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8.13.23 Sermon Transcript "the Way of Christ and the Will of God" Skinned knees and Powers of Ten.

We've been talking about creation and creation stories and God's transcendence and God's presence with us. In a reading from the Old Testament from the prophet Amos today there's a line we might just skip over he who made the Pleiades and Orion. The one who created the Stars. The Pleiades in many cultures are called the Seven Sisters, symbols of virtues or stories of ethics and morals, and Orion the great hunter they tell stories about these figures that we see in the skies - myths and legends.

The Babylonians referred to Orion as the chief shepherd in the sky or the god Anu. In ancient Egypt the stars of Orion were known as the god Sah.

In Greek mythology, Orion was a humongous supernaturally strong hunter. His parents were the Gorgon Euryale and the god of the sea, Neptune/Poseidon.

In medieval Muslim astronomy, and remember that while Europe was in what we call the dark ages, muslims kept mathematics, astronomy, and other sciences growing. Orion was known as al-jabbar, "the giant". Saiph which is Orion's sixth brightest star, is named saif al-jabbar, which is Arabic for "sword of the giant".

The Finns refer to Orion's belt and the stars beneath it as Väinämöisen viikate. In India, Orion is referred to as Nataraja 'the cosmic dancer' who is an avatar of Shiva. In old Hungarian tradition, "Orion" was known as Reaper (Kaszás) or the magic archer.

In China, Orion was one of the 28 lunar mansions (Sieu (Xiu) (宿). The constellation is called Shen, which literally means "three", for the number of stars on Orion's Belt. In

Puerto Rico, the three stars of Orion's belt are known as the "Los Tres Reyes Magos" which is Spanish for The Three Wise men.

The Lakota Native Americans, call Orion's belt Tayamnicankhu the spine of a bison. The huge rectangle of Orion is the bison's ribs. The star cluster the Pleiades is the bison's head.

The Chippewa Native Americans call this constellation Kabibona'kan, which means the Winter Maker. This is because its presence in the night sky signals the coming of the cold weather months,

The Pleiades are nearly 400 light-years away.

They are exponentially brighter than the sun which our planet revolves around we can see seven or eight of them with the naked eye especially in darker regions of the world.

We tell stories… and the prophet Amos is reminded that the stories we tell of the night sky pale in comparison to the story of our Creator. We talked about our Hebrew ancestors’ creation stories - that God intends Humanity; that God intends creation; that God limits God's self and steps back that “other” might exist - that God might be in true relationship with creation. God creates Humanity, male and female, in God’s image, with free will, so that humanity might say yes to God. A true relationship of love, not puppets on a string, not coercion, not a long Cosmic game - but love, mutual relationship. We tell stories about our breaking of that relationship or transcending or trampling on boundaries, of doing that which we should not have done and yet God does not abandon us. There are consequences - pain and work come into the world. We are not allowed back in the garden, but God provides a way of making a living. God provides clothing. God's abundance still surrounds us and we are called to participate in what God is doing; to recognize and respond to God's grace and God's will that God's intention might ultimately be recognized and fulfilled.

The texts of the Old Testament tell stories. Stories of the people of God: leaders and Prophets - families that God calls into service, desiring to rectify the damage of sin. They tell stories of humanity again and again misunderstanding and falling short. The great stories of the Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob… of Moses and his brother… of the judges of the prophets. stories tell of the receiving of the law, of the receiving of the festivals - the Sun and the Moon marked the seasons for the festivals - pages and pages, chapters of the Old Testament painstakingly outline the way God's people are to worship and behave. The building of the Tabernacle itself is something like five chapters in Exodus with excruciating detail. God cares about how we Act and yet…

it's not *about* the rules or the rituals or the festivals and it's certainly not about us taking those rules and imposing them on others and drawing boundaries beyond God. We gather this morning because we believe that the Word became flesh, that God knows what it is to be human and has demonstrated to us what we are to do…. and that is, as the prophets cried: to walk humbly and love justice and mercy.

God shows us what that looks like in Jesus. God humbles himself, taking on human flesh, even to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2) and yet that cross, that violence, that evil that humanity inflicts on one another does not have the final word! Christ has the final word - the cup of forgiveness, the bread of life. Christ offers himself to nourish us, to call us into community, to form us… to transform us!

We read in the gospels accounts of Jesus teaching, of Jesus telling us how to be God's people. Teaching us the words of the Lord's Prayer, the Beatitudes and in parables.

