Third Sunday after Epiphany, January 27, 2019; Year C
Nehemiah 8.1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Cor. 12.-12.31a; Luke 4.14-21
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the One in whom all things came into being: Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A few weeks ago Peder, Alex, and I met at Peder’s house for an evening staff meeting. After conversation, planning, and prayer together, Peder asked us if we would like to see the Andromeda Galaxy through his telescope.
We made our way outside into the cold winter air, Peder carrying his telescope. He set it up in the back yard as Alex and I looked up and saw billions of stars with our naked eye. “Isn’t it amazing that the light from the Andromeda Galaxy began its way to us 2.5 million years ago and we are now just seeing it for the first time?” Peder said.
“Ah, Yeah!” I marveled. “It’s mindblowing … so much so, I cannot comprehend it.”
He invited us to look into the telescrope and see the Andromeda Galaxy. As we looked, we saw a bright cluster of about one trillion stars.
Peder continued to teach us telling us that the Andromeda Galaxy is the largest galaxy in our local group in which the Milky Way is a part of. The Andromeda Galaxy has more than twice the 200-400 billion stars believed to be in our own galaxy of the Milky Way. Gravity holds our galaxies together, and eventually in 4.5 billion years, the Andromeda Galaxy will collide with the milky Way Galaxy to form one giant elliptical galaxy.
How’s that for a quick lesson in science?
We continued to stargaze and name constellations until our teeth started chattering in the cold. We marveled together at what God has made, and what gazing up at galaxies can do for our souls and sense of wonder.
We talk a lot in church about the stories of Jesus and who we believe God to be. This is important and central to our faith!
But how often do we think about and let creation speak and witness to God? I would like to read the first four verses of Psalm 19 to you once more.
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims its maker’s handiwork. One day tells its tale to another, and one night imparts knowledge to another. Although they have no words or language, and their voices are not heard, their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world, where God has pitched a tent for the sun.
What do the heavens declare and the sky proclaim about God? What tales do the days tell? What is the knowledge night shares? Do you hear God’s message of love and presence through the world around you?
Scripture tells us that all things came into being in and through God’s spoken Word, and in Christ all things hold together. Our bodies are formed of the same material as the earth and the stars. Paying attention to and appreciating the world around us grounds us in gratitude and well-being.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota have found that:
Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress … Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones … Research done in hospitals, offices, and schools has found that even a simple plant in a room can have a significant impact on stress and anxiety.
Another study at the University of Illinois suggests that residents in Chicago public housing who had trees and green space around their building reported knowing more people, having stronger feelings of unity with neighbors, being more concerned with helping and supporting each other, and having strong feelings of belonging than tenants in buildings without trees. In addition to this greater sense of community, they had a reduced risk of street crime, lower levels of violence and aggression between domestic partners, and a better capacity to cope with life’s demands, especially the stresses of living in poverty.
Perhaps these research findings should be obvious to us. And even if they are, how do we consider them in light of our faith in the One who has brought all things into being?
We are going to take a few minutes here in worship to look at what God has created and continues to sustain. This should do us some good on these cold days in the middle of winter.
As you look at these photos think about what creation is trying to tell you about who God is, and what God is trying to communicate to you through the beauty of creation.
In Scripture, Jesus calls our attention to creation. In Matthew Jesus asks us to consider how God cares for the birds of the air, and the lilies and the grass of the fields. Jesus says, you are even more important than the birds and the lilies and the grass. As we look at creation, we are to be reminded that God will also care for you.
Creation is not God, but it witnesses to who God is, even declares the glory of God, as the psalmist writes.
I can’t help but be reminded of the words in Psalm 121: “I lift my eyes up to the hills; from where is my help to come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker, of heaven and earth.”
I’ve started Father Greg Boyle’s new book: Barking to the Choir. He is the Jesuit Priest who has worked with gang members in Los Angeles for most of his life and wrote Tattoos on the Heart.
“One gorgeous morning at Camp David Gonzales, one of the juvenile probation camps where I say mass, I see a kid I don’t know standing by himself, just staring at the Santa Monica Mountains. I ask how he’d doing.
“Well,” he says, “I’m a little low on faith.” This seems like an odd place to start, as the homies say, “right out da gate.” But then he adds quickly, “You know what I do when I’m low on faith?”
I shake my head and lean in. My faith’s gas tank has been known to hover at “E,” so I wanted to know.
“I stand right here and I look at them mountains,” he says, “stare at the blue sky and white clouds. I breathe in this clean air.” He demonstrates all of this. “Then I say to myself, ‘God did this.’” He turns to me, with some emotion and a surfeit of peace. “And I know everything will be all right.” The open-handed thrill of knowing what God wants us to know. (Gregory Boyle, Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship, pp. 19-20).
God wants us to know that you are loved, you are cared for, you are provided what you need to live, and not only live, but to take care of others and the incredible world around us. And when we forget this, we are to lift up our eyes to the hills. We are to be still, look around, and listen to the ways the heavens are declaring the glory of God, for the sky proclaims its maker’s handiwork.