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Sermon – May 30, 2010: Sharing the Glory

Sermon for Sunday, May 30, 2010 The First Baptist Church of Lewisburg

Sharing the Glory

Psalm 8; Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31; Romans 5: 1-5

Someone pointed out that British philosopher Bertrand Russell, who died in 1970 at

the age of 98, would have had an I.Q. of about a hundred at his death. This was a poke at

the whole idea of I.Q., which gives a ratio of physical age to mental age. Russell, who

boasted an intelligence quotient of 180 as a younger man, lived long enough that he could

hardly be considered precocious at the end. He’d finally achieved that potential the early

flourishing of which credited him with such brilliance. He might have been almost as smart at

forty-five as he was at ninety, and so close to an I.Q. of two hundred at that point–but by

the time he was ninety, if he was as smart as he should have been at ninety, his I.Q. would

have been a hundred. This observation about Russell reminds us that we begin our lives

as all potential and no achievement, and conclude our lives as all achievement and no


Nobody looks wiser than a baby. When a baby isn’t bawling or burbling, when it is

solemn, it looks as if it had the mysteries of life comprehended. Everybody’s baby strikes

one with wonder, and Garrison Keillor’s familiar joke about the children of Lake Woebegone

all being above average has its experiential truth. When Psalm Eight says, “out of the

mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence

the enemy and the avenger,” it credits the murmuring of babies with great power.

This is true to that adult intuition that there is something profound in the wonder

evident in a brand-new consciousness, and it nicely joins with the wordless witness of all

kinds of marvels fresh from God’s hand–the heavens, the moon, the stars. The Psalm

celebrates God’s majesty, God’s sovereign glory, reflected in the mysterious

purposefulness of each of Creation’s parts, and the suggestive sense-making of Creation

as a whole. It is wonderful, and what is most wonderful to the writer of the psalm is that we

human beings are established by God with such powers ourselves–not only are our infant

voices made by God into a guard against God’s foes, but our more mature capacities are

enlisted to organize and oversee all the other creatures God has made.

The great paradox of natural religion–the intuitive response to the beauty of sunsets

or the solemn grandeur of wilderness–is that it makes people feel small and large at the

same time. The agelessness of dawn, the immensity of mountains, the intricacy of the

flower of even the smallest plant, at once reveal us as confused and passing creatures, and,

by our being reasoning witnesses to it all, masters of this domain. God is inferred from

experience of the world, and this God of Creation is the first way we know the divine.

The way our consciousness engages the significance of Creation, the magisterial

perspective we are afforded, tells us that we are privileged to share some of the Creator’s

intimate knowledge of the workings of the world. When you study religion you are

reminded not to make the mistake of anthropomorphism, not to make God in the image of

yourself or other human beings. Conceiving of God as a bearded giant with a burning eye,

supernaturally superintending Creation, is regarded as folkloric and mythic and natural, but

wrongheaded. It is inadequate, it is childish, perhaps–but it has the wisdom of all

anthropomorphism, that where we see evidence of purpose and passion, we see

something of ourselves.

The Bible personifies this combination of divine and human insight into the nature of

things as Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs, and later as The Word of God Made Flesh in

the gospel of John. In both, it is a mediating and a saving source of human beings being

enabled to choose what God intends. The intelligence with which God brought everything

into being is not only to be inferred by observation and experiment, but God offers it

directly. In Proverbs it is offered to those who thirst after wisdom, by the call to become

suitors of wisdom. In John’s gospel is it offered to those who desire to become children of

God, by recognizing in Jesus Christ the One Sent by God to change the nature of

everything and everyone through resurrection.

Perhaps the motif of the Word of God which begins the gospel of John is now

taught in schools by reference to the readings we had today from Proverbs. It wasn’t

emphasized when I was a student, and I don’t know why, since the personified Wisdom of

Proverbs Eight has so much in common with the Word “without which nothing was made

that was made.” Listen again to the revelation of an active partner in creation made before

anything else and making everything else, from Proverbs eight: “I was set up as the first,

before the beginning of the earth.” “When he established the heavens I was there.”

