6 Lent B—3/18/18
Psalm 119:9-16; John 12:20-33
Pr. Scott Kramer
Two weeks ago I was introduced for the first time to one of my relatives. Emma is the six year-old daughter of one of my cousins whom I rarely see, but this cousin was also at my uncle’s funeral and so I got to meet her family. Emma is a delightful child and within a couple minutes of meeting her you might become her latest best friend.
One morning several of us were taking a walk when Emma announced that when she grows up she wants to be an astronaut. These days, little girls dare to dream big!
But even decades ago when it was unheard of for women to be astronauts some girls still had big dreams. On the cover of this month’s National Geographic magazine is Peggy Whitson, an American astronaut who has spent more time in space than any other human being in history—665 days. That’s 22 months—almost two years!
And yet, this cover story is bigger than the amazing accomplishments of one woman. The article features interviews with several astronauts whose lives have been transformed by the experience of seeing Earth from hundreds of miles above the earth. (Samantha Cristoforetti, Karen Nyberg, Ed Lu, Leland Melvin)
Listen to the words of Mike Massimino: I thought at one point, if you could be up in heaven, this is how you would see the planet. And then I dwelled on that and said, no, it’s more beautiful than that. This is what heaven must look like. I think of our planet as a paradise. We are very lucky to be here.
What each of these men and women share from their time in space is a sense of wonder and awe that’s beyond words. Each has returned from space with a sense of urgency and purpose, committing their energies to tackling the difficult challenges to the health and well-being of life on earth. Their perspective has changed, and their very lives have been transformed.
Not many of us are likely to see the earth from space in our lifetimes. But gathering for worship each Sunday serves much the same purpose. The experience of worship and the life of faith offer us a perspective from above. Through the stories and teachings of our scriptures, through our music, through the gift of Holy Communion, through prayer, conversation and our God-given imaginations we are given the opportunity, if even just briefly, to see the earth and our lives from above—from God’s perspective.
Astronauts do not fly off into space to escape the earth and its problems. Likewise, we do not go to worship to escape our lives and the problems we face. At our best, like astronauts, we are driven by awe and wonder by the view from above to return to our lives on earth with a deep sense of gratitude. Week after week our sense of purpose and meaning is renewed and restored and we are propelled into the routines and commitments of our lives with a sense of urgency for restoring health and wholeness to relationships, the human community and to the whole earth.
Young Emma, this six year-old full of life and excitement, has a dream of seeing the world from above. She wants to be an astronaut! How about us? Do we long to see the world from above? Do you want to see your life and the world through the eyes of God?
Friends, we don’t have to travel on a spaceship. We don’t have to wait until we die. The perspective of God—the voice of God–is all around us, just as it was in the time of Jesus. In today’s reading from John, Jesus reflects on the difficult circumstances of his life. “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”
In this story everyone heard the voice. But not everyone understood its meaning. Their interpretation was based on what they knew and needed to believe. Some thought it was thunder. Some thought it was an angel. Trusting only in their earthly experience, they had failed to understand that this was nothing less than the voice of God.
If our expectations are sufficiently low, the practice of coming to worship Sunday after Sunday could have little effect on our lives. But spiritual astronauts come to worship expecting to hear the voice of God, expecting to respond with wonder and awe and gratitude. We expect to be driven back into the world, to return to Earth better prepared to hear the voice of God each day, to identify God’s voice and to apply our lives not to death and destruction but to hope, and the healing of the world.
This past week ordinary students in high schools across the nation walked out of class. If grown-ups can’t do the right thing about gun laws, then maybe young people will.
Everyone heard the voice of these young people but not everyone had the same response. Some said that it was “thunder”—a lot of noise. Such people would call these student actions “naïve”; they would speak of “youthful idealism.” They would call these young people “misguided.” Others might agree with the young people but only to the extent that the beliefs they already had are confirmed–the “voice of an angel.” But how many among us recognize in these young people nothing less than the penetrating voice of God that cuts through all our beliefs and assumptions?
Spiritual astronauts, where else do you hear the voice of God in our time? Black Lives Matter? The #MeToo movement calling out accountability for sexual harassment and abuse? The 350.org campaign in response to climate change? Is this just the sound of “thunder,” a lot of loud noise? Is it an “angel?” Or, is it the view from above? Those who speak out in our time are not just expressing opinions about social issues. These public movements are first and foremost about how we treat one another as God has treated us, with compassion, respect, and dignity. These human voices at their best are about seeing the world from above. They’re about how we respond to the greatest commandment, to love one another as God has loved us.
We Christians are just ordinary people who desire to glimpse their lives and the earth from the perspective of God. We, who on Ash Wednesday were reminded that we are dust, and to dust we will return. We, creatures of the earth, who are raised up to new life only by dying—we, in the midst of our down-to-earth, flesh-and-blood existence, are called to hear the voice of God and lifted up to see the world from above. Driven by awe and gratitude we return to our earthly existence with renewed focus and energy and determination to reflect into the world the love of God for all people and the whole creation.
So–what do you think? Do you want to be an astronaut? May this season of Lent be a journey toward transformation of our hearts and minds, toward recovery of a child’s heart that dreams of seeing the world from above.