Friday, September 18, 2015

The Heavens Declare the Glory of the Lord

Sky Sunday - Season of Creation

I could never claim to be an astrophysicist, or even claim to understand much about these things.  But I have subscribed to the kind of magazines that tell stories about these things for many years and there is something that amazes me about the sky.

With our telescopes, we have gathered visible and invisible light and radio-wave information to create images of stars, galaxies and constellations that are further away from us here on earth than we can imagine.  Indeed the light which we have used to create the images has been travelling towards us for millions of years so what we say we are seeing now is really what was there those millions of years ago – maybe it has all changed.

I suppose you are like most people, feeling more comfortable thinking about rather more solid things much closer to home – like the chair you are sitting on, or the building that we are worshipping in.

In the mid to late 16th century, as scientists were experimenting with glass lenses, Zacharias Jensen invented the first microscope and since then we have been one a quest to look at smaller and smaller things.  The electron microscope took us close enough to see the particles of atoms, and now we can even see sub-atomic particles.

What we have discovered about the world of atoms that make up solid matter in our world is that actually they are far from solid.  In fact, I hear recently that if an atom was seen on the scale of our solar system, the electrons flying around the nucleus of neutrons and protons would be as far away from the nucleus as Saturn or Jupiter are from our sun.  That seems to me to be an awful lot of space within the atoms that make up solid things.  Yet they still hold us up when we stand on them or sit on them.

When I think of our world in these two directions, I think I get in touch with the kind of awe that the Bible speaks of when it refers to our response to the Glory of the Lord.

The Psalm we read today is most eloquent about this:

1 The heavens declare the glory of God:
and the firmament proclaims
               his handiwork;

The Psalmist did not understand the heavens In the way we do today.  As best we can tell, the cosmology of the Psalmists day was based on an image of the earth as a flat disc covered over by a hemispherical dome – the heavens.  The earth we stood on and the space between earth and the dome had a specific function – to keep the water back.

If you dig deep enough into the earth, everyone knew that you would find water, so the earth is clearly keeping that water at bay.  And the rain and hail and snow that falls is obvious let in by God, through the shutters in the heavens, to water the earth so that plants could grow and we had water to drink.

That was cause enough for the Psalmist to say these heavens declared the glory of God.  Given what we know today, how much more cause have we to marvel at the glory of the Lord.

But there is something else in this Psalm that has tantalized thinking believers for thousands of years.

3 There is no speech or language:
nor are their voices heard;
4 Yet their sound has gone out
through all the world:
and their words to the ends of the earth.

Because the whole basis of our social existence relies on words spoken or read, the claim in this Psalm challenges us.  Yet in some ways we understand it when we say that “actions speak louder than words.”

But it does kind of boggle my mind thinking about how these inanimate objects we have become familiar with in our universe “speak” or “declare” something to anyone.  Let me explore this a little to see if you can get in touch with it.

How would you respond if you were sitting on a beach like Cable Beach in Broome, watching the sky over the ocean gradually turn various shades of golden / orange and fading into deep amber before giving way to a bluey-green twilight that preceded the darkness of the night and the gradual brightening of the starry pinpoints of light.  Or watching a full moon rise over Roebuck Bay creating the reflections they call a "Stairway to Heaven".

A typical human response to that would be awe.  The same typical human response as when we consider God our Creator.

The ability of the created order to arouse this sense of awe in us is what I think the Psalmist is getting at with these words – that the Heavens do communicate to us without words or voices that this is all an expression of the glory of God.  And so we join with the Heavens in praising God, in declaring his glory, in responding in awe.

Thanks be to God.  Amen

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Created to Serve

Most mothers, these days work very hard to bring up their children with the best of modern theories in mind.

One such mother thought it was important for her only boy to have his friends over for socializing so she would ask his friends over from time to time – to have “little boy’s time” for them all.

They had been playing outside very well for a while when her son comes in with a concerned expression on his face and asks:  “Mummy.  Where did I come from?”

Again, concerned to respond to her son’s questions with the best of modern theories on child development in mind, she proceeded to illuminate him, quite appropriately, about what we sometimes call “The Birds and the Bee.”  In short, a brief journey from conception to childbirth.

When she had finished her little boy sat quietly – which made her wonder, so she asked:  “Honey, what did you want to know all that for?”  To which he replied:

“Well, Yanni Papodopoulos says he came from Greece, and I wondered where I came from.”

Today we are celebrating Humanity Sunday in the Season of Creation, and the scriptures chosen to guide us in this celebration are rather interesting.

In Genesis we start with the creation of all living things in the first chapter, and then skip into the second chapter for the story of how God formed the first man bodily out of the earth and breathed his own spirit/breath into it to give him life.

The Psalm tries to unpack a sense of our place among all created things – a delicate web of inter-dependency.

Philippians explores what it meant for God, in Christ, to take on our humanity, and finally, the Gospel has a very clear emphasis that the earth owes us nothing.  Rather we were created in order to serve one another.

Our liturgy will use words that gather us with all people in praising God for this created world we enjoy so much, so I thought I might just explore these texts a little to get an idea of how we arrived at the views expressed in the Gospel.

The story we read in the Gospel is only part of the story.  James and John had quietly asked Jesus if they could have those places of special honour, sitting on the left and right of Jesus when his Kingdom comes in.  These men really understood the ways of the world in which the most important and powerful  lauded their power over people and had people serving them – meeting their every need.

