Sunday, October 14, 2018
Full Service Audio
Her eyes were puffy, the make-up she put on earlier was running down her face, she looked anxious. She knew that she was going to be interviewed on national television, but she couldn’t hide the pain of the moment. CBS brought the camera close to her face, and they asked her what it was like one year after the devastation in Puerto Rico to be a citizen of that island. The woman tried to hold back the tears, and said, “It is all still falling apart.” The cameraman or camerawoman realized they could not keep the camera on that woman much longer, as she was so devastated, so they pulled back for a broader view, and in the background were houses with no roofs, trees and power lines that were still down – desolation! You would have thought the winds and the tides had just swept through, but it was a year ago. You couldn’t help but see the sense of utter despair in those puffy eyes.
I am sure that since hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico there have been countless numbers of people throughout the world who have felt that very same despair and experienced the power of nature. Whether they have been in Jacksonville, Florida, or Panama City in Florida, whether they have been in Indonesia, Japan or the Philippines, it matters not where the events have taken place, we are all feeling the fatigue of hearing news, almost weekly, about devastation throughout the world. That woman’s eyes, and comment that all is falling apart stuck with me. After all, after a while, we become almost numb to the reality, don’t we? Numbers are thrown up on screens, but we have no faces to put to the names of those who died. The millions of dollars that are needed to reconstruct things are but numbers in the air, and we assume that someone, somewhere, will take care of it. Yet for those who have endured it, it is chaos, and everything is falling apart.
It is not just falling apart from a visual point of view; not just the scarring of the earth from an aesthetic point of view: it is the devastation of people’s lives. I remember some years ago when hurricane Juan hit Nova Scotia. A few months later I went back to my beloved Point Pleasant Park in Halifax, and the trees were gone, and everything was flattened. It wasn’t just an aesthetic sense of chaos; things had been destroyed for people. The great Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “There is a crack in everything that God has made.”
While God made this world perfectly, it is nevertheless a fallen and a broken world. It is a world where there are cracks, where there are fissures, where nature has a way of turning on itself, and it is hard for us to comprehend that there is a crack in everything that God has made.
I love the words of the great Leonard Cohen – it is good for a Canadian to step up and say this! In his magnificent piece Anthem he says “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” In other words, yes, there are cracks, and yes, there is chaos, and it appears at times that everything is falling apart, but in the midst of those cracks there is a light that shines through it all. There is hope. There is redemption. Cohen was talking about despair of things that humans do to each other – for war and conflict and unnecessary violence – but he has hope that in the cracks the light will shine through.
In our passage from the Book of Hebrews, the very first sermon, as we know it, that was written down in The New Testament. This ancient sermon tries to find in the midst of the cracks of the world, the hope and the light of the Redeemer. Recognizing the brokenness of the world, in the opening stanzas, which sound almost like a hymn, he talks about Jesus Christ as the Son of God, being like a light that shines through the cracks of the world. He does so because Jesus Christ is the embodiment, the incarnation of the light that we need to see when everything seems to be falling apart. When it seems that everything is chaos, there is Christ! He does so by making two incredible affirmations. You might say, “What has this got to do with the puffy eyed woman in Puerto Rico? Or those who have suffered from the chaos, from the cracks in creation? Well, my friends, it upholds that Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, before the incarnation, before his physical birth, was there with the Father and the Spirit at the creation of the world. He says of this Christ: “He is the heir of all things, through whom everything that has been made has been made.”
Now, some have said that this is just the opinion of the writer of Hebrews, he was alone in making this really strange comment about the Son of God being present at the beginning of the world. But, that is not true. In The Book of John at the very beginning of the Gospel, the Word, which is associated with the Son of God – the Word of God and the Son of God – begins with: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” He was with God in the beginning, and through Him all things were made, and without him nothing was made. There you go! Similarly, Paul, in writing to the Corinthians in his first letter in Chapter 8 said, “Yet for us there is but One God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live, and there is but One Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came, and through whom we live.” So, Hebrews, John and Paul! Many of the writers of The New Testament understood that Jesus of Nazareth, who they had seen and followed, was also the existing Son of God, and that the Son of God was there at the creation of the world. You might say, “Andrew, this is all a theological nicety, but does it mean anything?” Oh, it means so much! Because it tells us that in biblical terms the world was created with a reason and purpose, in the image of God, and that creation itself bears the marks of a personal God. It is not random chance, powerful nature, or physical activity. We are here, this Earth has been created, and it has a purpose.
This morning, on behalf of you, I have had the privilege of holding three babies in my arms. I gazed into their eyes, and I placed water on their heads, and you know what I saw? I saw the image of God! In every child that has been created, in every being, in every era, and every time on every continent, we are in the Imago Dei, the image of God. We are made in the image of his Son, in the image of Christ. “Male and female he made them” says The Book of Genesis. This tells me that this light, Jesus Christ, whom we call the Redeemer and Saviour of the World, is the one who identifies in the midst of the cracks of the world, with those who have been created in his image. This isn’t just high philosophy, or high theology, this is the very reason we care for each other. It is the very reason why numbers are not statistics when there is a crack in creation; they are God’s children who are part of it. When we are called to reach down into the depths and the mire of the cracks of humanity in all its needs, we do it because those people were created in the image of God. Christ was there at the beginning of creation, and he is the fulfillment and the heir of all of us.
