Science and faith agree: we are not the center of the universe.

June 17, 2018

I have good news, and I have bad news for you today. Which would you like to hear first?

You are not the center of the universe.

You are not the center of the universe.

Of this both science and religion agree.

However, it hasn’t always been that way.

We used to think we were literally center of the universe and that the sun and everything rotated around us. That’s what we thought, that’s what the church thought the bible taught. Of course, some people disagreed; a few ancient Greek philosophers figured out that we weren’t the center of the universe. But it wasn’t until Copernicus in about 1543 that the idea started to gain some traction. Hopefully, you learned in school that the church (Roman Catholic Church) did not accept new fangled math and science and in deed tried Gaileo Galilei in 1633. His heresy was for suggesting that the earth was not the center of the universe, and that the earth revolved around the sun. Unlike others charged with heresy, Galileo was not burned at the stake, but died in 1642 while serving his life sentence of house arrest. 1992 the Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of Pope John Paul II, investigated the case against Galileo and acquitted him, that’s just about 25 years, if you do the math.

So, now we can agree we are not the center of the universe. Of course, science has gone so much beyond that revelation with telescopes that can peer deep into space and time. With calculations and measurements that tell us that the universe is billions and billions of years old, that the universe is expanding, that dark matter actually makes up a majority (about 96% of the stuff) of the universe. Science, if not in our schools (especially some of our charter private schools may give a different picture) scientific knowledge and theory is awesome. That is, unless you fear these theories, worrying that these discoveries explain God out of the picture, that God as godself, the divine one may also not be the center of the universe.

And if you think that the bible is a history and scientific text book filled with infallible divine information, that fear may feel very real. However, that is not what we teach. I feel like I can never say/preach/proclaim this enough. The bible is not infallible; it does not teach history or science. The earth is more than several thousand years old. Humans like our planet have evolved over time. This knowledge does not threaten faith or belief in God. Science seeks to unravel, to plumb to solve the mysteries of reality.

The cosmic perspective of science, however, reveals that with every discovery, with every mystery solved new ones appear. With every question answered new questions arise. It is for that reason that Neil deGrasse Tyson admits that in his exploration of the cosmos as an astrophysicist he feels humbled, he feels in awe, he feels what so many people of faith describe as a “religious” experience. However for him this is not God. Tyson has said, “

If God is the mystery of the universe, these mysteries, we’re tackling these mysteries one by one. If you’re going to stay religious at the end of the conversation, God has to mean more to you than just where science has yet to tread. So to the person who says, “Maybe dark matter is God,” if the only reason why you’re saying it is because it’s a mystery, then get ready to have that undone.

Let’s think about it this way, through the advances of science, Job could and may soon be able to say to God. Why yes, with our space telescopes, with our super computers, with our spectrometers, technology, why yes God we weren’t there when you flung the suns and stars, when you began creation, but we can still see it today. We can look back, and we can measure particles and the space between them. We can see galaxies and black holes. Not only that, without loosing our faith we know we are not the center of the universe, and hypothesize that we are just one of many in a multi-verse.

We can use the bright immensities and complexities as language within our faith, but they can not be the basis of our faith. Or as Galileo purportedly said, faith, religion, spirituality, God is about how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.

A cosmic scientific perspective can humble us and fill us with awe, but faith gifts us with the cosmic perspective of love. Of course, we may not see love at play in the atmosphere; we may not see love at work in the geological forces causing eruptions in Hawaii and Guatemala. It is hard, I would even see impossible to see love at work in the survival of the fittest. And contrary to members of this administration, may think, their words, their policy of separating and warehousing children from away from parents is more contradictory to the God we read in the bible than modern science, or evolution. Caging children whether in warehouses or in underfunded schools, poverty and prisons contradicts and threatens faith; using the bible to justify abuse and to prop up illegitimate policies and practices does.

Science with it’s cosmic perspective has and will continue to tell us we are not the center of the universe. Faith in it’s best form, love, inspires us to put others (especially the weak, the struggling, the oppressed). We pray for those who have been preyed upon. We partner with the persecuted. God’s cosmic perspective pushes us to a humility that bends not just before exploding super novas but also bends before refugees, bends to hold the hand of the sick and dying, bends to listen to those like Job grieving, angry, and lonely. The bible, the church, Jesus/God’s cosmic perspective is not obedience to injustice; it is not quietism in the face of danger; Our cosmic perspective is love—divine love that defies the laws of nature, the laws of nations and governments, even the laws of religiosity. The good news is we are not the center of the universe, love is. Amen.

