Proverbs 8:22-31; Psalm 148; Colossians 1:15-20; John 6:41-51
In the summer of 2011 I had finished my internship and returned back to seminary in Gettysburg. I was living on campus and working odd jobs until the school year started, as well as working on my approval essay, which is one of the hoops you have to jump through on the road to ordination. On August 23, I was sitting at my computer working on my approval essay when suddenly the building began to shake. I looked around and said, “I think that’s an earthquake.” I found out a little bit later that, in fact, it was a 5.8 earthquake with its epicenter in Louisa County, Virginia, in the Appalachian Mountain Range, and it was felt all up and down the East Coast. I also found out later that the first year seminarians, who had already started their Greek class, had just learned the word κόσμος right before the earthquake hit. And one of the meanings for the word κόσμος in Greek is “world”. The world shook just as they learned that word. And they were a little shaken up by this.
Today we use the English word “cosmos” to mean the entire universe, which is why we have all of the pictures of space on the slideshow today. What we don’t always understand when we use the word “cosmos” is that the word does not simply mean “universe” or “world,” but it also means “the world or universe regarded as an orderly, harmonious system”. From the very beginning of the Bible, we hear that God is a God of order. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” The Hebrew phrase that gets translated “formless void” is tohu vavohu, which literally means “formless, confusion, unreality, and emptiness”. And out of this confusing emptiness, God created our orderly universe, or cosmos.
Scientists investigating how the universe came to be tell us that if the forces holding the different parts of the atom together were off by just a hair, the earth could not have developed and life could not exist. This makes me think of God as an engineer who measures everything very precisely to the point of annoying those around him. But the phrase “it’s close enough for government work” is not even in God’s vocabulary. We and all life exist because God is such a God of order. But being a God of precision and order does not mean that God is not also playful. And that’s where our Proverbs reading comes in today.
The voice that is speaking in Proverbs is the voice of Wisdom. This is poetic language and rich in metaphor, because today we would not think of Wisdom as a person. To us, wisdom is an abstract concept that is defined as “knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action”. How can we imagine wisdom as a woman, as something that God created before he created even the universe? Much less, how can we imagine wisdom, with such a dreary definition, dancing and rejoicing in God’s creation?
I think for this, we need to return to the scientific point of view for a moment. God’s wisdom knows that, if the forces holding atoms together are not precisely right, all life would disappear in an instant. Picture now God’s joy in finding just the right measurements to hold everything together, so that life, all kinds of life, both plants and animals in all of their infinite varieties, can be created, can live and breathe. That is wisdom rejoicing. As for wisdom dancing—picture wisdom now as what science describes as the gravitational forces that hold everything together. William P. Brown, a professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, writes, “Astronomers frequently refer to stars and galaxies ‘dancing’ in relation to each other” (171). In the Perseus galaxy cluster, for example, billions of stars orbit one another. Or, we can think of our own solar system: the planets orbit the sun, and moons orbit the planets. Nothing stands still in the universe. God’s wisdom again found the precise forces needed to orchestrate this beautiful dance, and everything in the universe is constantly in motion. Wisdom dances.
Wisdom is the gravitational forces that pull on our solar systems and stars to keep them dancing around one another. Wisdom is that precise measurement that makes all life possible. And wisdom means that without others, we could not exist. Nothing in this universe exists in isolation. Scientists have found that, for example, even though this pulpit and I appear to be two separate objects, on the quantum level (which is smaller even than the particles that make up an atom), the space between the pulpit and me does not exist—we are entangled somehow on the quantum level. It follows, then, that you and I, on that very tiny level, are all tangled together. I cannot even begin to imagine how that works, can you?
The lesson then that we can take from Lady Wisdom is this: no one of us can exist without the other. Human beings need one another to survive. Not only that, but human beings need each animal and each plant on this earth in order to exist: grass, trees, birds, bears, buffalo, elk, deer, wolves—yes, I said wolves!—horses, dogs, flowers, the duck-billed platypus, and on and on—these are all necessary to our survival. We exist on a cosmic level only in relationship to others. We are all intertwined. When you think that God Himself exists as a relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and yet is one God, it makes sense that he would make a creation that exists only in relationship to one another. And Wisdom laughs and dances and sings, for even she cannot exist unless she is in relationship with God.
And it was the Wisdom of God that decided that it would be best for humankind if God himself became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, the firstborn of all creation. It was the Wisdom of God that caused Jesus to say, in today’s Gospel reading, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world—the cosmos—is my flesh.” We human beings had forgotten that no one of us could exist apart from each other. Each of us has turned in upon him or herself; we want to serve only ourselves. And the Wisdom of God said, “If I send my Son, Jesus, in whom all things in this cosmos hold together, and he gives his flesh for the world to eat so that all may live, then my people will understand once more that they cannot exist apart from one another. They will love and serve one another as they were meant to do for Jesus’ sake, and they will love and serve God.” And Wisdom danced and clapped and sang at the idea that God the Creator would become part of his creation and bring all people together again as one.
So, as we close our Creation Season on this cosmic, mystical note, what is the lesson that we learn? How are we to be in relationship with the creation that surrounds us? We are to search for Wisdom, and when we find her, we recognize what a delight she is as we see how beautifully and wonderfully this cosmos was made and continues to be made. We are to serve one another, as Jesus came to serve us, and to give of ourselves as Jesus gave of himself for the life of the cosmos. And not only are we to serve our brother and sister human beings, we are to humbly serve and care for the creation with which we are so intimately intertwined that, on the smallest subatomic level, we cannot tell the difference between one person and object and the other.
Our Psalm today gives us an idea of how we are to begin caring for one another and for creation. One of the commentaries on this psalm says that our duty as stewards of creation is to ensure creation’s unfettered praise to God. We are the conductors of God’s cosmic symphony. So, as we sing our hymn of the day, let us be mindful of ways in which we can care for and free up the creation to continue its cosmic song of praise to the One who made all things with great wisdom and precision. Amen.