This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
This is the season of tidings of great joy which shall be for all people. For unto us, in the city of David, is a Savior who is Christ the Lord. He’s come to fix things. Everything gets fixed. Lust, greed, pride, sloth, anger and envy get cleaned up, but so do depleted rainforests, and polluted rivers, oceans and air.
This is no heart-moving episode of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” Do you know that show? A team of people led by some obnoxious yahoo with a megaphone rebuilds a home for a needy family – and some of the families have deeply moving stories.
It’s a good show as far as reality TV goes. The trouble is that the show rests on a premise that if we get enough stuff then we will be okay. New stuff can make problems go away. In one episode the recipients of the makeover were total pack-rats. They kept everything but sorted nothing. Mail, newspapers, laundry, receipts, bills were heaped in a pile that seemed to stretch from the front door to the back door. The made-over home included tons of storage space and handy little nooks to sort all the stuff.
What a great idea! But if the people didn’t have the discipline to use the storage space and nooks then nothing would change. Everything has to be fixed if we are to really do well. Simply fixing up the material stuff of our lives won’t be enough. We tend to think that matter matters too much. The material stuff, the matter of the world is seen as the solution to all our problems.
Matter matters too much for a lot of people. Christian theology, on the other hand, is prone to an equal and opposite error. We are sometimes in danger of thinking that matter matters too little. We have a tendency to focus on getting things right with God and getting sins forgiven and getting ready for heaven. Now please understand those are not bad things – not by a long shot! But our theology still leans away from matter and towards spirituality.
Think about the whole wonderful truth of Jesus becoming human. Think about the Word becoming flesh. The fancy theological word is “incarnation.” You will find correct, accurate, and reliable teaching that because it was humans that fell into sin, it would be fitting for a human to pay the price to get us out of sin again. A second Adam ought to pay the debt run up by the first Adam. Jesus the person needed to pay for all the other people.
That’s true. You can also find that as a human being, Jesus could show us how to live, how to serve God perfectly. As a bird can show other birds where food is without scaring them away, so the human Son of God can safely lead us to our heavenly Father.
That’s also true. And it’s true that Jesus became a man to share our condition with us. He learned what it means to be tempted by pride and power. He learned obedience. He learned what it’s like to grieve, to be taunted, shoved aside, and beaten up. He was crucified, dead and buried. We can not go anywhere or experience anything that Jesus has not already experienced. The one who helps us knows exactly what we need because he has experienced the same needs.
That’s all good and true. And theology, the study of God and us, is empty and meaningless without it. But if we stop there, then matter doesn’t matter enough.
It’s easy to fall into this pattern. Our much loved and reliable Apostles’ Creed can allow this to happen. The entire life of Jesus, apart from his birth and then death and resurrection, all the things he did in the flesh and blood world are crammed into the comma between “born of the virgin Mary” and “suffered under Pontius Pilate”
Remember our hero John Calvin? He is the hero of Reformed people. If we had trading cards of great Reformed people, a John Calvin rookie card would be worth all other cards in the deck combined! Well, Calvin at times missed this emphasis on the importance of matter – of the physical world. In the Geneva Catechism, he wrote this question and answer:
“Why do you go immediately from his birth to his death, passing over the whole history of his life?”
The answer: “Because nothing is said here about what belongs to the proper substance of our redemption.”
This can be a problem because if we underestimate the fullness, the wideness and depth of Jesus becoming a person, if we underestimate the full impact of the Creator becoming a part of creation, then our relationship becomes a strictly spiritual thing. Our walk with God, despite all of our sophisticated navigation equipment, can still get blown off course. Our walk becomes a spiritual thing and thus personal and only personal. Material things can be excluded. It can all be subjective and hard to prove. Faith can be reduced to a feeling. Matter doesn’t matter. That’s a problem because the very fact that Jesus took on the material of the world tells us that matter matters!
Let us try this another way: When we over emphasize spirituality and underemphasize materiality, bad things can happen. There is enough good in personal spirituality to keep us busy while the world, the environment, material things or matter get polluted, plundered or even extinct. Our faith must be bigger than a personal, spiritual relationship to God. If our faith is that small, then who would care for creation? We could abuse it in any way we want because at the last trumpet call we shall be rescued from this dump! But we can’t say that because matter matters. It matters so much that Jesus became matter. The Word became flesh –The Word became matter.
