Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, January 23, 2022
I love the image we see of God at the beginning of the Genesis story of the creation. Let’s read Genesis 1:2.
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Genesis 1:2)
An interesting point that demonstrates the metaphorical nature of the story is that God is said to be hovering over something that exists before he created it. It is a lovely metaphor, a sublime poetic device that speaks volumes about the loving and nurturing nature of God. He loves the formless depths as much as he loves what he forms from it.
And he continues to create and nurture he has made. Without his constant watchfulness nothing would continue to exist. “If you take away your breath,” writes the Psalmist, “they die and return to the dust,” speaking in Psalm 104 of all the creatures he created. So it is with us and with all things. The sign of his continuous love is that we exist at all.
Elizabeth Johnson believes that Trinity is the corrective for the terrible theology of anger and dominance that predominates in our so-called Christian nation where we rejoice in divisions, where we embrace those we like and reject those we do not, dividing the world into the acceptable and the unacceptable. Wherever there is an us vs. them, God aligns himself with them. She writes:
Revitalized Trinitarian theology makes it clear that a God conceived of as an individualized monarch… a God who watches from a distance as an uninvolved, impartial observer, a God who needs to be persuaded to care for creatures—such a God does not exist. This is a false God, a fantasy detached from the Christian experience of salvation.
It was Joshua’s intention to eradicate Jericho and its inhabitants in his effort to ethnically cleanse Canaan. He succeeded that day. The walls of Jericho came down and, as usual, God was given the credit. The Bronze-Age gods were tribal deities interested only in their own “chosen” people. This is not the God who hovered over the depths and sustains creation by the breath of his mouth. Nor is it the God our Lord Jesus reveals to the world.
The healing of the blind Bartimaeus on the road to ancient Jericho shows us the Lord’s intention. He came to heal. Was his visit to Jericho a turning-inside-out of the tragedy Joshua caused? A lifting of the curse? The dawning of a New Day dispersing the shadows of the past? And when he entered the city who did he meet? Zacchaeus the tax collector. And we know what occurred between them. New Life! Joshua came to destroy. Jesus came to recreate.
Perhaps I have quoted this before to you. I can’t remember. However, it bears repeating if I did. When I read it the first time I was shocked. Remember I was a Baptist boy for a good portion of my life and we would never have dared say what I am about to repeat. Now, I understand and believe it to be true. The eminent Antiochian theologian, Sayidna George Khodre wrote that there is no straight line between the genocidal Joshua and the Lord Jesus.
An even greater and more significant miracle occurred through Jesus than the healing of Bartimaeus and the visit to Zacchaeus. Because of Jesus we now know who God is and what he is like. God-consciousness was catapulted out of the darkness of the Bronze Age through him into the light of the New Day in which the kingdom of heaven is revealed. The old Bronze-Age god of war, anger, vengeance and favoritism melts into the Truth as the Truth himself reveals to the world that God is love.
We no longer have to march to war against anyone. We have no reason to force our beliefs on anyone. God’s love pervades all things. The Spirit is active in everything and everyone. We do not need to ethnically (or religiously) cleanse the world of people who are different from us or believe in God differently from us or not at all. Coercion in religion is an unspeakable evil. A dear friend in the Midwest sent me this wonderful quote by Madeleine L’Engle. It goes like this:
We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how right we are and wrong they are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.
The first way is the way of Joshua. The second is the way of Christ. The first is the way of the ego. The second is the way of the heart. Our mission is not to take the world prisoner and force our beliefs or opinions down it’s throat. Our mission is to lay down our lives if we must to protect and defend, to enhance and illumine the lives of others. Our job as the people of God is to become the lovely lights we were created to be.
We have but to reflect the light of Christ that lives within us, plant seeds of love and compassion and watch and see what God makes of them. The results are not up to us. God gives the increase in his own time and in his own way and whatever he does will be perfect even if it isn’t what we desire. If our desire is to love, then that is enough.
Even now God the Creator, God the Lover, God the Nurturer is hovering over the depths of our souls and although “it does not yet appear what we shall be, we know we shall be like him.” (I John 3)
~St. Mary Orthodox Church, Central Square, Cambridge, MA, https://www.stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/sermons/2022/the-god-that-hovers