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You shall not covet

June 10, 2018

There’s a lot of things I want. There are a lot of things I want to be good at. I wish I could play the guitar better; I wish I could run faster; and as a pastor and leader, I am really envious of those who seem to always have the right words. That’s just a few of my wants, my desires. But, I shouldn’t get too down on my self, on one of our many family amusement parks trips like the one we just got back from, I discovered that I excel at one thing in particular. I am an excellent line jumper. You know what that is right? It’s when you are so bored and tired of standing in lines, that you jump.

Now just in case you don’t know how to do it, let me show you. I need a few volunteers — demonstrate jumping in line (which is standing in line and just jumping up and down).

Oh, you thought I meant the other type of line jumping, cutting in line. That wouldn’t make me a good pastor or Christian for that matter. No I would never jump in front of others; I’d never cut in line. Because lines serve a purpose, keeping things running smoothly; our place secured and established by time and not by size, force, or might. The line is kind of like an equalizer, leveling and organizing the playing field, keeping things orderly and safe.

That’s how the 10 commandments are often understood—as God’s gift to us, to keep us safe, lines not to be cut, lines not to be crossed, laws not be broken. Do not murder, check; do not steal, check; do not commit adultery, check.

Do not jump ahead in line, check. Unless .

Unless I have a fastpass. You see, Disney created this system called the fastpass. They established a way for certain people to make something like reservations. For certain rides you can pick a time to ride. You have one hour to use your fastpass to bypass the line, jump ahead of almost everyone else. Really when you think about it, the fastpass system is Disney’s sanctioned line jumping let’s me ride as many rides as possible, to not have to wait in line, to have as much fun as possible that’s what I really want.

Wishing and wanting, craving and coveting the last of the ten commandments. At first when I looked at the way these weeks were designed by this narrative lectionary, I didn’t understand why this single verse against coveting (which our version of the 10 commandments divides into the 9th and 10) why this warranted one whole Sunday.

But as I’ve looked into it, the question became not so much why this verse was given it’s own Sunday, but why it is there to begin with. After all, I don’t know of any other law codes that go beyond actions—to our hearts, minds, desires. I am not alone in wondering this. Ancient rabbi’s asked how the command against coveting fit with the rest. Some suggested that by prohibiting coveting was a way to, in a sense, build a fence, a line around the other commandments. If we don’t covet, we won’t steal. If we don’t covet we won’t murder. If we don’t covet, we won’t work ourselves to the bone. If we don’t covet, we won’t make won’t worship things or desire people. All it takes is controlling our cravings and disciplining our drives and desires. That’s if we can control our cravings and discipline our desires.

Is it possible to not want? Can we not covet? Martin Luther, way back in the 1500’s For him, this verse is included in the commandments because we can not keep it. And since we can not even keep the 10 commandments, we need forgiveness. For Luther this commandment goads us into God’s grace, because controlling our cravings and our coveting is beyond the power each person’s human heart.

But perhaps there’s another way—another way to read these words, another way to keep this commandment.

A way that remembers where the commandments come from. The story of the torah, of the law of the lines God draws for us, were first drawn for men and women fleeing oppression, refugees seeking safety, for slaves seeking freedom. First of all, we can and should never forget the context of these words. God gives them and us the promise of a land. But it’s not just pharaoh they are fleeing. Because just think about this for a moment, pharaoh didn’t pick up a whip, pharaoh didn’t beat the people into submission. But slaves lived and died to build building, to bake breads. But this is not God’s way. Perhaps God knows our hearts as well, and this commandment is included to try to keep us wanting things—homes and happiness, peace and prosperity—privilege paid for by the lives and deaths of others. You know, economic, political, education, institutions and systems can be set up to keep our hands from getting dirty, but still get us what we want. The promised Land of the torah (what we read in Exodus and Deuteronomy) is where debts are forgiven, where the poor, the widow, the orphan are not to be used and abused but to be taken care of, God is setting up a system that seeks the welfare of all, not just for the benefit of the few, the wealthy. That’s why the slave is not supposed to work on the sabbath, that’s why debts are forgiven, that’s why farmers are to intentionally leave crops in the field. It is no crime to want your fair share, especially your fair share for all, and that is what God draws with the commandments, lines for the land of promise, lines for the life together, lines for community of care, lines for us. Amen.