Bible Readings: Job 38: 1-7, 34-41; Mark 10: 35-45
We’ve just heard two readings in which people are questioning and wrestling with their place among things:
Can we be seated in positions of advantage, Jesus? asks James and John.
Who are you to question the creator, the origin, destination and upholder of life, Job?
So let us for a moment consider our place among things – and things place among us!
We are part of an infinite universe and we have an infinite universe within us. I find myself so drawn to the emerging discoveries of science and quantum physics. If a task of faith involves attempting to describe and point towards the indescribable mystery of the divine, then poetics and analogous imagery has been amongst our most useful tools. However it is from the field of science (perhaps ironically) that a powerful new vocabulary is emerging which is enticing us and enabling us to wrestle with and point towards mystery.
Looking outwards to the scale of billions of light years, and looking within to the scale of fractions of microns reveals mystery – scientifically verifiable and measurable mystery!
Take this picture on the screen.
In 2004 astronomers attempted something extraordinary. They pointed the Hubble Space Telescope into a part of the sky that seemed utterly empty, a patch devoid of any planets, stars and galaxies. Instead of looking at the stars, the looked deeply into the space between the stars they could see. This was a somewhat risky move by the scientists. After all, observing time on this telescope is in very high demand, and some questioned whether it would be wasted trying to look at nothing. There was a real risk that the images returned would be as black as the space at which it was being pointed. Nevertheless, they opened the telescope and slowly, over the course of 10 full days, photons that had been travelling for over 13 billion years finally ended their journey on the lens of humanity’s most powerful telescope.
When the telescope was finally closed it produced one of the most profound and humbling images in all of human history–every single spot, smear, and dot was an entire galaxy, each one containing hundreds of billions of stars an image that represented the farthest we’ve ever seen into the universe. The photons from these galaxies left when the universe was only 500 million years old, and 13 billion years later, they end their long journey as a small image on a computer screen.
These galaxies, while standing absolutely still, are racing away from us, in some cases faster than the speed of light. The spacetime between us and everything else grows larger by the minute, pushing the galaxies in this image to a distance of over 47 billion light years.
We pointed the most powerful telescope ever built by human beings at absolutely nothing, for no other reason than because we were curious, and
discovered that we occupy a very tiny place in the universe.
If we look now towards ourselves: my hand is not a solid uniform mass, it is billions of individual cells cooperating together, each with empty space
between them, held together by energy and relationship.
But if you look at those individual cells you see that they are not solid uniform masses. In fact they are made up of tiny individual molecules and atoms. Billions of tiny individual molecules and atoms each with empty space between them, held together with relationship and energy.
But if you look at those individual molecules and atoms, they are not uniform, solid masses. They are made up of tiny electrons, protons and neutrons – each held together with relationship and energy with mostly empty space between them. In fact as you zoom further and further down to the atomic and sub-atomic level, we begin to see (perhaps unsettlingly) that while we might think of ourselves as the sum of billions of cooperating tiny particles, we are made in fact more of the “space inbetween” than we are particles. From the point of view of psychics we are primarily relationship and energy.
We are in fact of the space in between.
It is said there is a ancient Jewish practice of carrying two small scrolls – one in each pocket, so they could be grasped one in each hand.
On one scroll is written
UNIVERSE WAS CREATED FOR YOU
YOU ARE NOTHING BUT DUST
If the scrolls are held in each hand then the bearer is reminded that they exist between these realities. That we are in fact of the space in between.
Life is lived in the tension of these truths.
It has to be both parts together – it is only true if both parts are together. A half truth is a destructive lie.
I think we often believe that most people behave as if the universe was created for them.
The disciples were asking to be recognised as special, as significant – the Universe was made for us.
But in my experience many peoples behaviours are far better explained by them having heard far too often ‘You are nothing but dust’.
A 12 year old girl looks in the mirror at her changing body, the body that doesn’t look like everyone else’s, She hears from magazines, from television and eventually her own internal belief:
YOU ARE NOTHING BUT DUST
A man sits alone in front of a pokie machine for hours looking for a reward to contradict the deep fear within him that he is NOTHING BUT DUST.
In contrast to a God who says I made you worthy, our world demands a person somehow demonstrate worthiness to be loved, to be helped, to receive kindness.
Our world screams:
You are a refugee? YOU ARE NOTHING BUT DUST
You are addicted? YOU ARE NOTHING BUT DUST
You require welfare support? YOU ARE NOTHING BUT DUST
You are fat? YOU ARE NOTHING BUT DUST
You have mental illness? YOU ARE NOTHING BUT DUST
You cannot read or write? YOU ARE NOTHING BUT DUST
You are bullied? YOU ARE NOTHING BUT DUST
You are young? YOU ARE NOTHING BUT DUST
You are traumatised? YOU ARE NOTHING BUT DUST
You are disabled? YOU ARE NOTHING BUT DUST
You are different? YOU ARE NOTHING BUT DUST
But the half truth is a destructive lie.
The paradox needs its balance – the universe was created for you.
We create relationships where people need to prove their worth – show me you are worth anything more than dust.
God says I made you worthy from the beginning.
We choose a mindset that says you’ll only get a go if you have a go – show me you are worth anything more than dust.
God says I made you worthy from the beginning.
We choose to treat people (and sometimes ourselves) as worth little more than dust – the blank stares as we sit alongside each other on the bus or pass on the street, the uncaring dismissal of a request for change, the unkind words for those who disagree with you.
God says I made you, I made him, I made her, I made them, I made all of you worthy from the beginning.
William Sloane Coffin Jnr wrote “Of God’s love we can say two things: it is poured out universally for everyone from the Pope to the loneliest wino on the planet; and secondly, God’s love doesn’t seek value, it creates value. It is not because we have value that we are loved, but because we are loved that we have value. Our value is a gift, not an achievement.”
We are relationship and energy.
Imagine what our world would be – how different and infinitely better our lives would be – if we each treated each other as though the universe was created for this person in front of us. If we held the humility of knowing the truth of our dusty origins along with the significance of being our creators creation.
We would no longer jostle for favour, to be first in line ahead of our fellow disciples. We would no longer believe ourselves to be insignificant or treat another as though they are.
We would know the truth that whether first or last, last or first – all participate in God’s Kingdom. If your sitting on the front seat of the bus or the back seat fo the bus – you’re on the bus!
So as you go this week – may you live the two halves of this inseparable truth. You are not just dust
The universe was created for you For God created your innermost being
The creator knitted you together in your mothers womb
You are fearfully and wonderfully made.