Sermon at Saint Matthias’ Church on Sunday, 21st December 2008
“According to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages .” Romans 16:25
Astronomy and theoretical physics have some fascinating concepts for which there is little evidence, but which need to be accepted in order for other ideas to work.
One of the most intriguing concepts is that of ‘dark matter’. If the universe is held together by gravity, then there must be something out there that we cannot see, because there is not sufficient mass in what we can see to hold things together. The velocity at which some galaxies turn should cause stars and planets to go shooting off into space if the only gravity holding them together is matter that can be seen. For our theories of the universe to work, something more must be present in galaxies, something that we cannot see must be exerting gravitational pull—there must be some form of dark matter; invisible stuff without which our universe just would not be the way it is.
If we can accept ‘dark matter’ as a mystery that we expect to be revealed in course of time, why, for so many, is there a problem in accepting the story of Jesus of Nazareth? It demands a much smaller leap of faith than some of the concepts of theoretical physics.
It was CS Lewis who suggested that Jesus was ‘mad’ or he is ‘bad’ or he is ‘God’; and we have to choose for ourselves between those options. Is he the ‘revelation of the mystery’ as Saint Paul writes, or is he the biggest hoaxer in history?
Sooner or later, if we are thinking at all, we have to say to ourselves, ‘what is this story about? Do I believe this?’ It is not possible to read the Gospel story and not to have these questions.
Jesus is a great teacher, he is a marvellous philosopher, he is an excellent psychologist, but he is not primarily any of these. He comes among us as one claiming to be the Son of God, he comes among us as one who performs miracles, he comes among us as one whose life is presented to us as a series of miracles. So is he mad or is he bad or is he God?
There are many parts of Jesus’ life that are like dark matter, no explanation is possible within the terms of our current science. The virgin birth, the miracles in the course of his ministry, the resurrection, the ascension – these are things that have to be accepted on faith to understand the full story of Jesus. But, if they are not true, then Jesus was mad or bad and the whole of the Christian faith is built on lies and deceit.
Our Gospel reading this morning relates the story of Mary’s encounter with Gabriel, the announcement of the virgin birth. If we do not believe this to be true, then what else do we discount? What else do we say has been made up? Being blunt, if there are chunks of the story that have been made up, then we would have to doubt the integrity of the whole story.
Christianity cannot be a religion of compromise or fudging, without critical elements, it becomes like a universe without gravity, everything flies apart. At its very heart the Christian faith is about the supernatural and the miraculous; these are the gravitational pull holding the story together..
We need to understand where it is we are coming from, what it is that we believe. Faith does not fit into the limits of human reason. Faith by its very nature means a leap into the unknown. No matter how long you think, there are no terms in our current science that are capable of explaining how God takes on human flesh, of how Jesus performs miracles, of how Jesus rises from the dead. These are not things we can explain with our present knowledge, but we believe them to be a revelation of a mystery.
Like an astronomer looking at a distant galaxy, we have to accept that there are things that are invisible, things without explanation, but we accept by faith that these things are true because they are part of our understanding of a much bigger truth—the truth we call God.
We have lived through an age when people have be shaped by an emphasis on discovering things through experiment. Can you see something? Can you touch something? Only the physical is real. It has led us to the conclusion that if something cannot be explained, then it must be untrue.
At the very heart of the whole debate there is one simple question: do we believe in the miraculous, in the invisible, in the inexplicable? If we believe in miracles, if we believe that God does things beyond all human understanding, then all things are possible. If we believe in miracles, then our answer to ’mad, bad, or God?’ is undoubtedly, that he was ’God’.
If we don’t believe in miracles, then no explanation is possible for the life and ministry of Jesus. The answer to ’mad, bad, or God?’ would have to be that he was mad, or that he was bad, in fact, the worst conman in entire human history. Without the miracles, we are like a physicist without dark matter, our whole view of the universe collapses
All of us must face this question. When we come to church, when we say our prayers, when we sing our hymns, when we say the Creed, when we share the bread and the wine, have to answer for ourselves. Is Jesus the “revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages” or is he not?
Is he mad, bad, or God?