“The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world”. Psalm 19 – 1-4
When we were living in Perth I hosted a Japanese businessman for a weekend. My plan was to drive him to a historic town to see West Australia as it used to be. Driving through the flat featureless countryside he became agitated. He asked to move from the front seat to the back seat and once there he lay down. I assumed he was car sick. “I am not car sick”, he said, “I am frightened”. After a while I understood what he was frightened of. He was terrified by the emptiness of the landscape. The word he had that day from the universe was very threatening.
Throughout history many people have perceived that the universe is very threatening. They believed that the voice of the universe was an angry, demanding voice. Propelled by this view whole civilizations have been built on religions whose main aim has been to appease an angry universe. This has led to building projects that sapped the wealth of nations, enslaved millions, and in many cases, to human sacrifice.
I have been thinking of what the universe is saying to me. At the most intimate level, the universe of my body, I am hearing some unsettling voices. What is happening to me? What is the meaning of these changes? For instance, I am finding it harder to pick things up from the floor. Well this worried me until I realised the most obvious answer was that I must be growing taller. Problem solved. Hmm!
In history not everyone has perceived the voice of the universe to be hostile. In fact if you listen to the prophets and seers of the major religions quite a different message has been perceived. I share here just a couple.
These days we are starting to listen to and value the insights from the various ethnic people. Here is an extract of a prayer written by Lakota Sioux Chief, Yellow Lark and published in the Native American Prayers - by the Episcopal Church.
“Oh, Great Spirit, Whose voice I hear in the winds,
And whose breath gives life to all the world,
hear me, I am small and weak, … may my ears be sharp to hear your voice.
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.”
What about going back to the dawn of recorded history to the Upanishads – a huge collection of writings which are source documents for Hinduism, Buddhism and the very ancient religion of Janism. These writings were memorised for generations before they were written down about 800 BC.
"God is, in truth, the whole universe: what was,
what is and what beyond shall ever be.
He is the God of life immortal .
His hands and feet are everywhere..
He sees all, He hears all. He is in all, and He Is.”
What about our present day? What do our contemporary scientists and philosophers perceive the universe is saying to us.
At the forefront is Professor Brian Cox, a particle physicist and astronomer whose BBC television series have made him known to millions. David Attenborough writes that if he had a crown he would pass it to Brian Cox. Here are some of his insights into what the universe is saying to us.
“We are the cosmos made conscious and life is the means by which the universe understands itself.”
Prof Cox reminds us that most of the elements, which make us up, were made within seconds of the big bang and some particular elements in super novas that followed the bang. And when we die whether we are buried or cremated the elements which make up our body will go back to the universe in an endless cycle of birth and rebirth.
“What a wonderful thing to be part of that universe. What a story.,. what a majestic story.”
Brian Cox is not religious but he is not anti religious. However, he cannot relate to religious people who insist their understanding is the only ‘true’ understanding.
This concept of the human race being the means by which the cosmos understands itself is something which fits well with the Christian understanding. We believe that Jesus was the complete revelation of the heart of the universe – revealing the way it is, the way it works, the direction it intends, the purpose in all things. (John 1.1-4). Jesus is the nuclear core to the understanding of what the universe is saying to us. He is not the only revelation of this core. Many others sensed what he articulated, but no one lived it out in the way he did. In saying this I am making a case for Christianity as it has evolved and is now, as being the only repository of the meaning of the universe. To my mind the Christian brand has been used and abused, manipulated and distorted to serve the end of man’s purposes and ambitions. But, go back to Jesus and look afresh at him and you will find a dazzling light and un-confinable energy. Many who are not Christian acknowledge this fact. To illustrate this point I quote what Leonard Cohen, the song writer, poet, philosopher and performer has said of him.
“I am really fond of Jesus Christ. He may be the most beautiful guy who walked the face of the earth. Any guy who says, Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the Meek” has got to be a figure of unparalleled generosity and madness… a man who declared himself to stand among thieves, the prostitutes and the homeless. His position cannot be comprehended. It is an inhuman generosity. A generosity that would overthrow the world if it would be embraced because nothing could weather that compassion. I am not trying to alter the Jewish view of Jesus Christ. But to me, in spite of what I know about the history of legal Christianity, the figure of the man touched me.”
Now we come to what I think to be the hardest of all thoughts about the universe – hardest not to understand – hardest to accept.
“The universe speaks to us in a thousand voices,
each the same clear message. I love you.
Please trust me on this one”. (Brother David Steindl-Rast).
If that is true, if that is true today, if that is true for me, then what can I say but ‘Thank you!’?
At the back of our ready laugh and fetching smile, behind our sometimes troubled brow, for many there are bundles of regrets and doubts, questions of ‘what if’, worries about declining health, and debilitating envy. What if despite all of this the universe is saying to us today, “I love you”.
In our scripture reading this morning, Jesus reads the lesson in the synagogue,
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people." Luke 4: 18-21
Allow me to put it to you that this scripture is written with you and me in mind. What if you and I are the poor, what if you and I are the blind, what if we are the captives and the oppressed. Could it be that Jesus in the name of the universe is saying “You are loved, you are saved”.
Actually I believe that is true. It is true not because all our faults and failings have been glossed over. It is true because Jesus died on the cross, taking into himself all the pain we have experienced and all of the distress we have caused. His resurrection means that all of this, all of us, has not quenched the heart of the universe. He still says, “I love you”. That is my bottom line today. Accept that love, enter into that love, live that love. Rejoice! Be thankful and share your thankfulness. This is the heart of the universe and you are part of it.
By Rev Stan Stewart