The Stuff of Stars 5-15-16

“Scientists find universe awash in tiny diamonds” *

Pat Mayne Ellis

 

But haven’t we always known?

The shimmer of trees, the shaking of flames

every cloud lined with something

clean water sings right to the belly

scouring us with its purity

it too is awash with diamonds.

 

“so small that trillions could rest on the head of a pin”

It is not unwise then to say

that the air is hung close with diamonds

that we breathe diamonds

our lungs hoarding, exchanging

our blood sowing them

rich and thick along every course it takes.

Does this explain

why some of us are so hard

why some of us shine

why we are all precious

 

that we are awash in creation

spumed with diamonds

shot through with beauty

that survived the deaths of stars.

*reflecting on a newspaper headline

If you ask someone in this congregation what Pentecost is, you are most likely to get the answer, “That’s Pastor David’s favorite holiday.” Maybe I have emphasized that too often at the expense of being clear what we are actually celebrating on Pentecost. Many churches celebrate Pentecost as the birthday of the church – with a corresponding birthday cake. This is accurate and may be appropriate, though it may give the wrong message of a domesticated, nice, sweet. sweet Spirit – and that would not be so accurate or appropriate. Let’s listen together about how the Spirit arrives and figure out if we really want to pray for that Spirit to enter our worship and our lives.

Acts 2:1-21 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they all met in one room. Suddenly they heard what sounded like a violent rushing wind from heaven; the noise filled the entire house in which they were sitting. something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each one. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as she enabled them. All were amazed and disturbed.  They asked each other, “What does this mean?” But others said mockingly, “They’ve drunk too much new wine.” Then Peter stood up with the eleven and addressed the crowd:  “Women and men of Judea, and all you who live in Jerusalem!  Listen to what I have to say! These people are not drunk as you think—it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! No, it’s what Joel the prophet spoke of:

‘In the days to come—it is our God who speaks—I will pour out my Spirit on all humankind.  Your daughters and sons will prophesy, your young people will see visions, and your elders will dream dreams. Even on the most insignificant of my people, both women and men, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. And I will display wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below:  blood, fire and billowing smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon will become blood before the coming of the great and sublime day of our God. And all who call upon the name of our God will be saved’.

 

May 15, 2016

The Stuff of Stars

When Paul Himmelberg made his pitch in February for people to go to the POWER Metro founding assembly, he made me a bit nervous when he started talking about my sermons. He said he was going to participate in POWER Metro because nobody could sit through these sermons week after week without feeling like they had to do something. I think he said the sermons made him feel guilty. Now, I never want to make anybody feel guilty, but I was still flattered. It just made me nervous because you never know what the Spirit is doing in the preaching process – which we all take part in at our own risk. I knew there was more going on there than I had control over.

As it implies in our Acts passage this morning – which we read every year on this Sunday – people often hear something different than you’re actually saying! Each of us hear in our own language, no matter what language is being preached. Bishop Will Willimon tells the story of preaching at Duke Chapel and having one of the students thank him for an inspiring sermon. He said “Your sermon gave me the guts to call my father and tell him I’m not going to law school. If he doesn’t like it he can go to hell.” He said he asked the young man not to tell his father where he had been inspired.

Willimon insists that the Holy Spirit can take any sermon, any Sunday and rip it “right out of the my hands” and “say more than I meant, disrupting a church that I – by theological training and natural inclination – intend to sedate.” The Holy Spirit adds a wild card to the meaning of every sermon, disrupting the words and disrupting our lives, shaking our foundations, moving through locked doors, sending us forth, kicking us out, setting us on fire. (Will Willimon in Journal for Preachers, p. 2, Pentecost, 2016)

 

This is just one of the reasons I love – and fear – Pentecost. Pentecost is a time to celebrate the power of the Spirit and her ability to move us in ways we are not always inclined to move. We can imagine Elaine McDermott as an agent of the Spirit this morning – challenging us to move & to try something different.

