Stargazers John 1: 1-5; Ephesians 1:3-14               January 4, 2009

Our first reading from the Gospel of John presents us with God's offer of Light and Life to all people. God gives humankind a way out of merely existing by revealing the nature of true life. This life, John speaks of, is so much more than simple physical existence. It is in fact the reason the Word became Incarnate - to bring this life to all humanity.
John envisions the role of the Logos (the Word) as continuing the divine creation that Genesis 1 narrates. At the beginning of creation, God proclaimed, "Let there be light." Now, with the person of the Christ, John wants us to hear the call, "Let there be life." Now we are the bearers of God's light and life to those around us. "Shine like stars in a dark world" (Philippians 2:15).
The just shall live by faith, the Bible says, not the just shall just live. Just living, slogging through life's motions day after day is not what Jesus offers. By becoming an integral part of creation, an incarnate being, Jesus was able to bring creation alive. Authentic life is not lived out merely for survival's sake. It is life so vibrant and illuminating that its sheer presence shines light into everything around it.

The Call of the Wild author Jack London voiced his own yearning for authentic life over mere living with words that clearly distinguished these two choices: "I would rather be ashes than dust. I would rather that my spark should bum out in a brilliant blaze than it be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. A proper function of a [person] is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them; I shall use my time."

The greatest wonder of Logos-life is that, unlike London's vision of a blazing but then extinguished life of light; through Christ, we enjoy both the blinding brilliance and the eternal flame.
We do not have an atom in our bodies that isn't the product of some dead star. How's that, you say?
Look at the vein in the back of your hand. What makes your blood red?
Hemoglobin. What makes hemoglobin?
Iron. Where do we get iron?

Only from the stars. Moreover, if a mineral is heavier than iron, it has been made in a supernova. 
In his usual witty style, Mark Twain quips, "Don't expect too much of human beings. We were created at the end of the week when God was tired and looking forward to a day off."
God made us from the "dust of the ground," Genesis declares (2:7) but it must have been stardust, the swirling stuff of exploding gas and dust that is flung into space as the core of a dying star collapses.  

In her book, A Big-Enough God, author Sara Maitland reflects on the immensity of space and our place in it:
I admit to finding it hard to grasp really and finally that, if there is a show going on, we are not the audience. We cannot be the audience, and there is no place "outside" where we can take a seat and settle down to watch. The risky and changing nature of the universe, its slow history and its internal creativity, goes on in me, in us all, as much as in the farthest star. Indeed the two are not so separate or different, for the stuff of which I am made / and the far-flung stars are made / is the same stuff.
All of Creation comes from God. A pastor in Phoenix, Arizona ends his letters with a greeting that fits the desert southwest: "Keep the Son in Your Eyes." What our Ephesians Epiphany text is saying to us is something similar: "Keep the stars in your eyes."

Keep the stars in your eyes when you look at yourself. Did you ever stop to think how celestial we are in our very dustiness, our earthiness? "From dust you came, and to dust you shall return" is really a committal to the skies, not to the dank, dark underground.

Perhaps it was that reality that caused the writer of the Book of Daniel to exclaim, "Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever" (12:3). Keep the stars in your eyes when you look at yourself and realize God made you and declared, "It is good."

Keep the stars in your eyes when you look at the past. Isn't it the height of irony that astrology seeks to foretell our futures when, the farther we peer into the heavens, the farther back in time we are looking? By gazing at the stars, we are actually coming to terms, not so much with our future as with our past. Remember the incredible pictures the Spacecraft Hubble telescope transported back to Earth? The Hubble photographs were of events that happened thousands and thousands of years ago.

In other words, the more you try to look into the future using the stars, the more you are dealing with the past. However, what makes for lousy fortune-telling makes for good theology. We can look back at the vastness of the universe and see within it the design and handiwork of God's eternal plan for our redemption. Then we can joyfully claim our stardust heritage and our celestial roots.

Keep the stars in your eyes when we look at Christmas and discover our stardust heritage. The baby Jesus opened his eyes and beheld the most brilliant of starlit skies shining down on his humble birthplace. The Son of God was born literally with "stars in his eyes." No wonder the author of Revelation calls Jesus the "Morning Star."

Keep the stars in your eyes when we look at Epiphany Sunday. The Magi knew to follow a star in order to find the newborn child who would become a great king.
Keep the stars in your eyes when we look at the church. Those of us who would follow this awesome Morning Star need a vehicle to guide us safely to him. For this purpose, Christ authorized the construction of a very special vessel, the starship church.
As the body of Christ on Earth, the church exists among us now as a remnant of the stars, while it sets its ultimate destination for an eternal place among the celestial heavens. Those of us aboard the starship church are there out of grace and out of election. We all share a common inheritance of stardust -- but it is only because of grace that we might yet learn to shine.
The Pauline writer speaks confidently of how God "chose us in Christ" (v.4) and "destined us for adoption ... according to ... his will" (v.5) as is "freely bestowed on us" (v.6) the gift of grace. However, we must be careful not to read church history back into this language. Nowhere in Ephesians is the notion of "election" used to suggest that some will be saved and others damned.
The glory of divine election is viewed as an opportunity for praise and wonderment. Set in contrast to the other ancient Near Eastern philosophies of capricious fate, the notion of an engaged God who is intimately involved in all aspects of life is a comforting thought indeed.

From the Ephesians text, we learn not only of divine redemption for all creation -- for Jew and Gentile, male and female, enslaved and free, rich and poor -- but that the invitation to salvation has always been God's plan from the beginning of time.
The divine blueprint extends beyond our time to encompass all of creation, all of the expanding universe. We share fully in our cosmic "inheritance" when we place ourselves in the orbit of Christ's redemption and when we allow the Holy Spirit to work through us in calling others into a spiritual solar system of faith, hope and love.

Keep the stars in your eyes when you look at each other and the problems of our world. Granted, as poet/ novelist Sara Maitland observes, "Our bones may indeed be the dust of the old red stars, in fact they demonstrably are, but it is hard to forge a logical connection between that fact and how, say, I ought to vote tomorrow" (A Big-Enough God [New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1995], 151). But if you keep the stars in your eyes when you look into the problems of our world, answers do seem to emerge.

Edgar Mitchell, in The Way of the Explorer: An Apollo Astronaut's Journey Through the Material and Mystical Worlds, "Shortly after returning from the moon, I was often invited to speak at various occasions. In lecture halls and auditoriums across the country, two questions were inevitably asked. The first was, "How do you go to the bathroom in space?" and the second was, "What did it feel like to walk on the moon?"" 
Attention, Starship Church: will you keep the stars in your eyes? God's promises are like stars. When you confront the problems of our world, even with a gnawing in the pit of your stomach and a lump in your throat, can you keep your feet on the ground, your head in the clouds, and the stars in your eyes?
There was a gift for each of us left under the tree of life 2000 years ago by the one whose birthday we just celebrated. The gift was withheld from no one. Some have left their packages unclaimed. Some have accepted the gift and carried it around, but have failed to remove the wrappings and look inside to discover the hidden splendor. The packages are all alike: In each is a scroll on which is written, "All that the Father hath is thine. " Take and live!
And with that, I wish you a happy and blessed New Year.
 Rev. Rosemary Stelz                                                                                   

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