“When he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master

worker, and I was daily his delight.”

This strain of thinking in the Biblical tradition is the source of John’s theology of Jesus

as the Word which was from the Beginning. This is the link between the Creator God and

the Christian experience of Jesus as the Son. The human being Jesus of Nazareth is also

recognized as God’s timeless agent of achieving God’s purposes, and Christ’s bringing

into being a new creation through his life, death, and resurrection is seen as analogous to the

very first creation. Humanly speaking, in terms of John’s gospel, Jesus presents himself as

an emissary and an exemplar of God, but believers, upon his resurrection, recognize him

also as God made flesh.

This itself is a further revelation of the special nature of human beings. The puzzle

which mystifies and delights the author of Psalm Eight–which is how we can be part of

Creation and above Creation at the same time–is made a little clearer. God is, after all,

something like us–his creativity has its counterpart in his comprehending things in Words–

so that our own faculty for naming and the sense we make in our speaking have a true

connection with the world we experience.

The God who creates and the God revealed in Jesus Christ give us two of the three

traditional persons of God, two-thirds of the Trinity. The third person of the Trinity, the third

manifestation experienced by the early Church of the one God, is the Holy Spirit. Again,

just as the Word of God way of thinking about Jesus derived from what we saw in

Proverbs about wisdom, the Holy Spirit is not new. The Bible’s faith has long experience

of God’s spirit interacting with and affecting Creation.

So there is continuity with the Old Testament’s One God, even though Christian

thinking identifies three persons in the One God. Jesus is identified with the Wisdom with

which God conceives reality. The Holy Spirit is identified with the motivating energy

informing God’s works. The Spirit was at Creation along with the establishing Word, and

the Spirit shows up again and again to encourage people and guide their actions. Prophets

know the power of the Spirit, which is a deeper, more holy variation on the very breath of

God which animates human beings, according to the creation story in Genesis Two, when

God breathes Adam into life from the elements of the earth.

The Holy Spirit is not new with Christianity. It is distinguished in Christianity by being

regarded as part of a believer’s identity. Everyone who has faith in Christ has that faith in

part by gifts of the spirit, and further gifts of the spirit with which to live out that faith. Faith

itself is spiritual, and your spirit and my spirit can overcome great difficulties and achieve

great heights by the inspiration we receive from God.

What Paul has to say in Romans–about our having peace with God through faith in

Christ, and with that faith a willingness to regard our own suffering as acceptable and

constructive, relies on trust in the reality of the spirit and its power. The Holy Spirit permits

us to endure suffering, and to make of that endurance character, and with that character to

hope. The Holy Spirit enables us to regard that hope as certain and sufficient, and so not to

be disappointed–neither disappointed in our faithful attendance upon God’s deliverance,

nor disappointed in the end by God.

When Paul writes to the church at Rome about the power of faith in Christ and the

role the spirit has in making our faith real, he is not writing as a theologian as much as he is as

a believer. He has suffered, but endured, and he hopes. He regards, as we know from

another of his letters, present sufferings as nothing compared with God’s sure and

bounteous deliverance. He is a thinker, a parser of paradoxes and a player with traditions,

a rabbi by instinct as well as instruction–but he is a believer in Jesus Christ more than any

of those things. He knows that believers need encouragement, because he has needed

encouragement, and he knows that faithful living has to find a way to embrace the suffering

which is our common lot, and so he writes what he does. May the God further revealed in

Christ grant you such faith by the spirit that you yourself may live the life God gives you

graciously, counting on the wisdom and kindness of your Creator, and strengthened by

finding your own mortal powers supported by God’s breathing into you all the gifts you

need to be God’s person, through Jesus Christ Our Lord, Amen.


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