Sermon on the Second Sunday before Lent

Readings: Genesis 2.4b-9,15-25; Psalm 65; Revelation 4; Luke 8.22-25

Saturday before last a group of us met
for a workshop on the subject of the Common Good.
The idea has been around for a very long time,
in the work of people like Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, various popes,
and modern philosophers such as Rousseau, Smith, Marx, and Locke.
But what is it, exactly?

Well, the common good is the shared life of a society
in which everyone can flourish.
It is a life shared by different people of different political persuasions
who work together despite their differences,
contributing their different skills and gifts,
to achieve the common goal of a good life for all.

Let me take our choir as an example of the common good.
This is a group of different people
with different opinions on many things,
each bringing their different musical gifts
to sing different musical parts –
– tenors, altos, sopranos, basses –
with the purpose of creating the common good of music.

Another good example is a family,
which collaborates together despite their sometimes very painful differences,
to keep the good thing, that is family, going,
offering each other the mutual support and love a family exists to provide.

But perhaps you haven’t got a family like that.
Perhaps you haven’t sung in a choir,
or had any other way of experiencing the common good.
And perhaps you’re asking, why? Why should I seek the common good?
Why should anyone bother acting for the common good?
Surely this is a ruthless world we live in,
where you are either a have or a have not;
and the have’s job is to hold on to what they’ve got and multiply it,
and the have nots have either got to get rich or die trying.
Or for those without the stomach for such a way of life,
to withdraw into resentment or rejection of the rest of society,
or to choose a life-style that numbs the pain,
whether through over-work, perpetual screen time,
food, drink, drugs, porn – choose your poison.

Whether you’re a have, or a have not,
why should we seek the common good
in a dog eat dog, zero sum world
in which everyone is out to get what they can for themselves anyway?

Well, our readings for today tell a very different story about the world.
They begin with a reminder of THE Good, with a capital G.
The Good that is God.
The story of creation taken from the book Genesis
reminds us that at heart the world is Good,
at heart the world is made by our good God
for a good purpose.
God has made us,
we are not here by chance;
there is a powerful creative, life giving force at the heart of reality.
And our whole life on earth, is a gift,
given to us afresh with each passing moment,
by the loving, creative energy of God.
So, the first reason to seek the common good is that
despite appearances to the contrary,
life itself is a good gift from a good God,
given for the purpose of enjoying communion with God and each other
in the beautiful world he has put us in.

Of course, if we read further in Genesis we will come to the story of the fall,
in which the bible faces up to the reality of the brokenness of our world.
So, for the cynics among you,
no, we’re not in the business of ignoring the painful truths;
in fact, the whole bible concerns, in one way or another,
the story of how God, having created this world,
seeks to heal and restore it to his original intentions.

The pinnacle of his efforts in this healing and restoring this world
back into right relationship with himself,
is in the coming of Jesus Christ among us.
This living creative, energetic God
who creates us and sustains us moment to moment,
and because of whom society flourishes,
this God came to us in the person of Jesus.

In an act of profound selflessness and moving solidarity,
God took on flesh and became one of us.
The story of Jesus calming the storm,
makes the connection for us.
The disciples, mere human beings,
are in a small boat in the middle of the sea,
being tossed about by the elemental forces of nature;
the wind is in their ears,
they are blinded by dark storm clouds, lashing sea spray,
and mountainous waves that are crashing overboard,
rapidly filling the hull with water,
and they are on the verge of sinking.
They are beside themselves; desperate.

But they have Jesus.
Of course, they don’t yet realise who he really is.
They haven’t yet made the connection as we have done,
between the story of creation,
and the man lying fast asleep in the hold of their embattled little boat.
But they wake him nonetheless,
and rather than giving them a short sermon
on the brevity of life,
and standing with them in solidarity as they sink to their deaths,
he does what only the creator God can do,
and commands the storm to cease.

The effect of Jesus’ words becomes immediately clear,
as the angle of the rain adjusts from horizontal to a vertical drizzle,
and the waves are tamed, losing their anger.
And the disciples look at him, and at one another,
and see him in an entirely new light.
“Who then is this,
that he commands even the winds and the water,
and they obey him?’”

This man Jesus, as we now believe,
is the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah
sent to restore the peace or shalom, or common good, of God.
This man Jesus is the creative, life giving energy at the heart of reality,
he who created the earth, who sustains it moment to moment;
that’s why he can calm the elemental forces of nature.

We are not on our own in this vast cosmos,
and this world is not dog eat dog all the way down to its core, it is good.
It was made good by our good creator God,
who proves his love for us by the profoundly selfless act of becoming human,
and exposing himself to the frailties and vulnerabilities of our flesh,
and died an ignominious death like poorest criminal.

Because of Jesus – the energetic, life-giving, Creator God,
we can tell a different story about the nature of reality.
Because of Jesus we can reject the dog eat dog,
haves and have nots view of reality,
and can instead seek the common good of all.
Because of Jesus we can lay aside our greed, our resentment,
our fear and distrust of the other,
and instead step together into the life-giving, creative energy
at the heart of reality
as we seek the common good of all
for which we were created.