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"Thoughts about Starlight, the Dust of Earth and the Breath of Life"

A sermon based upon Genesis 1: 1-15 & 2: 4-7 and Psalm 8

Today is EARTH DAY… a day to reflect on the world of nature, and our interdependence in the wide web of life.

The words of Psalm 8 (that we watched in the video clip a moment ago) capture the wonder: "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, God? Mortals, that you care for them?"We are mere specks of dust on a little "blue boat home" planet called Earth.

The photos from outer space (that were in the songs that Leigh Copeland shared with us) are really awesome! For almost 30 years the Hubble space-telescope has been gathering distant light and relaying it to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. In a sense, those photos that show stellar clusters and cosmic gases are as though we are looking back in time… watching the formation of the universe in its infancy… back to the day when God first said: "Let there be light!"

Alpena is fortunate to have a working Planetarium at the Besser Museum, whose expert staff helps us to understand the intricacies of the galaxies. But if you’ve ever been to the Griffith Observatory in LA, or to the big telescope at Mount Palomar, you realize that the size of the reflecting mirror, and the length & girth of the body of a telescope, have to be very large if the lenses are to have adequate focal length to gather light from far-off galaxies and record it clearly enough for human eyes to study.

Well, that was the best we could do before the Hubble space-telescope was launched beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. I understand that the Hubble is as big as a house, and the J.P.L. camera that records the images and relays them to earth, is as big as a car. If you’re as old as I am, you might also remember back 25 years ago when "corrective lenses" were inserted into the Hubble by the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavor… that was in Dec. of ’93…25years ago! Long-ago old history, isn’t it?

It’s amazing to me that all that heavy machinery is floating on nothing up over our heads! It’s orbiting the Earth; suspended in space by invisible laws of matter, & motion, & mathematics too complex for my mind to grasp. The pictures were transmitted to earth across empty space by invisible electronic means... which are based on laws of electromagnetism and physics, once again way too complex for my mind to figure out. (!) For that matter, I don’t understand how digital photography works. (There’s no film!)

Frankly, I'm glad that the universe doesn't have to rely upon only what my mind can grasp and handle for its existence. For as much as I read, and I think, and I experience, and I observe... the vastness of what I don't know sometimes overwhelms me! Even a "smart-phone" baffles me…. its circuitry, "apps", Google.

The invisible reality which keeps a Hubble (or any of the orbiting satellites) suspended in empty space, and which is able to communicate in quanta of light-energy across vast distances of darkness, is too awesome for me to "use" in any practical terms... but I trust it. I trust the laws of physics & energy & motion & mathematics, which are at work in the orderly sustaining of the Universe--even though I can't see them, and even though I certainly do not fully comprehend them. I trust "physics" works.

I credit those laws of physics, as does the Bible, to the mind of God...which is far more complex & awesome than mine.(!)

All the marvelous light-energy of those distant galaxies (and all subsequent events in the evolution of matter) are, to my mind, observable signs of the Creator's active doing from the very "beginning" --the Genesis of Life on Earth --about which James Earl Jones spoke so eloquently in the video clip from "God’s Trombones" by James Weldon Johnson. The artwork flowed from mountains and valleys, rivers and seas, to plants and animals, culminating in that wide variety of facial features of humankind. One continuous process of forming & reforming life.

To me there is no conflict between good physics and good poetry, nor between science & theology --it’s all God’s cosmos… God’s Universe.

The writer of Psalm 8 says: When I gaze into the night sky, and see the works of your hand…it makes me wonder: what are we (mere mortals) that the Creator of it all should be mindful of us?...(!) And yet,the poet continues: "You have given us a crown of glory and honor, and have made us little lower than the angels. You have put humankind in charge of all Creation."

Rather than being intimidated (or feeling "dwarfed") by the expansive reality of the universe, the Psalmist (like the poet-theologians who wrote the opening chapters of Genesis), saw in the marvels of nature the guiding hand of God. So do I. And I hope you can, too. We see God in nature, not separate from it.

Leigh Copeland’s song by Peter Mayer ("Holy Now") says that "everything is Holy Now. The challenging thing becomes, not to look for miracles, but finding where there isn’t one! The fact that anything is here at all, is a miracle! See another morning come and say it’s not a sacrament? I tell you that it can’t be done… ’cause everything is holy now." He says "he walks the world with a reverent air, because everything is holy now."

Like hymn-writer Maltbie Babcock wrote 120 years ago:

"This is my Father’s World. And to my listening ears, all nature sings

and around me rings the music of the spheres. … The morning light, the lily

white, declare their Maker’s praise!"

He saw in the marvels of nature the guiding hand of God.The Bible sees God in nature, not separate from it. Jesus tells his followers to "consider the lilies of the field and how they grow…" and gives God credit for the whole process, including their beauty.

Even though we don’t speak much about science in a typical worship service, it’s not because we are intimidated by it. Like the authors of the Bible, I trust the energy & the physics (yes, even the "E=mc2") of the ever-evolving Universe, because it is all from God: created over eons of time, well-ordered, guided and sustained, by the unseen "almighty" Creator-God.

I can’t "prove" it to anyone else’s skeptical satisfaction, but I trust it! God’s presence in the processes of nature is invisible, yes; but it’s nonetheless powerful, pervasive, & ultimately trust-worthy. The complexity, and novelty, and creativity of all forms of life in nature are reasons to celebrate, not argue about! Like the telescope has done, every scientific investigation (in my opinion) simply extends our knowledge and our experience into more detailed, or more diverse, or more distant realms of reality.

Which brings me back to Hubble. Its very reason for being --for the expenditure of three or four billion dollars so far --is to look out and away, far beyond what earth-bound eyes can measure. With finely-tuned instruments of such huge magnitude, and with considerable skill (and with a substantial bit of luck!), NASA scientists hope to get a picture from the farthest margin of the cosmos.The Hubble space-telescope is gathering light from 15 billion light-years away (the most ancient light in existence; the very edge of the expanding universe!) --in effect, to get a picture of "the Big Bang" as it happened!(!) The very idea is mind-boggling.

Relying upon all those invisible structures of the universe --laws of physics and thermodynamics, electromagnetism, and the property of gasses, of spectral analysis &mathematics... Having relied upon the constancy & orderliness of the laws of Relativity, & Quantum Mechanics and Chaos theory, space researchers might presume that they are seeing the initial creation of the cosmos –that they are, in fact,"seeing God" in star-light hat is 15-billion light-years away! That’s nice, in a poetic kind of way.

But, friends, I’m here to tell you that God is much nearer than that! God may be invisible, yes --as are all the laws of physics "invisible" --but God is very much present... right now, right here, on earth! Invisible, but nonetheless real! God (here in Alpena; here in these pews!) is as real as any quanta of energy-matter anywhere else in the Universe! In other words, we don't need to magnify the farthest-fringes of outer-space to find the pulse of God.

In the opening poetry of our Bible, we are told that the Wind of God (the Spirit of God; the Ruach) hovers over the chaos and deep darkness of that original moment of Creation. "In the beginning of all things"(says Genesis): the Wind, the breath, the Spirit of God moved in the void before