and that very ordinary mortals will look on things that have never been seen since the dawn of time.

What does this tell us Ė how wonderful is the power of human intelligence, how tremendous are the achievements of human beings? Or does it tell us how little we know, how primitive we are, how puny are our efforts? Beside the Universe, its age, its limitless dimensions, the speed at which it moves, its variety and mystery we are as dust in the cosmic storm.

It is all a matter of proportion. I began by comparing the spacecraft with the piano to illustrate how small it is but if the piano fell on me it would probably do as much damage to me as one of Plutoís moons would.

In fact the New Horizons probe does both Ė it shows us what human intelligence is capable of - and we should rejoice in that knowledge - but all our intelligence physically evolved and artificially created enables us and inevitably draws us to reflect on our place in the order of things. That reflection encourages us in two ways. First, however advanced we become, we will always have to say but there is more than this. Second, however comfortable we may be with the human condition, we will always admit that we stand before forces that are infinitely greater and more powerful.

Does this mean that we can prove the existence of God from the glorious phenomena that we call the universe? Well, Iím afraid not. Arguments for God from intelligent design are only slightly less flawed than the dogmatic arguments which try to prove that he doesnít exist by using the insights of science.

Both scientist and believer approach the universe with a sense of awe. In it they see beauty, eternity; they see being and creation. Quite rightly they use different methods of study and so their conclusions will not be the same, although not necessarily contradictory.

A Christian does not look for proof of Godís existence in the created order. He believes and then he sees the goodness, the providence and the wisdom which lies behind it. For the believer there is an instinct that there is a purpose to all that exists; that God is involved in his creation. That is made explicit in the wonderful passage from Proverbs  appointed for today:

(Wisdom says) The Lord created me as the beginning of his works,
before his deeds of long ago.
From eternity I was appointed,
from the beginning, from before the world existed.
When there were no deep oceans I was born.

When the first Christians encounter Jesus they come to understand this to be a reference to him. It is in Jesus that we learn why God made the world. Jesus shows us what the heart of God is like. God creates because he is Love and the function of love is to be creative. So in the epistle we hear Paul describing Jesus as:

the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by ]him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities: all things were created through him and for him and he is before all things and in him all things hold together.

The heart of the Christian understanding of creation is that God puts himself into it:

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.

We might say Godís reason, his meaning, for creation was there from the beginning. In Jesus, who is to die for love of us all, that reason is revealed;

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son.

As on this Sunday we turn away, perhaps reluctantly, from the joyous mysteries of Christmas to face the sombre and sorrowful mysteries of Lent and Holy Week, we come to face the cost of love. In our own lives love is costly and for the living God it is an eternal cost. In this world that God loves so much there is pain and suffering, there is sin and selfishness, there is war and disease. It is to this world that God gives his only Son, the Lord of the Universe, through whom all things were made.

He is meek and humble of heart and he promises to be with us to the end of time. 

In the world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

John Gribben CR