Listening to the Heartbeat of God (part 1)

Bible Text: John 1:1-9 | Preacher: Rev. Charles Scott


This morning we will embark on a journey together in terms of our worship experience and hopefully an appreciation of an ancient Celtic wisdom. This ancient wisdom stirred a sense of awe and wonder in Sharon and I in the God revealed in Jesus Christ. There will be a period of silence following some Taize music opening us to a sense of the Presence of this God. Music is a wondrous gift of God given to us to enjoy but also to create a receptive openness to this Presence. I recently listened to a scientist who suggested that our music reflects the rhythms of the universe. Every culture on earth has some form of music which expresses the poetry of life, our deep pain and joy. In the Bible the psalms give voice to the music of our hearts and the creation.

The meditation period will comprise one sermon spread over 2 Sundays. After each Sunday morning worship, I will be in the Library to receive your comments, positive or negative, about the worship experience. As many of you know Sharon and I journeyed to Scotland and France to participate in the Taize and Iona communities. The former introduced us to a form of singing, very simple but lovely tunes focused on Biblical texts and periods of silence. We participated with the Brothers of this ecumenical community along with some 800 young people. When we travelled to Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, we received lectures on Celtic Spirituality best expressed by the Gospel of John. Along with this tradition we will also consider the Peter tradition revealed more by the synoptic Gospels.

It was an interesting and transforming juxtaposition between the 2 experiences. Taize wedded together sung biblical texts and silence. They focused on the presence of God in the Christ through the Spirit which became apparent in these moments. I recognize that many of you experience the loneliness of silence when you experience the loss of a loved one with whom you have lived and known life together over many years. This silence, particularly in the evening time can be devastating; no one with which to share the day and lie within the intimacy and vulnerability of sleep. But there is a silence of presence as expressed by the story in I Kings. A SOUND OF SHEER SILENCE. This is what Sharon and I experienced in Taize.

1) The John Perspective

I have always been drawn to John’s Gospel. In some respects it is quite different from the synoptic Gospels; of Matthew, Mark, Luke. John is a much more reflective type of Gospel with the intertwining of the great themes of Word, Light, and Life in the Prologue. These will be joined by Water and Bread as an expression of what is absolutely necessary for a life in God in this world and the next. In the story of Nicodemus the Spirit becomes the primary person who is absolutely necessary for the Life as God intends, not only for His human creatures but all life. The text in the Book of Revelation reads: THEN I SAW A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH, FOR THE FIRST HEAVEN AND THE FIRST EARTH HAD PASSED AWAY.

The image which informs and shapes Celtic spirituality is the picture of John, the Beloved disciple, leaning toward the Christ at the last supper, to listen to THE HEARTBEAT OF GOD. This image is understood in the context of the Prologue of John which reflects the unique and intimate relationship between Christ and God. IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD, AND THE WORD WAS WITH GOD, AND THE WORD WAS GOD. HE WAS IN THE BEGINNING WITH GOD. ALL THINGS CAME INTO BEING THROUGH HIM, AND WITHOUT HIM NOT ONE THING CAME INTO BEING. WHAT HAS COME INTO BEING IN HIM WAS LIFE, AND THE LIFE WAS THE LIGHT OF ALL PEOPLE.

Notice that John uses the text directly from Genesis to indicate that not only is earth an expression of this life but the whole cosmos is integrated into this understanding. All, the whole cosmos reflects the reality of God in Christ by the Spirit. Christ is the creative Word that brought all life into existence. Here is a free translation of this text. IN THE BEGINNING GOD CREATED THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH. BEFORE THERE WAS ONLY EMPTY DARKNESS AND THE DEEP ETERNAL WATERS. BUT IN THE DARK A WIND BEGAN TO STIR. IT WAS THE BREATH OF LIFE. IT WAS GOD SAYING, ‘LET THERE BE LIGHT.’ It affirms that the voice of God in Christ is to be found in all living things. This has profound implication for us who recognize this reality in terms of our relationships with one another and the creation. In some respects we who live carefully protected from the elements of nature have forgotten this memory. It points to who we ought to be and to whom we belong. This truth, that we are created in the image of God, is hidden in the depths of our soul.

John reflects a spirituality that sees God in the whole of life; that understands all things as inter related, in relationship. God is recognized in all life forms in the creation. What is deepest within us is not opposed to God but reflects this God. As we know we may ignore this reality but we cannot escape it. We are innately good, not evil, because of this image. The Scriptures suggests that we are to search out this reality in ourselves and others. We are to treat others as if they house the Christ at the centre of their life, certainly not easy to do. This is John’s universal perspective; a perspective in which Christ is the source of all life. A type of cosmic Christ.

