Wanted: More Collaborators, Romans 12:1-8; Exodus 1:8-2:10

Romans 12 is one of those many familiar passages in the New Testament that praises humility, collaboration and teamwork, qualities that are sorely lacking in our fearful recession-plagued society and world.  What a great time to be reminded of the value our unique individual gifts can contribute to addressing complex social problems.

The Hebrew slaves in Exodus (1:8-2:10) were up an even bigger creek without a paddle than we are today, and that narrative provides a marvelous illustration of what collaboration and teamwork look like.  Most of us think of Moses as the great leader of liberation for the Hebrew exodus from slavery in Egypt.   He’s the one who boldly stares down Pharaoh, one of the most powerful rulers in the world, and demands freedom for God’s people.  True, it helped that he had divine intervention to back him up.  Those persuasive plagues God inflicts on Pharaoh’s people certainly make for memorable drama in Hollywood retellings of the Exodus story, be it the old Charlton Heston version or Disney’s animated “Prince of Egypt.”

Most people know something about Moses.  Shiphrah and Puah on the other hand are far from household names, and yet without those minor characters in this drama, there would have been no Moses and no Exodus.  Without the brave little slave girl, Miriam, and her courageous mother and their creative manipulation of Pharaoh’s daughter’s maternal compassion, Moses, the great liberator would not have survived the first year of life.  What a wonderful twist in this story (Exodus 2:5-9) when Moses’ sister tricks Pharaoh’s daughter into giving Moses back to his mother to nurse him.  The mother not only gets her son back but even gets paid for providing childcare.

The great African-American Preacher, James Forbes, preached on the Exodus story several years ago at the Schooler Institute on Preaching at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio (“Let My Leaders Go,” Nov. 13, 1990).  I still use a recording of that sermon regularly in the preaching classes I teach.  The essence of the sermon is that without the contributions of the “minor” characters in what Forbes calls “Phase I” of the liberation process, there could have been no Phase II led by Moses and his brother Aaron.

In Romans 12 Paul says “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God— what is is good and acceptable and perfect.”  The world’s order to the midwives is explicit and unambiguous.  They were to kill all the Hebrew boy babies at birth.  But the midwives were blessed with the ability to discern the will of God.  They were not conformed to the world and “did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live.”  When called on the royal carpet by the King himself to account for their disobedience of his decree the midwives are not intimidated because they feared God and knew where their ultimate obedience belonged.  They stand up to Pharaoh and exercise what Forbes calls “prophetic license,” telling a little white lie about how the Hebrew women are so vigorous that their babies are born before the midwives even arrive on the scene.

So Pharaoh tries a new tactic.  He orders all the male Hebrew baby boys thrown into the Nile after they are born.  And up steps another minor player in the drama.  A slave woman gives birth to a son, hides him for three months and then does what Pharaoh has commanded, sort of.  She puts her infant son into the river; only first she makes him a little boat to keep him afloat. Then she places her precious child in the most famous bulrushes in the world, strategically choosing the  spot where she knows Pharaoh’s daughter will find him because she regularly bathes there.

Moses’ mother and sister exercise what Paul calls “sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”  They creatively and courageously do what is necessary to preserve the life of Israel’s future liberator.  What seem like insignificant actions by the midwives, the mother and sister, and Pharaoh’s daughter are all necessary components of the larger plot that unfolds many years later (Exodus 3) when God speaks to Moses in a burning bush and convinces him to step forward and confront the terrible injustice being inflicted on God’s people.

But notice that not even the great leader Moses is expected to do that daunting task alone.  And no wonder.  God is asking Moses to stand up to challenge one of the most powerful men in the world.  And one has to wonder how complicated this situation was since Moses’ adversary is none other than the one who had raised him and provided graciously for him in his own palace for many years.    Quite understandably Moses tries to talk his way out of this dangerous mission to confront the might of Pharaoh.  And what does God do?  Like a good coordinator, God provides a partner to fill some of Moses’ voids.  Moses’ brother Aaron is recruited to join Moses’ team, bringing his own unique gifts.  One of Moses’ excuses to God is that he isn’t a good public speaker; so God says, OK, we’ll get Aaron to do that part.  Sound familiar?  “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given us: ….. the exhorter in exhortation; … the leader in diligence.” (Rom. 12:6-8)

What daunting tasks do we face today that require partnership with others who have gifts different than our own?  Whatever the challenge, personal or social, local or global, the good news is that no matter how polarized our nation and world may seem, we are “one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”   We are not alone, even though it often feels that way.  In these challenging times it is good to remember the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin at another crisis point in the life of the American people.  At the signing of the Declaration of Independence Franklin told his fellow collaborators, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Rugged individualism and mistrust of others won’t solve complex problems.  We need desperately to collaborate with each other and with God as illustrated in these two anonymous readings, one humorous, one serious, both true:

The first is a letter from a client to his insurance company.

