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Third Week of Lent 2021: The Heavens Are Telling the Glory of God

Genesis 19: 1-6

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.

NASA photo - Hubble Deep Space Field.

We often think of Lent as a time of introspection. We assume the appropriate Lenten point of view is to look into our hearts to discover that for which we need to repent and be forgiven. And Lent is certainly that. But Psalm 19, one of the traditional Scriptural texts for Lent, reminds us not to forget to look outward as well.

In Lent we are on a pathway of discovering God's love for and presence with each of us. But as the Psalm reminds us, the full picture of that love and presence began with Creation itself. "The heavens are telling of the Glory of God" reminds us of the power and majesty of the God who so loved us, he gave us his only Son. (John 3:16)

The Hubble Deep Space Field

One of the most powerful religious experiences I have ever felt was the first time I saw the Hubble Deep Space Field. I grew up during the Space Race of the 1960's. My first career interest was engineering, and applied science. Several science courses were required for engineering students, but I also took an Astronomy course as an elective.

My first professional gig following graduation was at Texas Instruments. I was a marketing engineer for the Military Products Department of the Semiconductor Division. In that role I helped TI develop non-military customers for the military-grade products we were developing for such such programs as the F-16 fighter jet (the mainstay for many years of the Vermont Air National Guard) and the Pave-way missle (the first generation of "smart bombs"),

The two largest customers I supported in the two years I was at TI (1977-1979) were Bell Labs and NASA. The Bell Labs project was the prototype for digital telephone switching networks. The large building across from Memorial Auditorium in downtown Burlington was the home of one of these first-generation digital switching station for decades.. I never knew which NASA projects used TI semiconductors, but I would like to think the Hubble Project benefitted in some way. The Hubble telescope was launched in 1990.

I entered seminary at Perkins School of Theology two days after my final day at TI, in August 1979. It was several years later that I saw the Deep Space Field.

In that moment my love of space and technology suddenly and powerfully embraced an image of the God who created the universe that I saw in such dramatic precision in that photo..

The deep space field represented a of a miniscule piece of the night sky (the piece of sky that could hide behind a grain of rice held at arms length). With the naked eye, if you looked at that piece of sky you would only see the black infinity of space.

Yet, when NASA took a portrait of that sliver of space, it was far from empty. Every point of light in that picture is a galaxy. I surely said (or at least thought) , "Oh my God!" in that moment, and meant it with every fiber of my being. Whatever else I thought I knew about God, I now saw God's majestic power through the lens of that photo, both literally and figuratively!

And one of the most immediate effects of witnessing this photo was to not only help me put into perspective my life as an engineer, but also to help me understand the Triune God.. For in that moment It became clear to me that God the Creator was also God the Redeemer.

The God who knows each of us as a parent is also the very same God who created a universe too large and complicated for us to ever truly comprehend. And the God who I tried to serve as a teacher of ethics (and specifically, the ethics of technology) and later as a pastor was also the God who was present to me as an engineer as I literally helped turned swords into plowshares. I now saw that the products manufactured by an industry-leader in producing the machinery of war could be used to help us communicate with each other, and even see the mighty handiwork of God through a orbiting telescope.

photo by Imre Tömösvári on Unsplash
"If [the crowd] keeps quiet, the stones themselves will cry out." Luke 19:40

In some important ways, Psalm 19, a Scriptural passage traditionally read in the third week of Lent, points to Holy Week, the last week of Lent. When the religious leaders question the "Hosannas" being shouted by the crowds in Jerusalem, Jesus reminds them that the pavement stones, chunks of Creation itself, will "tell the glory of God."

This is one of the crucial messages of Lent. We are not only surrounded and given the very gift of life by God the Creator, those lives are redeemed by Christ Jesus. Lent simply gives us time to see and accept that truth, if we but slow down, and look, even at a small, seemingly empty piece of the night sky.

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Russ

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