Images of a volcanic eruption, stars in the universe and even a scientist working in the lab fed into a special service where the congregation was led to ponder how faith and science interact.
On September 23, 2018, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Champaign, Illinois held its first ever service dedicated to faith and science.
Myself and another member in the congregation, Dean Olson, who works in the School of Chemical Sciences at the University of Illinois, took several weeks to ponder what readings, hymns and most importantly drafting meditations that could set the right tone.
We decided to break out what would traditionally be a sermon or homily into three meditations. The meditations would focus on earth’s origins, what it means to be human, and our shared future via the lens of environmental ethics.
As a way to share what we compiled with others, what follows in each section below are the resources that we compiled following our experiment with faith and science and liturgy.
- Earth and All Stars (ELW 731)
- Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (ELW 858)
- When Morning Gilds the Skies (ELW 853)
- This is My Father’s World (ELW 824)
- Holy, Holy, Holy (ELW 413)
- God Who Stretched the Spangled Heavens (ELW 771)
- Genesis 2:1-9
- Psalm 8
- John 1:1-13
Prayers of Intercession
(*adapted ¬prayer from “Worship Ways United Church of Christ”)
(Pastor) Freed by God in Christ to live and love and serve, we pray for the church, those in need, and for the world, that God so dearly loves.
A brief silence.
Gracious God, you gather congregations together by the power of your word. Bless leaders with the gifts of wisdom and discernment as they seek to make your church the community for which you long. Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.
Creative God, giant blue whales and tiny honeybees sing the goodness of the earth. Oceans and deserts declare your greatness. Make us good stewards of our home for the generations to come. Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.
Healing God, we offer our prayers for all who suffer as a result of Hurricane Florence and all natural disasters. Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.
Creator God, we pray for all scientists; engineers, students, teachers, physicians, technicians and all who work to unfold your holy mysteries, we ask your blessings on each of them. May these technological developments be used to alleviate suffering and for the good of all people. Lord in your mercy,*
hear our prayer.
Sovereign God, you raise up governments to protect the widow and orphan. Bless citizens with wisdom and discernment as they choose leaders. Inspire leaders to always seek the common good. Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.
Loving God, you desire health and wholeness. Reconcile the conflicts and disputes among us. Teach us to heal the trauma of racism and poverty. Break our hearts open to all those who suffer and mourn. Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.
Welcoming God, you place children among us. Teach us to honor the children in our midst and to pay attention to what they can teach us about who you are. Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.
You surround us with a cloud of witnesses who announce the good news of abundant life to a sad and needy world. Make us a pilgrim people, always telling the story of your lovingkindness. Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.
(Pastor) Into your wide embrace, gracious God, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in your boundless mercy through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.
Meditation 1: In God’s Good Time
A meditation written and presented in a multi-media form by Dean Olson and adapted from an essay by Karl Evans, a geologist and member of Bethany Lutheran Church, Cherry Hills Village, Colorado.
This meditation is based on the 1st chapter of Colossians beginning with the 13th verse:
God has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation, for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things were created through him and for him. For in him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.Colossians 1:13-16, 19
Many of us have heard of the TV comedy called “The Big Bang Theory”. The title refers to our current understanding that the universe and everything we know originated in a big explosion about 14 billion years ago. If there is one thing I have learned teaching students to do chemistry lab work on campus, it’s that we all struggle to understand and manage time.
We do not always fully appreciate the minutes and hours of the day, not to mention the fairly short collection of weeks, months, and years that make up our earthly lives.
So, how can we come to understand the 14-billion-year age of the universe and all that’s in it? How in any way does a perspective on this shed any light on our lives as followers of Jesus? We can try. Let’s do a little thought experiment and see what we can learn.
To understand the history of time, we need to begin with a familiar perspective. Let’s condense all of time, all 14 billion years, into a single, 365-day year. Imagine that the Big Bang occurs on January 1, and today, this morning at Good Shepherd, let’s pretend, is midnight, December 31. With that one-year framework for all of time, here are a few landmarks along the way.
- After the Big Bang occurs January 1, galaxies begin to form on January 22
- Then, our very own Milky Way galaxy forms about March 16. That’s already nearly one-quarter of all time elapsed.
- Next, our solar system (which does not have a name) forms on August 28. That’s two-thirds of all time already elapsed.
