Toorak Uniting Church

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From the beginning

John 1: 1 – 10   Hebrews 1
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
6 June 2010

Last week, on Trinity Sunday, we looked at the way the Council of Nicea in the fourth century CE put their experience and understanding of God into words in a context where the Church was nutting out its doctrinal issues and sorting out discrepancies and lack of clarity in the understanding of its faith. The Nicean Creed as it was put together between 325 and 381 very much the result of a Church in the process of institutionalising, looking to put clear boundaries around what it believed and what it did not believe and, more importantly: who was "in" and who was "out".

The texts we read this morning go back a long way further than that Creed and were formulated at a completely different time and context. Although we are not sure when either of these text was conceived exactly, we do know it must have been in the first century or shortly after that they came into existence. A time where the young Church was only starting to put into words what until then had been handed on orally or written down in a not very systematic or well thought out way.

Both passages are found at the beginning of a document, both passages introduce their subject matter with big, broad and sweeping gestures. The whole of the cosmos, heaven and earth, past, present and future are brought into play with passion and enthusiasm. It is clear that whoever is speaking here is doing so with conviction.

Hebrews speaks about the history of God’s word, its incarnation in the son and the relationship of the son with the father. It is written in some of the most elegant found in the New Testament and it is likely that whoever was the author had a command of the language beyond mere fluency. It sings.
It pictures Jesus as the next level up from the prophets, the reflection of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s very being who sustains all things by his powerful word and is at the right hand of the father taking a place where the angels worship him and has been received in God’s presence and become one with him.

Although not as well known as the text we find in John 1 by far, it echoes with the same imagery and concepts. It brings past, present and future together, both on a historic level and in an eternal sense connecting Jesus with the prophets of old and the promises God’s people received as well as linking him into the world before creation and the principle of God’s eternal wisdom. Both the authors of John and Hebrews see in Jesus a focal point in history, a knot where all strands of meaningful reality come together and fan out from. The past from before Creation all the way to the realisation of God’s Kingdom on earth. From glimmers of light reflected in the prophets through the dawning of a bright sun in Christ to divine light being absorbed and coming to life in those who have responded positively to that light and make it possible for the light to expand its indwelling both spatially and temporally until the whole cosmos is filled with it.

If you read the passages with an open mind and try to look at them with eyes that are not dulled by years of exposure to their language you feel two people jumping up and down with enthusiasm, urgency and passion for what, in their life, is making all the difference.

At the centre of John’s first chapter is the word "logos" and the phrase "bring into being". In his context, in his day, in his community that would have opened up a dazzling number of links and connections on a great many levels. Too many for us to retrieve.

Logos is a Greek word that played an important role in the philosophy of the Stoic’s that was very popular at the time. For them it stood for the divine principle said to be guiding all of creation.

But as a principle it was used as far back as 700 BCE where it plays a role in Egyptian Creation Theology, and perhaps even further and wider than that in Sumerian theology and philosophy. It was the concept God’s thoughts taking shape, coming into existence, finding expression in and through the principles undergirding nature, the creation, wisdom, and the eternal laws thought to be at the basis of human justice and lawfulness, or in Philo’s words: Logos is where that which is of God overflows into the world.

In Hebrew the word Logos translates into the word DABAR, which is more relational in its meaning than logos is. The Word is the self communication of God’s thought, deed, power and innermost nature of God to the world. The Word creates, calls into being, brings shape and order to the chaos before creation. The Word speaks through the ages, through the prophets, communicating glimmers of its eternal truth in the law and through the prophets. With eternal wisdom God speaks his thoughts, his love, his being into creation, sowing sparks of light in a reality that would otherwise be dark and empty. Tohuvabou.

All these things are related. The Logos, the eternal principle of God’s wisdom at the core of all that is. The Word bringing shape and order to what otherwise would be shapeless. The light that glimmered into existence at the beginning of time and has been glimmering through the stark reality of a world where darkness is encroaching wherever it tries to settle ever since. The truth fighting to gain influence in a world full of lies. All of them part of God’s involvement with the world, God’s dedication to complete what was once begun, a world where the darkness will forever be a thing of the past.

And at the centre of that: Jesus.

Here God’s wisdom takes shape in one man, here God communicated his thoughts as clearly as never before. It was like the sun had finally risen against the morning sky, the truth finally revealed and real, here the eternal reality of God coinciding with the finite reality of man.

How do you put something like that into words?

Well you can’t really. And yet, both the authors of Hebrews and the gospel of John try to do it. To them it is not an academic exercise or an attempt at laying down the foundations for the doctrines of the young Church. For them it is a song bursting the seams of the containment of their hearts, singing of what was living reality to them in Christ.

Jesus had lived and Jesus had died. That was pretty much what had happened so far. Forget the 20 centuries of institutional Christianity that would follow, forget the doctrine of the Trinity, of the divinity of Jesus, the theology of sacrifice, predestination etc.

Go back to two people who experience God communicated to them through the stories, the memories and promises of what Jesus’ friends told them about him. (I don’t believe the author of John was the same John that was a disciple of Jesus). Who find the real meaning of life, discover the principle which holds all things together, finally understand what their purpose of being is and how this relates to all other things in creation and beyond it in what Jesus said and did. And understand: this is something that goes back to the basics of what constitutes existence, to the beginning of all that breathes with God’s breath, is infused with his power, derives its light from divine truth.

Jesus lived it. Lived it to such an extent that he not only radiated with God’s light as others have done before him, but became one with it. He WAS wisdom, God’s law, truth, light, the guiding principle of life incarnate. And what is more important and mind boggling: He still IS.

The light hasn’t been extinguished when he died. On the contrary we testify that in our lives, here and now, it is shining stronger than ever, the sun that crept over the skyline when he entered history is rising, his love filling people to where they are brimming with it. Every day.

Heaven and Earth have touched each other, become one in Jesus who was an equal part of both, and brought them together in one place, at one time, to constitute one reality. From that moment on eternity and history are no longer parallel realities, parallel streams, but realities, streams, connected by a (river) lock, the lock of Jesus, of the truth as it became known in him, of the light as it showed itself in him, of God as he communicated himself through him. Locks wide open now to anyone who lets the divine reality flow into his or her existence and allows it to change it towards that divine reality of a life that is like Christ’s informed by love and infused with forgiveness.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2010

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