Fishing vessels offshore in a heavy sea, Ludolf Bakhuizen (1630–1708), Amsterdam 1684; Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Fr Neil’s homily for the Third Sunday after Trinity, 20 June 2021

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come.

Our first reading¹ sees God addressing Job. Job has been understandably consumed with his suffering and has vociferously made known to God his complaint about his undeserved trials. God is silent until the closing chapters of the book of Job where the false comforters are punished and God set Job’s suffering into the context of the whole created order.

Like Job we sometimes understandably shake our fist at God for the tribulations we bear. However, like Job we also have to come to terms with the fact that some forms of suffering are neither sent by God nor a direct consequence of our own actions but a part of being finite creatures in a fallen world, where sin and death have been woven into its very fabric.

God asks Job, “Who was there at the beginning of all things and set the boundaries of all creation? Who will be there at the end of all things?” We are faced with these same questions in the light of suffering and evil. If the answer is nothing but fate alone, then existence is a cruel trick and our only option is despair and nihilism.

The great answer for Job is that God was and is there. Alpha and Omega, he has his hand on all things from beginning to end. We will never be able to fully understand the mystery of creation, suffering, death, sin and salvation history but we can be assured that life is not meaningless. God is with us, especially in the midst of the storm. Hence Christ’s words in response to the disciples’ accusation, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?”² He admonishes the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Christ is simply yet profoundly saying, I am with you, therefore ultimately you have nothing to fear.

Paul speaks to the great mystery of our salvation, the work of God to bring about a transformed and renewed creation. Christ is at the centre of this mystery as he is in the midst of the storm. Paul reveals that the key is to live in Christ, not according to ‘the flesh’ but according to the spirit. To continue to labour a point from last Sunday’s homily, Paul isn’t being dualistic in opposing the spiritual and material. When Paul uses the term ‘flesh,’ he is referring not to the body per se but to the fallen world.

One cannot help but ask if Paul isn’t referencing his own experience of viewing the world — and even Christ — according to the flesh. Paul before his Damascus Road experience saw Christ as a false prophet and the people of ‘the Way’ as heretics who needed imprisonment and even death. This viewing of others according to the ways of the fallen world, the flesh, can even use religious language and have a religious flavour to it.

So we can have a situation where even those inside the Church seek to twist or manipulate or, indeed, openly reject the Church’s teaching on particular subjects. Whenever we are tempted to think in these terms, we are revealing the ‘spirit of the age’ rather than being those who have had their minds renewed in Christ. We can see what the renewing of our minds might mean, in Paul’s dramatic encounter with Christ in the Spirit. It turned his world completely upside-down. Saul the prosecutor of ‘the Way’ became Saint Paul, its greatest missionary and preacher.

Paul’s great distinction then is not between the material and spiritual, but rather whether a person is in Christ or not. We are no longer to see ourselves or view others according to ‘the flesh’ but via Christ and in the Spirit.

Do we therefore think and make our everyday decisions in the light of the fact that we are a new creation in Christ? In Christ we stand between the fallen world and the fullness of the new heaven and new earth that is to be revealed. Paul clearly sees our transformation as being brought about by our participation in Christ’s death and rising again. “He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”³ Therefore as Christians our lives ought to be marked by a continuous act of thanksgiving — living for him, seeking out his will for our lives and viewing others in the same manner as Christ himself.

Baptism marks most profoundly our direct participation in Christ’s death and resurrection. Paul expresses this reality even more explicitly in Romans: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life … We know that our former man was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.”⁴

It is the power of Christ’s passion and resurrection at work in us that makes us a new creation. Baptism is a present, on-going state, not just a past event or rite of passage.

Therefore being found in Christ we can stand in the midst of the storm, not viewing it from ‘the flesh’ or the spirit of the age but as a new creation in Christ, Christ in whom we have triumphed over sin and death in his passion and resurrection. Christ stands with us in the storms of our lives and we now view them with faith and a hope that can banish our fear. In Christ we are able to glimpse the bigger picture and know that nothing outside ourselves, ‘can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’⁵ For we know in whose hands we rest.

¹ Job 38:1, 8–11
² Mark 4:38
³ 2 Corinthians 5:15
⁴ Romans 6:3–6
⁵ Romans 8:39