Ancient Answers


Leave a comment

Lessons in Stewardship

 

The women came to anoint the body of Jesus. An anonymous woman had already anointed Jesus, but Jesus pronounced that as a symbolic preparation for his burial. Now his burial has taken place and the women go to the tomb to properly anoint the body of Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea had been too much in a hurry to take down the body from the cross before the sabbath started and had no time to do the proper anointing. They don’t know how they will move the stone to enter the tomb, but they go, faithfully.

By the way, let’s deal right here with something you often hear. Atheists and conspiracy proponents tell us that the resurrection is a myth, that the Gospel writers – those four men up in our ceiling – invented all the stories of the resurrected Jesus. If Mark had invented the story we just read, he would not have had women go to the tomb. In the patriarchal society of Jesus’ time, women’s testimony was worthless and rejected at all levels of society “because of the levity and temerity of their gender,” according to Josephus. Yet Mark has women as the only witnesses to the empty tomb! He would never make that up if he wanted his account to be taken seriously.

They encounter a young man in white robe. The usual interpretation is that this was an angel, and that’s the most likely explanation. But there is another possibility. Mark 14:51-52 tells us that when Jesus was arrested: “A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.” Same Greek words – νεανίσκος περιβεβλημένος – here at the tomb. Could the young man at the tomb be the same young man? Dressed again in white, but now clothed with the radiance of Christ’s resurrection!

I like that possibility. A young man is the one chosen to announce the good news, but a young man who has known Jesus. He is not here, he is risen. But he will meet his disciples in Galilee. Where else, but in the place that was most familiar to them. He is Jesus of Nazareth, after all. This is another tell-tale sign that this was not an angel. An angel would most likely have used a loftier title to refer to Jesus. But Jesus of Nazareth almost takes us right back to the beginning of the Gospel. “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth,” Mark tells us in chapter 1. We’ve come full circle. The kingdom of God’s presence is not in some fantasy land, but right there where Jesus had his greatest joys and greatest troubles, where he was even rejected by his own people in Nazareth!

In Galilee, life will begin again for the disciples. Without Jesus, but armed with his spirit and his resurrection power, they will spread out in all directions to bring the news of what God has done and will do for as long as humans exist on earth.

As you’ve heard me say before, Mark’s Gospel ends in verse 8, with a hanging preposition: εἶχεν γὰρ αὐτὰς τρόμος καὶ ἔκστασις· καὶ οὐδενὶ οὐδὲν εἶπαν, ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ. Such an ending was unacceptable, so some later editor or scribe added another 12 verses to where Mark had stopped writing. But most early manuscripts end at verse 8. Why such an abrupt ending? We are told not to end sentences with hanging prepositions – a silly, pedantic rule, by the way. But to end an entire book with a hanging preposition? That takes some guts. But Mark did it. Why? Because at the end, the young man is also speaking to us. Go home, go to the place most familiar to you – there you will meet Jesus, in the ordinariness of life. 

Every one of us is a continuation of the Gospel story. And every one of us has his or her own story, our own circumstances in which we live out the reality of resurrection. The Gospel is open-ended; it brings each one of us into an encounter with the risen Christ. Remember what he told to Thomas last week? You believe because you see me? Blessed rather are those who have not seen and yet believe. We have not seen, but we know, because we have been touched, and our lives have found meaning and purpose and spiritual strength. We are part of a family that transcends all human borders and boundaries. And we are here to take care of each other and of our home planet until the Lord comes to fill everything with light. Until then, let us be light.

Today is Earth Day. It is a day that reminds us to be stewards of God’s creation, just as the women were faithful to their stewardship in going to the tomb to care for the body of our Lord. There are people who are trying to create doubt about the damage we are doing to our environment and our precious planet and life on it. But logic, science (real science!) AND our Christian faith tell us to put our hearts to the task of caring for God’s creation. Let’s be good stewards of what God has placed in our care, just as the women were good stewards in their commitment to caring for Christ at his burial. And just as they were surprised by the resurrection, so also we might be surprised to find what our small actions can do for the planet!

We do not worship the earth. Have you noticed the psalm verses that we sing during this Paschal season at the First Antiphon of the Liturgy? They are from Psalm 66:

Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth! Sing of His name, give glory to His praise!

