Sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Zachary Guiliano
“In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth, and the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, while the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:1-3).
God the Father made all things by his Word. That Word “was in the beginning with God” (John 1:2). Indeed, as St John tells us in the prologue of the Gospel that bears his name, that Word “was God” (John 1:1). In the creation of the world, the laying of its foundations, that Word was not absent. He was near God; or to be more biblical, that Word was “in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18), interior to God, near his heart, delighting with him in eternity and “rejoicing” with him in created time and space (Prov. 8:30). And with the Spirit also, he moved upon the face of the waters.
And so, as that Word was near God, he is also near the creation, never absent, never far. He is near all things, as the inner reason and cause of their being, as the basis of their goodness, as the developer of their unfolding truth. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17).
This is a heady vision, indeed a mysterious truth worth pondering and dwelling upon day in and day out. The Word is very “near you” (Rom 10:8), near me, near everything that dwells in the heavens and on the earth and under the earth (see Ps. 139). Nothing escapes his power or authority, nothing escapes his benevolent gaze or his providential ordering. What glory this Word has!
“O Worship the King, all glorious above,” as we sang a few moments ago.
O gratefully sing his power and his love. Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of days, Pavilioned in splendour, and girded with praise.
Yet there is more. For “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). This Word that was before all things, and by whom all things were made, became flesh in Jesus Christ.
He “came on earth and went about among us,” to quote the words of our Eucharistic liturgy (Common Worship, Prayer B). “He put an end to death by dying for us and revealed the resurrection by rising to new life; so he fulfilled [God’s] will and won for [him] a holy people.”
The nearness of the Word is a truth that can make the heart sing, indeed that Word himself “dwells richly” in our heart, inspiring our praise, so that we “make melody to him in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16). There is a strange symmetry in this. The Word dwells in the bosom of the Father, and he dwells in the redeemed human heart, kindling it with his own flame of love.
The Word is very near you. Thanks be to God.
For any heart that has known the ache of sorrow or alienation, for anyone of us who has felt fear or dreaded condemnation, whether from God or from human beings, this is a great comfort. For the Word is near: near to save, near to deliver, near to comfort us in all our afflictions. For “surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4) – borne our griefs up, in his own wounded, risen, and glorified body, carrying them into union with the God.
The Word is very near you.
This truth is a correction also to a common misperception in the spiritual life. We often feel that we must seek the Word. Perhaps we perceive in our lives something is missing – some lack that needs fulfilling, some desire whose object is unknown and unnamed. And we think we go out, questing for some solution. Yet in our reading today from Romans, St Paul addresses such yearning and yet upends it.
For it is not the case that our own action or seeking establishes Christ’s presence with us. We are not on some heroic quest, seeking out some goodness or beauty or truth on our own – spiritual Jacks climbing the beanstalk, epic heroes facing down challenges and slaying monsters and claiming treasure. We do not have to find the Word that fulfils all that is lacking in us. Faith does not speak or seek in such a way. Rather, we receive the Word that is spoken to us, that reveals the truth of our own existence.
“Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” (Rom. 10:6-7)
Christ is already come down, in his incarnation; he has already come up, in his resurrection. He has sought you out, crossing the sea even in search of his own endangered faithful, who are tossed upon the waves of this fluctuating, inconstant, slipping world.
It is easy to forget this truth – this nearness of the Word – and find ourselves believing we are alone and without aid. The twelve apostles themselves had to learn and re-learn this truth; they live out their learning before our eyes in the Gospels. They had been with Jesus in his ministry, seen him heal the sick and raise the dead, heard his teaching, watched him work wonders in the transformation of the elements, as he changed water into wine, and made five loaves and two fish into an abundant feast for 5000.
And yet as the disciples crossed that Galilean sea, they felt themselves overcome by the wind and the waves (Matt. 14:22-33). How terrifying that must have been. Anyone who has been at sea for any length of time can sympathise. We humans, with all our God-given skill and technology, can still be overwhelmed by unpredictable changes of weather: winds, floods, and gales! It is easy to lose faith in such moments, when our physical lives feel threatened; just as it is hard to keep faith when we feel overwhelmed emotionally or spiritually by stormy tempests in our interior life, by bad memories and remembered trauma, or changes and suffering in our circle of friends or family, or perhaps even an inexplicable depression or fear that God is absent.
But the disciples learned something that morning; they learned a lesson on our behalf: that whatever the challenges of the dark night, “early in the morning” the Lord comes, walking across the waves to his people. “Take heart!” he says. “It is I; do not be afraid.”
The Word is very near you.
He is near to those who are battered by the waves, or buffeted by strong winds. He is near to those who do not recognize him; he is near even to those who see him and doubt, as Peter did; he will reach forth his strong arm and save, teasing gently: “O you of little faith.” And he can make the storm cease.
As you leave this service, remember this truth, this nearness of the Word. Ask to have ears that are open to the Word, as he speaks in preaching and proclamation, in the reading of the Scriptures, but also in “the sound of sheer silence” (1 Kings 19:12). Ask for eyes that can see that Word’s nearness in all his creatures, both small and great.
Finally, as we all go out, let us bear the Word “in our hearts and on our lips,” as we confess Jesus as Lord, and believe that God raised him from the dead (Rom. 10:9), as we proclaim him to the world. And so shall we be saved at the last, for “no one who believes in him will be put to shame” (Rom. 10:11; Ps. 25:3).
The Word is very near you. Thanks be to God. Amen.