September 17, 2017

3rd Creation Sunday

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

Romans 8:12-25


In one interview, legendary American astronaut Buzz Aldrin said that he had a significantly different view about the moon from another legendary American astronaut, Neil Armstrong. Neil had the honour as the man who stood on the surface of the moon before Buzz; indeed before anyone else. But, in the interview, Buzz said 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 Buzz. He thought the moon was a totally desolate and lifeless place. Seen up close, there was nothing beautiful about the moon. One could see nothing much except shades of grey (not the 50 shades of grey book by the way) and a black horizon. Don’t get him wrong. For Buzz, the moon was still magnificent, but it was also very inhabitable.[1]

And that’s 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 seen from a distance is not beauty at all when it is seen up close. For example, the beautiful circular white and orange patterns on Jupiter are actually gigantic cyclones.

Those cyclones in Jupiter are multiple times larger than any cyclone that we have ever had on earth.

The online newspaper, Daily Mail, once reported how a few years ago the earth narrowly missed an electromagnetic surge from the sun. Such surge could seriously undermine electric power here on earth[2] and if it ever hits the earth, our phones, televisions, fridges, even cars will all be impacted.

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

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

Now, the ancient people of Israel had always had ‘inferiority’ complex. They were one of the small kingdoms in the area that lived amongst bigger and stronger kingdoms. Alone, Israel could not do much to stop these powerful kingdoms from attacking them and destroying their cities.

But they always believed that they were not alone. They had a powerful ally: God, the Creator of the universe. They may be small and insignificant, but they were not small and insignificant in the eyes of God. According to our reading today from Psalm 8, God, the Creator of the universe, would even tear the sky open and shake the earth to rescue them in times of trouble. Psalm 8 was a royal psalm that was attributed to the King, But the King was the head of the nation and represented the people. Psalm 8 thus was also about the whole nation of Israel.

So Israel dared to proclaim that even nature itself, whose power produces in us a sense of awe and wonder, was under God’s control. Here we see Israel’s refusal of the common beliefs popular amongst its neighbours. Many ancient religions were born out of people’s fear and respect of nature that seemed to have power over their life. Many ancient rituals were created to control the manifestations of the power of nature by worshiping them as if they were deities.

But Israel begged to differ. For them, God, not nature, was the One who ruled over their life. God was the Creator of the universe thus God alone, and not God’s creation, was worthy to be worshipped.

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

So, yes, the earth, 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 the Indonesian province of 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 these. Why didn’t God stop the tsunami?

Some people believed that the tsunami was God’s punishment to the people of Aceh who tried to enact the Islamic Sharia 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 can’t say with absolute certainty where God is in a time like this. I don’t believe that God is the one who causes natural disasters as some kind of punishment. But I also don’t believe that God is irrelevant in a natural disaster like tsunami, as if God was indifferent to our existence here on earth.

I don’t know for sure where God is during those moments of tragedies or why God doesn’t 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 still had hope even when there was nothing much that he could be hopeful for.

In the part of his letter that we read today, Paul linked our salvation in Christ with the salvation of creation. For him, the two are linked and cannot be separated. According to the story in Genesis 3, God cursed the land because of humans’ disobedience. The land and the creatures who inhabited it suffered because of humans’ disobedience to God’s command; because of humans’ arrogance to try to replace God as the ruler of the universe. As the result, the whole creation is groaning in suffering until today. But, for Paul, 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 sufferings today herald the arrival of the new life: the new heaven and the new earth. I understand that this assurance may not be of much help to those people who suffer directly from disasters today, either natural or man-made, but it may help us to move on from despair to hope.

In our reading today from Mark’s Gospel, even after Jesus’ visit, the wilderness was still a desolate place where death, not life, ruled. Ancient people believed that the wilderness, like the desert, was the place where demons resided. It was a dangerous place where the power of darkness 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 guidance 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 God’s 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. In his ministry, he casted out demons and healed the sick. But Jesus was no miracle performer or wonder maker. His exorcism and healing were the proclamation that the power of death and evil did not have power in his presence. That in him, God’s 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 as 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, 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 the theory of entropy, 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.

Imagine building a sand castle on the beach and leaving it alone. Over time, our 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 broken 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, according to this theory, moves in one direction: from order to chaos; from life to death.

But the Jewish people dare to believe differently. Their belief is the opposite of the theory of entropy. They believe 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.

Toby Keva