Einstein, Hamilton and Advent

A sermon for Advent 1: Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 25:1-9, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, Luke 21:25-36

A hundred years ago Einstein worked out the math for his theory of gravity. Eight years before, leaning just a bit too far back in his chair, he realized falling feels just like weightlessness (Overvye). And if falling and gravity feel the same, he figured they must have the same cause (Corum and Daniel). Newton’s theory was that gravity was a force between two objects. For him, space-time was the stage on which matter and energy danced (Overvye). For Einstein, space-time is also an actor that “bends, folds, wraps itself around massive objects, disappears down black holes, jiggles, radiates in waves, whirls around like stuff in a mixer, rip, tears, stretches, grows, and collapses” (Overvye). Space-time tells matter – energy how to move, and matter – energy tells space-time how to curve (Overvye). Having seen how matter and energy are related, he now reveals how space-time and energy-matter mutually define the actions of the other. He reveals that there is a mutual interdependence at the center of how the universe works.

Today is the 1st Sunday of Advent. And although I despise Black Friday, I am, as I expect you are, irrespective of [quote] ecclesiastical {quote] expectations looking forward to Christmas. I have expectations about a tree, decorations, presents, another great meal, and family and friends. I imagine your anticipations are similar. I hope that you and I make the time to ponder the festivities around God’s incarnate appearance. And I expect you also know the equal importance of spending time pondering the return of the King.

All today’s reading hold, remembrances of the past, the truth of the present, in tension, waiting for a hope-filled future. Jeremiah is under house arrest. King Zedekiah is tired of all his doom and gloom prophecies. Jeremiah has recently bought a piece of land, not as a shrewd investment but as an act of hope, an act of trust that Israel really does have a future. While Israel is actually on the brink of disaster, their hope is in trusting that God is righteous and that God will restore Israel (Hoezee). Though written as if an individual is offering the Psalm, it is about the totality of life, which connects with understanding Advent connecting past, present and future (Jacobson). Jesus’ language is full of apocalyptic language. And we should not forget that by Luke’s day, the situation was worse. With the Jerusalem and the Temple destroyed the basis of Judaism was shattered. And though written for a primarily Gentile audience the impact is notable. There is distress among nations. There is confusion. Everyone is seeing signs in the sun, the moon and the stars, in the seas and waves (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner, Sermon Brain Wave). If they aren’t already, they are oh so close to being out of control. And most people, as do we are pretending as if ‘the time to come’ will not affect them. Luke, as is Jesus, is telling folks “Yes it will” (Hoch). And at the same time they encourage people to wait, to have hope, the Son of Man will return. The Thessalonians have taken a tremendous risk in turning away from the dominant culture of idols to follow this Jesus, the Messiah of the God of Israel, a tiny insignificant distant land, on the word of Paul, a wandering itinerate preacher, of dubious Jewish background. For them and Paul, whose own situation is precarious, relationship is everything. Paul is celebrating the news that they have not given up on him, as he has not given up on them (Pillar). And neither have given up on Jesus’ imminent return (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner, Sermon Brain Wave).

All these audiences live in the tension between the remembrance of what was, the fear of what is, as they wait, they hope for the promise to come. Biblical people remember the glories of David, live in the terror of occupation and perhaps exile, and hope for the messianic return. We remember our country’s foundation myths; we live in fear of ISIS, Paris, Mali, and corporate greed, and we hope for the promise of Bethlehem and the return of the King. It would appear as if everyone has gotten time all jumbled up. I expect so, but not necessarily ‘what was’ with ‘was is’, or ‘what might be.’ The confusion is between the passage of time, yesterday, today and tomorrow, with ‘the time supreme time for,’ the ‘right moment’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kairos). Jesus tells the crowds to be alert. Not to miss the danger, but so they won’t miss the right moment – the Kingdom of God (Heeds). It is similar for us. The challenge is how to use the hours of each day, to see and share the Kingdom of God that is already intruding into the world (Seller). And in looking and sharing we should be wary of exclusionary thoughts and actions that limit our awareness and acceptance of others with their spiritual baggage and insecurities (Hegedus).

The play Hamilton is a nontraditional musical that has swept off-Broadway. Inspired by Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton Lin-Manuel Miranda has masterfully presented the life and times of Alexander Hamilton. Kristin Fontaine was hooked when her son plugged his phone into their home stereo system. She was initially put off by its hip hop – rap style; but by the end of the second track she was hooked. She has bought the album, researched the lyrics, and dug into the history. She was intrigued by the next to last piece: The world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me. You may remember Aaron Burr fatally wounded Hamilton in a duel. The title comes from Burr’s reported statement near the end of his life:

Had I read Sterne more and Voltaire less, I should have known the world was wide enough for Hamilton and me (Fontaine).

It is a sad tale that illustrates the wisdom behind the Anglican via media. Via Media is not about finding the average of competing theologies. In truth, it is about growing a faith community that is wide enough to hold the diversity of faith traditions together in one overarching relationship. It is a very Advent like ideal.

Advent is a season to remember that ‘what was’ is related to ‘what is’ that together are related to ‘what will be.’ The history of ‘what was,’ biblical and otherwise, is mixed. There was promise, failure, the potential for restoration, yearning, waiting, which in Hebrew imputes hope, so there is hope. The story of ‘what is’ is also a mixed story. There are the remembrances, the longing for the good old days, there are challenges and failures, there are stories of grace and astounding surprises and success – place where we glimpse the Kingdom breaking in, and there are moments and stories of unmitigated horror, oppression, abuse, and terror. We pray, we wait for reconciliation, we hope. The story of ‘what will be’ is unknown; Jesus tells us: no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son (NRSV – Mark 13:32). What we do know is that God created a different life for us and the divine promise is that, in God’s time we, all of us, all of God’s people, will live life as promised (Lewis).

Einstein revealed a grand cosmic dance where everything through eternity pirouette in mutual dynamics. Advent is a time to reaffirm our trust in our righteous God; whose Kingdom includes all, whose love reconciles all, whose presence is already emerging, the Alpha-Omega, who is, who was, and who will be, who welcomes us to the eternal dance.

 


 

References

Corum, Jonathan and Jennifer Daniel. “What Is General Relativity?” New York Times (2015). <http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/11/24/science/what-is-einsteins-general-relativity.html?&gt;.

Fontaine, Kristin. The world is big enough. 24 11 2015. <http://www.episcopalcafe.com/speaking-to-the-soul-the-world-is-big-enough/&gt;.

Hegedus, Frank. “Be Alert, Advent 1(C) – 2015.” 29 11 2015. Sermons that Work. Hoch, Robert. Commentary on Luke 21:2536. 29 11 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lection Gospel Luke 21:25-36. 29 11 2015.

Jacobson, Rolf. Commentary on Psalm 25:110. 29 11 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis, and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 29 11 2015.

Lewis, Karoline. Why Advent? 29 11 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.

Overvye, Dennis. “A Century Ago, Einstein’s Theory of.” New York Times (2015). <http://nyti.ms/1NpejJQ&gt;.

Pillar, Edward. Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 3:913. 29 11 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Sellery, David. As time goes bye. 24 11 2015. <http://www.episcopalcafe.com/speaking-to-the-soul-thy-kingdom-come/&gt;.

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