Friday, 24 November 2017

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Established May 2009, Little Rock, AR

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Sermon By Zachary Crow: When Fish Fall From The Sky

October 29, 2017

In May 2014 — in a village outside of Sri Lanka — fish literally fell from the sky. Which begs a question, doesn’t it — what in the hell happened?

Well, I’m glad you asked — essentially what happened is that whirlwinds formed over shallow waters and essentially turned into a water tornado and vacuumed up everything in the water, including fish. Aside from becoming very dizzy I would imagine — the fish were carried long distances before the water tornado lost steam and the fish were dropped to the ground — in this case — a village outside of Sri Lanka.

Which begs several questions — not the least of which is what caused the whirlwind?

 

Well a whirlwind is a phenomenon that occurs in weather — a vortex — or a vertically rotating column of air. Whirlwinds are created when local winds start to spin on the ground — causing a funnel to form. The funnel moves over the ground, pushed by the winds that first formed it — and allow the way, the funnel picks up materials along the way — like water and fish.

 

Which is an answer, but raises even more questions. Like what is wind? Why a funnel? Why Sri Lanka? How’d the fish get there? It raises questions about the creation of the universe and the big bang and the evolution of fish and what caused the water tornado loose its steam and drop the fish. When you get an answer — its an answer — but every answer raises a whole new set of questions.

 

The author Rob Bell says that we have been raised in a world with an NCIS understanding of mystery. Have you seen this show? Every episode is the same. It opens with a dead body in the harbor & competent professionals show up — often wearing sunglasses. A policeman gives them a bit of information about how they found the body in the harbor. The professionals — as they are putting on their rubber gloves say something along the lines of — “Let’s take a look” — and then the competent professional tips their sunglasses — kneels down — looks at the body and says — “Looks like this sailor didn’t make it to sea.” — Cut to commercial.

 

And from that point on — the rest of the episode is you — the audience member learning alongside the competent professionals the reason there is a dead body in the harbor — and by then end you realize — “Oh, because there was a hitman at a poker game in the basement of a church...” Got it. It all makes sense now. The mystery is solved in 42 minutes — once you take out the commercials.

We were raised in a world with an NCIS understanding of mystery — where mystery was created to be solved.

Now — what the director did — was simply hide from you — the audience member — processes, events, actions that happened prior to you arriving on the scene — and over the course of the show — he or she gradually pulls back the curtain to reveal more and more of the story — so, by the end, the entire plot has been revealed and you are left with no more questions.

Gospel mystery — is when you get an answer — and its an answer — but you’re honest about the fact that it raises a whole new set of questions.

 

Several hundred years ago the world woke up to the fact that the scientific method could answer all sorts of questions about the world we live in — and its awesome. Six hundred years ago you may have asked someone why it was raining, and gotten the

answer — well, perhaps the gods smiled on us — there was a mystical, magical, plane that governed the world — this god was angry with that god — that god had an affair with this god — and as a result that thing or this thing did or didn’t happen to this or that person. Then came modernity — and modernity said — you can know — you can study it — it rained not because the gods smiled on you — but, because the water from rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans evaporated into the air by the heat of the sun — and as this water vapor rises into the air, it condenses — it starts to cool down and return to its liquid state — droplets of water start to stick together — first as clouds and then as raindrops which fell when the sky began to cool — it’s no mystery why it rained — there is a evidence based data that presents for us an answer.

 

This new understanding of the world led to all kinds of new inventions and technological advancements — here are just a few from the past few hundred years: the printing press, the steam engine, the piano, the fire extinguisher, the thermometer, electricity, the submarine, eye glasses, hot air balloon, safety locks, parachutes, vaccinations, batteries, tin cans, cement, matches, typewriter, sewing machine, calculator, revolver, postage stamp, stapler, anesthesia, safety pins, dishwasher, elevator, plastic, dynamite, barbed wire, telephone, movies — 

toilet paper, followed quickly by the flushing toilet, which seems like a smart move — metal detectors, cash register, drinking straw, zippers, contacts, vacuum cleaners — all within the last few hundred years.

this explosion of reason, knowledge, discovery — built the modern world.

the problem is — its easy to believe that’s all there is. there is a belief that we don’t understand it all yet — just give us time and we’ll get there — but, what I would argue this morning is that every question — every discovery — only moves us into a deeper and greater mystery. this is not a rejection of science, reason, or knowledge. rather, it is a trans-rational mentality. some things can not be explained with reason and logic.

