Guiding Stardust toward Good – September 18

A sermon based on Psalm 8 and Psalm 53,

given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on September 18, 2022

by Rev. Scott Elliott

I wrote this sermon for last Sunday, September 11, but due to COVOD I was out and unable to preach it. I decided it ought to still work a week later. It was inspired by conversations we had in our recent Talks About God class, 9-11 and a dear friend of mine’s experience that day.   Some of this sermon’s focus is on the first part of the invocation the fools-say-there-is-no-God part, but my goal is to provide evidence of the lesson from Psalm 8 that John just read so well; that when we look at God’s heavens, the work of God’s fingers, the moon and the stars that God established; somehow humans matter and are cared for, that we sometimes deserve the crown of God’s glory and honor.

A number of times in our TAG class we discussed the Webb telescope photos we’ve been seeing for a few months that have so many of us in awe and wonder. Those photos bring into high relief a sense of a creation too magnificent for me to think it reasonable to conclude random chance and chaos created the universe. The telescope is said to be able to look at starlight that has been traveling since nearly the beginning of the universe over thirteen and half billion years ago. We are seeing the starlight from way, way back,  near to the beginning  of its travels. This is really rather remarkable stuff that mind boggling-ly allows us to time-travel back to see that very ancient light.

Since the time that starlight began, stardust has also been on a journey traveling the universe, expanding the universe, and becoming a part of absolutely every physical bit of the universe. Gazillions of atoms of that stardust have clustered together to form galaxies and planets and a myriad of other celestial bodies in such complex formations it is hard to imagine that no conscious, creative and wise being or force has been involved in it.  In my experience things just don’t fall together in a complex manner by themselves without conscious, creative and wise thought and action.

We tend to forget that bits of stardust not only make up celestial bodies, but also cluster together to make every other animate and inanimate thing that humans have long encountered in creation, all of which are also very complex and extremely well-conceived and put together. So even without the modern benefit of a super telescope, it’s not hard to understand why the Psalmist wrote that “only fools say to themselves ‘There is no God.’” I get that it is easy to reject many human notions of God, especially the petty angry punishing humanoid-like god often portrayed by religious leaders and theologians and found in parts of the Bible.  I am an atheist to that god, but a great Creator force or being appears not only very reasonable to believe in, but seems to me to be an inevitable logical conclusion given the evidence of scientific laws and order and discoveries– not to mention the complex nature of creation we encounter all lifelong. While we may not be able to come close to comprehending how or what that force or being truly is, common sense indicates creation is far too complicated and ordered to occur by happenstance.

Because the idea of God has been so misused and corrupted by humankind, I would not call those who claim there is no God fools, but as I said I understand why the Psalmist might draw that conclusion.  At the end of the day, this beingness we have, and are in, and are aware of, is just too grand to be merely clutters of stardust formed, and forming, by chance. Atheists may call me a fool for saying that, but I’m more than okay with being that sort of a fool for Christ.

I mentioned that we tend to forget that stardust makes up everything, but most of all I think we forget that trillions of atoms of stardust form each human being, that stardust makes up and shares the ride through life that we all have.

We don’t really know how, but once our bodies are formed of stardust a unique soul grows attached at some point and learns to animate our little portion of stardust. Since adulthood – adolescence even– we have possessed the power to decide where it goes and what it does–subject to environmental and physical restraints. The way I see it, we have been blessed with the great privilege of piloting a part of the cosmos here and now. How wondrous is that?

We can only imagine where our stardust began, where it’s been and where it’ll go. Biblically speaking we can understand it to be the dust from which we have come and dust to which we shall go. But in its present clustered human form which comprises us, we  can claim for now that stardust is us and that we are in charge of it. We are the stuff of stars and stars are the stuff of us– except for that one huge apparent difference, the measure of star stuff that constitutes us, has a soul in charge. When we take our first breath that already glorious dust miraculously lives. Even more miraculously that dust soon grows to include consciousness that it’s alive and longs for knowledge and creativity and love. We appear to uniquely be a life form that knows it’s alive and is intentionally creative and ordinarily has the ability to choose to be moral and loving or not.

Again, throughout history the vast majority of humans have concluded that whatever drew stardust together to form the existence of all things and us must also be a conscious creative and wise being or force, not to mention vastly greater than we are. We have called that greater consciousness and Creator, God. And we fancy that God is incarnated in us from our first to last breath animating us and drawing us toward our own best-ness, as well as the best-ness of others.

This dust and breath stuff I’ve been going on about has Biblical support. In the Book of Genesis, we are told that God formed humans from dust – AND that God brought us to life with God’s very own breath.  We are also told that we are made in the image of God, which clearly does not mean we can create a universe or design life, but rather seems to suggest that like God we can create and imagine and draw ourselves and others toward best-ness on an earthly level scale, if not a truly cosmic scale.

