“So the priests read from the book the promises of God with clear interpretation. They gave the sense so the people understood the reading. The priests who taught the people said to the people, ’do not weep; this day is holy to the Lord.’”
Willard Scott, when he was the full-time weather man on the “Today Show” said once: The only accurate instrument for predicting the weather is the window.
I think of the wisdom of Willard when the weather people are so inaccurate, as they have been twice in the past two weeks when they predicted snow storms that never happened. Why are we unable to predict the weather?
About thirty years ago at MIT, a scientist, Edward Lorenz, began exploring that question. His line of inquiry led to insights about the nature of the universe far beyond the behavior of the weather. Using a series of computer model experiments, Lorenz opened a whole new way of looking at the universe. He began to see patterns where we once assumed there was chaos.
The fact is that the weather is not chaotic; it is orderly, so orderly we cannot perceive the order. We cannot predict the weather because we cannot grasp its exquisite order.
The words of one scientist captures the insight we have had just in the last few decades: the universe is “order masquerading as randomness.”
But it is order of a magnitude we have not imagined for generations. For some, it is bringing us right up to the edge of realizing that the order is so exquisite, so precise, so magnificent, it could not be random nor arbitrary.
Edward Witten, a theoretical physicist, concludes that a new theory of physics will be found that will make is impossible to ascribe the universe to chance alone. It begins to seem as if the universe was constructed on purpose for a purpose.
If you are with me so far, you can anticipate what is next. Paul Davies, a nonbelieving, theoretical physicist and winner of the Templeton Prize, has taken that next step when he wrote in 1993: “It may seem bizarre, but in my opinion science [today] offers a surer path to God than religion.”
Let me ask the obvious: Isn’t it ironic that science, which explained everything without God for the past three hundred years in the West may now be the means by which God can no longer be ignored!
You and I are living through one of those tectonic shifts in human culture. Some commentators speak of our time as “postmodern.” One recent writer has added the description “post secular.”
For all of us in the West, it is a time when the secular, atheistic assumption of the past 300 years are going through serious revision, led, ironically, in some cases, by nonbelieving scientists.
I am among those who believe that when future generations look back over the past 300 years, they will decide the church of Christ was in a Babylonian captivity. Far from home, far from the ancient, sacred places, having forgotten its songs and stories, the church had become an extension of the secular culture in which it lived. It had lost the courage of its convictions, convictions that the universe is orderly, it is purposeful, there is right and wrong, that God is at its very center. It will be clear, I believe, that the church, across lines of lineage and denomination, was dominated in modern times by lax accommodation or rigid reaction to the assertions of a secular, atheistic culture.
However, when the good news of God for all people is preached and lived again with conviction by the church of Christ, we will have the same visceral reaction as the Jews when, in our reading from Nehemiah this morning, heard God’s promises again for the first time in generations and wept. We will come to realize how far away from home, from the sacred place we have wandered; the songs and stories we thought we had forgotten will come back from memory.
If ours is a time of return from exile for people of faith, then the promises of those who lived through the exile of the ancient Jews in Babylon when a foreign power had destroyed the Temple and the Torah speak to us with a staggering relevance. Writing from Egypt, Jeremiah sent a note to those in exile and these are the words he chose: “I have plans for you, says the Lord, plans for your well-being and not for evil, to give you a future and hope. I will be found by you once again, says the Lord. I will restore the good life and I will bring you back from the place of exile.”
Remembering and hope are linked.
Walter Bruggemann, a specialist in the Old Testament at work today, puts it this way: “Remembering is the hard choosing of an alternative present authorized by a subversive past.” “Choose memory and you get with it a liberated alternative. Choose amnesia and what you will inescapably get is reductive despair…which absolutizes the way things are right now and precludes any imagination of an alternative” future.
In this time of transition, we have choices and those choices will determine our future.
The first choice is between these two alternatives: either there is or there is not a physical, moral, intellectual, spiritual order in the universe and the originator, the maintainer of that order could only be God.
The second choice is this: either Christ embodies in his holy teachings and his life, death and resurrection that sublime order or he does not. When Jesus says in our gospel this morning that in him the most ancient longings of humankind have been fulfilled, he is either a madman or what he says he is, God in the flesh.
Let the promises of the Lord be read again, let the doxologies be sung, let the priests interpret the Word again, and we will all weep with joyful recognition that we are home again, that the long exile is nearly over.
Before you leave this place today, look around you carefully. This great Cathedral is an anachronism. It was built in a style from a time of great faith, the fourteenth century, when the universe was assumed to have moral, intellectual, spiritual order, but it was built during a century of dominant secularism, when God was pushed off to the side. What if it were built really to usher in a new era of faith, faith in God’s provident order for all creation. Let the beauty, the order, the playfulness, the confidence of this place, its exuberance, its certainty about who we are and who God is, inspired by an earlier era of faith, serve to usher us into a new era of faith. Amen. </P