 

For several years, I exchanged letters with a man on death row in the state of Georgia. At one point he was experiencing severe back pain that only seemed to be getting worse and worse. Eventually, after months and months of complaining to guards he was transferred to another unit to see a specialist. Now, in order to be transferred he had to wear this contraption that locked his arms into place — he literally couldn’t move his upper body. Similarly, an electronic shock collar was placed around his ankle so that if he tried to escape they could shock him into submission, the problem is that it was malfunctioning — so for the entire ride random electric shocks would shoot through his body. When he arrived at the unit the specialist wasn’t there and he was sent back without being seen. I asked him about it in one of my letters and he said — I was just so happy to be outside — to breathe fresh air — to watch the trees through the window. He said — I used the car ride to practice meditation and Buddhist art of mindfulness.

Daniel found inner peace — even amidst horrific oppression and subjugation. What’s the algorithm for that? Do you have evidence for that? Do you have a scientific answer that can make sense of that?

Answers only move the mystery down a little deeper. There are moments that can’t be explained by formulas, but rather exist in categories all their own — loss, suffering, betrayal, joy, euphoria, fear, doubt — what do you do with the existential questions — like what does it all mean? what do you

for thousands of years human beings have had poems, stories, rituals, practices, scriptures, and prayers — all intended that try and name the ineffable — to put language and expression to these experiences — the moments the lab, the academy does not help. there are fewer and fewer spaces to explore these types of mysteries — and it is my sincere belief that God is calling the church to foster that kind of space. When an unarmed black boy is murdered by police and his mother feels as if her heart is being ripped from her chest — where can she and the boy’s community gather? To simply be human — to doubt — to lament — to question — to celebrate the young boy’s life — to mine the mysteries that can not be solved in forty-three minutes. If there is not room for doubt in Christian communities — in religious spaces — I want no part. Period. why do so many millennials not find the church relevant to their lives? — because the church in it’s present form isn’t — has not created space to be truly human — there is rarely room for doubt — and lament — and shaking your fists at the heavens — and some times all you can do is shake your fist.

Jesus comes in his full humanity to lead us into our full humanity — celebration, doubt, joy, anger, longing, shaking your fists at the heavens — and everything in between. If there is not room for all of it in religious spaces — every piece of what it means to be human — it is not relevant and should be abandoned. Period.

For thousands of years — we — meaning humanity — have built temples, mosques, tabernacles, teepees — holy spaces. In the biblical text — temples offered a way for humans to inhabit a physical space — a space that could help them to imagine and conceive of that which is holy — that which is sacred. here’s the problem — the longer the temple stays up — the easier it is for people to begin imagining that somehow that temple, that mosque, that tabernacle, that teepee is itself divine — that some spaces are holy — and other spaces are not holy. 


Here’s the paradox — Jesus reminds us that we build sacred space in order to help us imagine and conceive of the holy, but we can’t leave it standing too long. The church is called to both build it — to create holy space — and subvert it. Scripture reminds us over and over again that the divine is not confined to a box — to a physical space. In the 24th psalm the psalmist reminds us — the earth is the lord’s and everything in it — here’s another way of saying that — the whole thing’s a temple — it’s all sacred — which is easy to remember in times and spaces like this — it’s more difficult when you’re doing the dishes.

In the first century church of corinthians — there were different christian leaders — and some people followed the teachings of one leader and other folks followed the teachings of another leader and there were rivalries between the groups — good thing that kind of thing doesn’t happen today, right? — we’re past that right? The interesting thing here is that Paul writes a letter — about his — and he says — some of you say you follow Apollos — others Cephas — others Paul — but — if it’s true — it’s yours — no matter who the truth comes from — truth is truth.

Paul doesn’t stop there, though — he says — “whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world — slow down Paul — or life — or death or the present or the future — wherever truth comes from — for now and forever — all things are yours and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

When folks say this scientific discovery or that protest or that group of people or this action or that pile of dishes — what does that have to do with God? Everything.

When we ask those questions — we are back in the temple. And more often than not, our job is to tear the temple down.

What Paul is saying here is incredibly profound — amidst all of these petty skirmishes and rivalries — Paul is saying look — all things are yours — the whole things a temple — don’t just affirm it — claim it — ever new scientific discovery in the field of quantum mechanics — or space exploration — affirm it — claim it — don’t just celebrate it — throw the celebration — it your faith doesn’t have room for new bits of information, get a new faith.

We are hear to build the temple and tear it down. All at the same time.

Amen.