- Earth, as a distinct planet in our solar system appears on September 6 – just a couple of weeks ago on the 2018 calendar, and nearly three-quarters of all time elapsed. So, September 6 – events on Earth begin.
- The early moon appears the very next day, September 7
- September 14 – the earliest known microbial life appears on Earth. As far as we now know, this has never happened anywhere else.
- September 30 – single-celled plants appear, better known as algae, and photosynthesis takes place for the first time. By the time the algae appear, three-quarters of all time has already elapsed.
- Once December arrives in our compressed 12-month timeline, things get busy.
- Multicellular life appears on December 5, and widespread life on Earth really is underway for the first time.
- December 20 – plants appear.
- December 25 – the era of the dinosaur begins. That’s an interesting Christmas present.
- December 30 – the Yucatan peninsula is slammed by an asteroid, the weather and climate dramatically change, this triggers mass extinction, and among many other things, the dinosaurs are all killed off. That was about 65 million years ago. But in our compressed year representing all time, that’s just yesterday.
- Now we come to today — December 31, the very last day of our 365-day, compressed year that represents all of time as we know it, all 14 billion years of creation.
- At 2:24 p.m. on December 31, the first human ancestors are born.
- Later that night, at just 12 seconds before midnight, the pyramids are built in Egypt.
- Just a few seconds later, just 5 seconds before midnight, Jesus is born in Bethlehem. This means that what is now often called the Common Era – the time since Christ – is represented by just 5 seconds in a year that we compressed to represent all 14 billion years of existence, the vast majority of which, we totally missed.
- The Christian Reformation occurs and Christopher Columbus sets out on his global voyage – that’s at 11:59 p.m. and 58 seconds – just two seconds before the end of our condensed year.
- Recent history – represented by the last half-second before midnight.
(Switch to galaxy image)
So, given this perspective against all of time, that nearly everything we know really just happened, what are we to make of it all? This is where science begins to fall short and spirituality becomes especially helpful.
In the great expanse of cosmic history, this scenario could make us feel small and insignificant: like an afterthought, or a cosmic yawn at the end of the last minute of the last hour of the last day. It could make us feel meaningless — that we don’t matter.Or, is there another way to see the history of the universe?
Scripture says very little about our seeking God, but scripture says a great deal about God seeking us. The late, very great Jewish scholar Abraham Heschel said, “This is the mysterious paradox of Biblical faith: that God is pursuing [us].”
Maybe, for God’s good reason, amid this immensely long perspective of time and space in which we live and move and have our being, we need to realize that God used that time to create a universe for us, and is further using it to tell us that we are special, and indeed among all creation, all creatures, and all time, we as humans are chosen to be loved by God, to love God in return, and to know it.
God became incarnate in a human being, Jesus, the Christ; Jesus, the Anointed One. We are chosen by God to know Christ, by whom “all things were created by Him and for Him … in the heavens and on the Earth.” We need not feel empty or meaningless. But instead, we are privileged to knowingly receive the great gift of God’s love that has come to us across an immense journey of cosmic time and space. In God’s good time, in all the universe that we know, we have become unique in all of creation and all of time.
We are not just here. We are here together — with God who loves us.
This should leave us feeling very special indeed. Let us pray.
Praise and thanks to you, holy God, for by your word you made all things: you spoke light into darkness, called forth beauty from chaos, and brought life into being. For your word of life, O God, we give you thanks and praise.
5 sec out of a 365-day year X 50 feet = 0.005 inches = 3 thousandth of an inch
[ 8 x 50 x 12 ] / [365 x 24 60 x 60] = 0.003 inches – about as thick as a piece of paper
Derived partly from:
- Big Bang – January 1
- Galaxies – January 22
- Milky Way Galaxy – March 16
- Our Solar System – August 28
- Early Earth – September 6
- Early Moon – September 7
- Microbial life – September 14
- Single-celled plants and algae and photosynthesis – September 30
- Multicellular life – December 5
- Plants on land – December 20
- Dinosaurs – December 25
- Dinosaurs killed by Yucatan asteroid strike – December 30
- December 31
- Human ancestors appear: 2:24 p.m.
- Pyramids built in Egypt – 12 seconds before midnight
- Jesus is born – 5 seconds before midnight
- The Christian Reformation and Christopher Columbus sets out on his global voyage of discovery – 2 seconds before midnight
- Recent history – the last half second before midnight
- Milky Way Galaxy photo with Earth pointed out.