Say to God: How awesome are Your deeds!

Let all the earth worship You and praise You! Let it praise Your name, O Most High! 

Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth! Let all the earth worship You and praise You! The earth worships God, and we worship God together with all the earth and all life on it. We don’t worship the earth; we worship with the earth!


Leave a comment

The Schrödinger Equation of Faith

 

Thomas makes a very strange request: He won’t believe unless he puts his hands in the print of the nails that crucified Christ. The strangeness of this request came to me when I returned a spoiled package of strawberries to Whole Foods yesterday. And right in front of me at the customer service was a lady who was returning two packages of the same Driscoll’s Organic Strawberries. We compared the clear visual signs on our strawberries of mold and spoilage. The lady at the customer service needed no visual proof. She promptly issued refunds to me and the lady. But Thomas needed visual and tangible proof. 

 

It is a strange request because if you hear someone has risen from the dead, you’d be looking for a glorious apparition, some indication of divinity – you won’t be looking for a physical reminder, remnant, of the way the person died!

And yet there is something very profound in what Thomas wanted. He wasn’t looking for the transfigured Christ, who’d be shining with divine glory, who could walk through walls. No, he wanted to see the Christ who was familiar to him, the Christ who was his friend and teacher for a few years. For Thomas, the clearest proof of resurrection would be to see the familiar Christ with the marks of crucifixion still on his body – not erased by some divine transformation. And what if the marks of the nails were no longer on Christ’s body? What if they had been erased, healed, by divine power? Would Thomas still not believe when Christ appeared to him? Good question – and one that we can’t answer of course.

And of course this brings us smack into the heart of so much of the mystery of Christian faith. How can Jesus Christ be both God and man? How can God die? How can Christ be resurrected and still carry on his body the marks of the nails? Not only for Thomas’ sake, but perhaps for all eternity, even in the glory of the heavenly kingdom! 

Mysteries, paradoxes – scientists and atheists like to accuse Christians of resorting to mystery talk when we can’t explain or can’t prove something. I don’t have an argument with atheists; I respect their choice. But I do have an argument with scientists. Scientists should remember their own penchant for paradox and mystery.  The early decades of the 20th century saw the greatest revolutions in the history of science – the theories of quantum mechanics and relativity. The relativity theories of Einstein transformed our ideas of space and time and also, as a byproduct, gave us the equation that produced so much terror and beauty, E = mc2.

Quantum theory tells us that at the core of subatomic reality there is uncertainty. And quantum theory introduced the strange idea that the particles that make up everything can behave as particles and waves! Niels Bohr, the great Danish physicist, was asked how an electron could be both particle and wave. His answer: “We must be clear that, when it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry.” Poetry is also the language the Bible uses to explain the inexplicable. And this is why scientists should be a little more careful about what they criticise and mock.

The physicist James Trefil tells us: Instead of thinking of electrons as microscopic spheres circling round the nucleus of an atom, we see them as probability waves sloshing around in their orbits like water in some kind of doughnut-shaped tidal pool governed by Schrödinger’s Equation.

Time-dependent Schrödinger equation (most general form of the equation)

{\displaystyle i\hbar {\frac {\partial }{\partial t}}\vert \Psi (\mathbf {r} ,t)\rangle ={\hat {H}}\vert \Psi (\mathbf {r} ,t)\rangle }

This famous equation is at the heart of quantum theory and describes physical reality in terms of wave functions and probability. Together with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, the Schrödinger Equation reveals to us a world of paradox and uncertainty at the heart of all existence. Uncertainty, yet also a precision that is beyond anything humans an achieve: Stephen Hawking estimated that if the rate of the universe’s expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by one part in a hundred thousand million million – catch that? – the universe would have re-collapsed and we wouldn’t be here today.

Poetry, paradox, at the heart of physics. If electrons can be both particles and waves, why can’t Jesus be both God and man? Why shouldn’t the marks of the nails be forever part of the resurrected, glorified Christ? The appearance of the risen Christ to Thomas is in a certain sense the Schrödinger Equation of the Christian faith. 