There are different ways of counting this, especially since we have four gospels and many of the stories are told in all four, but Jesus is asked several hundred questions - at least 300 through the Gospels. Jesus asked at least 180 of his own… but Jesus only definitively answers maybe three by one count… eight of those questions by another… perhaps our life in God. Our life in Christ - is not supposed to be about certainty, but about conversation. Conversation around a table where we break bread together - not about uniformity but about unity in our diversity of creation. Jesus calls to himself fishermen and tax collectors, wealthy and poor, men and women people he knows full well have significant, important differences and disagreements and he rarely deals with those important differences or disagreements. Instead he sends to them out in his name, he says to them “follow me” and to other people he says “go to the priest” or “stay in the village.” We who believe Christ are not all given exactly the same instruction! So why do we fall into the trap of thinking our understanding must be the only one? Jesus demonstrates that we are called to different paths and yet all of us are called in different ways to do what Jesus calls us to do, to follow, not merely worship…

He tells a story to this lawyer that stands up to test him. This lawyer that is maybe a little too full of himself and his right answers… and he does have the right answer after all: love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength and your neighbor is yourself. He knows the words… but he wants to justify himself. He wants to prove that he is worthy. He wants to draw some boundaries because…. you know “I can't help everybody.” Who is my neighbor? and Jesus doesn't directly answer the question… he tells a story.

And it's a very simple story. A man is going from Jerusalem to Jericho, across the wilderness. He falls into the hands of robbers. He's beaten. He's left half dead - that's actually a very important detail - he's half dead. From a distance you can't tell if he's dead or not. Does he need help or is he too far gone. You can't tell and the Levite and the Priest are duty bound or rule-bound to remain pure. If they're not pure, they can't perform their duties at least not without a purification ritual and if you're not sure if that's a dead body or not well… if you go within so many feet of a dead body you're ritually unpure. You can't take the risk to go find out because you have important things to do… oh how often I fall under the trap of thinking I have important things to do and don't spend the time to look and to listen. I am so often guilty of being the priest or the Levite in this story, so busy doing all the things that I forget the point of the things...

and the Samaritan? I'm not sure we can really comprehend how despised a figure the Samaritan is in the setting Jesus is telling this story.

Samaria is to the north of Jerusalem. It was part of the northern kingdom. After David and his descendants established the Kingdom of Israel and expanded it beyond the boundaries of the land that God had given them, Solomon builds the Great Temple… things are good and yet, we humans like power and infighting and “my tribes not getting a fair share” and “they're getting too much” and eventually, after Solomon's death and his sons are on the throne and his sons are not necessarily very good leaders, the kingdom splits North and South. The Kingdom of Israel to the north the kingdom of Judea to the South. Incidentally almost everything we have written in the Old Testament comes from Judea, not from the north. See the north fell very quickly. After a few decades of prosperity and success, the Assyrians roll into town and they take over the North and the northern kingdom intermarries with the Assyrians and they return to practices of worship that the people of Judea, centered around the temple in Jerusalem, consider wrong. Now… it's not that different from the worship that Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all of those up until the time of David… who worshiped in the high places and the rituals that God outlined in Exodus but it is different from the rituals that have developed around the temple which are told in the stories of Deuteronomy. So the kingdom of Judea considered them apostate! Heretics! They had intermarried with the enemy, they had taken on foreign ways, they worshiped foreign gods, they no longer did it right… how often in Christian history have we had divisions or schisms and people with whom we did we agree on almost everything become our most bitter enemies because of that one thing. While we tend to get along with people we have even more significant differences with… that's… well - humanity is weird sometimes but aren't our deepest wounds and our hardest fights with our closest family?

That's what we do to each other…. So, the Samaritans were despised and to tell a story where a Priest and Levite - esteemed leaders, learned in the law and ritual purity, seem to be the bad guys and a… (gasp) Samaritan is the one that gets it right?! It's shocking. it's offensive and yet even the lawyer recognizes the one who showed mercy, the one Jesus is telling me got it right, was the one that was willing to go beyond boundaries and wounds and hurts – to take risks, to do justice and mercy and kindness. He couldn't tell if that person was alive or dead he couldn't tell if that person was Jewish or Samaritan but instead of asking what will happen to me if I help him, the Samaritan asked what will happen to him if I don't. So he takes the risk and he pays his own coin. He cares for him. He makes arrangements. He loves his neighbor and in loving his neighbor he ultimately loves himself and in loving his neighbor and himself he ultimately loves God with all his heart and his mind and his strength.