The writer goes on and says something even more radical! If you don’t think that is powerful, listen to this: “He holds everything in his hands.” I don’t know how many of you ever went to Sunday school, but if you did, you probably remember this song, do you not?
He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the itty-bitty baby in His Hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands
Where does that come from? It comes from this passage here. He holds everything together. Now, it might appear to those of us who are onlookers that the world is nothing more than chaos that we can’t understand. The media, for example, through no fault of their own, are going to report all the cracks and all the chaos that make up 90 percent of their stories if you do an analysis of the news. Ninety per cent, according to the Kennedy School of Government! We see the chaos, we see the problems, and we can’t make sense of it.
There was something I couldn’t make sense of a few weeks ago when I read two essays about lobster fishing in Nova Scotia. Now, I might not have much of an impact on you, but as someone who used to minister in a lobster village, let me tell you, in a fishing village it means a lot. The first article said, “Global warming is destroying lobsters”. It went on to suggest that lobsters grow bigger in cold water, and with the water getting warmer, fishermen are getting smaller lobsters. A few weeks later, in The New Glasgow Times, in Pictou County, a fishing area, the headline was “Global warming is good for lobster fisherman” because if the water gets warmer, the lobsters have to move further north to get to the cold, and where do they land? Nova Scotia! Well, you read that and you think, “This is getting chaotic and silly. Which one is it?” We feel that way at times, don’t we? I don’t know if you do, but I do. You wonder, “What on earth is holding all this together?” We look at the climate in the Arctic, and this is a huge worry for the world. We can’t see it with our eyes unless we go there, but we know that there are profound changes taking place, and it seems like chaos. We see climactic changes impact people’s lives. We hear of gun violence in our cities and the wretched summer that we had this year in Toronto with the gang wars, and we think it is all chaotic, and what we have is news. You know the old saying, “What breeds weeds?” Well, that was a story almost every day, wasn’t it, of a shooting or a stabbing. We raise our hands and we say, “Whoa, is there any order in this universe? Is there anything holding this all together?”
I was reading an essay in The Sunday Times in London last year, and it stuck out for me because it was written by a physicist at Oxford, and immediately my Christian mind started to go “ding, ding, ding”:
Dark matter, the mysterious, invisible substance, once seen as an astronomical oddity, could have helped form the entire cosmos, including our own milky way and other galaxies according to new research. An international team of astronomers led by Stanford University has spent five years building the most detailed map yet of the distribution of dark matter through the universe. Their findings suggest that the billions of stars that make up galaxies are held together only by a huge gravitational pull generated by clumps of dark matter. One thing holds it together.
In other words, in the billions of the stars there is an order, a gravitational order created by this dark matter. While I am not prepared to say equivocally that this represents God, there is nevertheless an order to the universe. Not everything is chaotic and breaking down. While we see the cracks, the chaos, and disorder, there is the need for us, as people of faith, to thank God for the order in the universe, for the light when we wake up in the morning and the darkness when we go to bed. There is the wonder of the things that were created from nature that we celebrated at Thanksgiving, and when you hold a child in your arms and look into their eyes, you know there is an order to everything that God has made. This is not an accident; this has been created in the image of God.
It also applies to the way that we live. Many of you won’t know this, but in two weeks’ time we celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the Churches-on-the-Hill AA group. For seventy years, it has met in this church every Thursday night – come rain, or shine! Thousands upon thousands of people with addictions have been helped. I am honoured to be speaking on behalf of you all at the event on the 25th. I ran into a woman who has gone to our AA group for many years and when she talked about what AA has done for her, and what coming to the church has given her, I was humbled. She told me her story. She felt that her life was chaos, she had gone from one broken relationship to another, one job after another, and she couldn’t cope with life and with family. So she used alcohol to cope. She said, “Dr. Stirling, I felt my life was falling apart. Somehow, alcohol was like glue that helped me cope with everything.” She continued, “This went on for a while. I felt its comfort, its warmth. I knew that at a certain time of the day I would have a glass of something, and that glass of something would give me comfort. I built it into my life, and I built it into my schedule, and it gave me order. Then, one day, I awoke to the reality that I was no longer getting order from this substance, but it was compounding my sense of disorientation. I knew I had to do something, so I spoke to a friend. I came to myself, I came to the reality I could not do this alone, and I turned to a friend, and my friend said ‘You need to go to the church up the road on St. Clair on Thursday night. You need to go there and you need to get help.’ No disrespect, Reverend Stirling, the last place I wanted to go was the church. Religion is not on my agenda.” But she came and she was warmly received. She went on, “Over these many years, and even going to other AA groups, I realized that there is, as AA says, a higher power, and I have to rely every day, and I mean every day, and every minute on that higher power to hold my life together. I have come to know that higher power personally, and that higher power is Jesus Christ, My Lord, and every day in the midst of the chaos of life, I know he is the one who holds me all together.”
So, my friends, this day, when we have held God’s creation in our arms, when we have heard the news of the catastrophic things of life, let us hold on, not to the cracks in everything that God has made, but to the light that shines through and holds it all together! Amen.