The resurrection appearance to Thomas also tells us that God’s power is manifested not in spectacular demonstrations of divine power, but in weakness, in pain and in suffering – another paradox of faith, emphasised by Paul in his letters. In the resurrection appearance to Thomas, the reality of the resurrection is in the wounds that Christ bears. The divinity of Christ is demonstrated in the human wounds that he bears. He bears not only the wounds of the nails that crucified him, but he bears your wounds and my wounds, the wounds of all humanity. 


Leave a comment

“L’chaim!” from the Grave

 

Ανοίξω το στόμα μου και πληρωθήσεται πνεύματος, και λόγον ερεύξομαι…”I shall open my mouth and it will be filled with the spirit, and the word will flow forth”…says a well-known hymn of the Orthodox Church.

God asks every one of us to open our mouths to speak and let the Holy Spirit do the rest of the work. So I received an urgent call to speak this Holy Friday evening at the Epitaphios service (the Matins of Holy Saturday).

“Where there is no vision, the people perish” is how Proverbs 29:18 reads in the King James Version of the Bible. But modern translations are far less dramatic: “Where there is no prophecy, the people cast off restraint” (in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible) – more accurate perhaps but not as urgent, not as immediately meaningful.

This past week we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the great Americans of the 20th century, a man who spoke of vision, who dreamed of liberation for his people. But on the 50th anniversary of his assassination, he has been domesticated. His radical message has been co-opted and softened by men who opposed him and the civil rights movement he led. He has been domesticated by statues and a national holiday. That is why Dorothy Day, another great American radical of the 20th century used to say, “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”

Χριστός ανέστη και ζωή πολιτεύεται is one of the acclamations in the homily of St. John Chrysostom that we will read tomorrow night at midnight at the Matins of Pascha. Christ is Risen, and Life reigns, Life governs!

Η ζωή εν τάφω, κατετέθης Χριστέ, καί Αγγέλων στρατιαί εξεπλήττοντο, συγκατάβασιν δοξάζουσαι τήν σήν. This was the first of the many verses that make up the so-called “Lamentations” which we sang tonight. The translation we sang is very poor: “In a grave they laid You, O my Life and my Christ, and the armies of the angels were sore amazed, as they sang the praise of Your submissive love.” It sings well, it fits very well the Greek melody, but the translation is poor.

Η ζωή εν τάφω. Our Epitaphios on April 6th.

Η ζωή εν τάφω – “The life in the grave.” There is no “my” in the Greek. It is an absolute, apocalyptic truth that is proclaimed. There is Life in the grave! There is life in the midst of a death culture. And we are surrounded by a culture of death: Death by guns, by drugs, by abortions, by terrorism and wars, by poverty. Politicians and economic systems celebrate the death of the environment and our home planet. Death dominates our movies, music, TV shows, social media. Even our everyday talk.

We are to be the life in this death culture! That is the message tonight. That is the message now! A vision of life that transcends the petty concerns and hatreds that this culture of death instills in us every day, every minute! The vision here tonight is life in the grave. Do not be deceived. The powers of this worldly system have already been defeated by Christ on the Cross – not at the Second Coming, but at the Cross! Saint Paul makes this clear in his letter to the Colossians: And you, who were dead in trespasses… God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it

On the Cross, Christ defeated the powers and principalities. But we are still under their spell, because we refuse to surrender to the message of life that comes from the grave of Christ. From the grave! It is from the grave that Christ communicates life to us. By sharing in our own deaths he communicates life. By descending into the death ruled by the powers and principalities, he shows us how to transcend and how to overcome the spiral of death that seeks to envelop us; not just physical death, but mental and spiritual and relational death! Life is the message tonight. Life and life only – as only a Jew could proclaim. So Jesus the Jew greets you tonight with life. L’chaim! Why not turn to someone near you, different from anyone you came with, and greet him or her with l’chaim.


Leave a comment

Thanksgiving on Palm Sunday

 

Yesterday a funeral took place in Cambridge, England – the funeral of a great man, a man who was bound to almost complete immobility in a wheelchair and completely reliant on a voice synthesiser to communicate with the world. Yet, this man’s mind and spirit soared to the infinite reaches of the universe and filled our lives with wonder. You know I’m speaking of Stephen Hawking. His ashes will be buried in Westminster Abbey, near the graves of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, two other men who transformed our vision of reality and the universe. Hawking’s ashes will be interred at Westminster Abbey later this year in a thanksgiving service.

