Friday, 13 February 2009

Life

John 1:1-14

LIFE: What is life?

I make no pretence to be a scientist. Gave up on science when I realised I would have to learn the periodic table, and that there was no system to help me! 

Wikipedia gives one definition of life: "A characteristic of self-organizing, self-recycling systems consisting of populations  of  replicators that are capable of mutation, around most of which homeostaticmetabolizing organisms evolve".

Is that all? I heard on Friday of a 12 year old boy who has just become a father with a 15 year old girl. Is the life that has been produced simply the product of unprotected sex or is it something more? And if it is nothing more, what right does that particular baby, that bundle of cells which sleeps, eats and cries have to exist? And if it ceases to exist, so what? We do not grieve a leaf that falls from a tree, and yet the biological process that worked within the leaf – of cells separating and reproducing - is exactly the same process that grew the baby within the womb of the 15 year old. 


Dawkins, our favourite atheist, argues that there is no purpose in life. It is just one of those things that has emerged. It once was not; while it is, it is about the reproduction and survival of individual DNA; and one day it will not be. As Ernst Hemingway once said, 'Life is nothing more than a dirty trick. A short trip from nothingness to nothingness'

And yet I suspect that there is a voice in each of us which rebels against that. If evolutionary processes are the only and the final answer to the existence of life and of human beings, we need to ask ourselves why evolution has produced a creature that is able to ask, 'Why do I exist?' and which feels that it has in some way responsibility for all the other creatures? 

There is something within us which says: 'That baby of the 12 and 15 year old really matters'. 

John's gospel uses two words for life: psuxe – physical life, literally: the breath of life, and zoe – eternal life, life in all its abundance. I guess it is the difference between life, existing and real life. 

Oscar Wilde: "To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all".

Well our passage from John talks about the one who not only has real life, but who is real life. It speaks of the Word who was with God and who was God. And it goes on to say, 'in him was life'. 

So what is this LIFE?

1. This life is inseparable from God. 'The Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning'.

Real life is God and is in God. Real life cannot be separated from relationship with God

That is why we are invited to become children of God. (John 1:12). 

We are invited to come into the same relationship with God that Jesus Christ had. Although he has always been with God, and there has never been a time when he has not been, He called God Father. He is the 'One and Only Son of God'. 

And through him, we are invited to become children of God. It is only as children of God that we can know, participate in this life

It is when we are united to God that we live. 

It is when we are most like Jesus Christ, not only in what he did, but in who he was: the Son of God, that we live. Real life begins when we call God, Father.

We are most fully alive when we are in a right relationship with God, receiving what God wishes to lavish on us; delighting in doing what God wills in order to delight God. 

That is why real Life begins on its knees

2. This life gives life to others: 'Through him all things were made; without him nothing was that has been made'.

Life gives life. That is true physically.

A cell that reproduces is alive. A cell that doesn't reproduce is dead.

And the Word is Life because he created all things: 

The writer to the Hebrews states (Hebrews 11:3), 'By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible'. We call it creation ex-nihilo, 'creation out of nothing'.

This does not tell us how God created matter. It is stating the fact that God did create all that exists.

There will be a great deal about Darwin and the theory of evolution this year. Did any of you see the Attenborough programme on Darwin? It was brilliant. It is very hard to argue against that sort of evidence. But throughout the programme, Attenborough argued or implied that if Darwin is right, God does not exist. 

I simply cannot buy that argument. Even if Darwin is right in everything, and we all come from a pre-historic protoplasm that lived in the sea – where did it all come from in the first place? Why do cells divide? Why do cells change and mutate? Why don't they break down instead of becoming more complex? 

As I said, I make no pretence to be a scientist. But I do know that if I have a particular scientific theory of why the world is as it is now, of the scientific processes that are in the world, it does not exclude God. Even if the theory of an infinite number of parallel universes could be proved, it would not exclude God. God is big enough to work through any process we can possibly conceive

I am a creationist. Not in the sense that I believe in a 6 day 24 hour creation: I don't, and I am not persuaded that the bible asks us to do that. But I am a creationist because I believe that this world is a creation. It has been created. It has been – and continues to be shaped – by a creator, who gives life.

And God not only gives psuxe, physical life. 

God also gives zoe, eternal life.

And we live when we share in that work of God. 

Physically we are most alive when we give or preserve human physical life – even if it means sacrificing our own physical life. That is why so many people find that life without love is meaningless: and by love I do not mean that self-centred seeking for an experience to solve all my problems, but the willingness to lay down my happiness, my comfort, my life for another. To love really is to live. To give really is to live. 

Spiritually we are most alive, when we present or preserve real life. Actually only God can give zoe, real eternal life, but we can pray for people; and like John the Baptist we can be a witness to this life, and we can share with others this amazing offer that Jesus gives: 'that to all who receive him, he gives to us the right to become children of God'. 

It is one of the reasons why involvement in some form of evangelistic ministry, which can be incredibly costly, is also so life affirming. 

