God’s Organisation

Fine leg, deep square, mid on, mid off, first, second and third slip, cover and silly point are all fielding positions on a cricket pitch. Those of you enjoying the cricket world cup will be well up to speed on this and know the importance for a cricket team in the field to cover these positions if they are to stand a chance of getting the opposing team out with the minimum number of runs scored. If it’s women’s football world cup, the roles and positions each player takes on the pitch are ordered and defined by the coach and the manager to create the best opportunities to win given the conditions of play. I am looking forward to the cycling in the Tour de France. You cannot win that most gruelling of bike races with an every man for himself attitude. Each team of nine cyclists must be disciplined and work together each using their strengths to attempt to put the team leader in the yellow jersey at the head of the race.
Businesses and organisations which are successful ensure that there is an order and structure for their work; everyone knowing their role within the organisation. If this is not the case, chaos ensues, objects are not achieved, and people usually get hurt. There is a tendency today to criticise hierarchical structures in which everyone has their place in the pecking order. But it seems to me that however we try to reconfigure things and attempts made with the best of intentions to be ‘bottom up’ there still needs to be some kind of a hierarchy with line managers taking responsibility for those they manage and being responsible in turn to the senior staff.
Today is Trinity Sunday and we think about how God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We reflect on the sovereignty and holiness of the God we worship. We can reflect on the way in which he has ordered everything we experience for a purpose. At the heart of our readings is Psalm 8, attributed to David, it is one of the great psalms about creation. Importantly, the bible does not praise or worship the natural world itself but sees all the beauty around us pointing to the magnificence of the creator who made it. Graphically the poet of psalm 8 talks of looking at the heavens as the ‘work of God’s fingers’ (verse 3) Psalm 121 begins with a question: ‘I lift my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come?’. It quickly gives the answer: not from the hills but: ‘My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.’ (verse 1-2) For ancient Israel, it was important to stress in their psalms of worship that they did not worship idols, things made with human hands from the matter of the earth but the unseen immortal, invisible God who had put these things in place. Today, we may not set up a statue and worship it in our front room or go out to some sacred tree or spring to bow down. But we can still believe that shopping, a little retail therapy, will give us more satisfaction than time spent with the living God. We are tempted by charms that might bring us luck or a religion which centres around things and place rather than a relationship with Jesus. So, as we consider the God we worship today, the same God worshipped by David and the greats of the Old Testament, the one we call Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We affirm him as creator; the prime mover behind ‘all that is seen and unseen.’ (Nicene Creed) He (although we must acknowledge that he fully embraces the feminine) is the one who creates order from chaos. Psalm 8 both celebrates this and helps us begin to understand that order, the place and roles that each play with all that God has ordained.
‘O Lord our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!’ (Psalm 8.1 & 9) The psalm clearly recognises that God has a place of sovereignty; a place at the top of the ladder.
What about man, humankind? As the psalmist gazes up into the heavens…perhaps on a star-studded night, he wonders about man: ‘what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? (verse 4) The answer comes in the next verse: ‘You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings (or angels) and crowned him with glory and honour.’ The key point here is that humanity is nothing without God. Man has no dignity without God. It is only when we human beings realise this; that everything comes from God and that what we give him comes from him in the first place (1 Chronicles 29.14) that we become the people he meant us to be. We are made rulers over the created order, all flocks and herds, and beasts of the field, the birds of the air and the fish of the seas not because our own strength and ingenuity but by divine commission from God himself (verses 6-8) By contrast, Sophocles, the ancient Greek play write has: ‘Wonders are many, and none is more wonderful than man.’ (Sophocles Antigone) I think you would agree that much of our modern culture owes more Greek philosophy than the biblical writings. As we were observing in our Tough Question session on science and religion, it is our faith derived from the scriptures which helps explain ‘why’ while natural science tackles the issues of what and how.
In Psalm 8, David recognises the part played by two other entities in God’s ordering of all things. First are the angles. Verse 5 speaks of the ‘heavenly beings’; the ‘Elohim’ in Hebrew. It is difficult to translate the original word used here into English. It can be translated as ‘God’ such is the closeness of the Elohim to him and mankind is ‘a little lower’ than the Elohim. Elsewhere the scripture refers to the angelic host, the beings who worship God day and night. Occasionally, particularly in relation to Jesus, that angelic presence is manifest; the annunciation to Mary and the at the empty tomb. Our culture has a somewhat tinsel town view of angels, often preferring a cosy view of them rather than recognising them as holy manifestations of God’s presence. They are his messengers, winds and flames of fire his servants. (Psalm 104.4)
The second role marked out in Psalm 8 is that of children and infants. It is from them that God has ordained praise. (verse 2) It is a constant theme of our bible that we must not take our cue from those who would aspire to the great offices of state, who wield political or intellectual power but from children who can see and believe clearly not encumbered by all the junk we accumulate in our minds through life. When Jesus teaches and heals people in the temple, the children cry out: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, the teachers of the law are indignant, but Jesus quotes this verse. God has ordered our world in such a way that we should listen to the simple trust and faith of the child.
Our examination of Psalm 8 teaches so much about God’s ordering of our world, not just the amazing planet on which we live with it’s beauty and biodiversity but also the heavenly beings and the place that humanity is given to have responsible dominion, be a custodian of the earth. Needless to say, we are not doing a good job. Should we not be listening to the children a little more?
Finally, having spoken much of God, we cannot leave Trinity Sunday without reference to the Son and the Spirit. The remarkable thing about Jesus’ place in God’s ordering is that he had to change place on the pitch. The first chapters of Hebrews tell us how he was superior to the angels but was moved to become man even the Son of Man as referenced in our psalm. This was necessary in order to restore humanity which had ‘fallen’ lower down the order to its rightful place. Jesus then takes the highest place at one with his father in glory. And the Spirit? Takes what belongs to the Father and the Son and gives it to us who will receive it. (John 16.14-15) Or as Paul puts it: ‘we have not received a spirit that makes you a slave, but the Spirit of sonship.’ (Romans 8.15) In other words, it is the Holy Spirit that confirms our new place in God’s ordering of all things as his beloved children, not by our own efforts but through his love in Christ.
As we play the game of life, let us do so with an eye to the God who is manager of all things. Let us listen to his voice through the Holy Spirit and play our part with joy and gratitude.
Trinity Sunday 16.06.2019

Rev Jonathan Smith

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