Monday, June 08, 2009

Glacier and Grace

I'm gonna post the polar bear sermon, but until then, I'm posting a couple of other environmental sermons for those of you who may be interested.
this is a draft as I often don't tie everything together or type up everything I plan to say to how to end... so it may seem to jump from point to point or to end abruptly, that is because I add that stuff on the fly... but I think you'll get the point. the poem at the end is not mine, but I don't recall now where it came from.

Sunday April 6, 2008
Environmental Sermon Series
Sermon 2: The Big Bang, Exploding Stars, Glaciers and Grace
Texts: Gen 1:
Ephesians 1:3-10

The Big Bang and Exploding Stars

In the beginning God created, earth and sky, trees and birds, land and sea,
and it was good.

Steven hawking explains the beginning, the good beginning,
with these words...

If the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had been smaller by
even one part in a hundred, thousand, million million, the universe would
have re-collapsed before it ever reached its present size. If, on the other hand,
the expansion had been a little greater, one part in a million, there would
not be enough density for the formations of stars and planets and hence, life.

The numbers that Hawking uses are more than I can even comprehend. How infinitesimally minute the variables were that kept the birthing universe in balance at the point of its inception, I can hardly imagine. But what seems plain to me, is the wonder of that moment, so perfectly tuned, that started the process that lead eventually to the milky way, our sun, mars, jupiter, venus, earth, and the skies, plants, waters, amoeba, amphibians, birds, mammals and you and I, that Genesis describes as...

If that does not evoke a sense of awe and wonder in you consider:

If the weak nuclear force had not held its level all hydrogen would have
turned to helium...the newly forming stars would dissolve and without
Hydrogen, life as we know it on this earth would not be possible.

If the strong nuclear force had risen by simply 1% carbon would never
have formed in the stars. Without Carbon, DNA, which stores the basic
information for the formation of life, would not have ever appeared.

If the electromagnetic force were just a little higher, the stars would turn cold.
They would not be able to explode as supernovas and such explosions would
not thereby give rise to the formation of planets, neither would the formation
of other elements be possible, elements such as nitrogen, or phosphorus,
which are crucial for the production and reproduction of life.

To ponder the fact that all the elements that make us up as we sit here right now, were formed in that initial big bang and scattered by cosmic explosions and nurtured by such finely tuned balances, with just the slightest of shifts causing them to no longer exist and hence, you and I to no longer exist... well, to me, it is just breath-taking to imagine the precision of such an event.


Because it is so well known, it is easy for us to brush quickly through Genesis 1. It seems like a laundry list, a repetitive litany that we can skim quickly. God speaks and creates sky, land and sea and calls them good. Plants and trees and all vegetation and calls them good. Sun, moon ans stars all named good. Sea creatures and birds, livestock and wild animals and all creatures that crawl on the ground are called good. We usually just want to skip to the 'good' part for us, where, humans are created in God's image.
But pause again to consider the research of James Lovelock a physician and biologist
who discovered that
CO2 makes up 96.5 % of the atmosphere of Venus and 98% of the atmosphere
of Mars but only 300 ppm (and climbing) of our own atmosphere here on earth.
Oxygen is completely missing from both Mars and Venus. Nitrogen, which
nourishes living organisms is only 3.5% of the atmosphere and biosphere
of Venus and 2.7% on Mars, but 79% on earth.

Mars and Venus, roughly the same size as earth, created by the same supernovas, nourished by the same sun...yet devoid of the conditions that nurture life.

Lovelock was doing this research for NASA, so as to discover models for space exploration seeking the possibility of life in space. But what he discovered... That there is a delicate balance of factors and forces that allowed life to begin on Earth and to continue on earth... lead him to focus his research not on other planets, but on this fragile and powerful system called Earth. A system dependent on
High levels of oxygen released billions of years ago by photosynthesizing bacteria
in the oceans. A system dependent on the Low levels of carbon created by the photo- synthesizing of bacteria, algae and plants. This research discovered the vast and complex connections and interactions that started life on earth and the interplay of forms of life that created an environment conducive to yet more life. 'Lovelock drew attention to how the
conditions of all those elements useful for life are maintained under relatively
steady conditions. This balance if fashioned by by the planet wide life-system itself.'

As I said before, we tend to fast forward through Genesis 1 to get to 'God created humans in his own image.' But Lovelock shows us that all those other verses aren't just a laundry list of things for us to use or abuse... seas, plants, earth and sky.. these were God's process for getting to Humans in his own image... these were to tools that in turn created the forces that God chose to utilize to get to Adam and Eve and you and I.