A “thanksgiving service” – not a memorial, but a thanksgiving service. There is no greater memorial to a man or woman than to give thanks to God for his or her life. Perhaps we need to add thanksgiving to our own funeral and memorial services! Thanksgiving was also what was in the hearts and minds of the thousands of people who lined the streets outside the church in Cambridge and who broke into spontaneous applause when his coffin arrived and was carried into the church.

Applause, gratitude, thanksgiving. Essential qualities of life. It was the way Jesus was greeted when he entered Jerusalem seated on a donkey. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Stephen Hawking did not come in the name of the Lord – not in so many words, anyway. Yet, I believe he perhaps did more to make the Lord real in many people’s lives than most evangelists ever will. He certainly had that impact on me. Anyone who expands the horizons of our minds, who stretches our imagination and creativity is certainly someone who comes in the name of the Lord – regardless of whether he or she believes in Christ. That may sound controversial to some ears, but I can vouch from my own years in scientific research before studying theology. Anyone who takes us out of our petty, limited view of life is someone who comes in the name of the Lord.

Listen to Paul in today’s Epistle reading:

Brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice… [make your every] prayer and supplication known to God with thanksgiving. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, sisters and brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things…. and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9)

Thanksgiving should be part of our every prayer. Thanksgiving is the key to peace with God and with each other. It is at the heart of the Christian life. It eliminates conflict, pettiness, and all the little things that keep us apart. I know some people in our community whose every thought and every action is filled with thanksgiving. It should be true of all of us. Sincere, genuine thanksgiving, gratitude to God for everything and in everything, even in suffering. Are you confused sometimes? Are you depressed, prone to discouragement or unbelief? Pause to give thanks. Pause to give thanks for anything that comes into your mind. Give thanks for your parents. Give thanks for growing up during the depression or the second world war. Give thanks for your first TV set. Give thanks for your cat. Give thanks that you can still drive. If you are young, give thanks for your cell phone or your Facebook account, or for the new CD by the Japanese heavy-metal group Matenrou Opera!

Don’t try to give thanks for what you think God wants to hear. Don’t think too much. Just give thanks for anything that comes to your mind. Be spontaneous. This kind of thanksgiving is the most genuine. God already knows what you enjoy most about your life. But God wants to know, are you grateful for those things?

Finally, sisters and brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Ingratitude is one of the greatest sins and it blinds us to the goodness that is around us and in us. Even the “failing” New York Times had a wonderful editorial about gratitude on Friday – which was Good Friday for most Christians. Here is what the author wrote at one point: My guess is that if you think about people you know whose lives are characterised by gratitude, you’ll find them to be outward- rather than inward-looking, quick to be kind. They approach the world with delight, a certain enchantment and a light touch. They are not blind or indifferent to the hardships and pain surrounding them, but they are still able to find joy in the journey.

Can you find joy in the journey? Can you be grateful for whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, for anything that is excellent? Then you are on your way to living the life that God intends for you. You have found the key to happiness and the surest protection against bitterness and small-mindedness.

Blessed is he/she who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed are YOU who come in the name of the Lord today!


3 Comments

The Times They Are a-Changin’

 

Yesterday, March 24th, the nation saw hundreds of thousands of young people rally against gun violence. The largest rally was in the nation’s capital, where perhaps as many as 800,000 turned out. I started watching just as Ryan Deitsch was addressing the rally in Washington. As I watched this young man, I said, I need to DVR this, this is sermon material. And it was sermon material. And it is my sermon today. I rewound the DVR several times to transcribe part of his statement: “I know a lot of people out there are saying we need to make America safe again, and I know that we can. We cannot make America safe again until we arm our teachers”- and here there was a brief moment of confused reaction from the crowd, which then turned to growing cheers as Ryan Deitsch continued – “We need to arm our teachers! We need to arm them with pencils, pen, paper, and the money they need to support their families and themselves before they can support the future in those classrooms, to support the future that sits down in those desks waiting to learn. And we need to arm our students too, we need to arm them with the facts and the knowledge and the education that they need to live in the real world, not just some fantasy.”

He raised his cell phone as if to tell the world, watch out, we are connected to each other and truth. Teenagers are masters of social media, and if social media can elect a president in 2016, social media can create a revolution. And teenagers can do it.

