“On the other hand, as I did experiments on radioactive decay, and measured the magnetic resonance points of protons in water molecules, as well as worked with lasers and photo-optical switches, I wondered if I totally fit into the Christian world. Would I have to give up or put into question fundamental theories of science for my beliefs?”
A sermon by Pastor Bob
October 16, 2011
Text: Luke 21:5-19
Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
“Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”
He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
“But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life.
–It starts off innocently enough.
–Jesus is with his disciples and they are standing in the shadows of one of the most amazing sights in the land, certainly all of Israel—the Jewish Temple.
–Just imagine what those disciples are thinking.
–They are all from small towns, the backwaters of Israel, and as they come into the city that is the jewel of Israel, and they are overwhelmed.
–For this is the seat of power not only politically, but the world—the universe itself, for it is here that exists the center of all Jewish worship and sacrifice, the Temple.
–It is here that the largest stones, carved and carried from quarries far away have been dragged and placed one on top of each other, some as long as 40 feet and as high as 10 feet, weighing hundreds of tons.
–With smaller stones and pillars and walls leading into the most sacred place in all of Israel, the Holy of Holies.
–It is here that God is said to dwell and it is so holy that only the high priest can enter but once a year to give offering.
–Then, as the disciples are standing there, looking up, mouths agape with awe, Jesus says something that startles them.
–He says that in the future, not one of those stones will be left on top of each other.
–That in a moment, this grandeur that had been the major building project of Herod the Great for 30 years would be tossed aside.
–That literally this house of God would be no more.
–Wars, earthquakes, plagues, and persecution would follow.
–But perhaps most ominously, in words that will be echoed in the gospels of Matthew and Mark, he warns them against people who will say that they come in Jesus’ name, that will say, “I am He,” who will say they are the Messiah, but they are not.
–Not only are these the building blocks of developing good Armageddon-type movies for how the world will come to an end, they also strike at the heart of Christian fears in general.
–People, as you can imagine, have glommed on to these words over the centuries, and have attached them to whoever seemed most threatening at the time.
–Jews, gypsies, the pope, politicians, and particularly in the past ten years, Muslims.
–They have and continue to bare the brunt of Christian fears and imagination.
–But there is another group that has also been a popular target of Christians: Atheists.
–Do you ever have one of those weeks when you seem to run into someone again and again, or an idea or theme that has been there all along in small ways, but now jumps out to grab your attention?
–For me, it was the topic of Atheism—always a good topic for a pastor.
–But not just the idea of Atheism, the belief that there is no God.
–Rather I noticed how people react to this idea in politics, in the media, and in the sciences.
–And most of all, how it separates people.
–It started last weekend when I was at a conference in Berkeley.
–There were several presenters who were arguing about the effects of atheism in the 20th century.
–And one person conjectured that there would not be a clash of civilizations between the religions.
–But that the real conflict would be between what he called religious and non-religious civilizations.
–He of course argued that the religious civilizations would win.
–Now, I have to admit that I am a little biased towards religion, but I thought it was a little hard to totally separate out a religious civilization from a non-religious civilization.
–Even communist countries who have officially sworn off religion are still influenced by religion.
–Religion is terribly messy.
–Later in the week, I was up later than I should have been, channel surfing past a million infomercials, and found myself captivated by a 700 Club-like show declaring that there were God-fearing politicians, and then there were those other people.
–And those “other people” were going to get their just dues.
–It was at this point that I started preaching to the people on the show, well actually to my TV, that they needed to read the Bible a little more carefully and should err on the side of humility—that would be my kindest paraphrase.
–So, indignant about the abuse of religion, I then tuned to a special on science.
–It was about the history of science, and it told the usual story of how science escaped the chains of religious persecution to evolve into today’s progressive and explanatory modern sciences.
–Science was the realm of rationality and objectivity, gradually explaining everything.
–While religion was irrational, subjective and would eventually be explained away or left as whimsical fantasy for the young and the old.
–Well, needless to say, I also had a few choice words for that show as well.
–So, I ask you.
–Is it really so simple?
–Are we to pick sides?
–Are there really the religious and non-religious?
–The chosen and the damned?
–The naive and the realist?
–The out-of-touch and the down-to-earth?
–The mystic and the mathematician?
–Let me ask you:
–Do you ever feel embarrassed to be a Christian?
–Do you ever wonder if you quite fit in?
–Sometimes either in the workplace, or even at church?
–I remember when I was studying Physics at the University of Colorado that I started to feel like there were two poles of people.
–I had become a Christian my junior year of college and now as I looked around at all my colleagues, I wondered if there were anyone else who believed as well.
–Or if they did, did they ever talk about it? Were they ashamed?
–Or were they just prudent.
–On the other hand, as I did experiments on radioactive decay, and measured the magnetic resonance points of protons in water molecules, as well as worked with lasers and photo-optical switches,
–I wondered if I totally fit into the Christian world.
–Would I have to give up or put into question fundamental theories of science for my beliefs?
–I have spent a lot of time thinking about these questions, and my graduate studies have included the field of science and religion
–In fact, in January I will have a class on science and religion and will be joined by some scientists in our midst.
–We will work on some of these questions and realities.
–And I hope you will come.
–…Okay, that is my shameless infomercial for you this morning.
–Finally, it sometimes seems to me that forces in society act like a divorcing couple fighting over custody of the kids.
–Those kids being science, politics, rationality, the heart, the spirit, the mind.
–Yet is this really necessary, let alone true?
–As I think about those young disciples with Jesus as they were approaching the immenseness of the Jewish Temple and its foundations, I can’t help but think that they were onto something.
–Or perhaps more accurately, they were caught up in something.
–Step after step, they had literally followed in Jesus’ footsteps.
–Not just past ornate structures, but into the lives of infinitely beautiful people.
–For Jesus taught them to see the splendor of a leper healed, a hungry child fed, a dead man raised, a tax collector called.
–He didn’t ask them to suspend their minds, but rather to open up their whole selves.
–He warned them about dangers and persecution, and, at the same time, he assured them that they need not be afraid.
–That they were loved for who they were.
–For their questions and their doubts.
–That they were chosen just because.
–And dear friends, I say to you today, that this is also true for you.
–That you are claimed by God’s Holy Spirit.
–That you need not be afraid.
–That this world is to be explored, enjoyed and challenged.
–That people are not as different as we would want them to be.
–And in humility, we are not all that we could be.
–Yet, it is enough.
–Christ’s death and resurrection are enough to change everything.
–To tear down any wall that separates us from God and from each other.
–This is a message worth sharing, a hope worth living.