Saturday, January 6, 2018

“Finding God in the Cold, Cold Winter”

Happy New Year!!

            As we begin 2018, our worship focus at Christ United Methodist Church will be on “Finding God in Everyday Life.”  The spiritual basis for this exploration is a claim that the Divine is always present in our lives, even in the everyday routines which we all have.  However, many of us rarely experience God in our everyday lives, although we do experience the Divine in worship or in those life altering moments, such as the birth of a child or death of a parent.  Why is that?

            Our guiding thesis in this series is that we do not experience the Divine in everyday life because we are not expecting to encounter God in everyday life.  In other words, we are not listening for God to speak in our ordinary affairs; we are not open to experiencing God’s presence in the mundane.  So, the goal of this series is to help us hone our openness and sensitivity to God’s presence in everyday affairs.  We begin this Sunday, January 7th, by examining how to become more aware of God’s presence through nature—even in the cold, cold winter, which we are experiencing.

            The scriptural grounding for my reflections on this week has been Psalm 19: 1-6:
“The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.  Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.  Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.”

I remember twenty years ago, when the comet Hale-Bopp was so evident in the night skies over the United States.  To see this astronomical marvel most vividly, a friend and I took our children camping at Pt. Reyes National Seashore in California.  When the sun set and darkness was complete, we walked down to the beach, built a fire to keep warm, and spent a good deal of time gazing up into the night sky at Hale-Bopp.  Our view of the comet remains vivid to me, even 20 years later.  
            With the comet brightly splashing light across the night sky, I simultaneously felt two remarkable feelings.  First, I was mindful—in a new way—of how small and insignificant we are in the grand universe—and, how awesome God truly is.  Secondly, I experienced a new and special closeness to God the Creator that evening.

            Perhaps the psalmist had a similar experience, gazing up into the desert night sky centuries ago.  Perhaps the psalmist was first overcome—as I was—with the awesome glory of God manifested by the heavenly bodies on a clear, starry night sky.  To paraphrase his thoughts into the conceptual framework of contemporary scientific cosmology, our Earth, our sun, other planets and stars, galaxies, nebulae, black holes, and novae all manifest the glory and greatness of God the Creator.  Through Creation, we also see God’s rich creativity and ingenuity, from the tiniest quark to immense galaxies and mysterious black holes. 

            Secondly, in viewing its magnificence, perhaps the psalmist also experienced God’s presence through Creation.  Perhaps—as with me—the psalmist experiences a special closeness to God as he gazed up at the night sky.  For the psalmist, this experience of God’s presence is constant, “from day to day” and “night to night,” all of Creation proclaims, although not with human language.  Left implied is the psalmist’s understanding that we must open ourselves to Creation’s unique forms of manifesting God’s presence.

            At the end of our passage, the focus shifts to the sun which rises and sets each day.  Biblical scholars remind us that, in the ancient world, the sun was an object of religious worship for many of the nations surrounding Israel.  In implicit contradiction of the sun as a deity, the psalmist asserts that the sun is a created object, just as all of the other astronomical bodies in the sky.  Rather than viewing the sun as a deity, the psalmist depicts the sun as manifesting the majesty of the true God, whom all of Creation worships and glorifies.  Instead of being a deity, the sun points to the glory of the Creator and becomes an instrument through which we can experience the true divine Creator.

            Psalm 19:1-6 provides a strong scriptural warrant for experiencing the presence of the Divine, when we lift our gaze to the night sky or trace the course of the sun on its journey each day.  But what about experiencing God’s presence here on our home planet, teeming with an abundance and diversity of life?  In our worship this Sunday, January 7th, I will suggest that God’s presence can always be experienced in the nature of our home planet—even, now, in the middle of a cold, cold winter here in Nebraska and many other parts of the United States.

      If you live in the Lincoln, Nebraska area and do not have a place of worship, then I invite you to come and join us at Christ United Methodist Church this Sunday, January 7th.  Christ UMC is located at 4530 “A” Street in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Our two traditional Worship Services are at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday morning. 

Come, join us.  Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

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