He concluded like this: “Thank you. And hello Uncle Miron.” Leave it to teenagers to be real, and they were all real. A young woman worked up so much emotion that she threw up! After she recovered and returned to the microphone, she laughed as she shouted, “I just threw up on international television, and it feels great!” As I said, these young people were very real. She then led the huge crowd to sing “Happy Birthday” to a young man who had been senselessly murdered in front of her at the Parkland high school. And she still had marks on her face from shrapnel at the high school shooting.

I admire every single young man and woman who spoke yesterday. Their eloquence and passion were beyond anything adults are capable of. And we had a large rally here in Portland, and in 800 other cities and towns. I hope some of these young people will go to Washington some day and really drain the swamp!

I watched a young man from Chicago, a survivor of violence in that great city. And he spoke with the fervor of a black preacher:

Violence cannot drive out violence. Only peace can do that.

Poverty cannot drive out poverty. Only resources can do that.

Death cannot drive out death. Only proactive life can do that.

Wow! And he went on to quote Ephesians and 1 Peter and called for loud responses from his listeners. For a moment those 800,000 youths were in church! A black church, to be sure.

The silence that Emma Gonzalez led in remembrance of the 6:20 time span during which the shooting rampage lasted at the Parkland high school was powerful, emotional and intense, prompting occasional outbursts from some of the young people present, probably to release the pent-up anger and grief. Moments like that are rare on television.

Speaking of television, two news channels covered the speeches by the young people without commercials. One other news channel preferred to show adults talking about the march. Perhaps they were concerned that the young speakers would say something that would offend the sensitive ears of their viewers. Most adults prefer to listen to adults instead of the young.

Many of us wonder why young people are leaving our church – our churches! Because churches also do not listen to youth. Yes, we enjoy their Sunday School and Greek School presentations. But then what? And I’m not asking what programs we have for them. The kids are a program to themselves! They’re not interested in what dances and entertainments we can organize for them. As Marjory Stoneman Douglas senior Delaney Tarr put it, “We are not here for breadcrumbs, we are here to lead.”. That’s their message to the churches as well. Are we listening?

The Archdiocese organizes the St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival every year – a well-meaning event and some of our young people have participated. But the topics are handed out from which young people are to choose – instead of letting them speak whatever they want to speak about. So the results are the same – young people parroting what old men speak and want to hear back. And I too am an old man now.

As the rally drew toward its close, Jennifer Hudson sang the great Bob Dylan song, The Times They Are A-Changin’. Dylan wrote the song 55 years ago, but it is just as relevant today. Listen.

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’
Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

My generation, the 1960s generation, rebelled, but the rebellion quickly turned to drugs and abortions. Even Bob Dylan threw in the towel, and turned into something else…and something else again… and something else again…and something else again. See, my generation liked to reinvent itself every few years. It’s part of the self-realization nonsense that so many Baby Boomers bought into. Find your bliss, and all that. I hope and pray that the young people I watched yesterday will not need to reinvent themselves any time soon. They are already fully mature and they don’t need any adult to tell them how to make their message more effective, more balanced, more acceptable to the adults, to those 60s rebels, my age group, who are now the swamp. I have great hope for these young people as they become politicized. They could bring the change the world needs – if they resist the pull of the swamp. Because as David Hogg, one of the leaders of the rally, put it yesterday near the end, everyone can be corrupted. I pray that these kids will not be corrupted.

They are the generation that knows how to use technology and social media. This generation make up 25% of the population at present and will make up one third of US population in 2020. Washington better start paying attention to them. Will the church pay attention, or will we close our doors when our populations die out? Will the church be a place where young people can find spiritual support? Not advice, support! And if not, then the church should do what Bob Dylan sang:

Your old road is
Rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.


Leave a comment

Three Essentials

 

“I believe; help my unbelief!” – those memorable words of the father in today’s Gospel reading. Every single one of us here today is a believer and an unbeliever at the same time. We believe, we are drawn to this amazing person Jesus Christ, we have a vague idea of God, some sense of how we are to live in the world – but we can’t put it together and keep it together. So when tragedy strikes, when we find ourselves in a mess either of our own making or someone else’s, we fall apart.

