Many of you know how often I refer to the wonders of the natural world, including the sun and the stars in the Universe, as a demonstration of God’s power and presence, but today I want to suggest that we can also look for God somewhere completely different. Where else is there that God is at work in wonderful ways? Why, in us of course! No, not just in our good thoughts and actions, but in the objects we create. This is thus a plug for engineers and architects, and people like that, to recognise that what they are thinking and doing is a work of God. I could have picked out musicians and artists but that would have been a bit too obvious, so no, let’s look instead at the great engineering structures that we humans have made, and see God in them.
My favourites include railways, of course, (not just steam trains!) but even more some of the great bridges of the world. I once astonished a friend in Manchester by asking to be taken to the Barton Swing Aqueduct, and there are thousands of other examples. Even I, with my limited knowledge of such matters, recognise, that these great things could not be created without a co-operation between the laws of physics and maths and the human mind applying them to particular problems.
The atheist might argue that such great things simply show how wonderfully clever we human beings are, but we would say that the intricacy of the human mind is a gift from God. But the laws of physics and maths are something else aren’t they? They are not something our minds have created, but are part of the mystery of our ordered Universe, and are thus for us who believe, a strong indication that there is a creative power underlying all this. Such great structures may impress us, whether we know much about maths or not, but we also need to look at so many other ordinary things that all of us use in everyday life – from tin openers to vacuum cleaners!
I have picked on big things like bridges today, because Jesus does the same in the Gospel ((Matthew 25:14-30) even though you won’t have noticed it because you probably don’t realise what a “talent” is. The story makes more sense if you convert the talent into the approximate equivalent of modern money. Looked at that way, then one person in the story is given 50 Million pounds to invest, another person 20 million pounds, and even the third person is still given 10 million pounds – quite a lot really! Now we can see what Jesus is saying. God gives us so much – the equivalent of millions of pounds – but it is up to us to use these gifts. Those God blesses are those who have the enterprise and the imagination to use all the resources God has given them. He also points out that the person who retreats into fear in the face of all that he or she has been given is in a sad way. We may not all design and build enormous bridges, or their equivalent, but we can all in smaller ways use the mind we have been given and the resources of the world to make the world a better place.
Jesus goes a bit further though, doesn’t he? The first two people make a big return because they have taken risks, and these are the ones especially praised by God. But he also understands those who are more cautious and, using the analogy of investment in a bank, shows us that all of us, at least in small ways, can use the gifts we have been given. These can simply be the kind actions that we offer to others in our ordinary lives, the actions we usually think of as the sort of things God wants us to do. For even in these smallest actions, there are choices to be made and risks to be taken. Caring for others, for example, can be a risky business, as we face the possibility of rejection, but unless we all take such risks, we are, as Jesus says, “Good for nothing”.
Once again we are being reminded to stay awake to the many many different ways God can work in our lives. When I was younger I was deeply sceptical about miracles, until one day I prayed for someone who was dying, expecting that the prayer would help them die in peace, even though it included a prayer for healing, and found out a few days later that the person had got better! I was astonished, and since then have been much more aware of the power of God at work even among those of us whose faith is fairly small. Of course, such things do not happen on a daily basis, but unless we remain open to God’s power working in us in one way or another, we are wasting all the immense gifts that God has given us. Healing a dying person and building a bridge may seem far removed from one another, but, as I hope I have shown, both, and all the other things in between, are a sign of God at work in every human being whether they believe in God or not.