The Second Sunday Before Lent
7 February 2021
There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.
These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled
with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.
May the glory of the Lord endure for ever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works—
who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!
Proverbs 8: 1, 22-31
Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth—
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.
Colossians 1: 15-20
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 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.
John 1: 1-14
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.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
you have created the heavens and the earth
and made us in your own image:
teach us to discern your hand in all your works
and your likeness in all your children;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who with you and the Holy Spirit reigns supreme over all things,
now and for ever.
give us reverence for all creation
and respect for every person,
that we may mirror your likeness
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
When you send forth your spirit they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.
Our three readings today form an alignment of the way ideas about God have developed over a very long period of time. The Book of Proverbs is a compilation, some parts of which are very old. If, as is claimed, King Solomon's own reflections are part of it, we are escorted to the bronze age about 3000 years ago. One might sense that in the royal histories of the Hebrews, God was portrayed as the almighty, a warrior, a king who can be vengeful, wielding an uncompromising justice. Dare we say it, alpha male imagery! The idea that wisdom is a divine attribute of the same Lord seems very different; tender, nurturing and bringing forth life. And addressed as female. She is integral within the heart of God and she is seen as setting out the purpose of the world. She is also approachable and speaks directly to her people.
Much of the book of Proverbs is simply good advice for living in any age and any community. The kind of advice you might get from an attentive mum! Jews today speak about the Holy Spirit in much the same framework as Christians do. It seems entirely natural to "worship God in spirit and in truth", and to open out our narrow frame of reference to God's infinite depth of creative love and goodness.
Paul was confronted with concerns about the church in Colossae, a Greek town in what is now Turkey. Colossae was devastated by earthquake in the 60s AD, close to the time of the letter. We do not know exactly what Paul thought was going wrong (he had never been there) but the early church may have succumbed to ideas that the world was an evil place, one that could not have been made by a good creator. Colossian citizens are thought to have worshiped an angelic figure, and much later the Christian church there was dedicated to St Michael. Paul used a hymn (our reading v15-20) that goes straight to the point. No doubt it was written, perhaps not by Paul himself, with the Proverbs reference in mind. Whatever dark constricted view one may have of the world, a wiser mind says otherwise. Our vision of the world is often partial, changeable, and affected by what is happening around us. Wisdom or the Holy Spirit, however we describe it, waits upon us. We got an echo of this wisdom from the late and much loved Captain Tom Moore. "The sun will shine on you again and the clouds will go away". His words, emerging from his authenticity, broke through the pessimism of an anxious nation.
A generation on from Paul, the writer of John's Gospel opens with another hymn to set the framework of the gospel message. Again creation is born of a divine plan. This time the wisdom imagery has shifted and the creative "word" that comes to the Earth like light to shine in the hearts and minds of every person is no longer an abstract concept but the person of Jesus. No more sound advice from a distant realm, but a reality of authentic love and service that will bring all creation into the presence of God.
We would be inhuman not to be dismayed and appalled at the pandemic, the ecological catastrophe that has barely begun for us, the devastating mental hurt that affects our young people, and much more. We know that these are largely the consequences of human activity, and perhaps we have the honesty to acknowledge our own part in it. It does us no good to deflect our responsibility, blaming others, even past generations, to make us feel better about ourselves. Nor should we just grasp what comforts are still available, a kind of detachment, while deriding the world as a dark and dangerous place. Lament is necessary.
It is into this human mess that our readings are projected. The world is conceived and nurtured by divine wisdom, the purposes of the Lord will prevail in spite of human folly, and our inability to see over our human horizons . God waits patiently for us, reconciling us to His generous will in His own time. As the collect that follows Psalm 104 in "Common Worship" has it:
Creator God, send your Holy Spirit to renew the living world, that the whole creation in its groaning and striving may know your loving purpose and come to reflect your glory.
Not too late to open our hearts and minds to this Spirit, and trust we will see the world made new.
Mark Taylor. Reader in the Parishes of Calehill and Westwell
 Some see this reference to wisdom as being influenced by Zoroastrianism, the religion of Persia, and therefore ideas that may be influenced by the exile of the 6th century. Zoroastrians see six divine attributes alongside the creator himself, and they all get a place in human worship: the 6+1 form the origin of the 7-day week. Zoroastrians, their religious beliefs and practices. Mary Boyce. Routledge, London, 2001.
 We don't know the detail, and It is historically too early to see this as one of the heresies the 2nd century. However Hellenic ideas fed into the idea of spirit =good, material world =bad. Our Jewish heritage repudiates this idea.