It's not that boundaries and ritual are not important. It’s that the boundaries and rituals are supposed to lead us to loving one another and loving God not becoming excuses not to…

and so often that's what we do. that's what I do…. so Jesus tells this story he doesn't directly answer the question. He tells a challenging, provocative, even offensive story… to get people to think about what the words they say mean.

The prophet Amos told stories. Most interestingly he declares himself “not a prophet or a son of a prophet.” That is – not a part of the established system. He's a shepherd and a grower of figs and he's from the southern Kingdom but he has called and sent to preach in the northern kingdom before the Assyrians come, when things are going well in the north. Amos goes with a word of warning. How do you suppose he was received? Being an outsider, being charged with telling a prosperous kingdom that they were not following God, that they did not deserve their riches, that disaster was coming? How would we receive such a message? Probably not well.

He's alienated. He's ostracized. He's sent back to where he came from… but did you notice in our reading he saysm or God says through him depending on who you believe and what you believe, he tells the northern kingdom NOT to go to Bethel or Gigal or Beer-sheba which is near the Jordan… and you might have recognized some of those names. I preached on them several times recently when the prophet (edit – my mind when blank Sunday – the prophets involved were, of course, Eljah and Elisha.) turns over the mantle.

These town names evoke the stories that they reenact - when Israel comes out of the Wilderness these are the places the first stories are told about Israel coming into the land. About following God and being God's people. These are the places of triumph and learning

and yet the prophet Amos, generations later says “don't go to these places” Retelling those stories won't protect you. It's about how you are living it out now. Amos calls on the Old Testament stories not as stories of triumph or protection but that we might learn the lessons of those stories again…

We don't rest on our laurels. We don't rest on the decisions our ancestors made. We are responsible for our actions, for the outcomes of our actions, for loving God and loving neighbor. Amos has a difficult task and carries a harsh word and an assurance what God wants is not legalistic adherence to ritual. What God wants is justice. “let Justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Be like the Samaritan… who recognizes need and responds. Who uses his gifts, not to protect himself but to serve others. Let our rituals, let our purity, not distance ourselves from one another but let us follow Christ and be willing to get our hands dirty.

So I want to tell a story of my own. It's loosely drawn from one that Leslie Weatherhead tells in his book, certainly was the inspiration for it, but when I was not active in church. I had wandered away again, I was working 70 and 80 and more hours a week doing computer technology. I was frankly miserable. I was not terribly good at my job. I was, frankly, doing a bad job of being a husband and a father and I had a moment of epiphany and in my case it had to do with an injury.

I was moving one of those big old tube monitors, you remember those before the flat screens televisions and even computer monitors were huge and Apple had started building a 21-inch Monitor and it weighed about a million pounds and I was trying to fix one and move it and take care of it and I wrenched my back. And I thought it was just so unfair! and I wasn't able to do the amount of work that I thought was providing for my family and the amount of work I thought was earning me some sort of vindication or recognition or something. I was laid up and while I was doing that, I ran across a video. It was made for IBM in 1977. It's called Powers of Ten. It is not a theological document. I was looking at computer training stuff, I ran across this and I watched it, rather fascinated. What it was designed to do in 1977 was illustrate for people who had no technical technological background what the powers of computing could do. Powers of Ten was made by the office of Charles and Ray Eames for IBM to demonstrate indirectly what their computer power was capable of for businesses - a film dealing with the relative size of things in the universe and the effect of adding another zero. It begins with a scene of a picnic. The video is about nine minutes long and there's a picnic and they zoom out by one power of 10 and then two powers of ten and you get 10 meters and then a thousand meters and if you happen to have family from Chicago, you recognize that they're on the lakefront of Lake Michigan and the Lincoln Park area and then you zoom out… four powers of ten that's a one followed by four zeros - that many meters you can see the whole of Chicago. You zoom out a few more powers of ten you can see the entirety of Earth. You zoom out a few more powers of ten, you can see the path of Earth around our sun the paths of the nearby planets. A few more times out you can see the constellations, the nearest stars - light years away but you can see them as you zoom out. A one followed by 15 zeros, 15 powers of ten you're that far out by 21 powers of 10 that the Milky Way is becoming a dot in your vision. You zoom farther out in 1977 the limit of what we could conceive was 24 powers of 10 out into space. Voyager had just been launched and was about that far out we were just beginning to get pictures of other galaxies. Of course today, in 2023, we have the Hubble telescope and the Watt telescope and we're getting astounding pictures of galaxies and clusters of galaxies that exist in spots that to the naked eye are just completely dark, but if we do a long exposure with those huge scientific instruments, we're seeing billions of stars and increasingly discovering other planets. But in 1977 this was about as much as we could document… and then they begin zooming back in very, very quickly through the planets through Earth back to the picnic back to that first meter. The man in the Park and then they zoom in on his hands and then they do the same thing in micro. They zoom by powers of ten in on his skin cells and then inside the skin cell to a red blood cell and a white blood cell inside the cell to the DNA that in 1977 we were just beginning to unwind. We hadn't completed the Genome Project yet. We were beginning to have some inclinations of what we would find but even the computer power wasn't there yet to do it They go into the nucleus, into the atom and what we find inside the atom and again the limit of our conception at that time and I'm watching this film and I'm icing my back and I'm grumbling about how unfair life is with this injury… and in a moment of clarity, a moment of epiphany… it dawns on me that God is present everywhere in that video.

