Preached at Christ Episcopal Church, Tacoma, on August 25, 2013
Season of Creation, Year C, Cosmos Sunday
All week, I have been immersed in the world of Wagner’s Ring of the Niebelung as interpreted by the Artistic and Design teams at Seattle Opera.
The magnificent sets draw us into a world of mountains and forest inhabited by giants and dwarves, gods, demi-gods, mortals, and various supernatural beings. We see gods behaving badly and heroes without honor. We find brutality and tenderness, power, love, and lust, impossible choices and a whole range of human emotions and experience. It is a story about nothing less than The Beginning and the End of the World.
But I didn’t just go to the almost nightly performances, I have also been going to pre-performance talks each evening and three-hour classes each morning that explore the world of Wagner – the world he inhabited, his inner world, and the world he created through myth and music. In studying the work in more depth, we learn so much more about the world created by Wagner. And in studying the creation, we also learn something of the creator.
In theology, we separate the field into several broad areas, such as Anthropology, Christology, and Soteriology. One of those is Revelation and within revelation, we distinguish between Special Revelation and Universal Revelation. Examples of special revelation are God’s revelation to us in the Bible or through Jesus.
Universal Revelation, on the other hand, is available to anyone. God’s Creation is perhaps the most obvious example of universal revelation. The Creation reveals the Creator. What if we were to treat all of creation as Holy Scripture? Any area of study becomes like Bible Study – from astrophysics to microbiology; from art and music to psychology; from archaeology to sociology. Any area of study can be revelation. We can take the same questions to the Holy Scripture of the Cosmos as we do to the Bible.
- What is the nature and will of God?
- What does it mean to be human?
- What is our place in relation to the rest of creation? To one another? To God?
- What is Sin?
- What is Salvation?
- What is Redemption?
When the answers seem to differ, it’s probably because we are misunderstanding one source of revelation or the other – or both!
Last week, I caught part of a story on the radio about the Kepler spacecraft. It has been damaged severely enough that NASA has given up any attempts to repair it. The reporter emphasized, however, that the mission has exceeded expectations and has provided researchers with a great deal of valuable information. The question Kepler was sent to answer was this, “Are planets like Earth, rare or common?”
The answer is that they are surprisingly common. Scientists will be studying and analyzing the data already sent from Kepler for years to come. And it is still sending data, we just can’t steer it anymore.
Now this is a far cry from the description of the cosmos in the Bible. In the stories of Genesis, there is the dry land of earth, which has a dome above. The sun, moon, and stars are in the dome. Then there’s the water. Water exists in two places: under the earth and above the dome. The water under the earth forms streams and rivers, lakes and seas and is held back by dry land. The water above the dome is the source of rain and is held back by the dome.
It doesn’t mean the Bible is “wrong” – as a matter of fact, the stories are based on the peoples observation of their world. That’s what it looked like. Based on our own observations, we would describe the cosmos differently. And 2,000 years from now, we will probably look pretty primitive in our understanding.
If we study the Cosmos as Holy Scripture, what does it reveal to us about God and about ourselves? If nothing else, the Kepler mission offers the possibility that while we are precious in God’s sight, there may be other worlds, other life that is just as precious to God. It is a reminder that all life, indeed all of creation, is precious to God. All of Creation is sacred and Holy.
If all of Creation is Holy, what about Sin? When you think about sin, does your mind immediately go to the Ten Commandments? Or the Great Commandment? Or maybe to the Seven Deadlies. If you were to read the world as Holy Scripture, as God’s revelation, what do you learn about Sin? From climate change to fracking; from how we get to work to how we produce our food; from the ravages of famine in sub-Saharan Africa to the ravages of chronic unemployment in the deserts of our inner cities. What does all this tell us about the result of Sin and our own cooperation with evil?
And what about Redemption? What does the Holy Scripture of the Cosmos teach us about Redemption? What would it look like? The idea of Co-creator has become a popular buzzword these days. Today, though, I suggest we consider the idea of becoming co-redeemers with Christ. Might we be invited to be co-redeemers of the Sin of the world? How would we do that? Is it different from repentance? I think it is.
Today, on this Cosmos Sunday, the last Sunday in our celebration of the Season of Creation, when you leave here, I invite you to look at the world with fresh eyes, seeing it as Holy Scripture. What do you learn about God, about yourself, about your place in the cosmos? What do you learn about Sin and Redemption?
Is Christ calling you to be a Co-Redeemer of the world?