Sermon May 17, 2015 – To the Sun and Beyond

Scripture: Ephesians 1:15-23
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

If you listen to “Science Friday” on National Public Radio, you know that they have been talking about the sun. The Science Club has a project going inviting people to explain the sun. They have been broadcasting some of the responses.

Dean Regas of the Cincinnati Observatory tells us: “The repetition of the sun rising, setting, and rising again became the primary cycle to life on Earth. Call that a ‘day.’ Our prehistoric ancestors imprinted this pattern into our very nature.”

So the sun is responsible for the rhythm of time and seasons.

Richard Friedman, Psychiatry Professor at Cornell Medical College describes how the sun brings joy: “There is a reason why the sun makes us happy, why we are drawn towards people with sunny dispositions, and why so many of us are deeply affected by the seasons: sunlight has a biologically profound effect on our mood.”

The sun influences our mood, our productivity, our outlook.

Someone who raises chickens tells us: “More sun = more eggs from my hens They stop in winter because of less daylight and resume as days lengthen”

Thanks to the sun, we have more eggs!

A backyard gardener offers this explanation of the sun: “Thanks to the sun, something amazing happens in every back yard garden each summer. I understand the science in a very basic way — the biology, photosynthesis, and chemistry at work — but there’s something more. Words fail me. Is it magic? A miracle? Those are nice words but they carry too much baggage. Let’s consider the humble garden variety tomato plant.
I love watching what happens in the garden every day. Pretty little yellow blossoms set fruit in an intricate dance with pollinators, evolved over millions of years. The pea-size green fruit grows fast — sometimes doubling its size every day. In a few quick weeks, the fruit is ready. There’s nothing better than eating a ripe tomato from a back yard garden. It’s all possible because we live on a speck of dust, 93 million miles from our sun; a typical star in a typical galaxy in a stunning Universe. Bon appetit!”

Because of the sun, we have food to eat. If this gardener lived in Florida, he could witness this miracle year ‘round as I do in my garden.

And, from the United States Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, we learn: “What does the sun do? Let’s talk sun and energy. First, the sun’s surface temperature—you know, it’s about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s a big energy source, driven by fusing together hydrogen. We’re trying to harness that fusion process on Earth, but it’s very hard and expensive. In the meantime, we use the light from the sun here on Earth to make energy directly. In one hour, the solar energy hitting Earth is enough to meet the world’s energy needs for about a year. Solar energy technology is making great strides, and we think it will be a major source of carbon-free electricity in the years ahead as the costs keep falling, and energy storage allows us to use the electricity even when the sun is not shining.” [The quotations come from: http://www.sciencefriday.com/blogs/05/07/2015/what-does-the-sun-do-solar-experts-respond.html?series=34%5D

As these explanations show, the sun has incredible power. Power to control mood, life, time, and much more. Plants, life, light and darkness it is all possible because of the sun. It would be hard to overestimate the power of the sun. It is not surprising, then, that the sun has been an important religious/spiritual symbol throughout human history. People don’t just worship the sun at beaches today. People have been worshipping the sun for eons. The sun is an important part of ancient Egyptian religions, Aztec religion, African religions, and Asian religions. Religions today still honor the sun. The sun has an important role in Buddhism, Hinduism, and, yes, Christianity. Just one instance of the influence of the sun on Christianity involves Christmas. In the Roman Empire, the Festival of the Unconquered Sun was held on Dec. 25. It was the date for celebrating the rebirth of the sun. This image was then given Christian connotations. Jesus was seen as the light which does not go out, the sun which still shines. So his birth date was established as December 25. Because of the sun. In many expressions of Christian spirituality, Jesus is imaged as the sun. He is imaged as light, as a life force, as illuminating and enlightening, as a source of power and energy, all like the sun.

In the scripture that we heard this morning, there is much talk of power. The power of God. The power of God made know in Jesus. The power of God which overcomes death. And the power of God which is now channeled into the church, the faith community.