Charles Spurgeon said, "Even if I were utterly selfish and had no care for anything but my own happiness, I would choose, if God allowed, to be a soul winner, for never did I know perfect, overflowing, unutterable happiness of the purest and most ennobling order till I first heard of one who had sought and found a Saviour through my means."

And I think it was CT Studd, who chose to give away his entire inheritance (and he inherited the family estate which was pretty significant) and who went as a missionary to China with CIM, who said: 'For sheer enjoyment and pure self-indulgence, give me soul winning any day'.

And we can and indeed are called to nurture each other in the faith. That is what two thirds of the New Testament is about: Paul, John and Peter urging the Christians to support each other in their Christian faith, to encourage each other, to build each other up, and to grow in faith and in understanding and in love. The church really is called to be the community of the living, of the really alive. 

3. This life brings light. 'In him was life and that life was the light of the people' 

This life is illuminating.

When Jesus came into the world he was the light. He made clear the truth about God, about life, about living, about our human situation and the human heart, about God's laws and the purpose God has for us and for this universe. 

He made it clear not just in the words that he spoke, or the things he did, but in the very person who he was. 

There was no confusion or darkness in him: no hidden motives or agendas, no dark side. He was Ronseal. What you saw was what you got. 

And we are most alive when we are light in Christ. We are called to shine as children of light.

When we live the life, there will be no darkness in us: We are called to be transparent - to be onions and not oranges. When you take off the orange peel, you get something very different inside. When you peel an onion, you get onion. Of course, we – unlike Jesus - are sinful and mixed up. We are full of doubts, fears and inadequacies. I'm not suggesting that we wear our hearts on our sleeves at all times – but I am suggesting that we need to be honest with God, with each other and with ourselves. It's not the fact that we mess up that is the problem. We all mess up. It is the fact that we mess up and then cover up. We pretend to ourselves or to others that we are OK. I was told that John Stott, having been publicly praised before he spoke, replied by saying: 'If you could see into my heart, you would spit in my face'. 

We are called to do the things of the light: to put away the deeds of darkness. There is no place for lying or cheating, for using or abusing people. There is no place for pride or envy or self-centredness. There is no place for greed or lust – which wishes to seize other things or other people for myself, to satisfy my desire. 

And living the life means speaking light: speaking words that enable others to see the truth. And that can be the truth about God, about reality or about something that they are doing. 

But before we all go off and tell each other a few straight home truths – may I remind us that we are called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). That means I look at others as God looks at them. I look at others in the light of the truth that they are beloved by God, that God desires for us to become his and to grow as his children. And we need to treat people as adults, especially in our society today – not simply standing above them and telling them that they are wrong (it just doesn't work) - but standing alongside them, asking them questions, getting them to think.

When we live there will be light.

4. This life is often rejected: 'He came to the world and the world did not recognise him; he came to his own but they did not receive him'

And here is the mystery: Why should anyone choose to reject God?

The reason that the bible gives is very simple. It is the same reason that Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit. It is the same reason that the people of Israel rebelled against God. It is the same reason why we choose to silence God.

It is about sin and rebellion and pride and the putting up of false things in the place of God. 

The awful truth about you and me is that we prefer darkness instead of light. 

Why should I listen to God, why should I do what he wants, when I think I can be god myself – or at least think I can choose my god?

And when we do live the life, there will be times when we are rejected. 

It is easy to point to Christians suffering in totalitarian countries

It is easy to point to where political correctness has gone mad

It is easy to point to how, in a nation of xenophobes, someone declaring God's love for all people will be persecuted.

But individuals here and now find that they are rejected when they recognise the reality of Christ. 

We will be accused of betraying our family, or of trying to improve ourselves, if we start going to church

We will be accused of religious fanaticism if we start to read the bible on a daily basis, or join a homegroup

We will be ridiculed, or told that we are selfish, when we give our money away

We will be condemned as intolerant if we say we believe sexual intimacy outside of marriage is wrong

We will be accused of betraying our community if we welcome or befriend gypsies, homeless people, those with severe psychiatric needs, people on the child protection register or immigrant neighbours

We will be charged with being a hypocrite if we withdraw from something that friends are doing that is destructive and wrong

We will be charged as being inadequate or of needing a crutch if we pray

We will be accused of being eccentric and irrelevant if we become vicars (which is probably true!).


This life is real life, but it is a life that is so often rejected. 

5. This life is glorious: 'We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth'

Glory, light and life come together in Jesus. 

Real life takes hold of ordinary life, physical life, grips it and transforms it into glorious life. That glory was seen in the life of Jesus Christ on earth. It was seen in his grace and his truth; it was seen in his relationship with his Father; it was seen in his love for men and women; it was seen in his works of power; it was seen in the cross and resurrection. 

And we are invited to share in this glorious life. 

    To become children of God

    To give life to others

    To be light

    To be rejected

    To know the cross and the resurrection

Irenaeus, one of the very earliest bishops wrote, "The glory of God is a human being who is fully alive with his face turned towards God".


 


 


 

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