I found a tremendous quote the other day:

Though I wouldn’t have admitted it, even to myself, I didn’t want God aboard. He was too heavy. I wanted Him approving from a considerable distance. I didn’t want to be thinking of Him. I wanted to be free—like Gypsy. I wanted life itself, the color and fire and loveliness of life. And Christ now and then, like a loved poem I could read when I wanted to. I didn’t want us to be swallowed up in God. I wanted holidays from the school of Christ. ~ Sheldon Vanauken

That’s where much of our unbelief comes from – our keeping God at a distance, now and then coming to him when it’s convenient, when we have nothing else to do, or when hard times hit. We, like Sheldon Vanauken, want holidays (that’s British talk for what Americans call vacation) from the school of Christ – for many of us, LONG holidays! But I like the way Vanauken puts it – “the school of Christ.” It is indeed a school. Jesus Christ teaches us how to live – how to live fully, how to live in touch with our inner selves and with the people and the natural world around us.

In the walk to Emmaus, Jesus taught the two disciples in the way that only he could. He opened their minds while they walked and he opened their eyes and hearts when he broke bread with them. And that’s how he teaches us too.

He teaches us while we are walking. There’s not much Jesus can do if we refuse to budge, if we refuse to walk with him. Walking is the best way to experience and enjoy nature, the world around us. Can you drive through the Old Port for years and think you know it. Then one day you decide to park the car at a distance and walk. And you see the Old Port like you never saw it before; you discover it for the first time. Walking is also the way to grow with Christ.

The disciples talked while they walked, before and after Jesus joined them. Talk – we’re forgetting how to talk. This past week we lost one of the great human beings of our time – or of any time, a man who inspired many and who taught us to look with awe at the immensity of the universe. Stephen Hawking did not believe in God, he was an atheist. Can I blame him, the way God has been represented by Christians?

Stephen Hawking was confined to a wheelchair and lost most of his motor abilities, including his ability to speak. He had to communicate through computerised voice synthesis. In an age such as ours where fewer and fewer people bother to communicate with coherent thought and sentences, Hawking was a master communicator, able to express the deepest mysteries of the universe in ways that even children could understand. At a time when talk has become cheap or is being replaced by social media and trivial texts and tweets and when people don’t talk but shout at each other from inside their political and religious bubbles, Hawking’s advice is more needed than ever:

“For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”

The greatest genius since Einstein urged us to talk, to keep talking, not to forget how to talk, and to communicate without resorting to our prejudices and narrow-mindedness. We talk in order to learn and to grow in our faith. We talk in order to work through our confusion, just like the disciples did on the road with Jesus. And every time we are honestly working through difficulties of thought and faith, Jesus will be there. But if you think you have it all worked out, he has other people to attend to.

Finally, we must not stop breaking bread with each other. These are the three main messages from this story of the walk to Emmaus, the three essentials to grow in the faith: walking, talking and breaking bread. The fellowship we experience here at Liturgy when we share communion with each other should inspire us to sit down more often – not just with family, but with friends and strangers. Outreach and Fellowship are at the heart of the Christian message – and the Christian lifestyle. At Easter midnight we leave the Liturgy – well, most leave before Liturgy – and carry the paschal light to our homes. Our candles illumine the dark of night as we drive or walk home. But far more important, our lives should illumine the darkness that’s growing in the world; not add to the spiritual, environmental and political darkness that threaten our lives and the lives of our children. We are to be lights in the world, not contribute to the darkness.

Let’s walk and talk our way to a better world, a more Jesus-centered world. And let’s encourage our children and teenagers to spend less time texting and more time talking, face to face. It’s good practice for when we see God face to face, and we sit down and break bread with Jesus in the Kingdom!


1 Comment

Stephen Hawking is now one with the Universe

No scientist since Albert Einstein has captured the public imagination and spotlight like Stephen Hawking. Diagnosed with ALS at the age of 21, doctors gave him two more years of life; he defied all odds and lived another 55 years, during which he transformed our understanding of the universe. He is now one with the universe that he roamed and explored with his mind.

 

It was close to midnight last night. I was working on some Bible Study notes with the TV playing in the background, on a so-called “news channel” that talked on and on about Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump and other such non-entities, when suddenly Brian Williams interrupted his own unimportance to announce that Stephen Hawking had died. I immediately went to my favourite source for news, The Guardian newspaper of London, and already there was a front page story on their website. It is well worth reading.