Meditation 2: Are We Created Co-Creators?
Written and presented by Susan Barreto, this meditation is based on the writings of Dr. Philip Hefner.
What might it mean to be created as a co-creator with God?
Could God have created us to create in partnership with him?
It is difficult to know how the revelation of science can be applied to one’s daily life, but as humans we are a creature that can study ourselves. We probe our own DNA. We are reshaping our world via genetic engineering and complex techniques such as gene editing that hold the potential to save lives.
Dr. Philip Hefner is the theologian who outlined the idea of the created co-creator in numerous articles and books. An ordained ELCA minister, he also forged friendships with scientists over the years, many of whom even as non-Christians have greatly impacted his theological work.
The term “created co-creator” can be thought of as shorthand to describe what Hefner calls the relevance of humanity’s spirit within the rapid pace of our scientific endeavors.
At its heart the created co-creator is a type of Christ-like consciousness that becomes a part of life where the connectedness to God is emphasized. It’s a time where you and I can see the consequences of our actions as paramount no matter how small (such as choosing to recycle,or saving electricity).
An avid cook, Hefner equates his life’s work with that of finding the ultimate recipe that may be tested over time by others. The recipe’s ingredients may change as one continually discovers tidbits to mix in such as new scientific theories or media reports on new technologies.
In Hefner’s life recipe, the most important ingredient seems to be purpose, followed by the biblical concept of covenant. We have the freedom to create with God as God’s creation, but at the same time we are accountable to both God and to the creation.
Our taking responsibility for either prolonging life or for shortening life via science and technology is one of the main themes of Hefner’s theological work.
Still we wonder what we should do with our ability to co-create. Especially if we are not scientists or creative types. Hefner is clear that we all have a role to play. It may be a moment of discovery that comes after a combination of prayer, reflection, meditation, or participation in liturgy.
We are called to be the earth’s storytellers. We have the mandate of imagination that is entrusted to us as the only beings capable of imagination. The challenge is to recognize the revelation of science, showing us what God has done, what God wants to do now and what God intends to do.
Meditation 3 — Climate Change: The Perfect Moral Storm
Adapted from an article in the Journal of Lutheran Ethics by Larry L. Rasmussen, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor Emeritus of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, New York City. This was read by a youth with a passion for environmental ethics. The was presented by a high school youth.
Climate change — It’s complicated.
The simple idea that “the polluter pays” just doesn’t work when it comes to climate change.
Instead, what we really have is several planetary impacts that are the cumulative outcome of a variety of human actions across time and space since around the year 1750.
When our great-grandparents topped off the tank of their forest green 1939 Chevy for Sunday afternoon visits to whomever might be at home, or when they enjoyed illumination at the flick of a switch in their newly electrified house, both of these luxuries courtesy of fossil fuels, they certainly had no idea that they were polluters who should pay.
Indeed, CO2 emissions only count as dangerous pollution because our grandparents’ actions joined trillions of other such actions that, wholly unbeknownst to them, were quietly building, molecule by molecule, into a huge influence.
“Polluter pays” still works in certain cases, and should be used in a number of examples: BP and the Gulf oil spill, coal plant pollution seeping into Illinois’ only national scenic river, and the Holden Village copper mine remediation project in Washington state.
The point is that climate change issues cannot be reduced and pin-pointed to wickedness on the part of individuals, or millions, or even billions of persons pursuing ordinary, life-sustaining activities. If an everyday commute, multiplied umpteen thousand times, contributes to disaster; if growing food the way we do does the same; or if growing the economy to add needed jobs and lift millions from poverty also does the same, then labeling the commuters, the farmers, investors, policymakers, and workers as the agents of far-reaching evil puts the debate in a stalemate where it cannot move to a workable solution.
Climate change all by itself is not the enemy. We are our own enemy. And the moral question is this: how do we love this enemy, that is, each other, so fiercely that we are changed? And how are we changed? Not as a matter of personal virtue alone, but we need to change our overall habits that address our sins against our very own environment — behavior that is built into the very structure of our society.
Otherwise, the consequences of our wrongdoing will continue to work its poison for centuries to come on this earth — the only known place in the entire universe perfectly.