In my seven months here, I can already tell you the most frequently asked for site in this magnificent Cathedral, whose primary architect, by the way, was a Californian, Philip Hubert Frohman, from Pasadena.
After Sunday services or just walking through the nave on a weekday, the question I am asked more than any other is: “Where is the space window?”
What is the attraction? Is it the exotic idea that a piece of the moon—a moon rock—is here somewhere? Is it the window itself, with its dynamic, swirling colors? Are many surprised that a symbol of the late twentieth century would have such a prominent place in a Cathedral designed in the style of the fourteenth century? Are others fascinated that a prize of the accomplishments of modern science and technology would be embedded in a stained glass window in a house of prayer? Are some intrigued that for the first time in history, a cathedral that declares the glory of God has a tangible bit of the rest of creation, something extraterrestrial, in its fabric?
It is probably some or all of these thoughts and feelings that capture our imaginations, as they should. For the first time in human history, humankind broke free of the gravitational pull of the earth and walked on the surface of another body in the universe.
But it is more than the technical accomplishment or the historical significance of the event, is it not, that stirs us? For the first time in human history, a human being looked at our world from outside our world. That picture of that beautiful blue/green globe, floating in deep, black space, was reproduced on posters, T-shirts, cards—everywhere. It even inspired those who revised the Book of Common Prayer of this Episcopal Church; later in this liturgy, you will hear this verbal description of that unforgettable image: “this fragile earth, our island home.”
One of the first human beings to see that magnificent sight was the astronaut, Buzz Aldrin. Perhaps you remember what he said as he looked back at earth from space: “All [of us] who watched that night [watched] in silence that we might be still and know that it is God who sustains.”
I suggest to you this morning that faith is first a matter of where you stand, your perspective on things. It is not in the beginning or even at its most basic a matter of doctrine, although as those who hear my sermons with any regularity know I believe doctrine has an important role to play. Faith is first and fundamentally a matter of how you look at things; what you see and where you stand.
Those who study religion as a universal human phenomenon observe that one of the fundamental effects of any religion is to provide a lens through which we see ourselves, one another and indeed all creation. In that sense, any religion is better than none, because religion articulates those aspects of life’s experiences that inspire awe.
Of course, there are those who lose their faith, who lose the capacity to see themselves, others, our fellow creatures, indeed the whole universe as a manifestation of the Creator. Indeed, I suspect all of us know times of atheism in our lives.
H. G. Wells, the British science fiction writer who died in 1946, grappled with some of the most troubling ideas of the first half of this turbulent century. Wells wrote autobiographically: “There was a time when my little soul shone and was uplifted at the starry enigma of the sky. That has gone absolutely. Now I can go out and look at the stars as I look at the pattern of wallpaper on a railway station waiting room.”
How sad when one loses that perspective that takes us outside ourselves and allows us to see ourselves, one another, all creation with due reverence and awe. Faith gives us this perspective. Faith allows us to see God everywhere we look.
From the Midrash, that ancient collection of rabbinical reflections on the Hebrew Scriptures, comes this short, pointed story. When Rabbi Yitzak Meir was a little boy, his mother once took him to see the preacher of Koznitz. There someone said to him: “Yizhak Meir, I’ll give you a gulden if you can tell me where God lives.” The precocious, young boy replied, “I’ll give you two gulden if you tell me where he doesn’t!”
Faith gives us the perspective that allows us to see God everywhere—in ourselves, in one another, in the whole world around us.
One of the reasons this Episcopal Cathedral is truly a “house of prayer for all people” is that, in its vastness and beauty, all people of faith can experience God here and even seekers gain a glimpse of a whole new way of looking at the world.
For Christians, of course, the experience of God is more personal and more direct—it is through Christ and through his first gift to his followers after his resurrection, the Holy Spirit.
Because their meaning is important to where we need to go next, I will try to untangle those intertwined images and thoughts of the writer of the Gospel of John (14:23-29) you heard just before this sermon.
Jesus promises to those who see as he taught us to see that we should expect an unprecedented intimacy with God, a claim of intimacy that, quite frankly, some other major religions find surprising, even outrageous. Jesus is saying that a handful of women and men knew him as a friend with whom they shared meals, joked and argued; whom they loved but also disappointed. The person these few people knew was, as incredible and shocking as it still is, God in the flesh. And, even more shockingly, after he is gone, returned to heaven, thousands, millions, even over time, billions of people will know God through the Son with the same degree of intimacy because of the Holy Spirit who enters every human heart that invites the Spirit in. As if these claims were not staggering enough, Jesus then promises that one day, when he returns to earth and human history ends or we enter heaven through the gate of death, whichever happens first, all will return to the presence of God, call it heaven for short, where all will be restored to that first relationship with God we once knew, call that Eden, for short; Eden, that symbol of unity and peace with others, with all creation, with God. These are words of community and relationship; these are words of empowerment and action.
Through the eyes of faith, all people are invited to see themselves, each other, all created beings, this whole stunning, awesome universe as God see us. Through the continuing work of the Holy Spirit among us, all are invited to see the invisible bonds of love that bind us together as we move slowly, sometimes losing our way, toward the place of a restored Eden where we are reunited with God: Creator, Son and Holy Spirit, with one another, with all creation. But the vision is not just of the future; each of us is also invited to be co-creators with God, working toward restored relationships here and now.
The novelist Doris Bett wrote: “Faith is not synonymous with certainty…[it] is the decision to keep our eyes open.”
Let this be our prayer:
Open our eyes, O Lord, to see in each other, in ourselves, in the wonder of all creation Your hand at work; through opened eyes, allow us to see Your Spirit at work among us, bringing all creation back to Your Eden and inspire us to join in the work of reconciliation with all things; to Your glory, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.