This passage is assigned for this Ascension Sunday, the marking of when the risen Jesus stopped appearing to his friends and rose into heaven. His physical presence is gone. But the power that was working in him is still a force, and now, since he is gone, it is at work in Christ’s new body, the church. This amazing power of God is now energizing the communities of people gathered in response to the ministry of Jesus. They are given the same power that he accessed to love as he loved – their neighbor, those who are naked, hungry, homeless, forgotten. They have the same power of God working in them that was at work in Jesus making it possible for them to lay down their lives for others. They have the same divine power to resist, to persevere, and to confront the powers of domination and exploitation, that Jesus did. That’s incredible. These small groups, of diverse, ordinary people, now possess the greatest power imaginable working through them to heal and sustain the world in peace and harmony. And we are those people today. It’s astounding!

We are heirs of incredible, amazing power. All the power that was at work in Jesus. All the power made manifest in creation. In us. Today. Whew! But I think, that as it is with the power of the sun, the power is there, but we are not taking full advantage of it. We are not availing ourselves of what is being given to us.

While solar power could meet all of our energy needs and do so in a way that is not destructive to Earth and its atmosphere, we are really using very little solar power today. For a host of reasons, power, money, money, money, and money, we have continued to choose to use energy sources that damage Earth, the atmosphere, and are jeopardizing the future of the human species. And all the while, here is that power. The sun. Shining down on us in sunny Florida, each and every day, and we spend more energy trying to protect ourselves from the negative effects of the sun than harnessing its benefits.

A similar situation may be occurring when it comes to faith as well. The church has been given this amazing power source, the love of God, and yet how much to we really tap into it. Do we power up? Do we offer ourselves as conductors? Like the sun, the energy is there, but it has to be harnessed and channeled to be most effective.

What impedes this? What mitigates against our fully accessing the power of our faith, the power of love, the power of good that was fully evident in Jesus?

One perspective is that we associate power with evil and violence. We think of the power of weaponry and guns. We think of the abuse of power by people who can inflict their will through intimidation and violence. We talk about when ISIS came to power, when Assad came to power, when Hitler came to power. We don’t talk about when Bill Clinton came to power in the US. We are more likely to use the word “power” with regimes or people that we think of as bad. Randomly ask someone who they think of as a powerful person, and I think you will hear the name Hitler more often than the name Mandela or Gandhi. We tend to associate the concept of power with evil and violence so we are afraid of power.

In religion, this means that we are talking more about subduing the power of evil, and keeping the power of evil at bay in our lives, than about wielding power in the service of good. We are more concentrated on the harm power can do than the good it can do.

Here’s another reason I think we down play the role of power and faith. A lot of people who make a point about connecting power and faith are doing things we find abhorrent. And this happens not only in Christianity, but in Judaism, Islam, and other religions. Look at ISIS; the Lord’s Resistance Army in Africa; the rabid Zionists in Israel; and extremist Christians in this country who bomb abortion clinics, and protest against gays at military funerals, and burn the Qur’an. Yikes! We don’t want to be associated with that kind of religious expression. So we stay away from talking about the power of our religion.

Here is another perspective about power that I think holds us back from being more assertive in expressing the power of our faith. In the US, power has been largely relegated to complaining. People feel they have exerted their power when they have complained. About how they have been treated. About the government. About the economy. About the lover who dumped them. Whatever. We feel we have exerted our power when we have complained. Got that off my chest! On facebook, in a letter to the editor, in an email, Tweet, or phone call. That’s that. We have become weak kneed, entitled, whiners who are satisfied with spouting off, a few pats on the back or “likes” and that’s over and done. Complaining and whining is not necessarily constructive engagement. It is not necessarily trending toward transformation. It is not necessarily manifesting justice. We accept that by complaining we have done what we can do. Our obligation is fulfilled. Our work is done. We satisfy ourselves with self expression instead of working for meaningful transformation and change.