Here’s a story that makes this point. The story is record in Mark 4: 35-41, but it begins in the first verse of that chapter. In the morning, on the beach at the Sea of Galilee, a crowd was already gathered so close to Jesus that he had to step into a boat to avoid stepping into the water. He taught them many things by parables. One that Mark records for us is the parable of the sower. He tells the one about a lamp on a stand and the growing seed and the mustard seed.
Jesus was bushed by the end of the day. When evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s get out of here.” They all clambered into a boat and pushed out into the lake, hoping for some peace and quiet on the other side. With a pillow under his head, Jesus fell asleep.
He didn’t doze off in the bow where the spray would get him and the whitecaps slapped harder. He climbed back into the stern instead. He must have been out like a light because even a rising storm didn’t wake him, not even when the waves got so high they started washing over the sides. The disciples let him sleep on until finally they were so scared they couldn’t stand it any longer and woke him up. They addressed him respectfully enough as Teacher, but what they said was reproachful, petulant almost. “Don’t you care that we’re all drowning?”
It was the wind rather than the disciples that Jesus seems to have spoken to first, as soon as he’d gotten his eyes open. He rebuked it, Mark says. KNOCK IT OFF – you can almost picture him staring it down with hair lashing his face as he holds on to the gunnels to keep from being blown overboard. “Be still,” he said.
To the disciples Jesus said, “Why did you panic?” and then, “What kind of faith do you call that?” The disciples were too impressed to find that the wind had stopped blowing and the sea had flattened out again that they didn’t get around to answering him.
What the disciples seemed to have missed is that Jesus didn’t just come to rescue their immortal souls and deliver them parcel post into heaven. Jesus came to fix everything. Think back, way back to Genesis 1 and 2. Think way back to the days of Adam and Eve in The Garden, in the days when the world was new and before sin made a mess of things. Adam and Eve didn’t have to fight wind and waves. Nature cooperated. A person could go out to get some food and not fight the elements. At the end of the day, a person could get a decent rest. It’s only after sin twists everything that the problems started. Only then would Adam work the fields and fight thorns and thistles and gather food by the sweat of his brow. All of creation is supposed to be better. So on that night on a storm tossed sea, Jesus made creation better. He calmed the sea so that it was no longer an enemy. Jesus put the sea back in order. For that night, on that lake, he restored the material world. Jesus showed us that matter matters.
This notion that matter matters is well illustrated by that story in Mark 4 and it picks up steam in Colossians 1. Do you remember that reading from a few minutes ago? There we read that Jesus is the image of the invisible God – firstborn over all creation. Right away, a link is established – a measurable, visible, material link is established between God and creation. All things were created by Jesus and for Jesus. That’s important – Jesus work is to fix things, put the world back in the proper order. His plan includes all things! In him all things hold together. That’s huge. All things hold together – people and rocks, forgiveness and air quality, mercy and recycling, compassion and conservation. If we hadn’t just read that Jesus is the visible image of God, the firstborn of all creation, we might say that Jesus is only concerned about getting spirituality right. But now we see that Jesus is also concerned about getting materiality right, too.
The big plan of God is to have all things reconciled - brought back into harmony, put right, back into balance – through the work of Jesus.
This is good news to all people who love polar bears and glaciers and rainforests and grey whales. It’s good news for people who hate it when the pine beetle population goes berserk and consumes square kilometers of mountain forest. That Jesus reconciles all things is good news for those who are saddened by the rate of extinction of plant and animal species – estimated at 50 – 100 times the natural rate. That Jesus reconciles all things is wonderful news for those who love back yard birds, who believe that wetlands can be preserved for the good of all, who believe that a city can be a place of great restaurants, theatre, sporting events and clean air and shorter commutes and green space. This is good news for all people who believe that humans need to be saved and that all creation needs to be saved.
- Matter matters. Spirituality matters but right alongside spirituality is materiality. This is not about consumption but enjoyment, gratitude and proper care of materiality. Colossians teaches that we are reconciled – brought back to harmony with God by the work of Jesus. We are caught up in God’s wonderful life, enjoying the blessings and sharing in the work.
- That means we pray. And we compost kitchen scraps.
- It means that we come and worship on Sunday and as much as possible, take public transit during the week.
