So what happened? Was Y2K preparedness a hoax? I do not have any more information than you, but I did hear something that I never expected to hear as the preparedness went forward. Last February many of those charged with preparing this country for the transition of our computerized existence from 1999 to 2000 met here in this Cathedral for a conference we sponsored. At that conference I heard something I never expected to hear from people whose training is primarily in science, government and business management. What they said to varying degrees and one said in almost these words was: The truth is we do not know what will happen on December 31. Science and technology have increased the mystery of life.
Just nine days into this new century, this new millennium, I want to suggest that science and technology will not decrease but enlarge the mystery we are to ourselves. I will give just two examples. And before this sermon is finished, I also want to declare that the feast we celebrate today, the Baptism of our Lord, and the readings you just heard give us clear guidance as we move into an increasingly unknown future with confidence.
An interview that appeared on the last day of this past year explains the future we are facing in genetics as succinctly and clearly as any I have seen. Dr. Dari Shalon, director of the Harvard Center for Genomics research, is speaking: “Some recent research results have indicated that things that looked very complex, such as aging and intelligence, can actually be altered with a single gene. And once you can alter something with a single gene, it’s not farfetched to imagine gene therapy altering what’s called the germ line, which means [the alteration successfully made in one person] gets transmitted from generation to generation.” How fast are developments happening in genetics? Dr. Michael Crow, executive provost for research at Columbia University says that biological science knowledge is doubling every 180 days.
Early in this twenty-first century, this third millennium, earlier than anyone would have guessed, genetic science and technology are going to present us with unprecedented questions about what does it mean to be a human being in the most basic biological and ontological definitions.
I will give just one more example of some of the developments on the horizon of this new era. Science and technology are making us truly that global village we have heard about. Television coverage on New Year’s Eve and Day illustrated that. One specific aspect of this global village of which we are now members is the emergence of an increasingly inter-related global economy.
Science and technology have also given us the capacity since the 1960s to produce enough food to feed the entire world’s population for the first time in the history of the world. These developments present us with unprecedented questions, this time about our moral status as human beings. Now that we can feed the entire population of the world, why do we not? Early in this new century, earlier than any one would have guessed, science and technology are presenting us with unprecedented moral questions about universal human justice.
There are more, many more examples, of foreseeable developments that will change our lives, present us with new questions. And, I am suggesting, only deepen our sense of mystery of who we are and the purpose of this whole magnificent universe and our place in it.
Paul Davies, Professor of Mathematical Physics at Adelaide University, reaches the same conclusion. Here are the words of a scientist. “It is probably impossible for poor old Homo sapiens to ‘get to the bottom of it all.’ Probably there must always be some ‘mystery at the end of the universe.’”
What is the response of the church? What role can the church play in this new century, this new millennium?
As soon as this sermon concludes, we will reenact an ancient, chthonic, nearly primeval, yet timeless ritual. It declares some timeless truths about who we are and where we fit into this magnificent universe, about which we know more the mystery deepens.
It declares that God is the creator of all that is, that he came to us as one of us so that he could teach us and show us by personal example our full moral, psychological, spiritual, intellectual potential as human beings. We will also declare that he died, as each of us must die, but was raised, as we will be raised, into life that does not end. That, in a nutshell, is the mystery of who we are.
Then we will declare another equally powerful mystery: that every human being has within herself or himself that same mystery, waiting to be discovered and realized.
Thomas Merton, a prophet of emerging spiritualities in this country, wrote this prose description of what we are about to declare that soars to poetry:
“At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs to God, which is never at our disposal…which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness…is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us…. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.” “…The gate of heaven is everywhere.”
At the center of each and every one of us is a point of light that, because of what we celebrate at Christmas, we know is from pure light. Although it is and always will be mystery to us, it is known fully by God. This rite of Christian baptism defines who we are and our moral relationship to all other people. Christian baptism tells you that you have the “pure glory of God in you” and so does every other person.
Alexander Schmemann, probably the leading voice for Orthodox Christianity in this country in this century, wrote extensively about Christian liturgy, especially the Eucharist and Baptism. In one of his last books he shared this personal observation: “I have never considered the secular view as simply atheistic, but a [direct] denial of the…holy and the whole.”
This ancient rite into which we are about to enter declares who is holy—every human being—and that God is always and everywhere at work to bring everything back to where it all started, back to Eden, back to wholeness.
This ancient rite at the beginning of this new century, this new millennium gives us the same confidence that the prophet Isaiah had when he declared the Lord’s message: “I am the Lord, that is my name….” “Look—former things have passed away and now I declare new things; before they appear, I tell you about them.”
Science and technology will accelerate in this new era we are now entering giving us new knowledge and never-before-known capacities to manipulate the building blocks of life. They will deepen the mystery of the universe and the mystery of who we are. We will grapple with unprecedented questions for human beings; we will enter into unimagined moral dilemmas. Perhaps the mission of the Church of Christ has never been clearer and more urgent. We declare with confidence that you have the “pure glory of God in you” and so does every other person. The gate of heaven is everywhere.