Thoughts on the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 10, 2019
by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
As I see it, today’s Gospel passage (Luke 20:27-38) reveals Jesus view that it is downright silly to think that God is bound by Mosaic Law. Those who rise from the dead will be like angels, Jesus says amusingly to the Sadducees. Really? Like angels? Why in the world would one want to become just another messenger, aka angel, when all along we have heard that we are destined for divinity? Why would Jesus teach that the divine is subject to Mosaic Law? No, this has to be a joke – a making clear that sometimes our vision, like the Sadducees in this Gospel passage, is limited and self-imposed.
This morning I’d like to say something about vision that is not so limited.
Voyagers I & 2, those mechanical space explorers now in operation for close to 45 years, have completed their journeys to the borders of our solar system and are still propelling into interstellar space. Turns out there is a real boundary at the edge of the solar system. It is the outer edge of the heliosphere which marks the end of the sun’s rays and its magnetic field. The Voyager twins have confirmed the reality of this outer boundary that must be traversed before successfully and officially flying through and to interstellar space. The border – instead of being a cold and empty wrapping due to the sun’s being so far away is called a Bow Shock. Hardly cold and empty this border registers heat at 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit. All this data invites imagery such as the map of the heliosphere on the front of today’s program. Beyond the heliosphere, as if we had the perspective to draw the map, lies what we used to call outer, empty space, just to give evidence of how small our minds and yes, also our science, can be. Now, this expanse serves many tasks, not the least is the realization of how insignificant, puny, and even petty is humanity’s effort to divide ourselves – one from the other.
Have you ever heard astronauts speak of their view back to earth from space? They report that they see no borders, no boundaries just the shape of the land and the expanse of the seas. The border which Voyager 1 & 2 have been passing through serves to widen, broaden, deepen our hope for overcoming division right here back on earth.
Along with the border of the heliosphere and the next step of exploring interstellar space I’d like to take that return trip to earth in time to celebrate this season of thin time, which in Celtic theology is called Samhain (pronounced: Sawhen). You see the boundaries between the physical and the spiritual are also permeable. In Celtic lore this season of increasing darkness and decreasing light recalls firelight revealing the spirits of the dead. How many spirits have you seen in the light of campfires? This time also includes tales of people on this side of the veil being kidnapped and taken to the other side as though in a vision.
This closeness to long dead ancestors has the effect of reminding us to care for those who are so close. What, you may ask, is the connection between the distance of the outer reaches of the heliosphere and the closeness of ancient religions of earth?
Well, it has to do with the role of theology and the connections between closeness and distance, as in life and death, the rainbow contents of rain and sunshine, the connection when we speak of tears of joy, the sound and the silence that makes up music. In the theology trade this is called the coincidence of opposites. So, theology takes a look at a connection between Voyager 2 and Celtic spirit made possible by the shape of God who is One.
Today I chose a poem for the 1st Reading titled, “Cosmic Travel.” It is a tribute to the accomplishment of Voyagers 1 & 2 as well as an invitation to share in the wonder beyond the heliosphere. Passing through boundaries and borders is a must when it comes to exploring both the stars and the spirit world. For the cosmos to be real for us, it seems to me, at least part of the discovery must support the connection between closeness and distance. For all of science’s technological accomplishments the spiritual reality of divine unity must remain connected to it.
In Christopher Pramuk’s book, “Sophia, the hidden Christ of Thomas Merton” his writing on Sacramental Imagination brings up these connections we make between opposites. He calls the connecting of opposites the Archaeology of Catholicity. Which brings me back to Jesus’ joke on the Sadducees – though they certainly did not know it . See, Jesus knew that they could not understand the secret he was revealing to his followers. It is the secret of Incarnation. Just as the Word became flesh so are we destined for unity in God.
Christian mystics totally know this secret. They say there are 3 stops on the way to being one with God. First is the purgative stop of removing the borders and boundaries that prevent the light from shining clear in us. Second is the illuminative stop of bathing in that light wrapped in God’s love. The third and final stop is the unitive experience of becoming lost in the divine. So, Jesus is amused at the blindness of the Sadducees who are trapped in the Mosaic Law never being able to recognize the secret that Incarnation reveals. Kind of like the scientists who believe they can map the heliosphere but who don’t have a clue of what they are discovering even with the 42 years of the flight of Voyagers 1&2.
Now, just to make a finer point let’s take a look at what the Thessalonians discovered within the space of 1 year. On his second missionary journey Paul and his companions were kicked out of Philippi for the usual reason of stirring up trouble. They made it to Thessalonica, about 97 miles west of Philippi, where Timothy joined them. They got kicked out of there after 3 months – just time enough to start a community based in the home of a man named Jason. As usual the community was made up of pagans, Greeks, a few Jews and what are called in other places too, influential women.
After getting kicked out of Thessalonica they went to Berea where, of course, they were expelled also, finally making it to Athens. From Athens Paul went to Corinth, and along the way he received positive accounts about the community back in Thessalonica. For some reason he was prevented fro revisiting anytime soon (he would return on his 3rd journey) so he sent Timothy to them. Then he wrote from Corinth his first letter to the Thessalonians. The second letter followed a few months later.
While the major concern Paul wrote on in both letters was the Eschaton it’s the final sentence in today’s selection from 2nd Thessalonians that I would like to focus on. Paul writes, “May the Spirit rule your hearts in the love of God and the constancy of Christ.”
Let me finally point out that from the start of the community at Thessalonica to the completion of Paul’s 2 letters to that community no more than 1 year elapsed. I’m just thinking as our community prepares to celebrate 10 years together, I hope we have the perspective of gratitude for graces received.
So, as we conclude our journey to and through borders and boundaries, as we acknowledge the connection of the opposites of closeness and distance, we celebrate the link of Incarnation within the life of the Trinity. It is a celebration not of angels but of sharers in the divine.
A Prayer (JR)
In this time of increasing darkness and decreasing light we have visions of saints, loved ones, kindred spirits, and all who have passed. On our way we pass through borders and boundaries of push back and against access yet which are porous and permeable.
This is thin time when light and dark, life and death, sadness and joy remind us that we cross over as through a veil from this life to unending life.
Borders and boundaries exist for our discovery. Creator and All-loving One, attune our spirits to our common beginnings as well as our endings. May we live and love worthy of our creation, especially in our care for Earth, now and evermore. Amen.
Cosmic Travel, L G Mace
So small I feel in this technically incorporated capsule.
Floating among the stars in between orbiting planets where mysteries rule.
Universal/cosmic visions speed through my transmuted head.
As I pass star after star that are a long time dead.
Where worlds exist we know nothing of – through mighty telescopes
that only give us a minute clue.
So as curious (ones) we must explore and find the answers seeking the actual view.
The pillars of creation stand as mighty temples of the Gods themselves.
Have I traveled farther than any other (one) seeking those answers
into the questions ever delved?
I’ve passed Saturn and (its) mysterious rings and many other miraculous sights.
Have gone through many hazy days and glorious diamond studded nights.
And finally in suspended animation I sleep in my interstellar dreams.
Only tones of night unbind the seams.