Sometimes I was alone; other times with friends or family. Anyone else here like to do this?
Sometimes we would wonder about how many stars there are, and try to count them.
I think most people have wondered occasionally how many stars there actually are in the visible night sky. I gave up any attempt to count them years ago.
As an undergraduate in college I chose Astronomy as an elective to learn more about the universe and quickly discovered even science does little to help us come up with a meaningful number of stars.
Some estimates (based on a guess that there are 10 trillion galaxies in the universe with an estimated 100 billion stars each) put the number at around 100 octillion stars -- that's 1 with 29 zeros after it. Other studies have suggested around 300 sextillion stars, or a 3 followed by 23 zeros.
Those who watch the stars for a living are staggered by what they see.
So, when the psalmist says in Psalm 147 that God "determines the number of the stars; and gives to all of them their names," this is a profound statement.
In Psalm 8, the writer, living millennia before the Hubble Space Telescope, recognized something of the immensity around us when writing, "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?" (8:3-4).
The underlying question posed by Psalm 8 that might seem more important to us in the earthly plane than how many stars there are: May we, and how do we, pray to the God who determines the number of the stars, and in our prayers ask/hope that same God to help us in our tiny, personal lives?
There's a good chance you have to think about that a moment before answering. Or maybe you haven’t got an answer.
Years ago, a member of my congregation came in to talk to me. She was really troubled. She had recently misplaced her car keys and ransacked her house trying to find them. Finally, she decided to pray for God's help, and within three minutes, found her keys. The reason she told me about this was because she felt as though she had disrespected God. She told me, "I felt like I was misusing God. With the whole universe and world to care for, God cannot be concerned about where I absentmindedly leave my keys.”
Like the author of Psalm 8, the deeper and more significant question behind her specific one is about the nature of God and how God chooses to be involved with us. This is a key question for every religion.
Psalm 147 sees God as high and lofty, the one who created the universe and the world and named every star. And the Bible teaches that much of God's being is cloaked in mystery. God is so far above us that the divine is virtually incomprehensible.
Theologians have an expression for thinking of God this way. They talk about the transcendence of God.
This word is from the Latin meaning "to surpass," and it refers to the "beyondness" or "otherness" of God; to the God above creation and outside of human comprehension. The God who is wholly other than what we are.
And when you stop and think about it, you realize that God must be transcendent or God is no God at all. A being who can be fully understood by human thought is not big enough to be God.
But we should not miss something else Psalm 147 asserts -- in addition to determining and naming the stars, God "heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds."
That is, the same God who created the stars and knows their number is also involved with us and concerned about what goes on in our daily lives.
This divine interaction with us speaks to another aspect of God's nature: the immanence of God. This word from Latin means "to remain in" or "dwelling in."
It is a way of saying that God is near to every one of us, closer to us than our own breath.
So, to answer the woman's question about praying for help to find her keys: God cares about the things that trouble us, and we do not offend God's holiness by asking for divine help in the details of our lives.
I found another example of a way to understand God's immanence: Julia Ward Howe, the American poet and songwriter who in 1862 published the hymn, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," asked Sen. Charles Sumner to intervene and come to the aid of a needy citizen.
Sumner said no, adding that he had grown too busy to concern himself with the lives and needs of individuals. Howe replied, "Charles, that's remarkable. Even God hasn't reached that stage yet."
Scripture does not argue for transcendence over immanence. It tells us that God is both transcendent and immanent. God is God of both the heavens and the earth.
It is important that God be both. And it is crucial that we understand God as both, because how we view God in relation to ourselves largely determines the help from God that we are open to receiving.
It is no coincidence that Jesus, the ultimate immanent manifestation of God, immediately begins healing people; binding up the brokenhearted.
Most of us are brokenhearted and in need of healing somewhere by the time we reach adulthood.
I read a book by Ken Hamphill titled, “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall” that draws on the story of Snow White to talk about this.
No one can argue that Snow White's stepmother, the evil queen, didn't have a healthy ego. Day after day she boldly, confidently stepped before her magic mirror to ask, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?" (Or, in a more modern version, "Mirror, mirror on the shelf, who's more beautiful than oneself?") And every morning that mirror concurred with the fair but foul queen that the image reflected upon it was in fact the most beautiful in the kingdom.
Then one fateful morning the queen got the shock of her life. Instead of answering her question with the usual "You are, my queen," the mirror replied, "Snow White." The wicked queen's own image had not changed -- but the mirror's reflected perception of her had. That truthful, if tactless, mirror found someone more beautiful to reflect, and so it now called the queen "second best."
Even though mirrors usually show us a version of ourselves that we'd rather not see, it's almost impossible to walk past a mirror or a reflective pane of glass without at least giving it a glance. Like the wicked queen in Snow White, we are drawn to our mirrors. We become mesmerized by what they say to us and about us.
Ken Hemphill reminds us that all have talking mirrors.
Unfortunately for most of us, what we think we hear our mirrors telling us is far from being "fairest of them all." Instead, we hear a thousand judging voices from our early childhood through adolescence and adulthood telling us negative things about ourselves: we are fat, we are frumpy, we are geeky, we are different; we are -losers.
Often the mirror we see says things like, "You! Look at you! You can't do that!” “You're not perfect. No one is going to love you."
As Mark carefully records, from the outset, much of what Jesus did during his ministry was heal.
While some of the healings Jesus effected were for truly physical maladies -- fevers, blindness, crippled limbs, deafness, bleeding – many of Jesus' healings were "exorcisms."
However we choose to understand this kind of illness today, it is evident that these were spiritual sicknesses. One of the most telling symptoms of these spiritual dis-eases was the cruel things the interior "demons" forced their human hosts to say and do to themselves and others.
As Mark mentions in this week's text, the cure Jesus effected was not just "exorcising" these spirits -- it was silencing them forever!
Silencing, healing occurs when we can see reflected in those mirrors what God intends in us, the giftedness God gives us and the beauty God sees in us.
Instead of believing in the lies of all those talking mirrors, we need to recall the boast of the apostle Paul who proclaimed that in Christ we are a "new creation;" the "old has passed away;" behold, "everything has become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17).
And let us remember too, that we, are stardust; created and connected by both a transcendent and immanent God.
“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interior of a collapsing star. We are made of stardust.” -Carl Sagan, Cosmos
One final story about our transcendent and immanent God.
Donald J. Shelby tells a story about an interview with the composer Brahms. The conversation turned to inspiration and genius. Brahms listened thoughtfully as his friends discussed many questions, then asked, "What is genius anyway?" One friend replied with a definition by Carlyle, "The transcendent capacity for taking trouble."
Brahms disagreed and said, "The best definition of genius is found in the Bible, in John 14:10 --` The God who dwells within me, does the works.'" The real genius, Brahms insisted, draws on this Infinite Source of Wisdom and Power. Jesus was the world's supreme genius, Brahms said, because he appropriated what is the only true Source of Power as no one else ever has.
Because God lives not only in the heavens, but also in the Jesus who lived on earth, we know we have a God who walks with us in the dark shadows and in the routine places of our lives. There is no place where these two aspects of God, the wholly other and the fully present come together more fully than at the Communion Table. I invite us to reflect together on these things as we share Communion later this morning.