‘And it was Good’

Trinity Sunday: 11 June 2017

Preacher The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson

Psalm 20, Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 4a, Ephesians 4: 1 – 6, 17 – 32

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be for ever. Amen.

I don’t recall ever having heard the whole of Genesis chapter 1 being read during a service before (though perhaps it is simply my aging memory and it did in fact happen last year on Trinity Sunday). It is a magnificent reading, beautifully read tonight by Christine Beal – thank you. It’s a reading so bold in its scope as to be breath-taking. The sort of thing that, if one were to hear it for the very first time, would leave you open-mouthed in awe. Here, in one go, is an to put into words the whole creation story.

Let’s get one thing out of the way straight away. This is not a scientific explanation of the origin of the universe. Not for one moment do I take this literally, that God literally made the heavens and the earth in seven days. I am not into Creationism in any form. No – this is a poem, a hymn, of praise to the Creator – so awesome in its sweep, so magisterial in its boldness, that one simply has to bow down, accept the invitation and say, “YES, I believe. I believe in the God who is being talked about, the One called Creator  – Creator of all that is, both seen and unseen”. Which is exactly what we do in this service of Evensong, week by week, every time we recite the Creed.

Notice by the way the format of this poem which marks the beginning of the Bible. After each ‘day’ we get the refrain, “There was evening and there was morning”. From the third day the refrain gets a little longer as the words, “And it was good” are added. Each day’s work of creating invites us to reflect on the goodness both of God and of what has been created. And at the end of it all, on the seventh day, even God seems to have sat back in awe and appreciation of what God has done. “So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it.” It was good, very good. And like God in the poem, who ‘rested’ on the seventh day, we too need to take time to rest, to stop, to notice.

This magnificent poem, which sets the whole of creation in seven days, and the awe which follows on the seventh day, reminds me of another passage in the First Testament, one which every chorister knows from the words of the Sanctus sung at a Choral Eucharist. In the words of the Book of Common Prayer we sing, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory.” They appear in Isaiah chapter 6, a passage where the prophet Isaiah, worshipping in the Temple, finds himself transported into heaven and confronted with the holy awesomeness of God. The effect of ‘seeing’ God, sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, his train filling the temple, flanked by angels and archangels, is similar to that of the writers of Genesis 1 knowing that all that God had created is good, very good.

Isaiah falls to his knees, in absolute awe and, at the same time, full of woe and dread. How is it possible for him, a mere human being, someone so small in the face of this terrible, wonderful, mighty and holy God, to be alive? Among the psalms we sing at Evensong is Psalm 8:

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?”

I had a similar experience two weeks ago when camping in the Outback. On a moonless night, crisp and clear with no other lights to be seen, the stars were so bright it felt as if by simply reaching out one could pluck a handful from the Milky Way. I fully understood the sentiment of the psalmist, and the words of the King James translation capture it well – what is man, that thou art mindful of him?

But Isaiah was not allowed to remain on his knees forever, and the writers of that great poem of creation in Genesis 1 had no intention of their listeners simply revelling in the glory of God and God’s creation for ever. For Isaiah, the vision of God in heaven inspired him to go out to the nations of the world. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” is the question put to Isaiah; to which he responds, “Here am I, send me!” (Isaiah 6: 8) And Genesis 1 is followed, a few chapters later, by the Call of Abram to leave his home and family and follow the leadings of God; to set out, in other words, on a pilgrimage. It was a pilgrimage that weaves its way through the pages of the First Testament, collecting the great stories of our Christian Faith, rooted as it is in that of the Jewish people. The stories of the patriarchs and their wives – of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob and Joseph. The stories of Ruth and Naomi, of Esther, Elizabeth and Mary, of Peter, James and John. All, in one way or another, said Yes to God. Yes – I will follow you. Yes – I will do what you want. Yes – I will live as a disciple.

In tonight’s service the reading from Genesis 1 is followed by a reading from Ephesians 4. And that chapter follows the earlier three chapters in Ephesians, chapters which set out something of the glory of God and what God has done in Jesus Christ – nothing less than a new creation. And Ephesians does not allow us to remain caught up in awe and wonder, but opens the second half of the letter, beginning at chapter four with a single Greek word, “Oun” – therefore. Therefore.

Therefore what? The remaining three chapters of Ephesians, beginning with tonight’s 2nd reading, set out a way of life for those who are disciples of Jesus Christ. Listen to the opening words again.

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph 4: 1 – 3)

It’s a life lived in unity with others who have glimpsed something of God and God’s work, with those who have been called to leave their homes, called to follow Jesus. It’s a life of unity in one body and one Spirit … one hope… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all… (Eph 4: 4 – 5) It’s a life of very practical, and radical, change – you must no longer live as the Gentiles live – in the futility of their minds. Put away falsehood, speak the truth; be angry but do not sin. Thieves must give up stealing and earn an honest living. No evil talk out of our mouths, but only what is useful for building up. Put away bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling and slander. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another – even as God, in Christ, has forgiven you. In short, says the writer of Ephesians, be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.(cf Eph 4: 17 – 32)

The awesome recital of God’s Creation is followed by the call for practical living as decent people of God, followers of Jesus Christ, in very ordinary ways.

And this takes me to that short prayer known as the Choristers Prayer. Written by the founder of the Royal School of Church Music, Sir Sydney Nicholson, and prayed by all Anglican choristers immediately before beginning a service.

Bless, O Lord, us Thy servants who minister in Thy temple:
Grant that what we sing with our lips we may believe in our hearts,
and what we believe in our hearts we may show forth in our lives;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

What more needs to be said? Except perhaps the words with which I began:

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost;
as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be for ever. Amen.