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Monday, October 29, 2007

Sustainable Prosperity

Here is my sermon for Sunday:

Sustainable Prosperity
Micah 4:1-7

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised up above the hills.
Peoples shall stream to it,
and many nations shall come and say:
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.


For all the peoples walk,
each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
for ever and ever.

On that day, says the Lord,
I will assemble the lame
and gather those who have been driven away,
and those whom I have afflicted.
The lame I will make the remnant,
and those who were cast off, a strong nation;
and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion
now and for evermore.

Last week I flew to Montana to do a graveside service for my wife’s aunt’s mother, a dear person. We celebrated 93 years of her life on Earth. The flights their and back were long and I had plenty of time to read. I read a book entitled, A View from the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos by Joel Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams. Primack is a physicist and Abrams is a philosopher of science.

I don’t want to gush over the book. I will need to read it again, perhaps with a more critical eye, but it made me feel good after I finished. I did feel a sense of hope and belonging to the Universe. I also felt a sense of hope for humanity.

Here is the book’s thesis is three steps:

1) Premodern societies saw themselves as central to the universe and made myths and religions that embraced this centrality. While their cosmology was wrong, their mythology was correct in that they saw themselves as a meaningful part of the whole. The universe as they saw it "fit" them and they "fit" in it.

2) Modernity put humankind on the edge of the universe. Not central. Not important. Small in a vast meaningless cosmos. We no longer "fit." We are accidental. We are insignificant. We are a cosmic accident. We are therefore filled with existential angst. We have our cosmology right, but our mythology is lacking. We cannot go back and embrace any one religion's mythology wholesale as it fits an ancient, outdated cosmology.

3) However, we can use those symbols and myths from our premodern ancestors that work to help us reclaim the center of the universe again while embracing modern cosmology. Modern science is showing that we do "fit" the universe. We are central in many ways but we lack a mythology that affirms that reality.

The authors take us through what science is uncovering about our cosmic history. We have come a long way in a decade regarding the size, age, and composition of the universe. When we look to the stars, we are looking at our history. The light from the farthest stars is light that is now reaching us from them is from the very beginning.

The authors move to using some symbols to speak of the place of humanity in this Universe. It is pretty amazing that we exist. For all we know, we are the eye, the consciousness of the universe. We are here to tell the Story of the Universe.

What is the Story and what are our symbols? That is our task. The authors offer some examples and leave that to us as a challenge. Our task is to sift through our own history to find meaningful stories and symbols that can serve to give us a sense of place, of hope, and of duty.

Science is showing us that we are in the center in many ways.

Size. The visible universe that we can see through intuition is central in size to the rest of the universe that we can only know through science, from the smallest particles to cosmic distances.

Time. Our Sun has been burning for four and one-half billion years. It took that long to produce humanity. It has about another six billion years before our sun will finish its work.

Space. We are the center of the universe as every place is the center of the universe. There is no edge. Like Earth, every place on the globe is the center.

The point of recognizing that humanity views the universe from the center is to embrace the truth that science is showing us. From a point of meaning, it means that we no longer have the existential ironic luxury of devaluing humanity. We no longer can dismiss our responsibility because we do not think we matter or are important.

The authors wrote a statement What does it mean to be human?

“I stand here on the Cosmic Uroboros, midway between the largest and smallest things in the universe. I can trace my lineage back fourteen billion years through generations of stars. My atoms were created in stars, blown out in stellar winds or massive explosions, and soared for millions of years through space to become part of a newly forming solar system—my solar system. And back before those creator stars, there was a time when the particles that at this very moment make up my body and brain were mixing in an amorphous cloud of dark matter and quarks. Intimately woven into me are billions of bits of information that had to be encoded and tested and preserved to create me. Billions of years of cosmic evolution have produced me.” (p. 281)

Being human is significant. It is important. Each of us is important and significant. We live in perhaps the most exciting and important time in human history. What happens in the next few decades will set a course for the future, perhaps the survival of humanity itself.

The authors write: “We need to become the kind of people capable of using science to uphold a globally inclusive, long-lived civilization.” (p. 296)

A phrase that the authors use to describe the duty of this generation is “sustainable prosperity.” How can we sustain civilization for its long term survival so that all Life prospers?

One of the most pernicious falsehoods that seeps into our being is that we are not powerful. We often think that the centers of power are in the cities or where government or military power is located--The Pentagon, or the Capitol building or the White House. But that is not true. Twodot, Montana is just as central. Elizabethton, Tennessee is the center of the Universe.

We are not in the hinterlands at the end of the world. No place is the end of the world. Each place and each one of us is in the center. That if anything, should be a statement of empowerment.

That power is not the power of our will, but the power of harmony with the Universe. We have the power to hear and to discover it. The invitation to each of us is to accept our power. I think the historical Jesus knew this. He said to the powerless such things as:

“The kingdom of God is within you.”
“You all are the light of the world.”

When I hear the news or read the news as to how the international situation is desperate as usual, and how we need to be afraid, I feel disempowered. However, when I act from my center, of what I am doing here and now, I am empowered.

That is why this congregation is so important. We are here to keep the dream of sustainable prosperity alive. We are here to keep the dream alive. We are here to enact that dream.

That is a dream in which humanity will learn war no more. We will learn the way of peace. We will learn that we will not be peaceful until each and everyone of us is prosperous.

Sustainable prosperity is not wealth, in the way we think of wealth. It does not consist in an abundance of material things. It is not the need to have power over others or to control others. Sustainable prosperity is the joy of living within our means, so that all may live.

Sustainable prosperity begins with trust in the great vision articulated by the Hebrew prophet, Micah:

There will come a time when nations will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

There will come a time when we will not learn nor teach the making of war.

There will come a time when all people will sit under their own vines and fig trees.

There will come a time when no one will live in fear.

That time is now. Let us participate in God's vision.


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