Last week was, of course,  the anniversary of a very tragic event that started with ungodly human conduct that acted in the opposite direction from best-ness. Ironically, and horribly,  men claiming to be religious and acting for God committed those terrible acts of terror that brought down four jets, two crashing into the Twin Towers in New York, one crashing into the Pentagon and the other heroically thwarted from its target crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.  There were nearly three thousand deaths and over twenty-five thousand injuries. The terrible evil deeds by men claiming to be religious shook the nation and the world to its very core.  Stardust in nineteen men and their cohorts did not act in a Divine incarnational manner, rather they incarnated evil in their acts casting a long dark shadow that looms even still.

When 911 comes up we tend to think about the darkness those men mis-guided their stardust to cause.  I would argue that how humanity came together in the immediate aftermath, though, is theologically of far more import and far more telling. The amazing gracious acts of millions of others guiding their stardust toward the care and desire and actions for the well-being of others far outshines the darkness and shadow. I suspect most of us might first think of the heroic acts of the first responders, and rightly so, the heroism of the firefighters, police and ambulance crews cannot be questioned, to this day their selfless acts are inspirational, laudable and worthy of great praise and honor. Those men and women– as well as the heroes on Flight 93– guided their stardust into the fray to save as many as they could that day. It’s beautiful, Christ-like stuff.

When I think of 911 I always seen to end up thinking about one man, my dearest friend from law school, Brent.  He was in New York City that day to attend a 9 am meeting on the 109th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center.  As he was walking to the meeting he stopped to aid a woman on the street who fainted when she saw a plane fly into the north tower.  At that moment no one knew more was to follow or that the towers would collapse. Brent continued to head for his 9am appointment, but his effort to help that stranger fortunately caused him to be late.  Instead of being on the 109th floor he was just getting into South Tower elevators when he and the large crowd down in the lobby heard the second plane hit the Twin Tower they were in. There was mass hysteria and fortunately Brent moved with the crowd out of the building. He describes it like being stuck in a “herd of gazelle on the run” and he went with the flow.

When he got outside he started running with others away from the buildings and he didn’t stop for four blocks. He remembers hearing people running alongside talking about America being under attack, about the Pentagon being hit and warnings to stay away from tall buildings.  Knowing the news was out and his family would be very worried, Brent ran to a law office he’d been to before to use their phone. No one was in the building, but he grabbed a desk phone and called his wife to tell her he was alive. Then he ran out of the office and turned to look toward the south tower he had been in.  It crumpled before his eyes transfixing him and everyone else watching until they saw the now famous dangerous cloud of dust and debris barreling toward them.

Brent ran again and did not stop until he got to Grand Central Station four miles from the towers. By then he was covered in dust and ash.  The station was locked so he started walking from hotel to hotel, but “there was no room at the inn.”  A long time Christian it finally dawned on Brent to go to a faith community. Remarkably Muslim, Jewish, Christian and other faith communities had already sprung into action only a half hour after the last tower had fallen. Faith communities rolled out carpets, set up cots and mats and made way to shelter refugees in religious buildings and coordinated with members to provide beds in their own homes to strangers.

Brent lives in Utah so he could not have been more of a stranger in New York, but you know what? The first church he wandered into gave him the name of a wonderful family that took him in, fed him, sheltered him and even walked him to a store to buy a toothbrush and comb since all of his belongings were left behind in the rush to survive.   Brent was so touched by the love and kindness of strangers he names his NYC 911 story as “one of honor and brotherhood and service that he’d never seen before.”1. He believes that care and kindness, that solidarity – those amazing acts of love– are what kept him from experiencing continuing debilitating trauma from 911.

In all its awfulness September 11, 2001 ended up being a day that he was personally embraced with love and saved– and to this day Brent is overwhelmed by that, and so very grateful for it too. And thank God Brent’s experience was not the only one. All across the city people– ordinary Joes and Janes and their children– tended to the well-being of strangers displaced by the 911 attacks. Faith communities and many others did what needed to be done to provide basics and kindnesses to the displaced.

We know too that all across the world people of all walks of life far and wide did what they could do to help. From giving a place to sleep, to giving blood, to giving money to giving support to giving prayers. humanity acted as the hands and feet and voice of God.  No one had to! They did it out of love– the care and desire for the well-being of others. We are animated stardust that by and large wants to, and does, love.

Our Bibles inform us that God is love. And the love shown to Brent and countless others by countless others on 911 is further proof that God exists. We are bits of stars with a blueprint to care and tend to the well-being of each other. Virtually everyone on 911, after the Towers were hit, proved that’s true.  See, there is not only proof that God exists, but proof that God is in us all. AMEN

Endnotes:

  1. Brent and I spoke before I wrote this sermon to discuss his story and using it in this sermon.I also read a ten-year 911 anniversary article about Brent’s experience written by Lee Benson which can be found at this link: https://www.deseret.com/2011/9/9/20214871/about-utah-9-11-emotional-not-painful-for-s-l-attorney

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