There is some recycled material here, but it was wonderful to be able to preach at the church that sponsored me for the diaconate and then the priesthood and to see familiar and new faces. I also got to accomplish one of the aims of the Society of Ordained Scientists, that is, "To offer to God in our ordained role the work of science and technology in the exploration and stewardship of creation." The quotations are from Swimme and Tucker's book.
There are three reasons I am in California: first to inter my friend David's ashes in the columbarium, which we did yesterday; second to see my children and some friends; and thirdly to go to Tucson on my home to Maine for a retreat/meeting of the North American Chapter of the Society of Ordained Scientists. I've watched a lot of news programs and commentators in motels on my stops across the country with Izzie. The voices get pretty strident and I find myself driving long distances with no radio or iPod music, so I can enjoy the silence and listen to the memories in my head.
Today’s readings made me pay attention to the use of the word “voice” and the presence of the Holy Spirit: God’s voice as power and God’s Holy Spirit as life giver or the one who spurs us to action. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth” is such a simple statement for some very complex processes. Scientists sometimes refer to this beginning of space-time as the “Big Bang.” In the book "Journey of the Universe" by Brian Thomas Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker, the authors instead the start of our universe as “the great exhalation.” That’s another way to describe the forces of expansion (from the big bang) and attraction (gravity), to remind us that the universe is "shaped by these two opposing and creative dynamics" and that we who are alive are also shaped by processes of expansion and contraction such as breathing and the beating of our hearts.
Just like in our Psalm, the voice of God is powerful and majestic, controlling all of nature but I can't help but wonder what the "great exhalation" sounded like. Big Bang doesn't really have the elegance or the awe or the wonder that the term "great exhalation" does. Could it really be a great shout of joy and love and unimaginable power that started all that we know and began time and space? And if the Holy Spirit is inspiration, then we have the breathing in and out of the universe in both exhalation and inspiration.
Thinking about God breathing out the universe is reflected in the prolog to John’s Gospel "In the beginning was the Word." as well as the beginning of Genesis that we heard today “God said let there be....” And God didn't just separate the light from darkness there was much more creating going on. After the initial "bang" particles began to collide and interact; sometimes bonding, sometimes separating. The formation of increasingly complex communities, started with elementary particles and seems to be the way of the universe. In order for bonding to occur, the particles have to give up part of their mass and release it as energy. "Even from the first moments, our universe moved toward creating relationships.....This bonding is at the heart of matter."
Forming a complex community is what churches are all about. Becoming part of a complex community is what baptism is all about. It’s not just this one place, All Saints’, but it is about becoming a part of the whole Body of Christ. In Maine, I’ve spent time trying to help some small parishes figure out new ways of being church. Part of that is helping them think about what it would mean when churches are willing to give up something, and what kind of energy could be released that will benefit both the churches and the communities in which they exist. What kind of new relationships can be formed?
Because there is the relationship part of bonding too. It seems as though God created the whole universe, not just us, in God's image. If bonding is at the heart of matter, then bonding or relationship has a lot to do with how we related to God and how God relates to us. I would like to think that relationships or bonding are as critical to the nature of God as to the nature of the universe God created and giving up a bit of mass to create energy is part of this.
So far I’ve used images to describe the universe and ourselves as breathing lung, an expanding heart, and a system that becomes increasingly complex. There is another image that can apply and that is of a developing seed. The process is complex, but orderly: first roots, then leaves. The universe started out focusing on building nuclei, then it stopped and other processes began. “The astonishing fact is that if the universe had continued building nuclei all the way up to iron, for example, iron nuclei would have predominated for all time.” But what happened instead was when all the light nuclei were formed the conditions for building the nuclei changed. And this stopping and changing happened again and again over the fourteen billion years it took to get to us. As with seeds developing one process stopped so something new could take over. Something that would eventually become living, breathing creatures to could contemplate the awesome complexity that the mind of God is holding in existence.
God’s power is manifest in the Holy Spirit received after Paul laid his hands on some disciples in Ephesus. And we see God’s power in our gospel when we again hear the voice and see the action of the Holy Spirit. “And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
How many times have we said of a baby “he or she is the spitting image of .....” Well we are the spitting image of the voice that said “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” God is not just well pleased with his Son with a capital S, he is well pleased with all his sons and daughters. Just as God proclaimed the first day good, he proclaimed the creating of humankind good as well.
As think about the renewal of our baptismal covenant this morning, I challenge you to remember that it is our voices bonding with voices of Christians around the globe, that allows for the creative work of the Holy Spirit to start something new. The Holy Spirit, the Creator and the Son are all bound together in a relationship dance and because of their relationship, we are bound in our baptism to God and to each other.
Opinion - 23 September 2017
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