SEPTEMBER 21 Reflection

3rd Sunday of Creation (September 21 2014)

A Place in Gods Creation

 

BIBLE READINGS
Psalm 18:6-19
Mark 1:9-15

Romans 8:12-25

 

REFLECTION

In his latest interview, legendary American astronaut Buzz Aldrin begged to differ from another legend, Neil Armstrong, the man who stood on the surface of the moon before him. Buzz told his interviewer that Neil was more positive than him regarding the state of the moon that they saw up close: Neil was gracious enough to call the moon, beautiful.

Not for Buzz. His impression of the moon was that it was a desolate and totally lifeless place. For him, seen up close, there was nothing beautiful about the moon. One could see nothing much, except shades of grey and a black horizon. Dont get him wrong. For Buzz, the moon was still magnificent, but it was also very inhabitable.[1]

And thats only our closest neighbour. Think about other distant planets in our solar system or galaxy. Recent photos taken by satellite of distant planets like Saturn or Jupiter reveal to us that their beauty from a distance is not beauty at all when it is seen up close. The beautiful circular white and orange patterns on Jupiter, for example, are actually gigantic cyclones that dwarf any cyclones that we have ever had on earth; cyclones that are many times larger than the earth.

The online newspaper, Daily Mail, recently reported how the earth narrowly missed an electromagnetic surge from the sun that could seriously undermine electric power here on earth.[2] If such a surge ever hits the earth, our phones, cars, and other electronic devices will be impacted.

The earth is indeed a mere grain of sand in a beach we call the universe. The earth is not only minute; it is insignificant and it is fragile.

Unlike us, the ancient people of Israel did not have the advantage of modern science, yet they knew that the world and the entire universe could become a dangerous and unpredictable place to live in. Yet, they refused to surrender their faith. For them, their existence did not depend on the randomness and quirkiness of nature, but on Yahweh, their God, who created them together with the whole universe. They were significant because their Creator cared for them.

The ancient people of Israel had always had an inferiority’ complex. Israel was a small kingdom that lived amongst bigger and stronger kingdoms. Alone, they could not do much to stop these kingdoms from attacking them and destroying their cities.

But they always believed that they were not alone. They had a powerful ally: their God, Yahweh, the Creator of the Universe. They may be small and insignificant in the eyes of other kingdoms, but they were not small and insignificant in the eyes of Yahweh. According to our reading today from Psalm 8, Yahweh, the Creator of the universe, would even tear the sky open and shake the earth to rescue Israel in times of trouble. The psalm was a royal psalm that was attributed to the king, the head of the nation. As such, the psalm was not only about the king, but about the whole nation of Israel.

So Israel dared to proclaim that even nature itself, whose power produced a sense of awe and mystery amongst ancient and modern people alike, was under Yahwehs control. Here we see Israels departure from the common beliefs of its neighbours. Many ancient religions were born out of peoples fear and respect for the power of nature that seemed to have power over their life. Many ancient rituals were created to control the manifestations of this power of nature by worshiping them as if they were deities.

But Israel begged to differ. For them, Yahweh, not nature, was the one who ruled over their life. Yahweh was the Creator of the universe thus He alone, and not His creation, was worthy to be worshipped.

Here, we are taken back again to the story of creation in Genesis where Yahweh created the universe and called it good. The universe is a good place to live because Yahweh had made it so.

Yes, the world, even the universe, can indeed be ‘wild’ and ‘untamed’, but the people of Israel dared to proclaim that, in the midst of this wildness, there was a place for them. The world may be wild, and often chaotic, but it was not meaningless.

When the tsunami hit Aceh in 2004, resulting perhaps in the highest number of human casualties by a natural disaster in modern history, many people wondered where was God in all this. Why didnt God stop the tsunami?

Some people even believed that the tsunami was Gods punishment to the people of Aceh who tried to enact the Islamic Law in the province. Others dismissed God completely, claiming that God had nothing to do with it since it was just a random force of nature.