- All things hold together in Christ. That means we give thanks for forgiveness of sins and we turn the furnace down a couple degrees, put on a sweater and reduce emissions.
- We take time to read the Bible and we start saving to replace some old and inefficient windows that allow heat to escape from our homes.
- It means that we mark the season of Advent and decorate a tree with nothing but recycled material and give a home made gift.
- It means that we might postpone a home renovation by a couple of years – make the stuff we have last a little longer. And join a Bible study group.
- It means that we respond to God’s gift of grace by teaching Sunday school and thinking carefully about which political party offers the most effective and meaningful platform for earth care.
This is a season of good news which is for all people. The angels sang of it long ago and it’s still true. And the good news is even better than we might have thought. Spirituality is transformed and renewed and enlivened. Materiality is transformed and renewed and enlivened. Matter matters.
We are going to wrap this up together in a responsive prayer of thanksgiving.
Prayer of Response
Minister: Jesus, Lord of the Earth
People: By you all things were created
M: All creeping things, all flying things,
All living things, all dying things,
The highest hills, the deepest seas,
The strongest gale, the slightest breeze,
The blossom on a cherry tree,
A spinning spider’s artistry,
The smell of dry earth after rain,
Each cell within a human brain,
Each fallen leaf, each towering pine,
Reveals your intricate design.
P: Creator Lord, we stand amazed,
And for your earth, we give you praise:
M: Jesus, Lord of the Earth
P: By you all things were created
M: Jesus, Lord of the Earth
P: For you all things were created
M: The smoothest pebble on the shore,
Detritus on the forest floor,
The undiscovered depths of space,
The wrinkles on a baby’s face;
Each sparrow and each human hair
Is numbered and is in your care,
All iron and oil and diamonds too,
While used by us, belong to you,
Forgive us Lord, for we forget,
All things are yours, and yet,
Provider Lord, we stand amazed,
And with your earth, we give you praise:
Jesus, Lord of the Earth
P: For you all things were created
M: Jesus, Lord of the Earth
P: In you all things hold together
M: Lord God before all time began,
Yet you became a Son of Man,
You stepped into the world you made,
A world once good, now spoilt, decayed,
As Son of Man your death reversed
The chaos of creation’s curse,
The earth itself quaked on that day,
Released from bondage to decay,
All things are reconciled to you,
Creation’s hope is born anew.
P: Redeemer Lord, we stand amazed
And with your earth, we give you praise.
M: Jesus, Lord of the earth
P: In you all things are made new
M: For the beauty of the earth, we give you praise, O God. Remind us that we are spiritual and physical beings. Teach us to walk with you in all parts of our lives. May we serve you in quiet times of worship and devotion and as we heat and light our homes, as we buy groceries and care for our yards and farms. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.”
Order of Worship
GOD GATHERS US FOR WORSHIP
Welcome and Announcements
God’s Greeting: “May the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be and abide with us all. Amen.”
Call to Worship: from Psalm 95
Leader: Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
People: Let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation!
Leader: For the Lord is the great God
People: In his hands are the depths of the earth,
Leader: The mountain peaks belong to him
People: The sea is his for he made it.
Leader: Come, let us bow down. Let us kneel
before the Lord our God our Maker.
Opening Song (a setting of Psalm 95)
Songs of Praise: “All Creatures of Our God and King” PH #431
“This is My Father’s World” PH #436
“Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” PH #329
GOD REMINDS US OF HIS GRACE
Call to Confession: Genesis 1:27-28
Prayer of Confession (of our world’s failure to be good stewards of creation).
God’s Promise: Romans 8:18-21
God’s Will for His People: “Our World Belongs to God” paragraphs 9, 10
Song of Dedication: “Our World Belongs to God” (PH #459)
GOD SHAPES US THROUGH THE WORD
Prayer for Illumination
Scripture Reading: Mark 4:35-41; Colossians 1:15-20
Sermon: “Matter Matters!”
WE RESPOND TO GOD’S SHAPING
Responsive Prayer of Application:
Song of Response: “Beautiful Savior” PH #461
GOD SENDS US OUT INTO THE WORLD
God’s Parting Blessing: “May the Lord bless us and keep us. May He make His face to shine upon us and be gracious to us. May He turn His face towards us and grant us His peace. Amen.”
Our Parting Praise: “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow” PH #638