Jesus very quickly makes it clear that this is not the way things will be in God’s Kingdom.  He says that the pathway to greatness in this Kingdom involves service to others.

Let me offer you three suggestions that are brought to mind by these readings.

Firstly, our understanding of the Creation Story is that we were given a responsibility to look after all created things – to look after the earth so that the earth could look after us.  So service is hinted at in that story.

Secondly, if we are to correctly understand what the Psalmist getting at, it seems to me that we understand ourselves as being at the pinnacle of the created order – just a little lower than the angels or gods as our translation has it – and if we were to unpack the Hebrew behind the words “dominion” and “subjection” we would come up with a much greater sense of mutual responsibility, of healthy husbandry of the animals and land, so that both the land and creatures are served and looked after.

The third glimpse at God’s purpose comes from the glorious description of the significance of the incarnation in Philippians 2.  One of the principal meanings we derive from our understanding of the incarnation is that in Jesus we see all that is possible to see of the character of God in human form.  So in this person Jesus, God has put aside his goodness, and what we see is a servant – humble and obedient.  I take from this the sense that when we take on that same role of serving others and the whole creation, we are giving human expression to this aspect of the character of God.  This is how God wants us to be.

So on this Humanity Sunday of the Season of Creation we are encouraged to see the complex inter-dependency we share with all other humans and the rest of creation.  The well-being of others and the created order is our responsibility, and in caring for them we will find ourselves served and looked after by the rest of creation.

Let us all praise God for his love and wisdom in making thing thus that we should serve one another has he came to serve us.  Amen.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Let all Created things Praise the Lord

Season of Creation 1 - Year B

Earth Sunday

While many planets have solid matter that is similar to soil and rocks, it is the water and the magical mix of the right gases in our air that make life possible.  When the space probe landed no Mars, what they were most keenly looking for was signs of water – H2O – because without it we know that no life forms are possible (at least as we understand life).

These elements are the stuff of which the Earth is made.  They are also the stuff used by God in Genesis Two to create human beings.  Human flesh was wrought out of earth/dust/clay, water and air. 

So we, ourselves are intimately connected to the earth.  At our Ash Wednesday services we say those words “From dust you came and to dust you shall return” and at funerals we say “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”  These words express that sense of connection between us and the earth.

The remarkable truth of John 1.14 is that God, the Word, ‘became flesh’.  
  •     God became the very same stuff of which Earth is made. 
  •     God became part of Earth, a piece of Earth, flesh! 
  •     God thus joined us in the very web of creation!

But some of you will be thinking “Isn’t there another element in this ancient scheme of things?”  Well, of course there is.  The fourth element traditionally associated with Earth is fire.  

In the Old Testament the visible presence of God called ‘the glory’ appears in fire.  Moses first confronted God in a burning bush.  Then a cloud filled with fire on Mt Sinai marked the presence of God in that place, and a fiery, cloudy pillar led the people throughout their wilderness wanderings.  And wherever the people stopped that same fire cloud dwelt in the tabernacle.  Now there is an interesting link to this in John’s Gospel.

John declares not only that God became flesh—Earth, water, air—but also that in Jesus Christ the Word of God ‘tabernacled’ (or dwelt) among us on Earth.  And in Christ we see not only the flesh of Earth but also the fire, the glory of God’s presence. 

This mystery of the incarnation is also the mystery of God becoming part of Earth for us and with us.  This is something that raises within us a sense of awe and wonder and we celebrate God’s connection with us and the earth

Now that is one reason why we celebrate the Earth during the Season of Creation. 

But, wait!  There’s more!!

At the heart of Psalm 148 is a call for all created things to Praise God.  Look it up as I speak – on p.627 in the pew bibles.  If we were reading it as a congregational Psalm it might begin to feel a bit tedious after a while.  The Psalmist seems to think that every single thing that has been created needs a mention. 

And the praise is called forth not just from the animate and sentient beings like us.  Beginning with the sun, the moon and the stars, mountains, seas, fire and rain, then the whole range of creatures that inhabit the earth.  Finally he explores the whole range of humanity – kings and rulers, young men and maidens, old folks and children – let them all praise the Lord.

So today we praise God for the whole creation, but particularly this planet on which we live.  And we join with all of that creation in praising God.

The Lord be with you.

Psalm 148 
1 Praise the Lord, praise the Lord from heaven:
            O praise him in the heights.
2 Praise him, all his angels:
            O praise him, all his host.
3 Praise him, sun and moon:
            praise him, all you stars of light.
4 Praise him, you highest heaven:
            and you waters that are above the heavens.
5 Let them praise the name of the Lord:
            for he commanded and they were made.
6 He established them for ever and ever:
            he made an ordinance
            which shall not pass away.
7 O praise the Lord from the earth:
            praise him, you sea-monsters and all deeps;
8 Fire and hail, mist and snow:
            and storm-wind fulfilling his command;
9 Mountains and all hills:
            fruit trees and all cedars;
10 Beasts of the wild, and all cattle:
            creeping things and winged birds;
11 Kings of the earth, and all peoples:
            princes, and all rulers of the world;
12 Young men and maidens:
            old folk and children together.
13 Let them praise the name of the Lord:
            for his name alone is exalted.
14 His glory is above earth and heaven:
            and he has lifted high the horn of his people.
15 Therefore he is the praise of all his servants:
            of the children of Israel,
            a people that is near him.

            Praise the Lord.