Years ago a group of agnostics came to Saint Augustine to ask him a question. They proposed (and I’m paraphrasing) that if creation is five thousand years old, should we not be able then to imagine a time before creation, say five thousand and one years ago? And if creation began five million years ago can’t we just as easily ask what happened five million and one years ago? And if creation is five billion years old, can we not ask or imagine a time before creation existed? Therefore, they surmised that creation always existed and always will . . . and therefore God must be a figment of the imagination of men.
St. Augustine it is said, pondered this a moment, turned and simply said . . . God created time at the moment he created the universe . . . because God, from that point and even to now, exists outside of time and space. The universe as we know it is finite, St. Augustine surmised . . . meaning it had a beginning and it will have an end just as we . . . who are its subjects, have a beginning . . . and will someday meet a physical end. But what of God and of the place where God dwells? What about heaven? Is it not out of the realm of possibility that it is infinite?
Back in the days of Jesus there were three distinct groups of believers. There were the Pharisees, who we know a lot about . . . they were those who believed in the resurrection of the dead, the last judgment, angels, biblical interpretation and a final reward in heaven for doing just works. There were also the Essenes, who were, even at the time of Jesus . . . awaiting the imminent arrival of the Messiah and the final battle between good and evil. The Essenes lived in community sharing all things in common, but did not marry . . . John the Baptist is considered by some to be Essene in his actions. The Essenes believed in the resurrection of the dead but also in a millennium reign of the ‘promised one’ on earth.
And then there were the Sadducees, who believed in God and the literal interpretation of the Bible and the exactment of punishment in judgment with “an eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth”. But they did not believe in heaven, or in angels or in a Messiah. My secretary told me once, jokingly that, that is why they were called Sadducees because they were “Sad you see”. . . . I think must be a Lutheran thing.
In today’s gospel story, a group of Sadducees came to ask Jesus a question. They came to Jesus to ask him about marriage in heaven – remember, they took a very literal interpretation of the Bible, so they surmised that a woman who had had more than one husband in her earthly life would have a problem in heaven, if heaven existed. The woman that they spoke to Jesus about would have had eight husbands on earth. To them this would mean she would be living a sinful life in heaven because as we know, a woman cannot have more than one husband and therefore heaven, at least for her, could not exist even though she had followed the Law of Moses. Jesus, of course gave them a straight answer, and one they probably were surprised to hear . . . that being, the rules and circumstances of the afterlife will be different in heaven. There is no marriage because there is no need for procreation. No one dies and all are living as God’s children. Jesus was trying to show the Saducees that there was more than one way to look at a subject . . . that every interpretation is relative to one’s own point of view. The Sadducees of course had a hard time with this because they were quite literal in their reading of scripture and did not believe in interpretation.
A few years back, I read a book called The New Physics and God. Many of you may not remember the ‘old physics’ from your high school days, but if you do recall, the ‘old physics’ had to do with gravity and electromagnetism and how the strong force, within an atom in the real world, is offset inexplicably by some great mysterious force that holds everything together – today this appears to have been identified as the Higgs Bosom, but no one yet, knows for sure.
Over the past 30 years or so, it has been a primary motivation of science to explain the mystery of creation and to come up with a unifying field formula that describes the motion and inner workings of all creation. The new physics, as it has been called, was on the verge of doing just that. Scientists seemed to have figured out that everything you see, touch, and feel is all made out of the exactly the same ‘stuff’. They called this stuff ‘strings’ (like the strings of a guitar). The only difference between the strings is that they found that different elements are vibrating at different frequencies, which in turn cause them to look, act and feel differently.
What makes all this so fascinating to me, is that underlying this very simple theory is a single premise, without which the theory completely falls apart. That is the fact that in order for the new theory to hold, the scientists needed to factor in an unknown value for a prime mover to set creation in motion (to pluck the strings, as it were). In a way, the new physics called ‘string theory’ proved the existence of God.
Today of course this string theory has undergone much scrutiny until even now only a few years later the physicists now say they simply do not know why things are the way they are. If you look on the internet you’ll find hundreds of scientific explanations and mathematical formulas proving the existence of God
The headline in a church newspaper I saw a few years ago read the headline ‘Church Agrees to Disagree’. I am not sure I would have worded it that way, but it will serve us as ‘close enough’ for my purpose this morning. The problem with biblical interpretation is that everyone reads into scripture whatever he is trying to get out of it. The Pharisees did it, the Essenes did it and the Sadducees did it . . . and we do it. The Bible is admittedly vague on many aspects of our modern day life including such things as food additives, cloning, drugs, smoking, abortion, video game violence and sexuality. It often becomes a group effort with a lot of conversation among many people to come up with an interpretation that everyone can agree on. Fortunately, or unfortunately for us, many Churches are democracies where the majority rules. The problem with majority rule is that there always exists the possibility that one group or another will be swayed by popular opinion. When this happens, the rulebook goes out the window and we are left with a polarizing tension that pits one group against another. If the two groups can find no middle ground where both can agree, there will be a strong possibility of a rift or ‘schism’ in the social fabric, and that is where the church finds itself today on a number of important issues.