I referred to Stephen Hawking last Sunday in my sermon, which I also posted here. I referred to his search for a “theory of everything” with the hope that he and his fellow physicists will indeed discover such a theory. It will have to be other physicists who will continue the search. As a follower of Jesus Christ – I’m trying to avoid over-using the term “Christian” as it has become so defamed and trite in contemporary American society – I find the Cross at the heart of the universe. There is a spiritual heart to the universe that goes beyond the theories of physicists. Hawking, like Einstein before him, never achieved the dream of finding the “theory of everything”, but he is now one with that “everything”, and I bet he now sees the “cross” that is at the heart of everything.

Hawking was to all intents and purposes an atheist, and he cared nothing for what the Evangelical thought police would say about him. He roamed the universe with his brilliant mind and enabled us to roam with him. That was one of his greatest gifts to us: he opened our imagination to the infinite reaches of the cosmos. One famous Christian rebel of the 1960s coined the phrase, “Your God is Too Small.” Indeed, the Christian god had become too small for Stephen Hawking to believe in. Just think of the meanness and narrow-mindedness of the Evangelical god; or the Orthodox god whom we call upon to bless our ethnicities. Can I blame Stephen Hawking for rejecting what most “Christians” call “God”? I believe that now that he is one with the universe he finds there a God more worthy of his belief. The cross of Jesus Christ is an invitation to lay aside all our pre-conceptions of God and to throw off the mental shackles of religiosity.

Hawking had a beautiful mind. He stated what his own goal and purpose in life was: “My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.” His children quote him as saying, “It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.” Amen to that. He probed the universe with his intellectual powers, and beyond all the intricate mathematics that he worked with his brain he found love at the core of the universe’s meaning and purpose. That is the love that moves the stars. At the very end of the Divine Comedy, in Canto 33 of Paradiso, Dante wrote:

ma già volgeva il mio disio e ’l velle

sì come rota ch’igualmente è mossa,

l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle. (Par. 33.143-45)

but my desire and will were moved already—

like a wheel revolving uniformly—by

the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.

Dante, writing his massive 3-part “poem” 700 years ago, saw the unity in diversity that exists in the universe, a unity manifested and sustained by God. The universe is our home, and love is at the heart of the universe, the reason why the universe exists. Hawking saw that as he reflected on his own loved ones. God sees Love at the heart of the universe as He contemplates His Son and the Cross of His Son. There is mystery upon mystery… and beauty.

“Hawking was driven to Wagner, but not the bottle, when he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 1963 at the age of 21.” Nicely stated by the Guardian article. I love Richard Wagner’s operas more than any other music or any other intellectual pursuits, and it warms my heart to know that Hawking was a fellow Wagnerian. But the same man who loved Wagner also became a pop-culture star, appearing in a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, where he appeared in a holodeck poker game with Einstein and Isaac Newton, and several episodes of the sitcom The Big Bang Theory, where he enjoyed hilarious interactions with Sheldon Cooper and his nerd friends. He even appeared in animated form on The Simpsons. YouTube has a great compilation video of Hawking’s appearances in these shows. He lived according to his own motto: “Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.”

Stephen Hawking with the cast of The Big Bang Theory

The Guardian website has a great collection of pictures to illustrate the life of Stephen Hawking: here.

And the official obituary in The Guardian today was written by a fellow great physicist, Roger Penrose: “Mind over matter

I conclude my own homage to Stephen Hawking with some of his memorable quotes:

  • “My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus”.
  • “People who boast about their IQ are losers.”
  • “I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first.”
  • “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”
  • “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”

Hawking lost his ability to speak and had to communicate through computerised voice synthesis. In an age such as ours where fewer and fewer people bother to communicate with coherent thought and sentences, Hawking was a master communicator, able to express the deepest mysteries of the universe in ways that even children could understand. At a time when talk has become cheap or is being replaced by social media and trivial texts and tweets and when people don’t talk but shout at each other from inside their political and religious bubbles, Hawking’s advice is more needed than ever:

  • “For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”

Rest in the Love that moves the stars, Stephen Hawking!