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The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume

Almighty God, who hast given thy only Son to be unto us both a sacrifice for sin and also an example of godly life: Give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive that his inestimable benefit, and also daily endeavour ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
Psalm 67
Romans 11:1-2, 29-32
Matthew 15:21-28

While you might think it would not be something that comes up often in daily conversation, I find myself quite often remarking that I am not really a fan of Aristotle. I think you know me well enough to realise that I do not merely live in some rarified life of the mind. I watch plenty of junky TV, read novels, listen to popular music, all this in addition to my intellectual pursuits. Indeed, had you been sitting next to me just yesterday at an outdoor table at The Coffeeshop, a restaurant on the corner of 16th Street and Union Square West, you could have been heard remarking that very fact—my feeling that subscribing to Aristotle’s physics has gotten us Christians into trouble. Yesterday I was speaking of the Eucharist. Today, my worries focus more on the nature of the Godhead.

One of the most common things you will hear about God is that he is changeless. This notion comes, I have always believed, from the God of Greek philosophy, the God of Aristotle, the Unchanged First Mover. The idea that God is remote, fixed, and non-responsive can go hand-in-hand in our imagination with our notions of his omnipotence and omniscience. We imagine that God’s totality, God, power, God’s majesty is somehow diminished if we believe that God is somehow affected in and through time, affected by what we do and what we say.

The witness of the Bible, however, offers us a countervailing view. In the Hebrew Scriptures, God is intimately connected with the lives and work of his people, he is moved by what happens to his people. The God of Israel is jealous of other Gods. God gets his hand dirty, wrestles with Jacob, leads Abraham and tests him, and he certainly had a tumultuous relationship with Moses. The Old Testament teaches us just how much God loves his people and is engaged with them in history. For centuries, then, our knowledge of Scripture has been in tension with the dominant philosophical view of God.

The philosophical theologian Charles Hartshorn and his disciple, Anglican apologist W. Norman Pittenger, following the work of the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, addressed this central problem and suggested a better way of speaking of God's majesty and power was to consider the unchanging nature of his core identification with the work of love. God, then, is steadfast in his purpose, which is nothing less than love itself. God is working out love in the world to the end of achieving the Kingdom of God in its fuln