Now what, you might ask, does this have to do with string theory or advanced mathematics? It has to do with personal perception and one’s own point of view. There are many scientists living today who do not believe in God, even given recent empirical evidence as in the string theory or the Higgs Bosom, or ‘God particle’. But then again, there are many scientists who do believe that string theory and mathematics support the conclusion that God exists. Their opinions are a product of their own point of view.
Very often in life, we are given a mystery, and asked to judge the merits of one argument against another. In scientific circles, the physicists involved write down their theories and then send them to all their fellow scientists for comment and correction. In religious circles, we do much the same thing, but since religion is not mathematics, it usually ends up as an argument about who is right and who is wrong. But in every case it usually boils down to one’s point of view.
As an example, I brought with me today a colander. It is something your mother used to wash vegetables in. If we pretend that one of the candles on the altar is God and place the colander in front of it like a screen. And if I asked five different people to look through one of the holes of the colander and say the first thing they see . . . out of the five different people I am sure to get at least four different answers to what they see. One might say they see a flame. One might say they see light. Another might say they see a wick and yet another might say they see the wax of a candle.
Out of all these viewpoints, who is right? Aren’t all of them right (at least to some degree) or are all of them wrong?
Paul said that we see through a darkened glass with only a hint of what is real, but he adds, at the end of time, we will see clearly when we see God face to face. Then, and only then, will all the questions of the ages will be answered.
You and I are faced with dilemmas many times in our lives. We are faced with uncertainties about the subjects of abortion, sexuality, drug and alcohol use, euthanasia, stem cell research, and divorce. None of these subjects have easy answers because all of them are ethical dilemmas. Thinking Christians turn to the Bible for direction in these types of things, but often the Bible doesn’t give us a teaching on which to base an opinion. When this happens, we are forced to discuss these subjects with each other; but ultimately, we are forced to make our own decision based on our own (and very personal) perspective, kind of like looking through one of the holes in a colander.
Ann Landers used to have a saying in her column that ‘if it isn’t illegal, fattening or immoral’, it is probably good for you. But just as we have the basic concern to be careful of anything that might be harmful to us in our physical life, so also we need to develop a spiritual concern to watch out for anything that might harm our spiritual life and the work of faith and salvation. We should always therefore, carefully and attentively assess our inner impulses and ask ourselves: are they from God or from the spirit of evil?
For me there is no doubt where supreme authority resides, for God has given it to the risen and exalted Lord Jesus. ‘All authority has been given to me’, Jesus said, ‘in heaven and on earth’ (Mt. 28:18)
. . . So how does Jesus Christ exercise his authority and rule his church today? It is here where Christians and churches part company. Put simply, there are three main views. The Roman Catholic Church believes that Christ rules through the teaching authority of the Pope with the College of Cardinals. Liberals believe that Christ teaches through an individual’s reason and conscience, and through the contemporary climate of educated opinion. The reformed and evangelical and I might add here . . . orthodox . . . conviction is that Christ exercises his authority by his Spirit through his Word. Although both tradition and reason are important, Scripture remains for us, as Traditional Anglicans, the scepter by which Christ rules his Church.
The orthodox sometimes need to be reminded that as we tuck our Bibles under our arms and wave our fists at our liberal counterparts, that many things written in the bible for the people of Israel so long ago, as an attempt to keep their population holy in their world are not always justified in ours. For instance, the Bible condones the enslavement of our enemies, but we don’t. The Bible, in places, prohibits people from eating pork or rare meat, but we don’t. The Bible marginalizes left handed people, but we don’t (at least not anymore . . . thank God). The Bible prohibits anyone from making a graven image in the likeness of God, but we obviously do not follow this either. And finally, last week in our psalm for All Saints Day, we sang a wonderfully composed anthem graciously asking God to execute vengeance on the heathen, to bind their kings in chains and their noblemen in irons. Personally, I have nothing against the heathen and don’t understand why we sing this psalm every year if none of us wants this to happen.
The point of all this is that, we as Christians are called to have faith in Christ, our Messiah, who came to earth to destroy the works of the devil and to make us children of God and heirs of eternal life and eventually, to live forever in an eternal home. We need to understand that we are only seeing one view of God . . . one that is absolutely true . . . but, like looking through one hole of a colander, remains only a glimpse of what is the total reality. We need to understand that God is far greater than the sum of His parts . . . far greater than we can ever imagine.
It is hard to believe that science is now finding this to be the case as they explore the inner and outer reaches of the universe. As the world’s religions go about squabbling among themselves as to who is right and who is wrong about the essence of God, it is the mathematicians and the physicists who are just now beginning to see the Light . . . the true that has come into the world.
I believe that Jesus came to earth to show us the Way to the Father . . . the REAL Father in Heaven who is not bound by any earthly definition of time or space or earthly construct, but who simply is. Our job, both here on earth and one day in heaven, as His children, is first and foremost to live peaceably with all people and to share the good news of our salvation through acts of kindness and charity with all God’s people . . . and to promote the mind of Christ in our lives and in our families so that people may experience the love of God through the workings of the Holy Spirit, both in our own individual lives and in the life of our community at large. Jesus led the individuals he encountered to convict themselves through the power of the Spirit. His message was not one of inclusion, the new theology of our day, but one of conversion, i.e. conversion of the individual into the mind and spirit and family of God.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word. Amen.