Shuck and Jive

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Trusting the Universe

(Hi Friends,

This was my sermon for today. I thought I would post it. It reflects what I have been thinking and feeling lately. It relates to some of the things I have talking about on this blog. It will be posted in a few days on the church web page. The audio will be there as well. Many Blessings! John)

Trusting the Universe

John Shuck

September 10th, 2006

First Presbyterian Church

Elizabethton, Tennessee

Jesus said:

‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Matthew 7:7-11

After the death of Hugh T. Kerr, former editor of the Princeton Theological Seminary Journal, Theology Today, a collection of his editorials were collected in a book entitled: Our Life in God’s Light.

For over twenty years Kerr edited the journal. He wrote consistently about the message of the Gospel, the Light in which our lives are illuminated.

Our Life in God’s Light.

Faith, religious practice and reflection, spirituality, whatever term strikes your fancy ought to enable us to see (even if it is just a glimpse—even if it is in a glass darkly) our lives reflecting a larger light.

This Light gives us perspective. We realize that we participate in something much, much larger than ourselves. It helps us to realize that our individual struggles, our problems, our mortality, our pleasures, our sufferings, our tasks are not ends in themselves. They are not all that life is. They are a part of a much larger, brighter Light that surrounds us all. “The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:5

Our Life in God’s Light.

We can think of this using another metaphor.

Our story as a chapter of God’s story. God’s story of creation of the universe begins at least 15 billion years ago and this story of amazing creative vitality will continue billions of years after our bodies breathe their last. We are a part of that grand story. We can even participate now in telling it.

We need to be reminded of that everyday. We need to give ourselves more waking moments so we can remember who we are as part of a larger story, and see our lives as wrapped in God’s light.

When we forget that, we tend to get lost in our own struggles, so much so, that we can lose our sense of peace and joy. We lose our ability to see farther than our own problems. We become smaller. We forget that there is power and creativity within us. That Divine Light is everywhere! It is within us too!

We do forget. We don’t need to feel bad about forgetting. We need to remember. Everyday: your life is in God’s light.

Of course, so is everyone else, every living being, all matter and energy, the Universe itself is in God’s light— even Pluto.

I am having an emotional struggle with the demotion of Pluto. The astronomers have declared (rather coldly I might add) that Pluto is no longer a planet. Apparently its path doesn’t meet the astronomers’ standards for proper, normal paths that planets should have around our sun.

I just want you to know, Pluto, if you are listening. Don’t worry about those astronomers and how they categorize you. You are the same. You haven’t changed. You keep on spinning and revolving and being the best Pluto you can be. The Divine Light surrounds you.

We need to remember. We need to remind ourselves or allow ourselves to be reminded everyday that our lives are in God’s light.

A difficulty that some of us may have has t do with our conception of God. That word, G-O-D is loaded with meaning and baggage and symbols and fears and who knows what all.

So sometimes I try different words. Divine is one. But when I say Divine I can’t help but think of Bette Midler.

The Universe. But that seems rather impersonal. However, God should be at least as big as the Universe. That is really part of our problem:

The God we inherit is too small for the world we inhabit.

Our conceptions of God are often not big enough to shine Light in our lives.

Some people respond to this by shrinking their conception of the world to fit their conception of God. If God is restricted to a book or a doctrine or a church denomination or a nation-state then anything that might challenge that conception of God cannot be true. Not only is it not true--for some it must be evil.

That’s why my heroes have always been heretics.

The heretics were called such by the orthodox because they challenged orthodoxy’s god. “Your god is too small,” the heretics said. And they were usually right. Although it took burnings at the stake and in many cases hundreds of years before the church caught up.

My favorite heretic is Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus was executed for two reasons. The Roman Empire executed him because he was considered a trouble-maker. He challenged the authority of the Empire of Rome with what he called the Empire of God. Through his parables he unfolded an empire that was no empire at all, but a celebration of a feast for all people without hierarchy or violence or fear. They didn’t really understand what he was talking about. “He is a trouble-maker,” they said. “Hang him up with the others.”

But, according to the Gospels, Jesus was handed over to the Empire by the religious authorities. Jesus challenged them by saying, “Your god is too small. Your god hurts people and doesn’t help them. You have so many rules about who is in and who is out that you forget justice and mercy.” That didn’t go over so well. “Jesus is challenging God’s authority,” they said. They turned him over. Of course, it wasn’t God’s authority that Jesus challenged, but the religious leaders’ conception of God. A god who was too small and too provincial.

