Sermon for the Eighth Sunday After Pentecost 8:30 AM

July 17, 2018

 

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
Trinity Church, Mt. Airy, NC
July 15, 2018, 8:30 AM, Proper 10B

ὁ εὐλογήσας ἡμᾶς ἐν πάσῃ εὐλογίᾳ πνευματικῇ ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις ἐν Χριστῷ, 4 καθὼς ἐξελέξατο ἡμᾶς ἐν αὐτῷ πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου εἶναι ἡμᾶς ἁγίους καὶ ἀμώμους κατενώπιον αὐτοῦ ἐν ἀγάπῃ 5 προορίσας ἡμᾶς εἰς υἱοθεσίαν διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς αὐτόν, κατὰ τὴν εὐδοκίαν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ,

He blessed us with all spiritual blessing within the heavenly places in Christ, just as he chose us for himself before the foundation of the world that we should be a holy and unblemished [people] before him, having predestined us for himself by adoption through Jesus Christ according to his good pleasure. (Ephesians 1:3b-5)

I

I read two happy news articles this week. One was about the unbelievable rescue of the Thai soccer team and its coach,[1] a rescue for which many of us prayed and hoped over the past weeks.

The second joyous announcement by science writer, Sarah Kaplan, began as follows:

When the sun was young and faint and the Earth was barely formed, a gigantic black hole in a distant, brilliant galaxy spat out a powerful jet of radiation. That jet contained neutrinos — subatomic particles so tiny and difficult to detect they are nicknamed “ghost particles.”

Four billion years later, at Earth’s South Pole, 5,160 sensors buried more than a mile beneath the ice detected a single ghostly neutrino as it interacted with an atom. Scientists then traced the particle back to the galaxy that created it.[2]

That’s it. A single, sub-atomic particle flung out from a cosmic catastrophe toward a just-cooled planet earth finally arrived unscathed and passed through Antarctica’s ice to tickle sensors put there just in time to make note of its passage.

How big is a neutrino? Kaplan explains,

If a hydrogen atom were the size of Earth, the proton at its center would fit inside the Ohio State football stadium. The electron orbiting it would be even smaller, and a neutrino could be compared to a lone ant.[3]

The accurate measure of the single neutrino’s angle of incidence across the Antarctic sensors allowed astronomers across the world to focus their telescopes on the event, the explosion, the catastrophe that had produced the ghost particle and for the first time ever, the visible world of the telescope had joined hands with the invisible realm of high-energy particles to provide a new source of information about the universe.

I should give you a minute to catch your breath.

There I was on Friday, trying to decide how to talk to a congregation of 21st-century Episcopalians about a passage in a letter ascribed to St. Paul that St. Paul didn’t write to an unknown congregation some later copyist decided must have been in Ephesus that contains enough Star Wars language in it to satisfy Luke Skywalker and enough predestinatianism to satisfy a Presbyterian. And then there was my brave little neutrino from four million light-years away. Imagine my relief!

II

Nobody knows what to do with Ephesians. It’s already an adaptation of another letter Paul didn’t write, Colossians. But Ephesians distinguishes itself by its other-worldly language, that locates God and Christ in a far-away heavenly space. For mortals in this space, all goes along in accordance with the heavenly will, as the moon circles the earth and the planets observe their celestial pathways. Our unknown writer knows something of the Hellenistic philosophies and oriental mysteries that imagined human beings locked within the lowest bounds of a material universe, far away from the light-studded non-material world of the gods, related to the holy only by a vague reminiscence of the abode of light. Denizens of those mysteries and philosophies would not have been shocked at the story of a neutrino’s four-million-year voyage through cold and empty space to Antarctica, perhaps being more surprised to find out about the existence of Antarctica than about the idea of a nearly imperceptible neutrino.

The single neutrino told Japanese Astronomers where to turn their telescope to see the four-million-year-old explosion of stars that bears the arcane name Blazar TXS 0506+056, and history changed that instant. But our author of Ephesians believes something else happened in far-off space even before the earth came into being and assumed her orbit. God and the hosts of angels that attend God took up an even more important subject than informational neutrinos. Those residents of a heaven beyond any heaven you and I can see decided to discuss each one of us, as though it were the most important thing in the whole universe to decide millions of years before our birth how God would lovingly include us within the company of those who would constitute God’s name, God’s glory in the universe. The writer isn’t being trite when he calls the relationship with you a “spiritual blessing,” for that blessing binds you with the very Spirit of God that moved upon the face of the deep at creation and brought suns and galaxies and quasars and radio stars and Blazar TXS 0506+056 into being. It’s that spiritual blessing that tells you that the “vast expanse of interstellar”[4] space is anything but friendless and impersonal but that it burst into being as “good,” as the best possible thing God could create. So did you.

III

There was some good news within a mountain of bad news about how a flea-speck particle had forever tied us up with the rest of the universe. The author of Ephesians thinks that there is something so wonderful that it’s worthy of being called a blessing in the discovery that you and I count for something, count within the cosmic scale of things, rate a major agenda item on God’s business calendar and that in what seems to be only a cold emptiness, we are encased within a loving purpose and hope.

That information, our author hopes, will encourage you and me to start knocking down all of the barriers that separate us and disassembling the walls that separate us from Jew and Greek, that isolate us from the poor, from Mexicans, from African Americans, from Muslims. Our Christ may have ascended far above the heavens, but the writer of Ephesians believes we know right now how to be the body of Christ in Mt. Airy and Cana and Pilot Mountain.

We could as one people hold Thai children we could not possibly know closely to our hearts in prayer over their ordeal of the past weeks. And we did. We could as one people so understand and reject the cruelty of our own authorities against little children as to make them relent. And we did. We belong one to another. The whole big universe tells us so. An anonymous voice somewhere in the Roman Mediterranean world seconds it; and the witness of God’s own spiritual blessing in our souls confirms it.

Amen

 

 

[1] Shibani Mahtani, Steve Hendrix, and Timothy McLaughlin, “‘Time is Running Out’: Inside the Treacherous Rescue of Boys Trapped in a Thai Cave,” Washington Post (July 13, 2018) https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/time-is-running-out-inside-the-treacherous-rescue-of-boys-trapped-in-thai-cave/2018/07/13/df335afe-8614-11e8-8f6c-46cb43e3f306_story.html?utm_term=.9d936ee032e8. Accessed 13.7.18.

 

[2] Sarah Kaplan, “In a Cosmic First, Scientists Detect ‘Ghost Particles’ from a Distant Galaxy” Washington Post (July 12, 2018) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2018/07/12/in-a-cosmic-first-scientists-detect-ghostly-neutrinos-from-a-distant distant -galaxy/?utm_term=.0cffff1d0e96. Accessed 13.7.18.

 

[3] Kaplan, “Cosmic First.”

 

[4] Book of Common Prayer 370. It is not without justice that Episcopalians have nicknamed Eucharistic Prayer C (BCP 269-372) the “Star Wars Canon.”

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