1st Sunday after Pentecost

May 26, 2013

Summary

Stories not atoms

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honour.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8 ESV)

Much of our lives are involved in the day to day details and that is necessary and normal. You didn’t drive here thinking grand thoughts of your place in the cosmos – or you shouldn’t have – because you should have been concentrating on your driving! Any passengers might have had that luxury of ‘big picture’ reflections but it is likely that you also were busy in your heads, so to speak, with the details of your life. Our lives can be full of minutiae.

Nevertheless there are also times when we do consider our place in the big scheme of things. The mountain top moments so to speak. The night time gaze at the stars especially away from all the light pollution when we get a sense of how many stars there are and what that means. Then we think ‘big’ thoughts in conjunction with often the universal sense that we are tiny in the cosmic scheme of things; real tiny; unnoticeably tiny.

The disciples were looking up at Jesus’ ascension peering intently no doubt not at stars but at his apparent departure. They were told such gazing was too early – yes, he would return from above – but in truth, he wasn’t leaving them. Ten days later I’m sure the disciples were looking upwards not to the sky – just a tilt of the eyes on tongues of fire alighting on them – the power from on high – the Holy Spirit was upon them and by the end of that day 3,000 people were baptised. Today the first Sunday after Pentecost seems to me when the Church, somewhat stunned, is looking up from the minutiae of going from a group of 120 to over 3,000 thinking ‘What’s just happened?!’.

That wouldn’t have been the first time such a question would have been asked. I can imagine plagues and pillars of fire and clouds that guide and rescue through walls of water and the descent of thick clouds on Mount Sinai with thunder and lightning and trumpet blasts that shake the camp all generating similar questions. I can think of Moses going up the mountain and his glowing face on his return or his experience of being put in the rock cleft as God came past – both events involving God’s revelation of himself as generating similar questions. In the minutiae of living in the wilderness the glory of the Lord inhabits the tabernacle and God journeys with his people and in all the rituals that surround his presence, again one can pause and think ‘What’s happening here?’.

These questions occur pretty regularly as people encounter God. They were never far away from Jesus – who caused reactions – controversy more so than we generally realise I think – wherever he went. Think miracles; challenges in synagogues – usually over his healings – but in his hometown it was over his interpretation of Scripture; claims to be able to forgive anyone’s sin; claims to be one with God; riding a donkey into Jerusalem using Zechariah almost as a script to fulfil. There were lots of ‘What’s going on?’. After clearing the temple of the animal sellers and the money changers, Jesus was healing the blind and lame, while the children were crying out ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ and yet the chief priests and scribes were indignant
and wanted Jesus to hear what the children were saying – deflate the balloon, cut the hype, restore the decorum perhaps – and Jesus replied, “Yes; have you never read, “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” (Matthew 21:16).

Jesus uses part of a verse from Psalm 8 to take them from their minutiae to consider the big scheme of things. Psalm 8 is song of praise glorifying God as Creator and establishing humanity’s place in the created cosmos. It is big picture talk and imagery – global – in contrast to so much of the Old Testament which reflects parochial nationalism and not God’s promise to Abraham of blessing the world through them. Its description of ‘man’ and ‘son of man’ seems to be generational and offers a privileged place in God’s world which should lead people to praise and glorify God – but the truth is that we ignore God and become consumed with all the minutiae that goes to maintain the illusion that we’re really in control of things here – whether the temple or the planet.

We know the chief priests and scribes knew their Scriptures. Did any of them recite Psalm 8 in their heads? Did any of them get to the verses which said:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honour.
and wonder – doesn’t Jesus call himself ‘the Son of Man’? Impossible to answer. But if they did think such thoughts they too would go back to where we started. What is going on here? Or better still ‘Who is this Jesus?’.

I suppose that means that the question for you is ‘Why are you here?’.

Because the Christian Church dares to give big picture answers to orient people, guide people through each week and support them through the details of life.

All religions have a Creator God or gods. Christianity is no different there. In each aisle of the supermarket of religions the hawkers are calling out his name. One needs to check – caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) and all that – how this knowledge has come about. Is it human creativity? Is it grounded in history? Whatever? On what basis is God named?

For Christians, the starting point is not creation but this person Jesus and his cross and empty tomb. If those events are not accurate and true, then folks you are in the wrong aisle. But because Jesus has died and risen again and lives then what he declares and reveals is truth. So Jesus reveals that God is Father – his Father – and claims a oneness with him – and together, they send the Holy Spirit to continue Jesus’ work by bringing people to Jesus. ‘Trinity’ is a church word to describe the mystery of Jesus’ revelation – and for me, it contributes to the view that Christianity isn’t a product of human ingenuity but of human transmission. We don’t create God with our words but rather the Word of God creates words about himself in us which we pass on. The truth of those words rests in Jesus’ cross and empty tomb.

And us? What are we? Carl Sagan said ‘star stuff’. The Bible says ‘dust’. We’d prefer the stars. And yet we discover that whether dust or ashes we don’t ascend but return to the earth – a seemingly meaningless existence in terms of the universe. Again it is the cross and empty tomb that says that there is more here than is visible: whether we’re visibly noble or ignoble, sin and self-centredness and rebellion towards God mark our lives but do not necessarily define us. God has acted to save and re-create people through Jesus and life is now marked by a cross – whether we’re looking at his or carrying our own following him.

Why are you here?

Because in the name of the Triune God, words, water, bread and wine are used to present you and reveal to you reality – the big picture no matter what the minutiae say – faith receives because it is more important than sight – you’re sins are forgiven, take and eat / take and drink given and shed for you, depart in peace, I am with you always – all in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

We are here not to stay – not really – but to go from here with words – more about the story – Jesus’ story – his story – and it does speak into our lives, all of it, even the minutiae. How will we respond? Well, I suppose that’s part of the story for next week.

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Bible References

  • Psalm 8