“I am writing in response to your request for more information concerning block #11 on the insurance form which asks for “cause of injuries” wherein I put “trying to do the job alone”.  You said you need more information, so I trust the following will be sufficient.

I am a bricklayer by trade and on the day of the injuries, I was working alone laying bricks around the top of a four story building when I realized that I had about 500 pounds of bricks left over.  Rather than carry the bricks down by hand, I decided to put them into a barrel and lower them by a pulley which was fastened to the top of the building.  I secured the end of the rope at ground level and went up to the top of the building and loaded the bricks into the barrel and swung the barrel out with the bricks in it.   I then went down and untied the rope, holding it securely to insure the slow descent of the barrel.

As you will note on block #6 of the insurance form, I weigh 145 pounds.  Due to my shock at being jerked off the ground so swiftly, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to let go of the rope.  Between the second and third floors, I met the barrel coming down.  This accounts for the bruises and lacerations on my upper body.

Regaining my presence of mind, I held tightly to the rope and proceeded rapidly up the side of the building, not stopping until my right hand was jammed in the pulley.  This accounts for the broken thumb.

Despite the pain, I retained my presence of mind and held tightly on to the rope.  At approximately the same time, however, the barrel of bricks hit the ground and the bottom fell out of the barrel.  Devoid of the weight of the bricks, the barrel now weighted about 50 pounds.  I again refer you to block #6 and my weight.

As you would guess I began a rapid descent.  In the vicinity of the second floor, I met the barrel coming up.  This explains the injuries to my legs and lower body.  Slowed only slightly, I continued my descent landing on the pile of bricks.  Fortunately, my back was only sprained and the internal injuries were minimal.

I am sorry to report, however, that at this point, I finally lost my presence of mind and let go of the rope, and as you can imagine, the empty barrel crashed down on me.

I trust this answers your concern.  Please know that I am finished ‘trying to do the job alone.’

How about you”?

The second reading I first saw in a publication from the Roman Catholic Maryknoll Sisters.

“And the Lord said, ‘GO!’
And I said, ‘who me?’
And God said, ‘Yes you.’
And I said,
‘But I’m not ready yet
And there is studying to be done.
I’ve got this part-time job.
You know how tight my schedule is.’
And God said, ‘You’re stalling.’

Again the Lord said, ‘GO!’
And I said, ‘I don’t want to.’
And God said, ‘I Didn’t Ask If You Wanted To.’
And I said,
‘Listen I’m not the kind of person
To get involved in controversy.
Besides my friends won’t like it
And what will my roommate think?
And God said, ‘Baloney.’

And yet a third time the Lord said, ‘GO!’
And I said, ‘do I have to?’
And God said, ‘Do You Love Me?’
And I said,
‘Look I’m scared.
People are going to hate me
And cut me into little pieces.
I can’t take it all by myself.’
And God said, ‘Where Do You Think I’ll Be?’

And the Lord said, ‘GO!’
And I sighed,
‘Here I am…send me.’

I’VE GOT BAD NEWS AND GOOD NEWS, LUKE 4:14-30

Nationwide Insurance ran a pretty creative series of commercials a few years ago based on the slogan “life comes at you fast.”  In one of my favorites there is a pastoral scene of a father swinging his little boy in an old fashioned swing made of a heavy rope and a board, tied to a sturdy oak branch.  The dad pushes the little boy a couple of times, and then about the third time the boy swings back into the picture, he weighs about 250 pounds and knocks his poor father flat.

The sketchy details provided in the Gospels about the early life of Jesus remind me of that boy growing up very fast.  If we combine all four Gospels, which makes what a friend of mine calls “Gospel stew,” we still only get one brief vignette of Jesus between infancy and adulthood, that being Luke’s account of Jesus in the temple with the elders when he is 12 years old.  The next time we see Jesus in the Gospels is when he’s about 30 years old and being baptized by his cousin in the Jordan River.

