Proverbs 8, Psalm 148, Colossians 1, John 6
“Our whole universe was in a hot dense state, Then nearly 14 billion years ago expansion started. Wait. . .” If you recognize these words, then, like me, you are a fan of TV’s “The Big Bang Theory.” And, just like the science that is talked about on this TV sitcom is pretty accurate, the opening line of its theme song is an accurate one line statement of what the scientific theory of the big bang is all about. The idea is that, at the very beginning of the universe, there were no planets or stars as we know them. Instead, everything that we now know was condensed into a ball of energy. Then, suddenly, there was an explosion of some sort—hence, the name “big bang”–and the universe started expanding and forming into atoms, stars, galaxies, and planets. Now, this is still called a theory because there’s no way that anyone can go back in time to witness what actually happened and testify to the rest of us that this is how it happened. However, according to what I have read and tried to understand about this theory, it does explain much of how the universe is ordered as well as many of the phenomena that astronomers, physicists, and other scientists have observed and measured. So, the big bang theory is probably the closest that science can come to the truth of how the cosmos was created.
We use the word “cosmos” now rather than universe, because scientists are currently talking about the possibility of more than one universe, or, in other words, a multiverse. “Cosmos,” which is a Greek word that English took over, has the primary meaning of “order”. And when scientists look at the cosmos, that is what they find: by and large, there is a grand order to this creation around us, both here on Earth and throughout the space that surrounds us. In the atom, for instance, if the strong nuclear force between the proton and the neutron were slightly stronger or weaker than it is, then the processes of our sun would be completely different, and life on Earth would not have developed. That is an amazing amount of fine-tuning, and absolutely no room for error.
If we are not scientists—and I suspect most of us here today are not—all of this is mind-boggling. I can barely conceive of one universe, let alone a multiverse. It is so big that I simply cannot wrap my mind around it, and I admire those scientists who can. God has given them the talents and the curiosity to poke at the cosmos around us and, as Sheldon Cooper once said on the TV sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, “tear the mask off nature and stare at the face of God.” But what do we as people of faith do when we hear of all of these scientific findings that we can just barely comprehend, if at all?
I think that as people of faith, we look at this amazing order that scientists have discovered in the creation around us, and we give praise for God’s wisdom in making it this way. We see that praise in our lesson from Proverbs today. The poet is imagining the wisdom of God as the firstborn of God’s creation, and that wisdom guiding God as God created and set the heavens and the earth in perfect order. If a scientist were writing this poem about Wisdom today, she might say that when God determined what the exact force between a proton and a neutron would be so that life could develop, then Wisdom was there and clapped her hands with joy. And we human beings, so tiny in the grand scheme of the cosmos, and so unable to comprehend both the grand immensity of it as well as the subatomic particles that hold us together, are yet still a part of it. Ultimately, as the physicist Edward Zganjar (pronounced Skyner) has said, “We are all stardust.” It’s amazing and it’s humbling, and we praise God the Creator for the Wisdom with which God made the cosmos and all things that are living.
But as I said before, both the immensity of the cosmos and the fine details of it are equally difficult for us to comprehend. And so, God brings it down to our level. We move next to our lesson from Colossians, which is also a hymn of praise to God. This time, the author who is praising God talks about Jesus. Here the author speaks of Jesus not only as the image of the invisible God, a face of God that we can see, but he also speaks of Jesus being the firstborn of all creation, through whom and for whom all things were created. And this image of God was pleased to dwell with us here on earth, and through Jesus, God has reconciled all of creation to himself.
Well, that’s very nice, but that’s still pretty much “Jesus out there,” and not too much of “Jesus with us”. So, Jesus makes the wisdom of God even more real to us through his teaching in our Gospel lesson from John. First, he uses imagery that his fellow Jews would be familiar with: he speaks of the manna, or special bread, that God rained down from heaven to feed the Israelites as they left Egypt and wandered in the desert. Then, Jesus says that he is, in fact, the very bread of life, and whoever “eats” of him will live forever. Now, this is a very strange figure of speech that Jesus is using, and because it is such an uncomfortable image for us, we Christians tend to make it safer by saying that Jesus is here speaking of Holy Communion. But the Gospel of John does not have a scene where Jesus explicitly tells the disciples that the bread is his body and the wine is his blood, and that they should eat and drink in remembrance of him. So, I think that, when we confront this passage of Scripture, we need to look elsewhere for what Jesus is telling us.
Let’s go back for a moment to the scientific discovery that, if the nuclear forces holding protons and neutrons together were off by just a hair, life could not exist at all in the cosmos. But because those forces, and other forces, are fine-tuned exactly so that life can exist, we can say that God has created the cosmos with a tendency towards order and life. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is the divine Word of God that has become flesh; he is God’s Word that spoke life into being. If Jesus is now saying that he is the bread of life, and that, in order to have eternal life, we must eat of his flesh, then what if Jesus is using this metaphor to invite us to participate, with God, in the creation and the sustaining of the life of the whole cosmos? This Jesus, God’s Word made flesh, is not just “out there” and distant from us. He is also here, with us, so close that we can “eat” of him and join in speaking God’s Word of life to the entire creation that surrounds us.
Although this may still sound very mystical and far “out there,” it really is not. The eternal life that Jesus brings to us is not simply what we experience after we die, but it starts right here and right now, in this good creation that God has given us. And everything we do that promotes life is a participation with Jesus in speaking God’s Word of life into the creation. When we speak words of forgiveness and love to one another, we are helping to sustain life. When we work to help those who are struggling to get by with the little they have, then we are helping to create and sustain life. When we use the talents that God has given us to speak or write beautiful words of poetry and literature, then we are participating in creating life. When we speak out on behalf of any part of creation that is being oppressed, whether it is people who are being denied chances to live or nature that is being threatened by pollution, then we are participating in the sustaining and stewarding of life. Even when we do something as mundane as recycling instead of throwing plastic in the garbage, we are participating in the sustaining of the life of the cosmos.
We are all stardust. Yet, we are stardust that has been made to come to life by a great God. And that great God has sent God’s Son, Jesus, to earth, that we may “eat” of him and that we may become part of him. Jesus also says, “I am the light of the world.” That light of Jesus shines out from each one of us. Some days we may shine more brightly than others. But each and every day we are given opportunities to let that light shine forth and, with God, to speak the word of life into the world. The wisdom of God has made God’s creations to participate with God in the ongoing process of creation. Human wisdom would say that is foolish. But God’s wisdom dances like a little child and delights in each thing that God does.
With such a great God, our response should first be one of wonder and praise, joining in with the rest of creation, as our Psalm today tells us. We should be joining in with sea monsters, wild animals, cattle, fire and hail, and so on, all of which do, in fact, praise God by being exactly what God has created them to be. But more than that: we as the church, who have been gifted with God’s wisdom in the flesh, are called to tell others about this wisdom. Further on in the book of Proverbs, wisdom calls out to those in the streets to come and eat and drink with her. We, too, are to be going out to the streets and telling a weary and disillusioned people about the hope and the life they can find in Jesus, God’s wisdom and God’s word made flesh. So, let us be bold in participating in God’s creation, speaking God’s word of life to all we meet, and praising the Lord in everything we do. Amen.