Another side to this concept of power is that we are afraid of power. It is convenient to think that we are powerless, that we can’t do anything. The problems are just too big. Then we are off the hook. There is an important explanation of this fear in Marianne Williamson’s A Course in Miracles, that has become associated with Nelson Mandela. Williamson is a spiritual activist working to get the US government to establish a Department of Peace. She writes:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
[A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”, Ch. 7, Section 3 (1992), p. 190.]

Yes, we can be afraid of power. Because we have seen it misused and abused. The power of the sun can burn and blind, as well as foster life and growth. Power can be dangerous. And we have seen where the power of love leads – for Jesus it led his to death on a cross. Who wants that? Better to steer clear of excessive use of force, even when the force is love!

So how do we deal with this cognitive dissonance? We want to celebrate the power of God, the power of faith, the triumph of love over death that can change the world and overcome evil within us and around us. But we are hesitant and afraid.

Here the verses from Ephesians help us. The writer tells the faith community that he is praying for them. And what does he pray? That they will have a spirit of wisdom. That God will reveal what they need to know. That the eyes of their hearts will be enlightened. These petitions deal with discernment. The writer is telling this community that he is praying that they will be discerning; that they will see the will of God and know hope. And then employ their power in the cause of divine love as Jesus did. We are being reminded that we are to address ourselves very carefully to the spiritual discipline of discernment. We are to think and pray carefully about how we are being called to exercise our power. We are to empty ourselves of our agendas and allow the spirit of divine love to fill us and work in us. In the second century of the Common Era, the Essenes, a Christian community in the wilderness of Palestine, referred to baptism as “enlightenment.” [New Interpreter’s Bible, Ephesians, p. 381] It was the opening of the eyes of the heart. With baptism came the clarity to discern, to know, and to take action and live based on that knowledge.

In today’s world how do we know? How do we know where we should be exerting our power? We look at the life of Jesus. We are thinking about the things that he addressed himself to: Abundant life for all. No one goes hungry. The right ordering of relationships with self, God, neighbor, and creation. Compassion. Equality. Freedom.

There are over 3,000 references to oppression in the Bible. The choice is whether we use our power to support and endorse oppression, or whether we use our power to transform oppression into justice and peace. Do we just want to complain, “Ain’t it awful.” Or do we want to serve, offer compassion, give hope to others, and be witnesses to the realm of God?

Our faith, as we heard from Ephesians, liberates us from powerlessness and fear. It saves us from intimidation and victimhood. Our faith gives us the tools for discernment. What is to stop us from using the power we are being given for the good of the world?

We have all the power needed to infuse the world with the love of God. We have all the power needed to embody universal love and compassion. We have all the power needed to nurture justice and peace. This power is so great that the first Christians could only talk about it in terms of a power strong enough to overcome death – the most final, incontrovertible irreversible situation known to humanity. And the power of God experienced through Jesus was more powerful and compelling than death itself.

Whatever problems face us, whatever suffering we are experiencing, whatever is breaking our hearts, whatever drains us of life and hope – the power of God is greater and it is within us and among us. Seeking expression. Seeking release. We see this divine power evident in creation. And in Jesus, we are shown that it is also in us.
The greatest source of power and energy in our solar system is the sun. The temperature of the surface of the sun is 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit and at the core over 27 million degrees Fahrenheit. The sun puts out 386 billion billion megawatts of energy. It takes the light from the sun a mere 8 minutes to travel 93 million miles from the surface of the sun to Earth. It would take 100 billion tons of dynamite exploded every second to match the energy of the sun.

On “Science Friday,” they are asking, “What does the sun do? Explain the sun. ” Well, here’s another response: It gives us a fitting image and metaphor for the power of the divine love of God; a power that makes life possible and is at work in you, in me, in the world, in the solar system, in the galaxy, in the cosmos and beyond! Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

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