There are lots of questions and speculation about where Jesus was during that 18 year gap because the Gospels are theology and not biography.  The only true answer is that we don’t know where Jesus spent those 18 years.  He may have been working in Joseph’s carpenter shop.  More likely he was in some kind of religious community learning the traditions of his faith and preparing for his role as Messiah, God’s anointed one.

When he makes his first public appearance in ministry in his home town of Nazareth in Luke 4, we see immediately how challenging and dangerous being a Messiah can be.

In his first public proclamation Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah and then asserts his claim that God’s spirit is upon him.   Ok so far, we’re all God’s kids, created in God’s image.  That’s the good news – God’s spirit is upon all of us.  But immediately, Jesus makes a wrong turn and starts explaining what it means to have the spirit of God upon him or upon us.  He says he is “anointed to bring good news to the poor, release captives, restore sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free.”  Ok, we could maybe go for those last two – if we don’t’ think about it too much – like realizing that we are the blind that need our eyes restored or that the oppressed are going to want their share of the pie if we take our foot off their necks and let them up.  But good news for the poor – what about us Lord?  And release to the captives?  You mean freeing the criminal element?  Those potential terrorists at Guantanamo?   Or folks on death row?  Not so fast, Jesus.

Luke says the people still were cheering Jesus on at this point.  They were “amazed at the gracious words from his mouth.”  They haven’t quite figured out the catch yet.  And then someone says, “Hey, wait a minute, this is Joe’s kid.  We know him.  He’s just a carpenter.  What would he know about anything but nails and saw dust?  How could the spirit of God be upon the likes of him?”

They start asking for proof.  “We heard what you did in Capernaum. Show us your bag of tricks here too, Jesus!” And then Jesus goes over the edge – he pushes them too far, too fast.  He starts spouting examples from the Bible, of all places, about how God has favored the Gentiles over the chosen Jews – in Sidon and Syria – and there goes the neighborhood. They are immediately filled with rage and try to throw him over a cliff.  Oops.  Stepped on the wrong toes there Jesus.  But then, Luke’s punch line – “he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”  Almost a throwaway line, but it is Luke’s way of saying, “see, he really is the Messiah and you can’t stop him, no one can.”  This is a preview of things to come when they really do kill him, or thought they did; and he passes through them again and goes on his way – because Jesus’ way is God’s way, not the way of people.

So, we know very early in Jesus’ story that it’s dangerous to claim a special relationship with God.  Prophets get shot and stoned and run out of town all the time.   That’s the bad news.  The spirit of God is upon all of us, and there’s good reason to avoid claiming our own Messiahship.  We feel unworthy, the responsibility is too heavy, and besides, the Greek word for “witness” also means “martyr.”  No cowards need apply.

There was a story in the Ohio news a few years ago about the power of oneness with Christ.  Thomas and Cynthia Murray appealed to Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland to spare the life of Gregory McKnight, a convicted murderer on death row.  That’s not so unusual.  Many people believe capital punishment is not a Christian response to violence.  What is remarkable about the Murrays is that Mr. McKnight was convicted of kidnapping and killing their daughter, Emily, 7 years earlier.  Emily was a 20 yr. old philosophy major at Kenyon College at the time of her abduction and murder.  She was planning to become an Episcopal priest and was “passionately opposed to the death penalty.”  Out of love and respect for their daughter and her beliefs, her parents asked for McKnight’s sentence to be commuted to life in prison.  Can you imagine doing that if you were those parents?  I’m not sure I could, even though I’d like to think I would have that courage and faith.  The Murrays showed us the power of Christ to overcome hate and revenge with forgiveness and compassion.

Let’s back up.  This story about Jesus in Nazareth comes right after his baptism.  Remember Jesus was never ordained – no bishop’s hands ever weighed heavy on his head.  In fact, no one had invented bishops yet.  Jesus was baptized – just like you and me.  So that means that the spirit of the Lord is also upon all of us, not just Jesus, and that our mission, should we choose to accept it, is also to proclaim release to the captives, good news to the poor, and sight for the blind!

