I wasn’t able to get the sermon for today (Oct 28, 2018) recorded, so here’s the script, which I followed fairly closely today. These are the visuals I used with it. Enjoy.
One of the most awe-inspiring things to see when you look up in the night sky is the Milky Way. It’s the galaxy we live in.
There are billions of galaxies in the universe, but this one is ours.
· And we sit kinda out there on the edge, along with about 100 billion other stars
And all of this is spinning around in the shape of a disk, more or less, around a center that is bright, and dark at the same time.
· In the very middle is a black hole. It’s so big and powerful it pulls all 100 billion galaxies around it.
· It pulls in so much light that you can’t see it. Because to see it, it would have to reflect light. But it doesn’t. It sucks it all in.
· So you have to ask, how do we even know that it’s there?
· Because we can see what it does. We can see the effect it has on everything around it.
We can see the spinning stars, we can see the spinning light getting sucked in, we can see the dark spot where nothing is.
· And the only way we can know that it’s a dark spot is because there’s all the light of all the things around it.
· If everything was totally black, a hole that’s totally black wouldn’t stand out. But in the middle of a see of 100 billion stars of light, you can see it.
Black holes are amazing. So powerful, yet so invisible.
And the only way to learn about them is to learn about everything around them.
· So we sit there and we study the stars, where they sit, how big they are, how bright they are, how fast they move.
· We found that some move faster at the outside than on the inside, and that time is actually slower in the middle.
· The black hole has so much power that it slows down time the closer you get.
· This stuff can get real mind-boggling real fast, but you can’t help but the sense that we are dealing with something quite awesome.
· And yet, we can only experience it indirectly. We can’t look right at it and see what it is. It’s hidden in darkness.
· It affects all our lives, yet we can’t see it.
This is what God is like.
We cannot see God face to face – the way I can look at you today.
· We cannot know God directly, the way we know another person in this room.
· And that’s not because God is trying to play hide and seek, or be difficult, or because he doesn’t want to be close to us or know us, but because he’s so powerful and awesome that the words we use and the sights we see can’t contain him.
Throughout the Bible, people have tried to get close to God, to see him face to face, and yet they only come sorta close.
Moses went to Mount Sinai, where God called him up. And it says he went into this dark cloud, and there in the cloud was God, in a bush that didn’t burn.
· So we went to where he couldn’t see, so he could see God, and then all he saw was God speaking through something else.
· And yet, it says in the Bible that Moses did, in fact, see God face to face.
· So, apparently, going into darkness IS seeing God face to face.
And this is how we know God, through all the things that we can see moved by God, influenced by God, by all the effects he has on us and others, by all the truths and insights and knowledge gained over the ages.
· They all point us to God, show us part of God, but, in the end, God himself remains hidden in darkness.
So, to keep running with this analogy, here’s the Milky Way.
If God is like the black hole in the center, what are the stars around?
They’re what we see. They’re what we can measure.
· And there’s a lot of them, more than any one person will ever know. More than our whole species will ever know. But we do know some things about them.
· And the more we know about them, the more we know about the black hole.
· By studying what’s around God, we can come to know God.
So, what would some of those thing be?
There’s the Bible. Good place to start.
· Maybe the best place to start.
· It’s the best witness we have about God, but it isn’t God.
· God is perfect, but the Bible is still written by people – people who loved and believed in God, people who were inspired by God – but still not God.
But the Bible doesn’t have to be perfect. God is perfect. It points us to God. Our faith is in him, not in the book that teaches us about him.
And then there’s the teachings of the church
– the wisdom of the ancients and the saints – the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, and Oscar Romero and The Pseudo Dionysius, and on and on.
· These are people who God has worked through, inspired, and they have wisdom for us.
· But none of them are perfect.
Then we have the Church itself
· The congregation with other believers, the community, the worship and Bible study and service projects and Thanksgiving pot-lucks (don’t forget to sign up) and everything we do.
· We learn about God through the love we show each other, through the support we give each other, through the good we do in community, through the wisdom we share with each other – all that.
· Church is not perfect. I’ll be the first to tell you that. But it doesn’t need to be, because it’s not God.
· It points us to God, helps us encounter God.
Then there’s worship
We don’t agree on music, and can debate style, and some worship certainly seems better done than others, but it’s another way we encounter God – by loosing ourselves in the Spirit together.
And we have our experiences, our testimonials, the things we see and feel ourselves, and that we learn from each other.
I suppose I could add more to this list, but let’s just leave it here.
None of these are perfect, and none of them give us perfect knowledge or perfect vision of God.
· Just like we don’t have perfect knowledge of the stars around the back hole, and our knowledge of those stars is constantly changing (like the way we sometimes see two stars, and then discovered that it was really one star whose light hit another star, and the gravity of the star in front bent the light of the one behind it, splitting it in two, giving us two identical images of the same thing)
The way God hides himself in darkness and mystery can be very frustrating, even unnerving, if you’re looking for hard and fast certainty.
