Mother Ann’s sermon preached on June 13, 2021

Posted by on Sun, Jun 13, 2021 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The Third Sunday after Pentecost

Dawn

June 13, 2021

At the dawn of the 20th century, when empirical science was still new to faith, a young French priest fell in love with geology.  Tielhard de Chardin was convinced that if he could learn to trace the hand of the Creator in earth’s cliffs and crevasses, mountain ranges and coastlines, he would disclose the face of God. Chardin persuaded his superiors to send him to university to find out.

The more he learned the more convinced he became of God’s presence embedded in this world. Creation literally sang to him of its maker, and his heart filled with the melody. Chardin’s research took him around the globe, ultimately settling him in the vast and wind-swept steppes of eastern China.  One Sunday morning, awakening to pure solitude, Chardin stepped out of his tent to behold the glow of dawn drenching the horizon.  He was transported by the vista before him.  He had never felt closer to God, and he deeply longed to offer a Mass in thanksgiving for this sacred vision.  Of course where he stood in the middle of nowhere, he had no chalice or paten, no altar, no vestments, no congregation, no anything but himself amidst the radiance of God, and so he raised his outstretched arms toward heaven and began this prayer of consecration.

“Lord, I your priest will make the whole earth my altar. Before me, all along the horizon, the sun reigns down a moving sheet of fire, while the living earth awakens and trembles.  In a moment all its forces will rise up from every corner, awakening to a new day.  I call before me the whole vast legion of humanity who will take up again their impassioned pursuit of your light.  For in the beginning there was this Blazing Spirit, the Fire pushing back the darkness and illuminating the whole world from within. I bow before your presence within all that I shall encounter this day, all that happens to me, all that I achieve.  Glorious Christ, whose hands imprison the stars, you who are the first and the last, the living and the dead and the risen again, the heart of the world is caught up in the radiance of your heart! With the feeble resources of my science, and the steadfast surety of my deepest convictions, I dedicate my life to you, unto my death. Amen.”

Chardin’s first glimpse of dawn could so easily have prompted scientific reflections on the splendor of low light angles, and on the plateau geology now thrown into bold relief.  Both must have been breathtaking.  But in the moment, his far greater gift was sensing the hand of his Creator in this vista, and discovering its transparency to the very face of God.  His priesthood hurtles beyond offering bread and wine at a traditional altar, and soars into offering the whole teeming earth before God.  It is all of one wonderful piece: the light angles, the plateau geology, the sacrament of Communion; and the whole teeming earth just coming to life for the day. Each photon of light plays its part; each sedimentary stone makes its contribution; nearly 2000 years of Christianity take up the throbbing theme; every soul, living and dead, joins in this one cosmic symphony.

The remarkable dynamism of faith, this practice of peering through the material realm and into the spiritual realm, lies at the heart of Paul’s message to us this morning.   He boldly proclaims that while at home in his own body and apparently away from the Lord, he is simultaneously at home with the Lord and away from his own body.  Although you wouldn’t know it to look at him, he inhabits both realms at the same time. Nearby in this letter to the Corinthians, Paul hints at how he does it: “I know a man in Christ,” he begins, “who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. This man was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.”  This man was Paul, and Bible scholars believe that his ecstatic insight into heaven and earth permeated everything he said and did for the rest of his life. Paul draws on this breathtaking experience in today’s lesson, as he urges us, “From now on regard no one from just a human point of view. If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.”  Being baptized, whether we expect it to or not, means beginning to live on these two levels at the same time, and from this day forward there will be far more to our Christian living than meets the earthly eye.

In our Gospel today Jesus suggests the same truth through storytelling. A farmer scatters seed over his field just as his forebears did, and having completed his work he departs.  Sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset, day after day he does absolutely nothing more to cultivate a crop, except dig back the weeds and watch.  He pragmatically presumes that the soil itself works the transformation, turning buried grain into full ear.  Jesus backs this story up with a second one about agriculture’s alchemy, featuring the weensy mustard seed which unfurls into an immense shrub, so dense that birds bury nests in it.  Jesus hopes we will notice the yawning gap in these two stories between planting and reaping. He hopes we will wonder about the something more that has to be involved, something revealed in Paul’s profound spiritual experience:  every day, heaven and earth are working in tandem, and there is always more going on than meets the earthly eye.  

This morning we’re invited to imagine how much of reality we have been missing, whenever we insist on segregating the sacred from the secular.  We moderns are burdened with a vocabulary that leaves yawning gaps between talk of heaven and talk of earth, along with habits of mind that discourage even noticing the awkward rifts. Perhaps we might allow Teilhard de Chardin to serve as our patron saint, and St Paul and Jesus to lead us, as we endeavor to open our eyes and see.

© 2021 The Rev. Dr. Ann P. Lukens. All rights reserved.