Clergy sometimes tease each other about having a Messiah complex when we get a little too big for our britches and think we have to save the world in a single bound.    That super pastor attitude might be reflected in this quote from one of my favorite authors, Nikos Kazantzakis.  In his book, Saviors of God, Kazantzakis says, “My prayer is not the whimpering of a beggar or a confession of love. Nor is it the petty reckoning of a small tradesman: give me and I shall give you. My prayer is the report of a soldier to his general: this is what I did today, this is how I fought to save the entire battle in my own sector, these are the obstacles I encountered, and this is how I plan to fight tomorrow.“

There certainly might be an ego problem with that kind attitude (and I’m not crazy about the militaristic metaphor); but it may not be all bad, in fact may be very good, to take our faith and personal mission that seriously.  One way to do that is for all of us to realize that the first two letters of Messiah are “me”.

That may sound crazy, but there’s a lot of biblical evidence for that idea.  In John 14 Jesus says it plain and clear, “I am in God, and God is in me…. “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to God.”  John 14: 12 says, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do.”  Wow! How is that possible?  Because, Jesus goes on …. “You know him (the spirit) because he abides with you and he will be in you.”  (John 14: 17)  And then in John 14: 20 Jesus caps it off by saying, “On that day you will know that I am in God and you in me, and I in you.”

That’s a good thing right – power. We can get Jesus and God to do whatever we want!  Well, not quite – it says “whatever you ask – in my name, this I will do.”  We can all think of some things that we might ask for that just might not qualify as “in Jesus’ name” right?

But there is something even more serious than that.  If we are all one, i.e. “in” God and Jesus and vice versa, what does that mean for God’s expectations of us?   If we are all God’s sons and daughters, as Jesus is – then are we not all Messiahs too?  Messiah means “the anointed one.”  Jesus was baptized by water in the Jordan.  And we as Christian disciples have been baptized too – so far, all the same.  The anointed part is a little trickier, or do we just make it so?  Jesus says, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me.”  Don’t you suppose that’s true of all of us too?

After a United Methodist pastor baptizes someone with water, he or she says, “the Holy Spirit work within you, that being born through water and the spirit, you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. “

Whoa, that sounds a lot like pride or hubris, and we all know that pride goes before a fall; and having God’s spirit upon or within us sounds like really big pride.  That’s what the angry crowd at Nazareth thought when Jesus said it.  What keeps us from claiming our special relationship with God, from believing that we can do even greater things than Jesus did?  Is it true humility or false humility – what a friend of mine calls the “humble bit?”  That’s when we just pretend to be humble because it serves our purposes and gets us out of living up to our potential.    Is it fear of what other people will think or do, or fear of what is being asked of us?  When Jesus claims his Messiahship in his home town, they immediately try to kill him.  That’s not a great recruiting strategy, Jesus.  Is it just easier to stay in the comfort of the status quo and not make any waves?  Freeing captives and such stirs up trouble.  Those who are in positions of comfort now won’t be very happy if they have to share their wealth with the down and outers.  Oh, yes, a little charity at Christmas time is ok, but that’s not the same as changing the socio-economic rules we live by – the ones that have the system rigged in our favor.

But, even though the costs of claiming our Messiahship are obvious – the hidden cost of not doing so is even worse.

“Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee” is a famous quote from St. Augustine.  What does that mean?  It means there is no peace, genuine peace, until we claim our true identity.  To be at war within ourselves, denying our true worth and mission and purpose may keep us “safe,” but it also prevents true peace of mind and spirit from ever being possible.

Have you ever tried to keep a secret that was eating at you and hard to keep?  Or told a lie and then had to work at covering it up and remembering what you had told whom, so as not to blow your cover?  Pretending to be something we aren’t is very hard work,. It takes a lot of emotional energy.

Many years ago I had the privilege of playing the role of Bert Cates in a production of “Inherit the Wind.”  The play was demanding and required rehearsals late every night, and each night my part required that I fall in love on stage with a lovely young woman.  And then, to preserve my marriage, I had to fall back out of love again before I got home to my wife.   When the play was over I was exhausted – not just from the long hours, but emotionally exhausted from pretending to be something that I wasn’t.

And that’s also what happens all the time when we are at war with our very essence; we are tired and on edge, not close to being at peace.  We all want peace in our world, but peace has to start in our own souls and hearts. That means knowing and being true to who we really are.   In “Hamlet,” Shakespeare describes that important truth this way:

“This above all, to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

The internal conflict, the denial of our true selves as blessed children of God, me-ssiahs, happens at a deep level when we are convinced by a theology that overemphasizes the negative aspects of human nature.  Too often we hear only half the Bible, that we are horrible sinners, unworthy folks who need to “bewail our manifold sins and wickedness” (as the old Methodist communion ritual said).   But deep inside we know the truth, that we are created in the very image of God.  You see what an internal civil war that creates.

