Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | September 25, 2016

Central United Methodist Church
Season of Creation: Cosmos Sunday
Pastor David L. Haley
Proverbs 8: 22 – 31; Psalm 148: John 6: 41 – 51
September 25th, 2016

 universe

Praise God in the highest heavens; praise him beyond the stars.
Praise him, you saints, you angels burning with his love.
Praise him in the depths of matter; praise him in atomic space.
Praise him, you whirling electrons, you unimaginable quarks.
Praise him in lifeless galaxies; praise him from the pit of black holes.
Praise him, creatures on all planets, inconceivable forms of life.
Let them all praise the Unnamable, for he is their source, their home.
He made them in all their beauty and the laws by which they exist.
Praise God upon the earth, whales and creatures of the sea,
fire, hail, snow, and frost, hurricanes fulfilling his command,
mountains and barren hills, fruit trees and cedar forests,
wild animals and tame, reptiles, insects, birds,
creatures invisible to the eye and tiniest one-celled beings,
rich and poor, powerful and oppressed, dark-skinned and light skinned,
men and women alike, old and young together.
Let them praise the Unnamable God, whose goodness is the breath of life,
who made us in his own image, the light that fills heaven and earth.

  • Psalm 148, from A Book of Psalms, by Stephen Mitchell.

 

Perhaps you have had this experience: you have visited the Adler Planetarium here in Chicago or another planetarium some-where else and attended a sky show. You sat in a reclining seat in a darkened theater looking at a canopy of what appears to be real stars. If you didn’t pass out and go to sleep (admittedly it is difficult), soon the projector began to whirl, taking you on a journey through the stars, and I’m not talking about a light speed star cruiser. Even so, it is an awesome experience.

And humbling. First, because of what a privilege it is. As I have stressed repeatedly through our celebration of the Season of Creation, how privileged we are among ALL the people who have ever lived, to understand these things in ways not possible for them. And not only to explore earth and the seas, as they did, but space, the final frontier, only attainable in our lifetime.

It is humbling secondly, because of WHAT we now know, and how mind-boggling that is. We live on the single blue planet, the 3rd Rock from the sun, in a solar system of 9 planets orbiting our sun. Our sun is but a single star in our galaxy, known as the Milky Way. How many other stars are in the Milky Way? The Milky Way Galaxy is estimated to contain (ready?) 100 to 400 BILLION stars. How many galaxies are there in the known universe? The Hubble Space telescope reveals an estimated 100 BILLION galaxies, with that number likely to increase to about 200 billion as space telescope technology improves. I’m not even sure if I can do the math on how many stars – with possible planets circling them – that might be. In the light of this, almost certainly somewhere out there, there is a Yoda, and (as in Star Wars) a space bar with all kinds of creatures.

If that’s not enough, look at it this way: we’re riding a blue planet rotating at 1,000 miles per hour, traveling around the sun at 66,660 miles per hour, circling around in the Milky Way galaxy at between 420,000 and 540,000 mph and finally, the Milky Way is moving at 2,237,000 mph, traveling through a universe which is itself still expanding. Makes you want to hold on to the pew and fasten your seat belts (wait, we don’t have seat belts!), doesn’t it?

It seems fitting that we should end our three-year celebration of the Season of Creation with Cosmos Sunday, acknowledging that we are visitors here on the stage of time and space, in one tiny corner, for only a moment. And while we may view ourselves as the apex of creation – Masters of the Universe – in fact we are so small, so finite, and understand so little, especially when we look up into the night sky, the same as our ancestors did tens of thousands of years ago.

When we look up – as our ancestors did – we see different things, depending (as they did then) upon what they believed, and now upon what we know. In the past, when people looked into the heavens they saw the realm of the gods. Humans lived on earth, the middle kingdom, and the dead lived under the earth; this mythology still informs many people’s thinking that heaven is above and hell below.

When others looked up, they recalled ancient stories, told in those groupings of stars we know as constellations. Isn’t it sad most of us still struggle to know those constellations, like Orion and even the North Star, not to mention the astronomical bodies they really are? (Polaris)

It reminds me of when Lucy and Linus Van Pelt were looking at the sky in the 1969 Charles Schulz film, A Boy Named Charlie Brown:

Lucy says: Aren’t the clouds beautiful? They look like big balls of cotton. I could just lie here all day and watch them drift by. If you use your imagination, you can see lots of things in the cloud’s formations. What do you think you see, Linus?

Linus: Well, those clouds up there look to me look like the map of the British Honduras on the Caribbean. That cloud up there looks a little like the profile of Thomas Eakins, the famous painter and sculptor. And that group of clouds over there…gives me the impression of the Stoning of Stephen. I can see the Apostle Paul standing there to one side.

