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With Eyes of Wonder

June 26, 2014

A sermon preached by the Rev. Lynn Dunn at White Plains Presbyterian Church on Church School Sunday, June 22, 2014.

Psalms 148:1-6         Acts 17:24-28

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I’d like all the children to join me here up front, please. Most weeks I call the children to the front of the church and offer a short message just for them, but this week, my message is for all God’s children, and that includes everyone here.

For the past few years, the theme for Church School Sunday children’s worship has been creation. We’ve worshipped with the animals, using larger-than-life-sized animal puppets. We’ve celebrated the green growing things and filled the church with plants. Last year, we turned the church into an underwater world and celebrated with all the fish of the oceans. For these last three years, we’ve celebrated biodiversity in God’s good creation.

This year we’re celebrating another part of God’s creation– the vast stretch of space that is beyond our planet earth: the whole universe! The images on the screen are from the Hubble space telescope or the Voyager spacecraft, and we’ve decorated the church with stars and planets. Try to imagine just how huge the universe really is, and how filled with amazing things: Stars, planets, planetary systems, galaxies, nebulae, black holes!

The Psalmist calls upon the sun, moon and stars to praise and worship God, their creator. It’s fun to imagine for a moment the whole enormous universe and all the stars and planets in it, listening and singing along with us right now.

There’s an experience that people all over the world share, and that we share with most of the people who have ever lived. You have probably done it too. Almost anyone can go outside and look up at the night sky, see the stars, and wonder.

In the Book of Genesis, there is this story of Abraham: He was an old man and had no children yet. God appeared to him in a vision and led him outside and told him to look, just look up at the night sky! Abraham looked up at the stars, and he felt so close to God that he knew what God was saying. God told him, look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can even begin to count them! I will give you children, and your descendants will be as many as the stars in the sky or the grains of sand in the desert. Looking up at the stars, Abraham somehow knew what God was saying to him.

The Bible tells us that awe before God is the beginning of wisdom. For Abraham, and for many others, the awe and wonder we experience when we look up at the stars in the night sky brings us a sense that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves, and that can be a very powerful experience. When we call the natural world or universe, “creation,” we are saying something: We’re saying that God has made this, and that we can come to know something about God by carefully observing the natural world and the universe.

I’d like to play a clip for you from an interview with astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. He is the director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, and was recently the host of the TV program, Cosmos.

The universe is almost 14 billion years old, and there are over 100 billion galaxies in it. Each galaxy may have 100 to 400 billion stars. That is more than we can ever really imagine. One way to think of it is that there are 5 to 10 times as many stars in the universe as there are grains of sand on all the beaches in the whole world.[1] The great age and unimaginable size of the universe might make us feel small. Or it might make us realize we are a part of something very, very big.

Last week Jared’s mother told me he asked her, is the Bible story of creation true, or is science true? I said that is a great question! They are both true, and they do not disagree. Science helps us closely observe the natural world or the universe. The Bible was never intended as a science textbook or a natural history textbook. It’ true in a different way: it is about priority, not chronology. It asks us to look, just really look, at what God has made, including us, and see it with eyes full of wonder! Know that you are part of something much, much bigger than yourself, and marvel at the magnificence of it all! May it be so!

 

[1] http://www.universetoday.com/106725/are-there-more-grains-of-sand-than-stars/

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