"The Creator of All That is Seen and Unseen"
Scripture - Genesis 1
Sermon Preached by Gregory Knox Jones
Sunday, March 9, 2014
Since the dawn of the human race, men and women have wondered about the origin of all that is. Our earliest ancestors gazed at the sky and questioned: Who is responsible for the majestic dome of blue and the great ball of fire that gives us light?
The ancients peered at the night sky with awe and dreamed about who dotted it with twinkling lights. They contemplated the sun as it traipsed across the heavens and asked, "Who assigned its path? Who makes the clouds float by and keeps them from falling down?"
After the dead of winter, they marveled at the plants sprouting from the soil and puzzled over who made it happen. They pondered: Who makes the wind blow? Who helps the birds fly? Who creates the creatures?
We moderns think that if we discover a scientific explanation of how something works - by gravity or photosynthesis or the rotation of the planet - we have come up with a rational answer that satisfies our curiosity. However, we also have a restlessness within that wants to know why? And many of us suspect that the why may be attached to an answer regarding Who.
The opening chapter of the Bible was not written as a scientific explanation of how the world and the inhabitants of earth came to be. It was a lyrical statement of faith that emerged during challenging times for the descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The Babylonians had defeated the Hebrew people in battle, ransacked their cities and force marched their leaders into exile. In the ancient world, it was widely believed that the gods of the conquering army were the mightiest. Thus, defeated people would relinquish their religion and adopt the seemingly more powerful gods of the victors.
The powerful poem at the beginning of Genesis arose during this period when the Hebrew people had grave doubts about the authority of Yahweh, the God who had liberated them from Egypt and given them the law to guide their way of living. This statement of faith, formulated like days in a week, is a dramatic declaration that the world is not an accident. There is a Creator who grapples with chaos and brings things to be.
The story is not one of a God who creates all that is, shakes off the dust and says, "Well, that's that," then retires to the edge of the universe. But rather, the Creator not only created, but continues to create, remains present and pronounces the creation "Good."
The business of science is to reveal the details of how. The business of religion is to reveal the answers to who and why.
In her book, The Case for God, British scholar Karen Armstrong surveys the history of religion. She writes about the Lascaux caves in southwestern France that have hundreds of paintings on the walls. The paintings are more than 17,000 years old and the consensus is that they were used in some religious ritual. What is puzzling for some is why these people spent so much time painting, so much time in "nonproductive labor at a time when starvation was just a day or two away. From a utilitarian point of view, the creation and maintenance of these caves was a monumental waste of time. So, why did they do it?
Armstrong thinks a clue to the answer is that they express €˜an intensely aesthetic appreciation of the natural world.' Human beings, from the beginning, have experienced wonder at nature and feelings of reverence."1
Armstrong concludes, "Religion is not something tacked onto the human condition, an optional extra imposed on people by unscrupulous priests. The desire to cultivate a sense of the transcendent may be the defining human characteristic."2 Akin to what Augustine said: "Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.
Questions about the origin of the universe are deep within us. We have feelings and intuitions that it is not all just a colossal accident. The creation implies a Creator.
Paul Davies, a physicist at Cambridge, believes that science also implies a Creator. He writes, "Through my scientific work, I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it as brute fact...It takes more of a leap of faith to believe in a universe without purpose than one with a purpose."3
The universe displays order and much is predictable. It would be impossible to figure out natural laws if they were constantly changing. As it is, we can park our car in the lot and know it will be there when we are ready to head home because gravity insures that cars do not float off into space. This evening it will turn dark; when I wake tomorrow morning, I'll be greeted by the light of a new day. A month from now the temperatures will be warmer. If I don't drink anything I'll get dehydrated; if I eat too much chocolate, my pants won't fit! The cosmos is not all chaos; much can be calculated.
The world is an amazing place created by an amazing God. Yet, in an age when most people's experience of astonishment comes from technology - things created by human hands - many are blind to the wonders of God's creation. If we only pay attention to human inventions, we miss the awesomeness of the universe, which is far more breathtaking than the most ingenious human creations.
Being dazzled by God's world is food for the soul. Whether it is the birth of a child or a glimpse of a shooting star, the tremendous power of a volcano or the elegance of a rainbow, marveling at the works of God is one of the greatest antidotes for a jaded life and a cynical temperament. Being astonished by the enormity of the universe as well as the microscopic intricacies that comprise living creatures prompts us to step out of grinding routines and habitual ruts, and reminds us of the miracles that surround us.
On two Sundays last fall, Mark Shiflett, one of our deacons and a scientist at DuPont and a professor at the University of Delaware, talked about the mind-boggling distances in space, the unfathomable size of galaxies, and the infinitesimally minute dimensions of molecules.
