“The Other Side Of The Universe”


I was at the at the Sloatsburg United Methodist Church in Sloatsburg, New York this Sunday morning.

Their services start at 10:30 and you are welcome to attend.

Here are my thoughts for the 2nd Sunday of Easter (Year A), 27 April 2014. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 2: 14a, 22 – 32; 1 Peter 1: 3 – 9; and John 20: 19 -31.

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My family lived in Aurora, Colorado (a suburb of Denver) when I was a freshman in high school and I attended William C. Hinkley High School. Now, even back then I knew that if a school was named after someone, it was because they had been very important or had done something really great. Why else would you name something after them? And I assumed that sometime during my high school studies I would find out who William C. Hinkley was and what famous deed he had done that warranted naming a high school after him.

Well, that spring, I not only found who William C. Hinkley was and what he had done but I got to sit next to him and help him fly his Cessna airplane. As it turned out, Mr. Hinkley was the Superintendent of Schools when the school named after him was built two years before. Clearly, he was not dead.

As one might think, it changes your perspective about someone you think is dead but is, in fact, quite alive.

Our thought for the day comes from the Reverend Dr. John Polkinghorne. For the record, I have never met the Reverend Dr. John Polkinghorne but I believe he is still alive and well, preaching and thinking somewhere in England. John Polkinghorne earned his doctorate in physics, conducted research in elementary particle physics and then made the decision to become an Anglican priest. It was a decision that probably shocked and confused many of his friends in the scientific community but it was one he felt called to make.

Still, in moving from the secular to the sectarian word, he did not forsake the one for the other. He has become one of the key thinkers in relating the conundrums of quantum physics with the mysteries of Christian faith. It should be noted that he is not alone in being identified as a scientist and a Christian but that is a story for another time and place (see “9 Groundbreaking Scientists Who Happened To Be Christians”, Allan Bevere’s response, “Groundbreaking Christian Scientists”, in which he adds Copernicus and Polkinghorne to the list, and my own thoughts on the subject of science and faith, “A Dialogue of Science and Faith”).

Part of that untold story lead me to the quote I chose for the thought for the day. In preparing this message and quite by accident I discovered that the thought for the day comes from a question Lyndon F. Harris asked him in an interview for Cross Currents (http://www.crosscurrents.org/polkinghorne.htm)

Reverend Harris asked the following question,

Your background in science gives you a special vantage point from which to do theology, an approach that you’ve described as “bottom up thinking.” Please explain that phrase, and why you think this methodological commitment is important for theology.

Reverend Polkinghorne replied,

Bottom up thinkers try to start from experience and move from experience to understanding. They don’t start with certain general principles they think beforehand are likely to be true; they just hope to find out what reality is like.

Now as it happens, this is only part of the answer to the question. Reverend Polkinghorne continued by saying,

If the experience of science teaches anything, it’s that the world is very strange and surprising. The many revolutions in science have certainly shown that. If that’s true of our encounter with the physical world, it’s likely to be even truer of our encounter with God.

We see such strange and surprising things in science and the world every night when we look to stars in the sky; we just don’t always know it.

From the very beginning of our consciousness, we have looked at the skies in wonder, awe, and amazement. Our first thought as we watched and observed the stars throughout the night was that the stars were fixed to the edge of the universe in what was called the firmament. If there was another side to the universe, it was on the other side of the firmament and beyond our reach or vision.

But the more we observed, the more we came to know. And when our ability to see into the heavens got better, we saw that there was more to the stars than simply what we saw with our eyes. The other side of the universe is still out there but now it is easier to reach. Our vision of the skies has lead us into new areas of exploration and wonder.

But it took more than just seeing what was in the skies to understand what was in the skies; it took a different sort of thinking. These visions of the skies required that we change how we thought about things.

A bottom-up thinker tends to see this new material in the same old way, using what they already know to try and explain what has happened. It doesn’t always work. Even the disciples, with all they saw and did still needed the experience of the Resurrection so that they could totally and completely understand what happened and what it meant.

A few weeks before the Resurrection, Thomas asked Jesus to explain where it was that they were headed. I think that Thomas gets a bad rap at times. For me, he wasn’t so much a doubter as he was a skeptic, wanting to know more about what was going on so that he could make a decision.

Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”

Thomas said, “Master, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the road?” (John 14: 1 – 5, The Message)

In response, Jesus told Thomas and the others that He was the Way, the Life, and the Truth. He also said that no one would get to the Father without having Jesus in his life. And then Jesus added,

Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!”

Philip said, “Master, show us the Father; then we’ll be content.”

You’ve been with me all this time, Philip, and you still don’t understand? To see me is to see the Father. So how can you ask, ‘Where is the Father?’ Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you aren’t mere words. I don’t just make them up on my own. The Father who resides in me crafts each word into a divine act.

Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me. If you can’t believe that, believe what you see—these works. The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it. From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do. (John 14: 6 – 14, The Message)

Philip’s response is what we would expect from bottom-up thinkers. They have all the information in front of them, yet are not willing to make the decision. That will come that night in the Upper Room described in the Gospel reading.

We are all, I believe, bottom-up thinkers at some point in our lives. It is part of our process of thinking. But we also should have experienced a moment in time that some call the “Aha! Moment”, a moment in time and thought when things suddenly become very clear (see “The Aha! Moment”and references within).

This moment of clarity and understanding is not limited to any particular field of thought or study nor is limited to any particular place and time. Rather, it has to do with who we are and where we are in our own thinking.Such moments are unique for each of us. Our problem is, first of all, we try to make everyone’s experience the same and second, we don’t help others prepare for that moment. It leaves a lot of people seeking experiences when they should be moving forward.

I think that our encounter with Christ is one of those moments. It is that moment in our life when we understand that Jesus Christ died for us on the Cross, and that in his Resurrection on Easter gave us a new life. Each of us has that moment and each person’s moment is different. This moment is more than a statement that we are a Christian but that we have an awareness, a feeling that we have that Christ is a part of our life.

It might be that we came to Christ in a manner similar to that of Saul on the road to Damascus. Or it might have been in a manner similar to that of John Wesley’s Aldersgate moment.

There is no doubt that the ten disciples gathered that night in the Upper Room experienced that moment. After all, how would you have felt if someone you had traveled with for three years, who had been your teacher and your friend, and had been executed by the religious and political authorities and was buried in a tomb suddenly appeared to you in the very room where you stood?

Now, for reasons that we are not given, Thomas was not with the others that night. But we do know that when they were together, he was neither willing or unable to accept what they told him about the Risen Christ. He needed that same experience that the other disciples had experienced in order to believe for himself.

But Jesus noted that others would come to the faith without the experience that he, Thomas, needed. And without saying so, it is up to each one of us to provide in some way that experience.

And therein lies the challenge we face today. There are going to be those today who are like Thomas, skeptical about the Resurrection and this whole Christianity thing. There are those who are seeking Christ and want to know where He is and how to find Him. And the problem is that we are the ones who will have to help those individuals find Christ.

Our problem is that we cannot make others come to Christ by telling them that they have to accept Christ or that they have to accept Christ in the manner that we did. There are too many people out in the world today doing that and, as a result, they are, I believe, driving people from Christ, not bringing them to Him.

I will be honest; this is a task that I have struggled with from perhaps the first moment that I choose to follow Christ in my own life. I know in my heart, mind, and soul that the story is true, otherwise why would we be here today, some two thousand years later?

If this story were a fable, a myth, or fabrication, how has it remained over time? Surely, if this story was not true, we would have found out by now, wouldn’t we?

As it turns out, Reverend Polkinghorne has some of the same ideas I have about the truth of the Resurrection. In his book, Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity, he points out that if the story was not true, it might not have ever been told. Something had to have happened for us to know about a wandering carpenter from a peripheral province of the Roman Empire, a man who wrote no book and who endured an excruciating death on the cross. Something had to have happened that changed a group of frightened and demoralized disciples who ran away and hid on Good Friday into a confident group who would face the political and religious authorities on Pentecost and tell the Good News that the man they executed as the One and True Messiah. Something had to have happened to bring about such an astounding transformation.

Why were Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus mentioned if they did not play a role in the actual burial of Jesus on Good Friday? In a time when the testimony of women was not acceptable in the court of law, why are women, among them Mary Magadelene, mentioned in terms of the empty tomb on Easter Sunday? Surely, in both instances, the reasons for the inclusion of this information in the Gospels is because there is some truth and validity to the story.

