* a homily given at Luther Memorial Church of Chicago on February 18, 2015 *
Text: Matthew 18:1-9
Mortality stares us in the face, O God.
Hold us, and comfort us.
When I was a young boy, I was fascinated by things I didn’t understand. I’m not sure where this sensibility came from, but I had a highly inquisitive mind and a deep desire to figure stuff out.
And that fascination has held over into my adult years. I’m still mesmerized by things I don’t understand. Pretty perfect dovetail with theology and pastoral ministry, don’t you think…? But over the years, and certainly since beginning seminary, and more specifically, since being involved in parish ministry last year and this year, I’ve felt my need to explain everything begin to wane…
See, so much of this life, so much of our life with God and our life with each other, defies explanation. We feel it, viscerally, but if you ask me to put words to it, my mouth goes dry and words escape me…
But the fascination remains for me… I want to know so much more about what I don’t know…
Last Tuesday, the Adler Planetarium hosted what has come to be an annual event, Clergy Day at the Adler. It’s a day when area religious leaders and students are offered free admission to the planetarium in the hopes of elevating the dialogue between science and faith. It’s a truly phenomenal event and certainly a conversation that needs to be had. It was also my first time to visit the Adler. Wonderful place…
Everything about space fuels this fascination inside of me. What is it? Where did it come from? How big is it? On and on and on and on… And one of the exhibits in particular is still sticking with me. It highlighted the timeline of the universe, as far back as science can take us, billions of years, back to what many consider the origins of the universe. And it talked about how scientists think the building blocks of the universe came into being; how energy, through gravity, formed into atoms, and then into molecules, then into matter, so on and so forth to become the universe and galaxies and planets, and ultimately, us.
Tracing our existence all the way back billions of years to the first bits of matter… Nothing more than stardust… Fascinating stuff… And leaving me with a whole lot more questions than I started with.
“You mean, I’m just a complex series of molecules and atoms that have their origin somewhere in space? Huh…” It makes one feel quite…insignificant…
So, then I totally get where the disciples are coming from today. “Yes, but tell us which one of us the greatest. Tell us how to be seen as great in the eyes of God.” Tell me I’m special, Jesus. Tell me that I matter. That I’m more than just stardust…
“Unless you become like a child,” Jesus says… A child… Filled with wonder and awe and the endless pursuit of discovery… Everything is new and interesting. Nothing is mundane. Each moment is filled with amazement. Every speck of dust.
“And woe to you who put up stumbling blocks. Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks!” Jesus says. We just can’t seem to get out of our own way… In our relentless pursuit of discovery, somewhere along the journey, I think we’ve forgotten how to be amazed. Everything is dust. Nothing is magical. And so we look to Jesus for affirmation and assurance. “Who is greatest? Who is special? Is it me? Please tell me it’s me…”
So much of our world, and certainly of our western culture, is what I’d call hyper-individualized. “Absolutely everything is about you,” we’re told, “About what you want. About your interests and concerns.” Lofty praises and acclamations, pumping ourselves up until we’re floating among the planets and the stars…”
And then today, we get a frank dose of reality. Brought back down from the sky, we are humbled. We smudge our heads with dirt and hear, “Mortal, you are dust. And to dust you will return.” Nothing more than the stardust from which you came.
And……it is in this childlike humility that we understand what it means to inherit the kingdom of heaven. In humility, we are made great.
Because God has numbered even those grains of dust.
All of the stars in the sky.
Every grain of sand in all of the oceans of the world.
Every last speck of stardust in the universe.
All named, and loved, and cherished by God.
Even you, mortal. Especially you.