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Lift Up Your Eyes and See!

Sermon for 04 February 2024 (Epiphany 5 B)

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:             Isaiah 40.21-31; Psalm 147.1-12,21c; Mark 1.29-39

Title:               Lift Up Your Eyes and See

O God, there is no one like You. So please, take our eyes and see through them. Take our ears and hear through them. Take our mouths and speak through them. Take our hearts and light them on fire. Amen.

BEFORE YOU ARE SEATED…please turn to those standing closest to you and tell them, “Life is amazing!” Excellent. Thank you. Now you may be seated.

“Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? The One who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name” (Isaiah 40.26).

My friends, where do you go to find yourself overwhelmed with awe and wonder?

This is what the Prophet Isaiah is speaking about in that famous passage we heard earlier. The Prophet is inviting the people to gaze up at the stars in the night sky, and to be amazed! To stand in awe and wonder at the majesty of the stars.

How many times have you looked up and contemplated the night sky, and gazed in wonder at the stars in the heavens?

I really love the IDEA of doing that. And the idea of going out into an open field at night to watch a meteor shower, or to look for the aurora borealis. I love the idea, but I never do it. You see, I am a morning person, not a night owl. And when it is dark, my body is thinking only about sleep.

So I never do these things, besides a 30 second glance now and then when I am over in the hills of New Hampshire, where the sky is much darker.

But those who do this, those who contemplate the night sky, are placing themselves in a position where they can experience awe and wonder. And THAT is a very good thing.

Have you heard me speak about the night sky during my time spent in Bahrain? In that part of the world, a person cannot see a single star in the night sky. Maybe the planets, when they are shining brightly. But no stars at all. Not one! And why not? Well, there is a sad combination of horrendous pollution from oil refineries, bright orange gas flares from the oil fields, sand in the air from dust storms, plus an obnoxious number of neon signs and street lights along every road. The sky is perpetually orange at night.

Can you imagine growing up in such a place and never seeing stars in the night sky? Every day, this is becoming more normal as cities grow and as light pollution continues to ruin the night sky for everyone.

This is a sad state, because the stars have always spoken to humans about the majesty of life.

Both the Prophet Isaiah and the Psalmist make a claim about our Creator GOD numbering the stars and calling each one by name. This is a bold claim of faith. Certainly, those humans could not possibly have comprehended the sheer magnitude of the number of stars in the known universe.

How many are there? Do you know? According to NASA, the universe could contain up to one septillion stars, which is a one followed by 24 zeros. That is one trillion times one trillion!

Our Milky Way alone contains more than 100 billion stars, including our Sun, of course.

There is no way for me to prove this, but I have a hunch that perhaps this is the inspiration that Jesus was pursuing in his pre-dawn outing. The Gospel of Mark says that “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1.35).

While it was still very dark, he went out into a wild place. Most likely, HE could see the stars shining brightly in that dry air. And perhaps he did this to listen to the music of the spheres, to hear the song of praise shared continually by the stars. And just maybe, that experience gave him renewed energy to carry on his work.

My friends, it is good to be amazed at the wonder of it all.

One time I made an effort to calculate the rate of motion by which we are traveling through space. When you add together the speeds of our planetary rotation, our orbit around the sun, and the movement of our solar system within the Milky Way, you find out that at every second we are moving somewhere around 1,408,000 miles per hour.

We are hurtling through space faster than any rocket you could ever imagine, and yet gravity prevents us from feeling that meteoric speed with which we are moving, even now.

Isn’t that crazy and bizarre?

What is more, cosmologists have recently noticed that our solar system “happens to be” in the middle of a large blank space in our galaxy, which appears to have been created by multiple supernovae that occurred around 14 billion years ago. Those massive explosions created this large and calm area in which we now find ourselves. And which, perhaps, explains why life developed on this planet.

You see, for biological life to develop, a relative state of calm over time is necessary. The earth’s gravity, and our delightfully quiet pocket of the galaxy, have combined to create exactly the ideal conditions for the development of life.

And so, here we are. Life has developed on this planet in absolutely miraculous ways. We can look up at the stars and be overcome by awe and wonder.

OR we can look down into a microscope and experience the very same thing.

When the Human Genome Project completed their enormous task of decoding the human DNA sequence, it was announced at a major press conference with the President in June of the year 2000.

Dr. Francis Collins stood in front of all the news cameras of the world as these words were spoken [by President Clinton]: “Today, we are learning the language in which GOD created life. We are gaining ever more awe for the complexity, the beauty, and the wonder of God’s most divine and sacred gift” (The Language of God by Francis Collins, Free Press, 2006: p.2).

How can we even begin to understand these things? Each cell of our bodies contains a DNA sequence of over 3 billion letters.

And this DNA in our cells is manipulated over 15 quintillion times a day. That’s a 15 with 19 zeros behind it! Our DNA is being constantly pulled apart, cut and used to make proteins within our cells. And nearly every single time, every single day, it all gets put back in the correct order.

Whether we look at the macro-level OR at the micro-level of the universe, everything around us is astonishingly awesome.

BUT, if your life is anything like mine, it is far too easy to feel suffocated by the details of our busy modern lives. Keeping track of every single PIN and password and login. Preparing your tax returns and making sure each transaction is accounted for in the proper way. Making sure your personal information and your financial data is secure and protected from hackers and scammers who are daily trying to steal from you.

All of this daily crap sometimes makes me want to crawl into bed and hide under the covers and never come out. It’s exhausting. And it sucks all of the joy and awe and wonder out of life!

But we must not allow that to happen! We have to fight that as hard as we can.

Some of you might remember that Beastie Boys song from the 80’s, “You have to fight for your right to party!” Well, I say, we have to fight for our right to be awestruck. To be amazed! To stand in wonder at the miracle of life!

So I wanna know, where do you go to find yourself overwhelmed with awe and wonder?

Wherever that is, my friends, do not neglect that time or that place.

Perhaps you DO go out and gaze at the stars. Perhaps you find this while watching the waves crash on the rocks of Two Lights State Park. Perhaps you feel this while taking in an amazing music performance, one that demonstrates the miracle of sound and rhythm. Perhaps you find this when swimming in the ocean, or maybe you experience it when holding a newborn baby in your arms.

Wherever it is, or whatever takes you there, return to it often, my friends.

In the words of our Collect today, we prayed, “Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins”. Sometimes this bondage may be nothing more than the loss of our joy and wonder at what God has created!

And likewise, when we pray for “the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ”, I think what we are REALLY asking for, is a life that is free enough to be shaped by awe and wonder, and a heart that can gaze at the stars and be astonished at the miracle of this entire thing we call life.

Thanks be to GOD for the miracle of life! And for this planet, this universe and everything in it – including you! Amen

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