Pastor Lisa Horst Clark
November 4, 2018
Genesis 1: 1-5
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. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
Psalm 19: 1-6
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from its heat.
We are going to have a visual meditation of a person who brought a telescope out to the streets in Los Angeles and let anyone look at the moon. I want to let you know a few were a bit salty in their response.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of God’s hands. Day by day they pour forth speech and night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words, no sound is heard from them yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the earth.” These words were written by a psalmist who lived in a time where you could spend a lot of time seeing the stars without light pollution or other distractions. The heavens proclaim the glory of God and seem to speak. The human unaided eye can see around 9,000 stars from somewhere on this earth and at any one time, in one hemisphere, only half, around 4,500 stars, and we know that is enough to be breathtaking. I think about the times I’ve looked up and somehow finally seen the sky: in a parking lot in Connecticut, when there was snow on the ground and I was the only one there and all was still and quiet and bright; in Wisconsin, behind a lake at a summer camp where over the course of days and weeks I grew accustomed to knowing the moon and when it was waxing or waning. And here, in one of those rare times when the clouds finally part, you realize just how high the sky can reach, up and beyond and around. These 4,500 stars, especially if you can find a place where the city lights don’t reach, enveloped in the darkness of God’s creation, too, somehow incredibly these stars can speak to you. But these 4,500 stars that take your breath away are just a glimpse of the universe in which we find ourselves. Naming the total number of stars in the observable universe is difficult as we are, even now, looking at light from stars that would take 13.8 billion light years to travel here. The best guess I have found at the moment is that in total we are talking about a septillion stars, 1 with 24 zeros after it. By current estimates it is clear that there are far more stars in the observable universe than there are grains of sand on earth. Think about my whole life, everyone I have known, everyone I have cared about, all of the deep meaning it holds and how it is contained on the tiniest corner of one planet, rotating around one sun that is so powerful for all life and energy on earth that we cannot look at it directly but that this one sun is one of a septillion stars, as small as a single grain of sand.
The article I was reading then went on to say that don’t worry, a septillion, if you’re having trouble picturing that number, is about the same as there are atoms in ten drops of water. And I realize I have no idea what universe I am living in. I know I use the word “infinite” for God, but it’s only when I begin talking about the universe I get a sense of how big that means and really how I have no idea what that means. The mystic can get a bad rap in a rational world, as someone whose feet don’t quite touch the ground of life – a little woo-woo. I think about the times when I have been heavy of spirit, when my focus has become very fixed and narrow, when I become very rigid and certain that it all depends on me, where despair nips at my heels and evil looms large and I can only see through a tunnel right before me, for such is my dread and fear and anxiety and the issue is not that my feet are not on the ground but perhaps that the ground is ready to swallow me up for the narrow world in which I see there is only me and the impossible work before me and it appears I may not be up for the task, until I take a moment and look up. My idea of God is often too small, for we are talking about our Big G God of the universe, of the cosmos I cannot see, of the every expanding, ever moving, ever changing universe, how can I even pretend to comprehend. I know there are those who look at the vastness of the universe and find it can only mean indifference or meaninglessness, that our life, our being, our experience is coincidence. I don’t want to belittle that experience or that feeling, but that isn’t how the skies have met me. Even finding myself as profoundly small: whether looking through the open sky or the telescope or an academic paper, for me my reaction to finding myself so small in the midst of things has called forth from my soul a feeling of awe. The psalmist sings to God, “When I consider your heavens, the works of your hands, the moon and the stars that you have set in their place, what is humanity that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”
The experience of looking at the light is yes, of humility, but also realizing how small we are in the universe. But it can also be one of connection, of saying, “Look how you are connected to something that is so profoundly beyond your knowing. Look at how where you thought you were standing still and maybe if you just compare yourself to a table and a chair, you can stand still for a moment, but when you widen your scope you are actually spinning from night into day at a speed of 730 miles per hour. You are moving from winter into spring around the sun at 67,000 miles per hour, that the Milky Way spins its arms as our solar system orbits at 448,000 miles an hour and the universe itself expands. And I name that this is the God who now holds the universe as it twirls and spins and expands in a way I can barely imagine, and that somehow this same God is the one who made me and claims me and sends me into the world in love. For I come down from my images of stillness and peace not now separate from the world, not now somehow distant from its troubles. Don’t y’all say you were looking at the stars and didn’t have time to vote this week. But of all the things I am called to in this life, somehow once I’ve looked up I see it on a different scale and the player on a different stage. I am shockingly small in the midst of something fantastic and large.
In 1995 Bob Williams, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, wanted to point the Hubble Space Telescope for 100 hours at a really boring piece of sky. He wanted to know if we looked at a piece of sky where there was only darkness, where there was nothing, what would we see. Telescope time is a valuable thing, if you’re an astronomer, and 100 hours looking at, well, nothing, seemed like a terrible waste. Colleagues were trying to talk him out of it. They had only recently overcome the embarrassment of the need to fix a flaw in the images on the Hubble Telescope. The telescope itself hadn’t been calculated to detect very distant galaxies, and yet he was undeterred. They spent 100 hours looking at a completely dark piece of sky near the Big Dipper handle, around 1/30th the size of the moon. I’ve been told it’s about the size that if you held up a pin to the sky at arm’s length, that is the size they were looking at. They found that in the place they thought was nothing in darkness was filled. It was filled with galaxies, 3,000 of them, some as old as 12 billion years old. You could see in this image, through time, galaxies at different states of being and suddenly, through this image, the estimated number of galaxies in the universe was greater than they had ever imagined, five times more galaxies in the observable universe than had been known, this image of the Hubble deep field, changing how we understand the universe.
An article I read quoted Jennifer Wiseman, a Hubble senior scientist, saying, “That gives me and many people pause to be quiet and contemplate this majestic universe we live in and to be grateful we have a chance to look at it.” For what have we found? There is no place we can place our gaze where there is not light. We see the vast expanses of the universe and name incredibly that we are connected, that the atoms that make us up, that the atoms that make us up were birthed in stars fashioned through billions of years. For why on earth should hot balls of tremendously hot hydrogen and helium be beautiful in the first place? Why should we get to lift our eyes and find ourselves still?
For here is my prayer, that as we raise our eyes to the skies we might find food for the journey, we might find the beauty and depth we need for this step and the next one to know we are connected, to know we are not alone. Come and let us receive the gift of God, the gift of creation.
For on the night he was betrayed Jesus took bread and giving thanks for it broke it and gave it to them saying, “Take and eat, this is my body broken for you. As often as you eat of it, do so in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup and giving thanks for it gave it to them saying, “Take and drink. This is the cup of the new covenant sealed in my blood. As often as you drink of it, do so in remembrance of me.”
Ministering to you in the name and presence of Jesus Christ, we offer you this bread and cup: bread of heaven come down, cup of blessing made real. Come and be filled. Come and see the wonder of God. Amen.
Will you be with me in a spirit of prayer? Holy God, we give you thanks that our loves and our sorrows are works for justice and our hopes for our neighbors, that we all stand before your light, your hope, your stars. Thanks you for the glimpse of that which is so much bigger than us. Help us to walk in your light, in your wonder, in your awe. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
© Copyright. Lisa Horst Clark. 2018. All rights reserved.