· If you feel that you need to have hard, unchanging, revealed truths for your faith, you’re not going to find a ton of them
· And so this has led people to two different responses
One, I call leap-frogging. This is the whole idea that I can just jump past all the “stuff” of religion, skip the Bible, boycott church, never worship, never listen to others, and just sort of go straight to the mystery of God, where I encounter some sort of good feeling that lifts me up and inspires me and helps me on my day.
· It’s the idea that all the “religion” stuff around is so corrupt that it’s an obstacle to God, so I’m just going to sit on a mountain or something and breathe in and get some sort of personal, emotional high and call it “spirituality” without any of the hard work of being in community and listening to the wisdom of people who may not agree with everything I believe in and may not validate all my prejudices and biases.
· And, let’ face it, skipping out on religion is cheaper, easier, and more convenient.
· People and books and organizations take work.
In the 1200’s, in Muslim-occupied Spain, there was a Rabbi named Moses de Leon. He believed that he had not only learned about the nature of God, but had seen and experienced him.
· And he wrote down his wisdom in a series of books called the “Zohar” – and his school of thought came to be known as “Kabbalah.”
You might have heard about it – because celebrities like Madonna are into it, at least that’s what they say.
But Moses de Leon was clear that before you can come close to God through Kabbalah, that you have to be very educated in God’s law first.
· So you have to study the Law, the Torah, and probably memorize most of it, the first five books of the Bible.
· You would spend years and years in rabbinical school just on this.
· Then you would study the Talmud, and the Mishnah, and other Jewish writings for several more years.
· Then you could begin to crack open the Zohar, and after several more years you might begin to understand it and grasp it enough to experience God in this mystical way.
You think Madonna’s spent that kind of time on God’s word and the Rabbi’s who’ve written about it? No way.
She’s a leap-frogger, trying to jump to the conclusion without the hard work and discipline first.
· She wants the trophy without the practice, and the coach, and the smelly locker room, and the sore muscles, and the other fun things you gave up to be at practice.
And she will never really get the truths about God that Moses de Leon was trying to communicate.
· True mysticism, true experience of God is the culmination of a long road of investment in all the imperfect things that are not God.
· There’s no real shortcut.
But then there’s the fundamentalist on the other side
They struggle with the Bible being so full of imperfect people and contradictory teachings and stories about historical events that aren’t very historical, and it all makes them very anxious and scared.
They want to know what it says, that it’s hard and fast, and that’s it, and we’re done.
But the only thing that’s totally certain, that never changes, that has no errors or contradictions, that’s totally perfect, is God.
· And The Bible is not God, no matter how much God inspired it.
And it doesn’t need to be.
And why is that so hard to believe? Why do we need to have the stars around the center be perfect and unchanging for us to experience the center that is?
· Why can’t we just accept that there are no perfect words to describe a God who is so awesome and wonderful – that our words are so limited and that they can never paint a full picture – and that, compared to God’s awesomeness, they’re really full of flaws?
When we grow up as kids, I know that we tend to take the Bible stories literally. It’s how our brains are wired. We take things concretely. We believe there literally was an Adam and Eve, that David really did kill his tens of thousands (it was never that many), and on and on.
· And then we get older and we start asking questions about it, and they’re usually pretty good, because we start seeing that the Bible is not a science book, but a collection of books by different people who don’t always care about the historical details, and who don’t always see eye-to-eye.
And at that point, you can become disillusioned, and say “well, it’s not literal, so it must be false”. Or, you could have some big faith crisis, where you feel like all you knew about God is being shattered.
· And in that moment, when it all falls apart, when it all starts to get questioned, it’s dark. Totally dark. Nothing is certain. Nothing is true. God doesn’t feel close to you at all. Nothing makes sense.
· You’re staring into the abyss, as they say.
And when that happens, and you do, embrace it. Because it’s there, when its all crumbled, that you are most open to seeing God. Go into the darkness and the abyss, and find there the God that is so much bigger than the things that point to him.
Psalm 46 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, and though the mountains shake in the depths of the sea.”
The Lord is my rock.
Not the book, not the church, not the music – God.
My strength is in him, and it cannot be shaken, no matter how much swirling around me there is.
It may be hard to describe God, once you’ve been to the darkness, but it is realer than real, and truer than true, and so powerful that nothing or no one can shake it.
It’s the love you feel that you can never put words to, but you know is totally real.
It’s the finding of such pure joy that all you can do is what Moses used to do after being in the dark cloud on the mountain – he’d glow.
It’s something so big and beyond anything we can see, and I invite you into it –on the journey through the stars of imperfect signs and imperfect people and imperfect knowledge that will point us to the perfect God in the center of all.