And we know that the world changed on Easter. Saul became Paul and went from being the persecutor of Christians to an advocate for Christ; the Methodist movement went from a rule-bound, legalistic club for college buddies to a world-changing movement when the Holy Spirit entered John Wesley. And when Christ becomes a part of our life, our life changes as well. It makes it easier to respond to the call from Christ.

We have to offer a new vision of Christ, one that shows God’s love for the people, all the people no matter who they are.

When John Wesley began the Methodist Revival, there was a genuine concern in the church establishment for the lower classes. But as you read sermons from that period of time, you find that it was assumed that if the lower classes, the poor and working class, were to be saved and enter into Christ’s purpose for them, they had to take on the culture and lifestyle of those better than them. In other words, it was God’s will that “they” would become like “us”.

Wesley was attacked because he helped the people find their own way to Christ. The early Methodist revival questioned the ideological assumption of the privileged that threatened the security of their own prejudices. For the upper classes in England in the 18th century (and I think for many in today’s world as well), there was an assumption that their life is a reflection of God’s will; they assumed that they could see God’s presence in their own way of life but what it did show was how they were projecting their own way of life as a means of determining what it was that God was doing. Wesley saw a need to take the church to the people, not bring the people to the church.

What had happened was that the Gospel had been shaped to meet the demands of the world instead of the demands of the world being met by the Gospel. But that is what will happen when the law of the organization becomes more important than anything else.

Two thousand years ago people thought the sky was fixed, like a dome over the earth. This single thought dominated scientific thinking for over a thousand years. It took a new vision of the universe to see that the other side of the universe was not a roof over the earth.

The Resurrection offers us a new vision for the world. It offers us the chance to see what God is doing and how we must respond. We all probably know Proverbs 29: 18,

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

But read it as it was translated in The Message,

If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves;

But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed.

What is God doing in this world today? More importantly, do we see what God is doing in our world today?

One of the text commentaries suggested that the law had replaced prophetic vision. When Jesus began his ministry in the Galilee two thousand years ago, the law had been so enforced that people were trapped and hope was gone. I think that John Wesley saw the same thing when he began the Methodist movement/revival. I am not altogether certain that we are not doing the same thing in this day and age.

But Christ broke free from the ghetto of religious law and regularity in which the faith of that time had imprisoned the people. In this new freedom Christ was able to meet the needs of the outcast, the hopeless, the helpless.

The light of Christ will only come to us when we are ready to move out into the world, when we are ready to leave the safe boundaries of the sanctuary and the law in which we have so often tried to keep God imprisoned.

We must be prepared to break free from these boundaries for they threaten to limit our vision of the world. If our vision and understanding of God’s purpose are limited, it becomes difficult to see Christ as He comes to us; it becomes difficult to hear Christ as He calls us.

If we are limited in our thoughts we will hide Christ in some sort of strange theology rather than having Him revealed as the One who came to set the prisoners free and makes Himself know in the events to which we can point,

Then he gave his answer: “Go back and tell John what you have just seen and heard:

The blind see,

The lame walk,

Lepers are cleansed,

The deaf hear,

The dead are raised,

The wretched of the earth have God’s salvation hospitality extended to them.

We are sometimes hesitant to do that. We know the history of the church and we know that many of those who began this movement died for the efforts. We know that Methodists in this country were often denied access to the church because they had chosen to follow the path set by John Wesley. We have no desire to be a martyr for the faith.

But a martyr is not necessarily one who dies for the faith; they are those who witness for the faith. We have the assurance from Peter and others that our efforts will not be in vain, though in a society that demands an instant response, that doesn’t always seem to be the case.

At one point in our life, the other side of the universe was literally a barrier, a barrier preventing us from moving beyond the boundaries of our own world. And because of sin, our lives were bound in slavery as well.

But through His death and Resurrection, Christ has given us a new life. Just as our exploration of the physical world has removed the boundaries that keep us on this planet, so too does Christ give us the opportunity to be free from sin and death.

We are charged this day and in this time to help others come to know Christ and receive the same opportunity.

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2 thoughts on ““The Other Side Of The Universe”

  1. Pingback: “How Will They Know?” | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left

  2. Pingback: “No Reservations Required” | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left

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