God is present at the smallest microns and thousandth of a micron that we can measure. God is present beyond the galaxies I can conceive of. God is present… the one who made Orion and the Pleiades, the one who called life into being… who gathered dust breathed life into it and called it Adam. God is present…

It wasn't very long after that I had started going to University UMCE and Pastor Gayla led a study on the Will of God and I encountered Leslie Weatherhead's writing and he tells a very similar story about a skinned knee… and you know there are times to tell stories and I'll tell you this is not the story I usually tell in the hospital at the bedside, because it's not time then. Like Amos it comes across as a little harsh even… but that recognition I had of my wrenched back and the inside of a cell and the galaxies beyond what I can count

and the Insight that Weatherhead had had in the midst of the London Blitz about a skinned knee makes sense to me. Most of us have been parents or grandparents, we've sent kids out to play knowing full well that disaster will strike. Oh it'll just be a skinned knee or an elbow a little bit of Bactine, a Band-Aid, a kiss I'll fix it. No big deal, y’know…

But we know that at the cellular level? That skinned knew IS the end of the world. It is disaster, blood and force and complete annihilation!

and at the cosmic level…. Um…. did it even happen? Did that skinned knee even register. Physicist and philosophers speculate about the wings of a butterfly creating the wind that eventually becomes a hurricane… an interesting debate in philosophy… this is less than that. In fact, for most of us, for most skin knees… once you put a little Bactine on and add a Band-Aid and a kiss… it's gone now. We don't remember it happened either. Now certainly some wounds are more serious, even life-altering and I don't mean to make light of our wrenched backs and our cancers and our car accidents and the news that we don't want to hear because it is tragic. It is…

But at the cellular level did it even happen? At the universal level does it affect the winds?

It is important - one of the reasons I'm convinced it is important is that Christ shares it. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Christ knows our mountaintops and our valleys. Christ willed them into being. Christ does not want us to suffer, but we are sent out to play in the backyard that God created and God knows we're going to skin our knees occasionally and it's okay… and those things that aren't okay? Those things that are just too much… the crosses that we bear or the things we think are crosses… ultimately that'll be okay too. At some cosmic level ultimately the worst things we can imagine are like skinned kneews…. that doesn't mean they're not important. It does mean that somewhere there is a Band-Aid or an ointment or kiss that will make it well. I believe that that. It guides me through the darkest valleys. God's goodness and mercy follows me all the days of my life. God has been with me from the beginning, that wind that hovered over the void, that Word that became flesh. The Mystery of the Trinity: Father, Son Holy Spirit. God who is intimately with me, within me, beyond my comprehension… will make it right. God's will is goodness. God's will is grace and love. God's will is for me to participate in that grace and love of my own free will. God is patient and kind. God Is With Us - in all of our skinned knees and on all of our crosses and on all the crosses we build for others. God is with us. Christ is with us. Christ says “my grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.” This is the response the Apostle Paul gets to praying that a thorn would be taken from him. It may be that that thorn is what led him into ministry, that thing that we want taken away is what shapes us, forms us, that creates the empathy that we need to get over our own rule-bound hardness and instead proclaim grace and inclusion and mercy.

God will take it from us in due time, not by our command but with God's grace and healing. We are children to God. We are called to be infants, not filled with our own wisdom but formed by the discipline of God to be disciples of Christ - to encounter God in all things. For “through him all things were made and without him not one thing was made that was made.” this is what the Bible teaches us. These are the words that are designed to lead us to Christ, to intimate relationship with God, to proclaim with our deeds, not just our words, “thy will be done” and thy will be done on Earth here now, in my lifetime as I know it is in heaven and that place defined by where God's will is done. God wants God's will to be done here by us. For us to “let Justice roll down like Waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” as we follow the one who made us, who equips us, who calls us. That's what I believe thanks be to God. Amen!


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