For instance, the diameter of the earth is 8,000 miles. The diameter of the sun, a medium-sized star, is more than 850,000 miles. One million earths could fit inside the volume of the sun. Mind-boggling!
Do you remember the movies "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact?" In the late 90s, Hollywood created these films about an asteroid on a collision course with earth. The films were spawned by an event in 1994, when a huge comet crashed into Jupiter. The damage on Jupiter was so enormous that two earths could fit into the crater it created. Had the comet struck earth, our planet would have been obliterated.
But that was not going to happen. Why? Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system; more than 1,300 earths could fit within it. The closest the earth ever gets to Jupiter is 628 million miles. Saturn is the next largest planet in our solar system and 764 earths could fit within it. Jupiter and Saturn effectively act as shields for the earth. Their enormous size and tremendous gravitational fields protect us by pulling in large asteroids and comets so they won't hit us. The more we learn about God's creation, the more remarkable it is.
The distances in God's cosmos are overwhelming. As you know, our solar system is within the Milky Way galaxy. Our sun is by far the closest star to earth. The next closest star is Alpha Centauri. Our fastest rockets travel at 17,000 miles per hour. That's just slightly faster than some of us drive down I-95 when we are running late. At 17,000 miles per hour, it would take us 166,000 years to reach the next closest star. Incredible!
How many stars are there in the Milky Way galaxy? If you were away from the lights of cities and traveled to both the northern and southern hemispheres, using binoculars, you might be able to see as many as 200,000 stars. With a small telescope, you might see 15 million stars. Scientists estimate that our galaxy contains over 100 billion stars! Such knowledge provides expanded meaning to Psalm 19: "The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims God's handiwork." Celebrating the majesty of God's handiwork lifts our spirits and kindles a feeling of reverence.
Trinh Xuan Thuan is an astrophysicist at the University of Virginia. He says, "Consider the density of the universe at the start...It had to be fixed with an accuracy of around 10 to the minus 60 power. That is to say, if one figure after 60 zeroes had been different, then the universe would be barren. There would be no life, no consciousness, and no you and me to discuss it. This astonishing precision is analogous to the dexterity of an archer hitting a one centimeter-square target placed 15 billion light-years away, at the other side of the observable universe."4 Simply jaw-dropping!
Lent is a season of introspection when Christians are called to reflect on the direction of our lives and to make any necessary changes that will bring us closer to God. What better place to begin than to ponder the awesome nature of God's creation?
A woman remembers the terror of hiding in her basement when war broke out. After four days of heavy shelling, it suddenly became quiet. She ventured out into the morning light and her eyes fell upon a single flower in her yard. Stunned by its beauty, she said, "I never noticed how red it was."
Does it take a brush with death for us to see the beauty and glory of the world? Can we take time to notice the miracles that surround us? Can we fall on our knees and thank God for creating heaven and earth?
Prayers of the People ~ Randall T. Clayton
Creator God, you are the author of life, the bringer of hope, the maker of all that is, the source of joy and meaning. As you brought order out of chaos in the beginning, we ask that you take the mess that we have made of your world, and transform it, renew it, invigorate it with your love. Those with no home, cry out for shelter. Those enslaved to addictions, cry out for sobriety. Those who live in loneliness, cry out for community. Those who live in fear, cry out for joy. Those who live in war-torn areas of our globe cry out for peace. And the air we breathe, the water we drink, the fields that grow our food, all cry out for healing. Hear those cries, O God. Transform us and our world anew.
Those who live with depression cry tears of hopelessness and despair. Those who live with lost dreams cry tears of sadness and loss. Those who live with pain, cry tears borne of the agony of flesh and bone. Transform us so that we might offer in your name hope, connection, healing, and comfort.
This day we pray especially for the people whose home is in Ukraine, and for those who reside in the Middle East, and for those who struggle in our own nation with unemployment, with the fear of an impending medical diagnosis, with bills they cannot pay. We also lift up to you this day those who await news of family, friends, and co-workers who were on a plane that has vanished. O God, by your creative and loving power, bring healing and wholeness.
Many things call out for our attention and in the midst of so many competing demands and desires, it's all too easy to neglect to do the things that provide meaning and which might nurture our relationship with you and with the community of faith. Help us not to forget your love. Help us not to neglect to pray, to study your Word, to worship, to serve, to give.
You spoke and the world came into being. Speak to us anew this day. Show us the way toward the world you envision. Help us to hear in new ways your call to us, and your vision for the community you wish us at Westminster to become.
As we lift up our prayers this morning, we recall the gift of Jesus Christ, and we remember his love poured out for us all, and we remember the prayer he taught saying,
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
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