Another reason I love Pentecost is how it celebrates the Spirit challenging us to listen to and respect people who speak other languages. This sentiment seems to be in short supply in our country today. These increased deportations and all this talk about building walls! Both big political parties are doing it. But it crosses a line when we start seriously talking about keeping a whole religious group our of the country. How can we who are Christian fail to recognize the mandate of the Spirit to welcome the stranger who is in fact Jesus Christ among us? We Christians are driven by the Holy Spirit into the world, forced to learn the language of others in order to spread the news that God has destabilized present arrangements in a continuing revolution call the Kin-dom of God. (WIllimon, p. 4)

I want to talk about the poem that Brian read for us this morning as another way in which the Spirit destabilizes and moves us. This poem is one of my favorites of all time and will be one of my nominations for addition to scripture if we ever really open up the canon again. The poem reflects on a real and spiritual reality in our world, something scientists have discovered and talk about in some remarkable ways.

The Earth and all that is in it – including us – was formed out of the stuff of stars, the dust left over from the explosions of supernova. Almost every element on Earth was formed at the heart of a star – especially the heaviest elements like iron and nickel. After the Big Bang, tiny particles bound together to form hydrogen and helium. Clouds of dust and gas formed under the effect of gravity, heating up as they became denser. At the stars cores, bathed in temperatures of over 10 million degrees Centigrade, heavier elements were formed.

Eventually, different sized stars played host to all kinds of different fusion reactions and explosions forming more and more elements. The explosion of supernovas disperses the different elements across the universe, scattering the stardust which now makes up planets including Earth, and everything on it, including you and me.

You are probably thinking, as I did reading this stuff, that it’s a bit beyond your ability to comprehend. I’m with you. But even though it’s hard for me to understand, I get really excited about it. The ways in which we talk about the Holy Spirit have several analogies to these scientific discoveries.

One of the articles I read for instance, says that this process of stardust from the universe being gathered in by the gravity of the Earth – and even into our bodies, continues to this day. Our bodies are not as static as we like to think. In fact, our skin, the largest organ in our body, is changing all the time, sloughing off cells and rejuvenating itself. All through our body, cells are dying and being reborn at different paces. The process of aging is partly due to the fact that new cells are not added as fast as the old ones die.

One of my sociology professors in college liked to talk about “I” and the “me”. He contended that our core personality had some stability to it and called that “I” but that our interactions with other people constantly changed us. He felt that in fact we are not as separate from each other as we like to think and that this changeable part of ourselves could be called the “me” part of ourselves. So that “me” part changes to some extent depending on who we are with, because we are extremely social beings.

 

I know I’m getting a little bit dense here and probably can’t get this across in this little bit of time here, but I get really excited about it and here is my point with all of this – that what we call the Spirit is constantly moving through us in a bunch of ways – from the stuff of stars, in our interactions with other cultures, in our interactions with other people, in our interaction with scripture and the experiences of our daily life.

We live, if we think about it, in what Chris Hughes calls a “permanent Pentecost.” Pentecost doesn’t just happen in the church or the synagogue. The Spirit is moving in and through us all the time, shaking up our church, breathing through our communities, nudging us in our family life, setting fires in our love-life, changing our very bodies through the power of the Universe.

The Spirit is constantly disrupting our attempts to keep things calm and sedate and the way they always were. That’s why I often put the cross or the baptismal font in our way in front of the sanctuary. The way we have to walk around it or stop in front of it or change the way we do the offering or communion is symbolic of the way the Spirit works in our lives – constantly moving us in a different direction, challenging us to talk to people we normally don’t even notice, inviting us to listen to visions for ourselves and our community that we hardly imagined possible.

Yes, we were created out of the dust of stars, diamonds in the rough. So when the wind of the Spirit blows through our midst, when you start to smell smoke and the sanctuary starts to shake and fireworks wake us up and move us to protest in Harrisburg, or to dance in the aisles and say ‘Hallelujah” don’t be surprised. Because the Spirit is always moving. The Light will never go out.

Responsive Hymn: 585      This Little Light of Mine