Friday, October 09, 2009

I see the moon...

...the moon sees me. God bless the moon and God bless me! My grandmother and my mom used to say that, and the words still jump easily to my lips when I see the moon in the late afternoon or evening sky.

An intersection of earthly and heavenly events led to the weaving of this homily for today's Middle School Chapel service.

Genesis 28:10-15; Psalm 147:1-5 ; Mark 10:13-16

While backyard stargazers were using their telescopes last weekend to get a close up view of the harvest moon, NASA scientists were using theirs to get a close up view of something no one had ever seen before. I read about it in the news. Apparently, there’s a ring around Saturn so large, so wide, that you could line up 300 Saturn planets across its diameter. If you filled the ring up with planet Earths, it would take one billion Earths to do it. The ring is almost invisible, made of dust and ice that glows ever so faintly with thermal radiation.

It was just three years ago that scientists gazing through their telescopes finally declared that Pluto was not, in fact, a planet but rather a dwarf planet – something about its orbit being a little off, and its largest moon being not much smaller than the planet itself. Lots of backyard stargazers were outraged by this news. In Illinois, home of the man who discovered Pluto almost eighty years ago, the state senate passed a resolution stating that the planet’s demotion was unfair, and that Pluto would forever be considered a planet whenever its orbit took it over Illinois airspace.

If we had gotten up early this morning to gaze through our backyard telescopes, we would have seen a cloud appear on the surface of the moon as a rocket crashed there to search for water vapor in moon dust.

And it was about a month ago that one of our own St. Andrew’s saints was gazing through a telescope in her backyard. I didn’t read about this one in the news, of course; I heard it reported in person during chapel class at the Lower School. A group of kindergartners had just come in, and from my desk around the corner from where the children sat I could hear the teacher talking quietly with them. I was looking through my telescope, this little stargazer said, and I saw God looking back.

While she might not have scientific evidence to back up her discovery, not like the folks at NASA who measure rings and orbits and dust, I have to say I believe our fellow saint. She’s not the first to gaze up at the sky and see more than facts and figures, more than stars and solar systems, more than giant rings and tiny planets. She’s not the first to see God gazing right back at her.

Jacob, in the Hebrew scriptures, was probably one of those kids in kindergarten whose desk always got moved to the place right beside the teacher. He was trouble right from the start, always playing tricks on his brother, his father, and anyone else he could. Even after he had grown up he still acted like a child, as though the whole world revolved just around him and whatever he wanted. When we catch up with Jacob in the story we heard just a moment ago, he’s running away from his brother who has finally had enough and has vowed to take revenge for all the times Jacob has tricked him.

Far away from home, alone in the desert and exhausted from running, Jacob falls asleep and dreams one of the loveliest dreams ever written down. In his dream a stairway reaches from heaven to earth, and angels are walking up and down it. Even God has walked down, it seems, and stands beside Jacob and, gazing at him, makes an amazing promise. I am your God, God says to Jacob. And I will bless all nations through you and your children and your children’s children and through all your descendents, more numerous than specks of dust on the earth. If telescopes had been invented, I’m sure God would have said Jacob’s descendents would be more numerous than specks of dust in the largest ring around Saturn.

God had made a similar promise to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham. To Abraham, God had said, Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them…Your descendants shall be in number like the stars. So it is that Jacob would be one of the stars in Abraham’s sky, one of those through whom the world would come to know God, one of those through whom the world would be blessed. And Jacob’s children were stars in Abraham’s sky. And their children. And their children. And their children… And the sky grew so bright with stars, so bright with God…

And so it is that we, too, are stars in Abraham’s sky; we, too, are people through whom the world sees God whether they look with the eyes of scientists or of kindergartners. Our willingness to be kind, to be generous, to be gentle; our desire to care for those less fortunate than we are, to work for justice, to work for peace; our ability to open our hearts and minds and arms to people who are different than we are; all of these things and more form a constellation that reveals the presence of God not high up in the heavens but right here and all around us.

The kindergartners are coming to Upper School chapel today, as they do every fall to get a close up view of this larger community of which they are a part. Perhaps you remember making this same trip years ago, when you were in kindergarten, and you sat right on this stage and sang in the sweet little way only a kindergartner can, I see skies of blue, and clouds of white, the bright blessed day, the dark sacred night, and I think to myself: what a wonderful world…

The truth is that, while we say they’re coming up here to learn something new, we really could learn something from them. We discover all kinds of amazing things as we grow up, and even after we think we’re done growing. We learn about rings and orbits and equations and definitions and distances and measurements and meanings and more…

Let us not forget, though, how to see the way we saw as little children, who are indeed a blessing for the world. Even as we learn how to see ice and dust and orbits through a telescope, let us not forget how to see also the face of God. Amen.

Artwork: Artist's rendering of Saturn's ring; artist's rendering of Pluto's surface; the moon over Tara Wildlife Center, MS; "The Dream of Jacob," by He Qi; stained glass, artist unknown.

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