But Jesus comes to proclaim that truth, the very good news to the poor and the poor in spirit.  And that’s all of us.  When we measure our value and worth by economic standards, we inevitably feel like failures.  No matter how much we have in the bank, it is never enough – it could be gone tomorrow.  One good hospitalization can wipe out the largest nest egg.  And the same fear and negativity is true if we buy into the notion that our basic human nature awful and terrible at our core.

We are all sinners, yes, because we are fallible human beings who live in a world full of sin.  But that is not who we really are.  At the heart of our nature we are God’s children, created in God’s image.  We are one with our Lord and God – as we are told by the creation story in Genesis and by Jesus, our fellow Messiah.  He is the anointed one who proclaims at Nazareth and here today the good news that heals our spiritual blindness, sets us free from captivity to sin and fear, and empowers us to say yes to his call and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

“HEARING THE HEAVENS AND DOING THE WORD,” PS. 19:1-14

The heavens are telling the glory of God – without words – can you hear it?   Early morning bird song, gentle waves lapping at the sides of a canoe adrift on a lake at sunrise or sunset (if you aren’t a morning person!).    Most of us have felt the indescribable presence of God in nature at some time in our lives – as Robert Browning describes it in his famous poem, “Pippa’s Song:”

 “The year’s at the spring, and day’s at the morn,

Morning’s at seven; the hillside is dew-pearled;

The lark is on the wing; the snail’s on the thorn;

God’s in his heaven – all’s right with the world!”

We cherish such moments of communion with nature and the God who created it all – in part because it is extra-ordinary.  Such beauty transcends the mundane and ugly parts of life that are too much with us.  Partly because we don’t take time to seek out those special times and place, partly because it is increasingly hard to find such places in our hectic, crowded lives, polluted by noise and light and smog that tarnish our view of the heavens.  Yesterday’s Columbus Dispatch ran a story about air pollution being so bad in Beijing that they scored in the 700’s on a scale that is only supposed to go to 500!  A month after the Newtown massacre we know all too well that life is anything but peaceful and serene for far too many of God’s children.

Who was this Psalmist and what planet did he live on?  Would he or she have written such glowing idyllic words if he lived in the 21st century?  In our century of suicide bombers and devastation from storms caused by undeniable global warming and climate change?  What about the stagnant economy and congressional gridlock or senseless slaughter in Syria, starving kids in Darfur and Detroit?   The heavens may be telling the glory of God, but heaven is a long way from our troubled planet – and some skeptics say you can’t get there from here!!!

Given all that doom and gloom, even when we gaze at the vast expanse of the universe on a clear night and pray to our God in heaven, don’t we sometimes find ourselves feeling insignificant and lonely and asking what God’s done for us lately?

I know I do.  I can throw a great pity party – and then some friend on God’s behalf  reminds me that suffering is written large in every chapter of human history – from the crusades to the black  plague, from Roman imperialism to Nazi Germany and the Russian gulag, from the dark ages to modern day war lords, slavery and genocide.  And they also remind me that in every one of those generations a faithful remnant has heard and seen the cosmic goodness of God’s creation and refused to surrender to the forces of darkness.  Voices like Browning and our Psalmist have dared to affirm the goodness of creation and life, not because of turmoil and trouble, but in spite of it.  Luther, Augustine, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Paul of tarsus, Jesus of Nazareth – just to name a few – too many voices of hope that have made too great an impact on the world to write them off as unrealistic optimists.

And that doesn’t even begin to address biblical history.  Like many parts of the Bible, we don’t know for sure who wrote this Psalm or when, but knowing what we know about the history of Israel, it doesn’t really matter.  To get a picture of Israel’s political and economic history – imagine a place like Ohio being an independent country and all of our neighbors – Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, even Canada and that state up north, all take turns overrunning the Buckeye state and taking over our government and economy.  At one point we Ohioans are driven by a famine to Kentucky in search for food, and end up being slaves there for several hundred years to the pharaoh of Lexington.   When we finally escape and cross the Ohio River again, other people have taken over our homeland, and we have to fight a bitter guerilla war to reclaim it.  A then a few centuries later Michigan invades Ohio and our leaders are carried off to exile in Ann. Arbor.