Lucy: Uh huh. That’s very good. What do you see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?

Charlie Brown: Well… I was going to say I saw a duckie and a horsie, but I changed my mind. (A Boy Named Charlie Brown, 1969, Directed by Bill Melendez and written by Charles M. Schulz.)

Our problem is – when it comes to cosmology – there is so so much to understand beyond duckies and horsies! The word “cosmology” is from the greek word “kosmos,” which means “world,” and we use it to talk about “the study of the origin, evolution, and eventual fate of the universe.” Traditionally, before science, people thought about cosmology in mythological, religious, and philosophical terms, like the heavens being the realm of the gods, for example. It was not the function of mythologies to teach HOW God created the world, but why God created the world, which is entirely a faith proposition.

But now, there is physical cosmology, which is the scholarly and scientific study of the origin, evolution, structure, and fate of the universe, and the scientific laws that govern these realities. Modern physical cosmology – as determined by observational astronomy and particle physics – does indeed teach us HOW the world was created, and that theory is currently dominated by the Big Bang theory.

So now if you want to know about the universe, we do so less by reading ancient texts than by visiting astronomical observatories and particle physics accelerators such as Fermilab in Batavia, or the CERN collider near Geneva, Switzerland. There, the search is on for the Higgs boson particle – the “God particle -” believed to give mass to matter. This is the new reality, and this is why – students! – in your biology and chemistry and physics classes you will have to spend time memorizing electron orbitals, which, even though you will never see one – is what everything (including us) is made of. Not only are we tiny mortal creatures in a corner of infinite space, we are creatures of carbon and oxygen and hydrogen and chemical reactions creating energy, which we call life. It is a good thing we don’t have to think about it or understand it, in order for it to happen, otherwise most of us would be in a lot of trouble

Given all this, we might ask the question we asked last Sunday, where is God in all this? That depends . . .

When some look at the cosmos, pondering what we know, they see emptiness and blackness, inhospitable to life, infinite waste, long millennia of evolution lurching toward life, a random progress positing no room for intelligent design, or a Creator.

Others look into the cosmos and almost certainly know there are other blue planets circling distant stars, with creatures like or unlike us; surely in such a vast universe, we cannot be the only intelligent life (and I use that term relatively.) Do they believe in a God like ours? Did a Son of God redeem them, or were we the only creatures in the universe who needed redeeming? Or the other unthinkable possibility, what if they are even more evil than us (hardly imaginable) and intend to slaughter or enslave us upon first contact? No wonder science fiction has been speculating about such things for some time now, as in Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds.

Others – likely most of us here today – look at the universe and despite the void and the waste and the randomness and death, feel the hum of energy, of the joy of life, the trace of a Creator who not only imagined the Big Bang, but continues to create in every moment, to whom the entire universe is an extension of being, and to whom we are beloved creatures. As Pope Francis put it last year in his work Laudato Si (2015):

“Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each . . .  and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.”

So, the evidence and information about the cosmos is neutral. It is possible to look into space, mostly lifeless, and conclude there could not be a god, as the first human in space, Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin did, in 1961. But it is also equally possible to look at this universe and believe that it could not be without origin or design or purpose, and to praise a Creator who brought it into being, as the crew of Apollo 8 did as they orbited the moon on December 24, 1968.  Either of these choices is not a matter of knowledge or reason, but a matter of faith. Most of us choose faith?

At the very least, in awe and humility it reminds us of our place in the cosmos, as Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, like this:

“If I can summon the energy to put on my bathrobe and go outside, the night sky will heal me — not by reassuring me that I will be just fine, but by reminding me of my place in the universe. Looking up at the same stars that human beings have been looking at for millennia, I find my place near the end of the long, long line of stargazers who stood here before me.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, “Learning to Walk in the Dark”)

I want to conclude by putting not only our knowledge, but our place in the cosmos into perspective, by showing you a video created by Dr. Danail Obreschkow, an astrophysicist at the University of Western Australia (UWA). He actually put the video online a few years ago, but it was only recently shared on Facebook, and since then has surpassed 30 million views, 620,000 shares, 140,000 reactions, and 20,000 comments.

The video starts with a woman’s smiling face, zooms out to show a universe view, then zooms all the way back in again. Says Dr. Obreschkow: “It’s generated a little bit of debate about religion and science, about our role in the universe.” “It makes people talk about both how small they feel and how big they feel at once.”  Let’s take a look at the Cosmic Eye:

[“Cosmic Eye” video]

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?” – Psalm 8: 3 – 4

Amen.

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