Now, stay with me as we make a jump here from science and Genesis to the letter of Ephesians.
The churches of Ephesus were afraid. They were afraid of the universe, the cosmos.
A group of Christians called gnostics followed Paul to Ephesus and taught these new Christians there that all things physical... all created things were bad, evil, and weak... and that God only loved and cared for the spiritual. The forces of the universe were considered evil and only the spirit was good.
This is very foreign to our way of thinking and perhaps hard to identify with so let me put it this way...
When you are watching the news or reading the paper and you hear about another shooting at a school, or a teenager killed in a drunken car crash, or a child abducted or major lay-offs in a huge company that will effect thousands... perhaps you, like me, experience a sinking feeling in your stomach, that there are just forces out there that you can't control or contend with. Which can lead to despair; how will I keep my kids safe, how will I pay my own bills, how can I hope to have a truly good life with so many forces out there that seem to explode unexpectedly to keep me from my good life? Have you felt that way? Then you know how the people in Ephesus felt. They perhaps understood the cosmic forces differently than we do... They really felt that the universe as they knew it, was against them... but the result was the same... there are forces out there that I can't control which cause trauma and pain.

To which Paul replies in the opening verses of his letter, with a great hymn of the the cosmic force of God and the cosmic plan of God. The Heavenly realms are a blessing, Paul says to us, not a curse and not against us... the cosmos is for us because God has created it. To tie it with the science that Hawking and Lovelock have described, The weak and strong nuclear forces, the electromagnet forces, gravity are created by God to be a blessing to us... they are a part of the plan of God. Photosynthesis and the myriad other biological processes that surround us... are a blessing from God and a part of God's plan.

And then Paul calls all of these cosmic forces that are not against us, but for us... 'grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. ' These cosmic forces that The Ephesian Christians feared, which you and I now, through science can begin to understand, are not evil, and they are not chance, they are the visible signs of God's grace.

Now to those of us raised in church, grace is a spiritual gift that God sent through Jesus, that forgives us of our sins and connects us to salvation and eternal life. And I am not arguing that this is no longer our understanding. What I am suggesting is that we have missed something. Grace is not limited to a spiritual force or a spiritual transaction. Paul is telling us here that grace is imparted through Jesus, who was present at and in the creation, and also imparted through the cosmic forces and the natural world that surrounds us... to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, Christ.

The plan, Paul says, was that God would provide all that we would need for a full life, for our salvation... we know salvation through Christ...who then brings all the other forces of grace together. Paul is expanding our understanding of what grace is... and giving us, in the natural world, in the creation, visible, verifiable proof of God's love and the power of God to give us life. The natural world is one aspect, a concrete facet of God's grace.

This may sound like a bit of a stretch to those of us raised in church... Because I'm not suggesting that nature is like grace... I'm saying that nature IS grace, not in full, but in part, a neglected part.
But if we look to the rest of the Bible, we see the same theme, that grace is understood and seen in and through the natural world...

Deuteronomy 33: 13-16, Moses is offering a blessing to Israel, letting them know that God will love and care for them in this new promised land, and that they will see this love this grace bursting forth in the natural world around them;

May the Lord bless his land with the precious dew from heaven above
and with the deep waters that lie below
with the best the sun brings forth and the finest the moon can yield
with the choicest gifts of the ancient mountains
and the fruitfulness of the everlasting hills
with the best gifts of the earth and its fullness
and the favor of him who dwelt in the the burning bush...

the favor of God, love, grace, made known in the dew and sea, the sun and the fields...

In Psalm 136 we find another hymn to God's love and grace

to him who alone does great wonders, his love endures forever
who by his understanding made the heavens
who spread out the earth upon the waters
who made the great lights
the sun to govern the day
the moon and stars to govern the night
who gives food to every creature
Give thanks to the God of heaven his love endures forever

A song that says Israel would have proof of God's steadfast love when they looked at the sun, moon and stars...

And in Joel 2
Israel has failed... as all humans do
they have failed to stay faithful to God
they have failed to care for the poor and the impoverished
they have loved more the things they produced with their own hands
their own comfort and profit are more important than God or other people...
And God is angry
Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming
a day of darkness and gloom
a day of clouds and blackness.

But then God says,
return to me with all your heart

and if you return to me here will be the proof that I have forgiven you and still love you

Be not afraid, O land;be glad and rejoice.
Be not afraid wild animals, for the open pastures are becoming green.
The trees are bearing fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their riches
Be glad of people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains in righteousness
he sends you abundant showers
both autumn and spring rains as before.
The threshing floors will be filled with grain
the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.

You will have plenty to eat until you are full

then you will know that I am in Israel,
that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other
never again will my people be shamed.

We are the benefactors of 15 billions years of grace...
Cosmic explosions and blazing supernovas which laid the chemical foundation for life
We have received grace on this planet for the life that formed interacted
with the chemical environment changing and forming it to be
conducive to yet more life... eventually to our life...
the conditions for which; air to breath, water to drink
soil to grow food, and on and on...gracefully and patiently
held together in Christ says Ephesians...waiting for us...this is grace.

The thing about grace is that Jesus expected us to not only accept it, but to create it.
Judge not lest ye be judged
forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors
Love one another as I have loved you

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