holy cross sermon for the second sunday in lent, march 1, 2015

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

“For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Last week, in our discussion before mass, we talked about how the whole story of salvation, as recorded in the Bible, beginning in Genesis, is really a love story. It begins with God’s love for us – a love that obtained, mysteriously, before we even existed. In Ephesians Paul says: “[God] chose us in [Christ] BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD…. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 1.4f).

Today I am going to talk about this “destiny in love” from “before the foundation of the world,” by way of understanding what Jesus meant by “this ADULTEROUS and sinful generation.” And to do that, I need to speak about space aliens. Bear with me.

I sometimes get into arguments with several of my clergy friends about whether aliens exist. Plenty of Christians think it likely that they do – including, I think, a preponderance of my priest buddies – and, I should say, it wouldn’t shatter my faith if a flying saucer were to land tomorrow on the town square in front of a bunch of television cameras. However, I personally don’t believe that that will ever happen, because I don’t believe aliens exist – firstly because no evidence of them has ever been found, despite billions of dollars having been spent looking for it. Secondly, because of what some call “the argument from fine-tuning.”

Scientists used to think that because there are so many stars in the universe, the odds are that our sun is not the only one capable of producing a planet like our earth that can support life. There are, I am told, around 300 billion stars in our Milky Way Galaxy. And there are about 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. Meaning that if the Milky Way is representative of galaxies in general, the observable universe contains about 100 billion times 300 billion stars. That’s a lot of billions of stars.

In 1966 Carl Sagan, the famous astrophysicist, announced that there were two factors needed to support life: the right kind of star, and a planet at the right distance from that star. Crunching the numbers led to the conclusion that there ought to be about a septillion planets in the universe capable of producing and supporting life. A septillion – that’s one with 24 zeros after it.

The trouble is that over the years, as astroscience has advanced, astroscientists have realized that there are actually a lot more factors that would have to be just right in order for a planet to sustain life. The have now identified about 200 factors, I’m told. As more and more factors have been discovered, the number of planets that probability suggests should be capable of supporting life has dropped proportionally until it has hit zero, and lately gone negative. In other words, according to the scientists and mathematicians, not only are the odds against there being any other planets out there that can sustain life, but we shouldn’t be here either. And yet we are.

Not only so, but according to the astrophysicists, the odds are staggeringly against the universe ever producing any stars at all. A few months ago, Eric Metaxas wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

“…astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces—were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction—by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000 [one hundred thousand trillion] —then no stars could have ever formed at all. Feel free to gulp.

“Multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions, and the odds against the universe existing are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all ‘just happened’ defies common sense. It would be like tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row.”

And yet, he says, here we are. “Not only existing, but talking about existing.”

Why am I telling you all of this? Why am I talking about planets and the big bang and the possibility of alien life? Because none of it is surprising to rationality informed by Christian faith. We are here because “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.” And the foundation of the world was laid – the hundred billion or so galaxies in the observable universe are all there – because God chose us, you and me, in Christ. The whole thing, to me, is a staggering testament to the love of God for us – us infuriating, perplexing, petulant, murderous, lecherous, avaricious human beings. God created the whole universe, and everything in it, because of us – because of his unfathomable love for us. When I look out on the natural word, when I ponder the number of the stars, I am dumbfounded by the love of God for me as an individual creature, and for the whole human race.

Six hundred or so years ago, the Lord disclosed certain mysteries to Dame Julian of Norwich. When she inquired into their meaning, an angel appeared to her and said:

“You would know our Lord’s meaning in this thing! Know it well. Love was his meaning. Who showed it you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it [to YOU]? Love. Why did he show it [at all]? For love. Hold on to this and you will know and understand love more and more. But you will not know or learn anything else ever!”

God has revealed a whole universe of mysteries to us. We see them all around us. We look at them through telescopes and microscopes. If we know their first and final cause, which is God, who is love, then we can look into the mystery of creation and come more fully to understand his purpose in all things and in all circumstances, which is love.

It is for this reason that Scripture speaks of the Lord as the “Bridegroom.” Because he loves us, boundlessly, eternally, beyond every hope. And this has all been a lengthy prologue to the main point which is this: Lent is a time for coming to terms with our infidelities to the Bridegroom of our souls, to understand more fully the ways we have been seduced by false lovers who are not Him, and have nothing to do with Him – indeed, who lead us away from Him. This is our Lord’s meaning in today’s Gospel when he speaks of “this ADULTEROUS and sinful generation.”

Lent is an intensive time to come to terms with our adulteries. And I encourage each of you to “go into your closet, and shut the door,” and ask the Lord to reveal to you some of the things in your life that stand in the way of his love.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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About Fr Will

Fr Will Brown is rector of Holy Cross Dallas
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