Last week I was reading a book about life on earth by an eminent scientist who, on about page nine, said, “The universe made itself.”
This is an amazing thing to say. In the world of science, nothing makes itself. It is utterly impossible, according to all the theory of science. So, for this scientist, it is a very unscientific thing to say, “The universe made itself.”
Later on in the book he was puzzled by the beginning of life. He had no difficulty with the heat and light and chemistry making a sort of organic soup right back at the beginning of the world, but he could see no explanation of how that chemical soup could come alive. For about the last fifty years, scientists have been able to make this sort of chemical soup and, by using high voltage electricity, they have been able to make proteins and other organic chemicals. They have all the ingredients to make a living something, but the spark of life eludes them.
For us, and for the Jews and the Muslims, there is no difficulty. The book of Genesis, which all three faiths read, calls this spirit of life God. For us, life is not something that came into the world when the first organism started living. For us, life is the starting point of the universe. Our Bible begins, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” We know that our God is a living God, the God of life. Where God is, there is life, even if there is nothing but the darkness before creation. We hear that the Spirit of God, the Breath of God, hovered over the waters. We are being told that God’s life brings all things into being. And that includes the stars and planets, the ground beneath our feet, the air we breathe, the water we drink. It also includes each one of us. We can look in the mirror and say, “I am alive because God lives. The living God means that I can live as well.”
This is why I have chosen the hymn, “All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above; then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord for such abounding love.”
St James, in his letter, says, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” Another way of putting this would be to say that everything that is life-giving comes from God.
This reminds me of a story you’ve all heard before. During a terrible flood, a man took refuge from the rising waters by climbing to the roof of his house. And he prayed, “God! Save me from the flood!” In a little while a boat came along and the people on the boat said, “Come and get into this boat. We’ll save you!” But the man said, “No, No, God will save me.” so the boat went on. The waters rose and rose until the man had to stand on the very top of the gable of his house. Then along came a helicopter, and the people on the helicopter let down a rope and called to the man to grab hold and be rescued. But he said, “No, No, God will rescue me.” So the helicopter went away. The floods rose higher, the man was swept away and drowned. Up in heaven he went straight up to God and said, “You promised to save me! I put my trust in you and you let me drown! What kind of God are you?” And God said, “I sent a boat and a helicopter, but you refused their help. What more did you expect?”
The first reading is from the Song of Songs, and it is a love song. It is a celebration of sexual love and the book is very erotic – all sorts of images and pictures are used to celebrate the way in which humans express their sexuality. The book is included in the Bible because the gift of human sexuality is one of those generous acts of giving, a perfect gift from God. It is right and proper to rejoice in human love and sex.
We know that humans can misuse this gift – a glance in the paper shows domestic violence, rape, and the kidnapping and mistreatment of a girl by a man and his wife. I won’t go into details, you know how humans misuse God’s good gift of sexual love.
The psalm is also a celebration. This time it is the celebration of the coronation of a king in Israel. From the psalm we note that the king is young and strong and loves righteousness and justice. He is a man of peace – he has married the daughter of the king of Tyre and he has trading links with the land of Ophir. He is prosperous with scented clothes and a palace with walls inlaid with ivory. He and his wife have a daughter, but no sons yet. The future is full of promise.
The point the psalmist makes is that all the good things come from God, the king’s good looks, his eloquence, his righteousness, the peace of the land, the king’s happiness – all these come from God. Because these gifts are God’s gifts of power, wealth and peace they are to be cherished and used well. Of course we know how rulers can become corrupt and unwise. God’s gifts can be misused.
We see that the misuse of God’s gifts is life-destroying and the good use of God’s gifts is life-giving, because that is exactly why God has given them. God is the life giving God and God’s gifts are intended to give life.
And this is the argument that Jesus had with the Pharisees. Jesus always argued that the Law of Moses should be respected and observed. The Law of Moses, given by God on Mt Sinai was intended to be life giving. But even the Law of God could be twisted and misused. Jesus said, “You abandon the commandments of God and hold to human tradition.” In another place he said, “You put a tax on mint and dill and other herbs, but neglect justice and mercy.”
Jesus uses a very earthy parable to explain to his disciples. All the good food we eat, delicious, wholesome and given by God as a gift to sustain our bodies, comes out as dirt which is flushed down the drain.
The point of Jesus’ parable is that no matter what good gifts God gives us, “it is what comes out of person that defiles. For it is from within, from choices and decisions humans make, that evil intentions come.”
James, in his letter, says the same thing, in a more positive way. He urges us to receive the life-giving gifts of God with wonder and gratitude and then to use them to give life to others. That’s what he means when he says, “Be doers of the word, not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”
Our readings today show us a new way to find out if we are doing the will of God. We find out if we are doers of the word if our actions are life-giving. It’s a simple test. James gives us one example. He says, “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.”