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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 07/15/2012

You may have heard on the news over the past couple of weeks about scientists being excited because they think they’ve found evidence of what they call the Higgs boson, also known as the “god particle” because some would say that its discovery would disprove God or at least disprove the need for God in creating the world.  This discovery was quickly replaced in the news by more important things like Tom Cruise’s divorce and the mess at Penn State but it was out there for awhile.   

It’s all is part of the theory that the universe is composed of tiny sub-atomic particles held together by different forces and apparently the discovery of this Higgs boson would help to explain how things are held together and thus provide a more accurate theoretical description of the world around us; the scientists involved say it would get us closer to the moment of creation, the moment of the Big Bang.  It’s all way beyond me; I don’t even understand what I just said so I’ll just have to take their word for it.

I don’t mean to be dismissive of this discovery though; just because I don’t understand it doesn’t mean it’s not important and I suppose if one did understand the physics involved it would be quite awe inspiring rather than just confusing but there are things somewhat related to this kind of cosmology that I do find awe inspiring.  For example, I’m inspired and impressed by things like the pictures of the earth taken from space and by the pictures taken from the Hubble space telescope that like those theories about the universes are supposed to take us back further and further in time.   

A couple of years ago someone sent me one of those email slide shows of Hubble telescope pictures and they were quite spectacular, (what’s on the cover of your bulletin is an example) beautiful to look at, much more impressive in color.  Similar to the Higgs boson I didn’t really understand what I was looking at or what the pictures signify, but they were awesome.  Imaginatively, we could say that pictures like this and theories about sub atomic particles give us a glimpse of the mind of God. 

I do better with visual and poetic renderings of the mind of God than I do with what theoretical physics has to say and in the opening verses of Ephesians I think we have such a poetic rendering.  For a long time Ephesians was thought to be one of Paul’s letters, but stylistic differences lead most scholars to think that this isn’t Paul, but a follower of Paul writing later and using Paul’s name which was an OK thing to do back in those days.  It doesn’t diminish the value of the letter at all, it just adds another layer to the tradition building on what Paul had said, continuing to interpret God in light of Jesus. 

I think that understanding of Ephesians works better because I can picture someone who had been around Paul for awhile trying to put into his own words what Paul had been teaching about God and Jesus and us and salvation and maybe not understanding it all, but finally being overcome by the majesty and magnitude of it so we wind up with this poetic language about the mystery of God; it kind of takes us from where we are to another place.  The author of this letter or sermon or whatever it is begins his discourse with these words of praise for the Lord of the universe who has had us in mind since before the foundation of the world, before the Higgs boson did whatever it does.  Ephesians starts with awe concerning the mystery of God and God’s will for the world.

For me, a passage like this calls for meditation more than it does explanation.  The phrases and images and ideas keep coming at you, words about blessing, being chosen, being adopted, redemption, forgiveness, salvation, the mystery of his will, a plan for the fullness of time, obtaining an inheritance, to the praise of his glorious grace.  It’s a waterfall of words that keep pouring over you; you want to slow it down and think about it, but the words keep on coming and in the original Greek the effect is even greater as these twelve verses are all one long sentence.  In our English translation, with an editor slipping a period in there once in awhile, things have been slowed down at least a little bit but still there’s so much in there that you really could just take it a phrase at a time, not necessarily to try and figure it out but as I said, to meditate, to linger with the questions, to think about what it means to you and for you. 

So I don’t see these verses intended as definitive theological statements as much as they are imaginative musings on the nature of God intended, as I said, to take us to a different place in understanding how we as human beings fit into God’s universe.  Obviously the writer of these verses wrote them out of a first century rather than a twenty-first century understanding of the universe which of course is why some adherents of modern science are dismissive of them; “In light of what we know now let’s move beyond the primitive world view of the Bible,” they would say.  I think they miss the point though. 

Verses like these and many other imaginative biblical passages become an invitation for us to stretch our imagination as we think about God and ourselves and as we do so we can do it in the context of whatever it is that we understand about twenty-first century science, however little or much that may be.  We don’t have to be afraid that these things are somehow in conflict with our religious faith, which is what some would want you to believe because, for the most part, we’re talking about different things.

The discovery of the Higgs boson is no doubt a great scientific advancement.  Most of us probably don’t understand it, but it is significant.  But however significant it is, it doesn’t give life meaning.  In fact, I think the danger of only viewing the world from a scientific perspective is that it can strip life of meaning.  It can reach the point where you can explain everything, but everything doesn’t mean anything.  We’re just part of an unfeeling, dispassionate, mechanistic world where things happen but they’re just accidents of nature; you live, you die and that’s that; you did what you did.  There’s no room for imagining the possibility of something new that doesn’t fit what science says is possible, no room for that which can’t be explained.  Nothing means anything; it just is what it is.    

A passage like this one from Ephesians though, doesn’t explain; it doesn’t explain anything, but it does make statements that offer meaning.  Words that mention things like adoption and forgiveness and redemption according to the will and plan of God are about meaning.  For the author of Ephesians that meaning starts with Christ.  If you look at the text in your bulletin the phrase “in Christ” or something similar to that appears, I think, ten times.  For this writer, Christ changes everything; Christ gives meaning to life because in him we see God.  In this passage we don’t get explanations of what each of the phrases mean, but in Christ there is a plan for the fullness of time and in Christ, marked by the seal of the Holy Spirit, we are part of the plan.  Life does have meaning whether or not we can explain it.

I’ve read that when younger people are surveyed, their biggest fears don’t have to do with death and guilt which are the two fears that Christianity has tended to focus on.  When you think about it, the most common understanding we have of the salvation we receive through Jesus has to do with freeing us from the guilt of sin and eliminating the finality of death.  That’s not wrong; those are legitimate fears and our faith does address them, but what at least some research shows though, is that younger people aren’t as worried about these things as many of us tend to be. 

Instead they are worried about exactly what I’ve been talking about, worried that life doesn’t mean anything, that we are just accidents of nature in a process that has been going on for a long time and will ultimately end in oblivion.  It’s nothing new; even in the Bible, the author of Ecclesiastes says pretty much the same thing; “For all is vanity, a chasing after wind.” Shakespeare’s Macbeth calls life “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  So it’s not just a product of a coldly scientific worldview, but such a worldview can certainly contribute to a sense of meaninglessness.

For the author of Ephesians, being “in Christ” changed all that.  In Christ, God participates in our human nature, the same God who was around before the Higgs boson.  God’s participation in human nature gives us, in our humanity, the possibility of participation in the divine.  For those willing to imagine that possibility, to meditate on it, life isn’t meaningless but filled with the abundance that Jesus promised and that the writer of Ephesians pours out on us in these verses today.  The scientists can and should have their say, but this is where we find meaning.

It’s all maybe a little heavy for a summer Sunday morning, but it’s better than the beheading of John the Baptist, isn’t it?

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
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