I cant say with absolute certainty where God is in a time like this. I dont believe that God is the one who causes natural disasters as some form of punishment. But I also dont believe that God is irrelevant in disasters as if God was indifferent to our existence here on earth.

I dont know for sure where God is during those moments of tragedy or why God doesnt stop those tragedies in the first place. But I choose to believe that somehow there is a meaning in the midst of all these tragedies. I choose to be like Paul, whose letter to the Romans we read today, who had hope even though there was nothing much that he could be hopeful for.

In his letter, Paul indeed linked our salvation in Christ with the very salvation of creation. The two are linked and cannot be separated. This takes us back to the story in Genesis when God cursed the land because of humans disobedience. According to the story in Genesis 3, the land and the creatures who inhabited it suffered because of humans disobedience to Gods command; because of humans arrogance to try to replace God as the ruler of the universe.

As the result of humans disobedience in the Garden of Eden, until today, the whole creation is groaning in suffering. But Paul said that the groan was not a sign of meaningless suffering; it was like the groan of a woman during childbirth; it was the groan that accompanies the birth of new life. Thus, for Paul, our suffering is the sound of the coming of a new life: the new heaven and the new earth.

I understand that this assurance may not be of much help for those people who suffer directly from disasters today, but it may help us to journey from that place of despair, which disaster brings, to a place of hope.

In Mark, even after Jesus visit to the wilderness, it was still a desolate place where death, not life, ruled. Ancient people believed that the desert, the wilderness, was the place where demons resided. It was a dangerous place where the power of darkness, not God, ruled. Going to the desert alone thus was like flirting with death itself.

Yet, according to Mark, the very first thing that Jesus did before he began his ministry was to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit to the desert. Jesus travelled to the place of desolation and death, but desolation and death could not overcome him. He is the Resurrection and Life. The rule of Satan is over; it is now the time for God to establish His Kingdom on earth. Yes, the world can still be a place of death and destruction, but when Jesus is present, death has no power whatsoever.

We witness this in Jesus life. His ministry was full of casting out demons and healing the sick. But Jesus was no miracle performer or wonder maker. His exorcism and healing were the proclamation that, in him, the power of death and evil that once ruled the universe had lost their power. That, in him, Gods Kingdom, the time and space where God fully reigns, has finally arrived.

His death on the cross and his resurrection from death and the giving of the Holy Spirit, are not only the guarantees of our salvation; they guarantee the salvation of the whole creation. They are like the deposit that God pays to us with a promise that God will pay the rest in the fullness of time.

One of the most popular theories about the universe is the theory of entropy (now, Im not a scientist and I did pretty bad in my science class at school, so you have to forgive me if my explanation seems to be simplistic or even misleading). According to this theory, energy cannot be produced. It can only be changed from one form to another. Once used, energy cannot be recreated. That means, everything in the universe moves in one direction only: it goes from having a form into having no form, from order to chaos.

Imagine building a sand castle on the beach and leaving it alone. Over time, your castle will slowly, but surely, lose its shape. It may either be swamped by the rising tide of the waves or be blown by the wind. Think about the white goods that we leave on our front yard. If the council doesn't pick them up, all of them will slowly, but surely, decay. Everything in the universe moves in one direction: from order to chaos; from life to death.

But the Jewish people dared to be different. Their belief was the opposite of the theory of entropy: that out of chaos comes order; out of death comes life; out of agony comes newborn; out of meaninglessness comes hope. The universe does make sense. It makes sense because the One who creates it knows us and loves us.

[1] From an article on http://www.dailymail.co.uk by Sarah Griffiths (Published: 00:03 AEST, 27 July 2013 |- Updated: 00:24 AEST, 27 July 2013)

[2] From an article on www.dailymail.co.uk by Ellie Zolfagharifard (Published: 00:42 AEST, 2 August 2013 - Updated: 04:15 AEST, 2 August 2013)