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The Universe

Humans have looked into the night sky, full of stars, for generations and been amazed at what they see. In our time, we have these incredible moving space telescopes exploring our solar system and finding other entire galaxies in this vast universe. It’s so enormous that we can barely perceive it.

The photographs that have returned from the James Webb space telescope show galaxies and stars in the making, and from what I understand, our eyes cannot even visually see these things in outer space. Somehow the camera records the waves of energy and colors have to be added to the photo so we can begin to see and understand it.

Some scientists even found a way to represent black holes with sound, after noticing ripples coming from a black hole. The sound waves had a period of oscillation of ten million years—what does that even mean?!—but in case you’re wondering where that lands on the musical scale, the black hole was making a tone in B-flat, 57 octaves below middle C. Human ears cannot even hear this. So the scientists sped up the frequency to a point where our ears can hear it, and now we can even hear the sound of black holes singing.[1]

It’s wild, how we are part of something so much bigger than what we can see, and we humans are so tiny. I learned that the New York Times news organization has a Cosmic Affairs Correspondent, Dennis Overbye, and he reports on anything related to physics and the universe. In an interview, his colleague mentions that he has also been called an “evangelist of cosmic ignorance,” and here’s how Dennis Overbye explains that:

“I love that phrase, because I believe cosmic ignorance reminds us of who we are, that we don’t really know much about this universe we’re in. The whole thing in science is like if you can formulate a question, you can find an answer to it. But it’s not clear that we even know the right questions yet. That’s the kind of thing you often get from deeper thinkers. And I don’t know, I guess I think it’s refreshing that we are so ignorant and kind of you have to be very smart to find out how ignorant you are.”[2]

You can see where I got interested in this, since as Lutherans, we’re really into asking good questions. It’s our theological heritage, you know: what does this mean? And we don’t limit our questions to only those of theological significance, we ask questions about the world we live in, about the universe, about history, because we seek understanding, to grow closer to this world created by God.

We’re taking these weeks of September and the start of October as a time to celebrate a Season of Creation, giving thanks to God for all that has been created and giving thanks for our place in this creation as caretakers. And today, I thought a good theme to start with would be the universe—God created all that is, all the life we know here on earth, and also the planets and stars and moons and galaxies far beyond this earth.

Humans have not given up trying to understand the universe. We’re still sending out telescopes and rovers and still trying to get back to the moon somehow…even after some recent failed attempts. There’s part of me that gets jaded, questioning why it’s a good stewardship of resources to explore outer space. But there’s also the part of me that delights in learning more about where we live and how we are connected to stars millions of miles away. Maybe it’s not a vanity project, showing off how much humans can learn; maybe it’s a way of getting at humility, recognizing how small and insignificant we truly are.

The universe doesn’t live by the laws humans make; we’re trying to understand the laws of the universe. Science keeps asking the question of how, and as people of faith, we keep asking the questions about why. Some of our best clues come from Jesus, who not incidentally, is a master of good questions.

Jesus was known as a rabbi, a scholar, and apparently he didn’t follow the same norms of his fellow scholars, even if he officially kept the same religious law. When the Pharisees and scribes, his fellow scholars, criticize Jesus for hanging out with tax collectors and sinners, it surprises me how Jesus responds.

If someone were attacking my methods, I might get offended, feel threatened, get defensive. I might answer by explaining myself or throwing back a question like “Who asked you?” or “Why are you in charge of who I hang out with?” If I were strong and bold, I might defend the people I’m hanging out with, stand up for them. But Jesus does none of these things.

Jesus gets cosmic in his perspective. He zooms way out to look at the big picture, and he has this knack for directly confronting human behavior. When criticized by his fellow scholars, Jesus goes directly to empathy. This isn’t about whose behavior merits rewards; this is about searching for something precious. Jesus answers with a question: what would you do if you lost something precious to you? You wouldn’t stop looking for it until you find it, and when you do find it, you rejoice with everyone you know.

In the vastness of the universe, humanity is easily lost. The laws of physics do not bend around humanity; the universe, in many ways, is indifferent as to whether humans live or die. But Jesus shows us a God who will stop at nothing to find us, a God who knows our whereabouts, a God who cares deeply about human life. Not because of righteousness but because of a deep love.

Among the stars and the galaxies, God will not lose you. The creator of all things also created you, with all your quirks and uniqueness, and has gifted you with grace. When faced with a vast universe of stars and black holes, God knows exactly where we are and will not stop until we know that we are found.


Pastor Cheryl

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