Jesus, gentle, meek and mild? Hardly. He was a heretic and a trouble-maker.

The important thing is that the Gospels do not end with Jesus getting squashed by Empire and Religion. The mystery we call resurrection at least refers to his spirit living on in the lives of those who got what he was talking about. They saw a glimpse of the God Jesus saw. A God whose Light was bright enough to illuminate their lives. A God who filled them with joy, peace, and courage.

A God who is so present that Paul and Silas sing hymns while in prison. A God whose music is so bright and joyful that you have to dance.

We need to remember everyday that our lives are in God’s Light.

If we have trouble doing that, it could be that our conception of God is too small. We may need to let go of some our ideas and beliefs about God. Jesus said today in our text from Matthew: ask, seek, knock. Ask questions. Keep searching. Knock on those closed doors. That is how we expand our vision. It will be a rewarding adventure. Trust the search! Jesus found a god big enough to deal with whatever he had to face.

This leads me to the third movement in my sermon.

Is your God big enough to help you to deal with what you have to face?

Is our God big enough to help us to deal with what we have to face?

When I began my search for my next congregation, almost two years ago now, I filled out a resume. On these resumes are standard questions. One of them was “What is the most important theological issue for you?” or something like that.

I wrote something along these lines:
“I am 42 and my great-nephew, Hunter, is 1.
The biggest theological issue for me is this:
what will the world be like for Hunter when he is 42?”

I cannot think of a bigger theological issue than that one. What are we leaving for our children? It used to be funny a few years ago when retired couples would place a bumper sticker on the back of their Airstream trailers:

“I’m spending my children’s inheritance.”

That isn’t funny, anymore.

Is our God big enough to help us deal with our children’s future?

Is our God big enough to enable us to ask, seek, and knock regarding these questions, without resorting to denial or despair?

The answer is “Yes!”

God is big enough!

Even if we turn Earth into Mars through global warming or nuclear war, Earth will still spin on its axis. It will still revolve around the sun at 19 miles per second. God will still be God and will say, “Hmm. Human beings. That was an interesting evolutionary development.” And the Universe will go on.

I, personally, would like Hunter to have a part in this Universe.

Jesus trusted in God. But that didn’t make him passive. He was active. He spoke boldly and wisely and acted boldly and wisely. He inspired others. He was considered a trouble-maker and a heretic. We need to take the risk and follow that path.

We need to ask, seek and knock.

We need to ask questions that are patriotically incorrect. Questions such as:

Why are we really at war?

We need to seek solutions to our energy and environmental concerns.

We need to look at the hard realities of world oil supply and demand and how we can prepare now for this reality.

We need to knock on the doors of the Pentagon and the White House and Congress and demand that they be honest with us about what they know. We need to demand that the heads of all nations work together to address the basic needs of Earth and its inhabitants.

Big issues.

Is our God big enough? “Yes!”

Our lives are in God’s light. God has given us the chance to make good choices.

I have breath today. I have a voice. So do you. Trusting in God means that we live without concern for ourselves.

You might be saying, “These issues are so big, what can I do?”

What you can do will come. I am not talking about simply doing things. I don’t know what you need to do. No one can answer that question for you. There is no alpha male or alpha female to provide answers or direction. Find yours!

What I am talking about is this: we must see our lives in God’s light. No matter what happens we are surrounded by God’s light. Trust that.

Secondly, each of us must commit ourselves to enlightening every living being even if you are the only person who will do it.

You are not the only person of course. But we must have that commitment. I commit myself to truth, compassion, enlightenment, love and well-being for all of Earth even if I am the only one.

Finally, each day remember and be joyful, peaceful, and hopeful and be awake for God’s surprises.


  1. Great sermon, John!

    Back to that war thing. I hate it. Just like the death penalty! I agree with non-violence. Someone said somthing like this: "Christians are all against war, except for the one they're in, that one is just." Do the soldiers of Iraq think that too, of Israel, of Korea, of everywhere? Too big for me still. At least a Pluto sized problem.

    I'm for the light!

  2. Thanks A.!

    Good quote. I don't think I step back enough and ask, why is there war at all? It seems that economic reasons are rarely given and yet history shows that wars were generally fought about these things (although the time righteous causes were given as the reason).

    If our nation/state is short on stuff we need to get it and we need to protect ourselves (which means sometimes be the aggressor) against some other entity that wants the same stuff.

    It appears that if humanity could ever find a way to evolve beyond war then we need to come to awareness about why there is war at all.