Sermon Text: How Big Is Your God?
Where were you in February of 1990?
Thirty years ago. Some of you were not born. All of you were in a different situation. I was the priest of a large church just outside Chicago. My son was 9. My daughter was 6. My wife was....fabulous.
Where were you in February of 1990? Something significant happened that month. It happened pretty far away. I learned about it in a book written by someone from Ithaca, NY. He taught at Cornell. His name was Carl Sagan. He wrote this:
In February of 1990, the spacecraft Voyager I photographed the planets of our solar system from beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto. From this distance, the planets seem only points of light. Earth is a pale blue dot.
And his book has the same title: Pale Blue Dot. The book talks about what we’ve learned about our solar system. And it’s amazing how human beings have been able to learn so much over the past few thousand years.
You know, we are such a mixed bag — we can be destructive and terrible and selfish and warlike. And yet we can also be smart and wise and kind and peaceful. We are such a mixture. Our learning ability has been nothing short of amazing. Our understanding of the universe and life on earth is light-years beyond the understanding of the Bronze-age people who wrote the texts that make up our Bible.
We have much more knowledge than they did. But we might not have more wisdom than they did. We need both knowledge and wisdom, but wisdom is more important. Wisdom is the way we use our knowledge.
I’ve spoken before about wisdom literature in the Bible. Some of the Bible books are categorized as wisdom literature. The Book of Proverbs is one of those books. We just heard a section of Proverbs in which Wisdom is personified. She speaks of herself as the first one to be created. In other passages of wisdom literature, Sophia — the Greek translation of her name — is virtually divine. Some scholars talk about the Divine Sophia as the wise and feminine face of God.
Jesus was a wisdom teacher, in addition to anything else he was. And in the text we heard from John’s Gospel just now, he tells us that the Spirit of truth will continue to guide us to more truth. We don’t yet have it all — Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”
This is what theologians call “progressive revelation,” the idea that Truth with a capital T is not something we arrive at, but something toward which we continue to move.
And I do love the openness in the Episcopal Church to this idea of wisdom. We continue to think and study and wrestle and grow. Sometimes we let go of ideas that used to seem true, but now don’t seem to be quite right. Just a couple of weeks ago, I reminded you of how our brand of Christianity looks not only to Scripture, but also to tradition and reason. At our best, we are a thoughtful church.
In that book by Carl Sagan I’ve just mentioned, Pale Blue Dot, he wrote these intriguing words:
In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed”?
Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.
Well, must be Carl Sagan never checked out an Episcopal Church. His words describe how I have experienced this particular church, one which honors science and reason, as it honors Scripture and tradition.
I think we honor a big God, a God who created an amazing diversity of worlds, creatures, and people. And I think we are trying to create and maintain a big church, a church which hopes to include the diversity of people God created.
That’s my view, anyway.
Jesus implied that our search for truth is not a once-for-all deal, but a continuing journey of growth and discovery, one guided by his Spirit of love and compassion. The wisdom literature of the Bible, including the Book of Proverbs, calls us to that continuing journey of growth and discovery, guided by the Wise Woman of Sophia.
Instead of a small-minded, exclusionary kind of religion, I am interested in a broad-minded, welcoming, intelligent, and inclusive style of religion.
Or, to put it more simply, Big God, big universe, big church.
I know some of you share my commitment. I got a wonderful note this week from a member of St. Mark’s, talking about why she likes having her kids here. It was triggered when one of her kids was exposed to a very conservative and literalistic brand of Christianity. This is part of what she wrote:
“We warned [our child] that many other religious leaders, especially in other regions of the country, teach that being gay is a sin against God and teach people not to accept science or think for themselves. We told her that we chose [St. Mark’s because the teachings here] are in alignment with our beliefs and what we are looking for. [These include] being kind, doing what is right, and serving others.”
This mother made my day with her note outlining her gratitude for the way our church family teaches and behaves.
So I hope your God is a big God, as we have discovered that our universe is a big universe. And I hope your church is a big church, celebrating all the variety our big God has created.
I’m not saying I’ve got this all together all the time, and I’m not saying our church has this all together all the time. But it is our vision.
It’s older than modern science. We can trace it back to Jesus the wisdom teacher.
And we can trace it back to Sophia, the wise woman of the Book of Proverbs.
Big God, big universe, big church.