Pretty ugly, right?  Well that’s Israel’s history – Israel isn’t a great agricultural country – they don’t have lots of natural resources or wealth; but what they had, especially in Bible times was location, location, location.   Remember your geography and Israel’s location in that narrow strip of arable land along the Mediterranean coast.  It’s called the Fertile Crescent because everything for hundreds of miles to the west is desert.  So that narrow strip of land was the only trade route between the great political and economic super powers of the day.  The only safe way between Greece, Assyria, Babylon and Rome on the north and Egypt on the south went right through Israel; so everyone wanted to control it, and took turns doing so.  My point is that no matter when this 19th Psalm was written, it could not have been describing some utopian era when “all was right with the world” because no such time to this day has ever existed in Israeli history.  The Jews are fully acquainted with grief – to the point where Tevye in that great musical “Fiddler on the Roof” at one point asks God, “couldn’t you choose someone else once in awhile?”

And yet in this Psalm and throughout the calamities of slavery, exile, wars and rumors of wars, God’s people appreciate and witness to the glory of God.  They heard the heavens proclaiming the glory of God – do we?

Maybe the Hebrews were closer to the earth and creation than we are in our urbanized technological world, but that’s no excuse.  God is still speaking and the cosmos is as magnificent and awesome as ever if we take time to listen to its power and assurance.  As the epistle James (1:17) puts it, “Every generous act is from above, from God, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”   God and the universe don’t change, no matter how badly we humans mess things up – that’s the good news.

The temptation for some, even many of us, may be to withdraw into the beauty of nature and tune out the cacophony of human conflict.  When I hear the shouting matches going on in federal and local legislatures over fiscal reform or hear the litany of senseless violence and tragedy on the nightly news, I can see value in high tailing it to Walden Pond or a remote mountain somewhere and communing with nature forever.  But we know better.   It’s not enough to hear the heavens proclaim the glory of God; we are expected to put that heavenly assurance into action.  From Micah’s admonition to “do justice” (6:8) to James urging us to “be doers of God’s word, and not hearers only” (1:22), the biblical message is clear.  We need faith and hope and strength from God in any form we can get it – but it’s not there to hoard for a rainy day.  Love is only love if you give it away, or as James puts it even more forcefully later in this letter – “faith without works is dead” (2:26).

Talk can be cheap, and we know actions speak louder than words.  So what does doing God’s word look like for us as Jesus followers today?  To be doers of the word we need to surrender control and allow the ways of Christ to inform every decision we make–about vocations and vacations, how we spend our time and money, how we share our resources and care for mother earth.  And beyond acts of charity and kindness, to prayerfully examine how doers of God’s word can make positive contributions to public policies that shape and influence the lives of everyone in society, not just our own.

We could say, “I have health care and my family is taken care of, so let’s leave the system the way it is, it works for me!!!”   Or, “there’s enough money in social security to last my life time, global warming won’t get serious till after I’m gone; so let someone else worry about those complicated issues.”

No, what the heavens proclaim from our cosmic God requires bigger thinking and responsibility from us, and by the grace of God we are capable of bold, creative action, even if fair and equitable solutions to health care and other social justice issues seem currently impossible to achieve.

Yes, the heavens proclaim God’s glory, but we still know that all is not right with the world; and guess whose job it is to fix it?  When we think about the beauty of God’s creation, we need to remind ourselves that the Bible doesn’t begin with Genesis chapter 3, which is where Adam and Eve get booted out of the garden.  The Bible begins with Genesis, chapter 1 – where humans are created in the very image of God and entrusted to be God’s agents and stewards in the world.

Let’s be very clear that to be God’s agents and doers of the word is not advocating for some kind of works righteousness.  We aren’t called to be doers of God’s word to earn brownie points with God.  None of us can do enough good deeds to earn our salvation – that’s a gift of grace for those who repent and surrender to God’s word.  Faith produces good works, not vice versa.  People of faith can’t not do acts of justice and compassion, because once we truly hear the heavenly voice of God we know we are connected to each other – we are brothers and sisters in Christ, including those who don’t yet know we’re all kin.

Above the clamor and racket of modern life, the heavens are still telling the glory of God today.  Stop, look and listen for it – hear the power and the majesty – the power and the majesty beyond words, beyond human comprehension, beyond human suffering and injustice!

Stop, listen, hear the heavenly voices, and then go from the places of cosmic beauty renewed, refreshed and inspired to be doers of justice and compassion and hope for those who most need to hear what the heavens are proclaiming.