In a real sense John represents the way of contemplation, of prayer and reflection. Obviously it is not the whole meaning and implication of story of John but it is a major theme. It is also reflected in the Epistles in which John as an old man addresses the congregations he loves as his LITTLE CHILDREN. In the Book of Revelation he addresses the ANGEL OF THE CHURCH or in another translation THE SPIRIT OF THE CHURCH. He ends with his understanding the transformation of the cosmos with the words: THEN I SAW A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH; FOR THE FIRST HEAVEN AND THE FIRST EARTH HAD PASSED AWAY, AND THE SEA WAS NO MORE. Revelation is an affirmation of this comic theme. John writes from the Island of Patmos where he was imprisoned encouraging the church to remain faithful to the end of time when there will be NO MORE MOURNING AND CRYING AND PAIN.

2 The Peter Perspective

As I suggested the Synoptic Gospels have a somewhat different slant on things. The Gospel of Matthew written for a Jewish audience is much more focused on a particular understanding of Christ. Here Peter is to be the ROCK ON WHICH THE CHURCH IS TO BE BUILT. This tradition in some senses has become the predominate understanding of the church historically. This tradition sees God in relation to a particular people. Thus the Gospel of Matthew begins with a genealogy. AN ACCOUNT OF THE GENEALOGY OF JESUS THE MESSIAH, SON OF DAVID, SON OF ABRAHAM. Jesus brings salvation to the world through a particular line of descent. He belongs to a particular family and heritage with a history and prophetic tradition. It is always necessary to particularize our response to God in our time and place, our history and culture, our traditions and rituals. This is what Matthew does for us. He relates the Christ to a particular people, in a particular time with a particular religious culture.

The strength of the Peter tradition is that it enshrines the light of truth within the life of the church, in its tradition and sacraments. It is indeed the rock and shelter especially in times of stormy change. It allows us in times of personal confusion and crisis to turn to the familiar house of prayer where our mothers and fathers in the faith found truth and guidance.

The Peter tradition also underlines our capacity for sin and warns us to be on guard against this tendency in ourselves and others. This reality is also reflected in John when it says HE CAME TO HIS OWN AND HIS OWN DID NOT RECEIVE HIM. In the Gospels Christ is the One who fulfils the law and is the model for this corrective in our lives. His body, the Church, is to be the embodiment of this corrective. While its leadership and people often fail in this regard it still has this responsibility. As Graham Vietch pointed out some weeks ago our culture is often so dominating that we are reluctant to confront it in our own lives and the lives of others. But it was something that Christ often did in his ministry and which was a major reason for his death.

The Peter tradition emphasizes faithful action.

3) Separate Entities

The reality is that if we do not work to balance these perspectives and traditions in our lives the culture in which we are a part soon overshadows and directs our understanding of the Christ, shapes our response to the social, political and economic crisis of our time and misdirects our use of the gifts and resources that God gives to us.

For example, to emphasize the spiritual nature of the John tradition without the Peter tradition can produced a spirituality which is no longer connected to the corrective of the Church and is cut off from its truth and the guidance it provides. It can produce a individualistic, narcissistic, spirituality which focuses on self. It may well produce a psychological peace but is disconnected from the social realities which confront us. It is a type of contemplating one’s navel and reflects a disconnect between our spirituality and the social context to which we belong and must minister. It can become a community of like-minded people with a particular mindset with which we agree. In this social context there can be a loss of honesty, openness, and transformative growth.

One the other hand an emphasis on the Peter tradition which is more focused on law and structure can mean that our gifts and resources are poured into these structures rather than ministry and service. I remember well serving one of our churches in Edmonton which had a rather large sanctuary and organ. One particularly cold month it cost $5000. to heat the building. Congregations are struggling to keep such building operational but it strikes me that some way is going to have to be found to deal with this problem since it is diverting a good deal of money into structures rather than ministry and mission. I read an article by last years Moderator of the General Assembly in Scotland. He mentioned that as soon as the churches run our of money we will return to the times of the early church with its zeal and sharing, depending on God for our resources. I am sure that in our context this would be considered foolish, certainly not prudent. Yet this is the manner in which the early church began.

Next week we will consider the balance and relationship which is necessary between the two traditions and perspective