The sermon by Sheri Hostetler is interspersed wth Helen Stoltzfus’ “An Easter Poem.” A video an audio recording of the sermon can be found in this folder.
There are worlds within this story. We have tried for so long to put this story into a little box. It contains multitudes. We have said that if you don’t believe in this story in a certain way, if you can’t fit into the little box with it, then this story isn’t for you. That isn’t true. This is our story. It contains multitudes.
In the beginning, God — named Elohim in the original Hebrew — in the beginning, Elohim created the heavens and earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God— the Ruach Elohim — was hovering upon the face of the deep. That Hebrew phrase, Ruach Elohim, from our creation story contains a metaphor obscured in most English translations. Itsuggests a nesting mother bird, hovering over the eggs of primordial chaos, over the fertile darkness, fanning the vital energy of life.
Years ago, I saw an exhibit on the beginning of the universe at a natural history museum. Around 13.7 billion years ago, everything in the entire universe was condensed into a minuscule point of denseness and heat and then — boom — everywhere and all at once this point expanded and it’s still expanding. We call this event the Big Bang, of course.
“Wait a second,” I said to Jerome and my friend at the museum. “That’s not the beginning. Nothing comes from nothing. Where did that minuscule point of denseness and heat come from?” I kept repeating this question. My companions soon tired of me. For years, I couldn’t figure out why everybody thought the Big Bang explained the beginning of the universe, when it so clearly didn’t.
About a year ago, a physicist named Will Kinney wrote a book about what came before the Big Bang. I felt vindicated. The book is called An Infinity of Worlds. Here’s what he says (my paraphrase): In the time before time, it was very cold and it was empty of everything except for a mysterious form of energy that permeated empty space. And then … this is going to sound like the Big Bang, but it’s not, it came before the Big Bang, just go with it…. And then, fueled by this mysterious energy, the universe burst forth from a patch of space about the size of a grapefruit to the size of our entire observable universe in less than a trillionth of a second.
In the beginning, the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Ruach Elohim was hovering upon the face of the deep, fanning the vital energy of life.
What if that which we call God is this energy of life? What if God is the physicist’s “mysterious form of energy” in which we and everything that has ever existed or will ever exist lives and moves and has our being?
In the dark
In the rich nest of soil
Where it rests
A mustard seed
A Green Fuse
The Life Force
The Great Opening
Do not explain
when matter is animated
when Life explodes
The word “God” is itself a box that limits what is limitless. In Exodus chapter 3, “God” appears in the form of a burning bush in the desert and reveals Their name to Moses. And what is that name? It’s not God. For millennia, scholars have tried to translate this untranslatable Name. Sometimes it’s “I Am Who I Am” or“I Bring into Existence Whatever Exists”or “I Will Be What I Will Be” or “I Am Becoming What I Am Becoming.” This Go” is capital- B Being itself. And this God is also Becoming itself. God is the Ground of our Existence, of all Existence. And God is also this ceaseless, expanding movement toward that which is not yet. In almost the last sentence of the Christian Scriptures, God says, “See, I am making all things new.” (Rev. 21:5).
Always and everywhere, God is always moving, always becoming.
So what’s God, the energy of life, becoming? Last July, NASA released the first images taken by the James Webb Space Telescope. The telescope was shot almost a million miles into space, and the photos it is sending back are mind-blowing. What you are seeing is the edge of a young star-forming region in the Carina Nebula. This Nebula is about 7500 light years from earth. Keep in mind that a light year is almost 6 trillion miles, so 45,000 trillion miles. We see what looks like craggy mountains on a moonlit evening. It’s really the edge of a giant gaseous cavity within the nebula. Those stars you see are young, very hot stars that are sculpting the nebula’s gaseous wall by slowly eroding it away. To give you a sense of scale here: The peaks of gas in this image are 7 light-years high. 42 trillion miles.
I Bring into Existence Whatever Exists. I Am Becoming What I Am Becoming.
Always and everywhere, God is always moving, always becoming. So what’s God, the energy of life, becoming? I don’t know about you, but my mind is kind of blown right now, and I need an example a little more down to earth.
With a seedy certainty
That this is the moment to
past dry clods of dirt
seeking out the damp
pockets of moisture
mainlining iron, phosphorus and folic acid
and vitamins A through Z
along the way
When I was at the Duomo cathedral in Milan a year ago, I went on a tour that allowed me to walk on the terraces outside of the cathedral. And on the marble walls there were plants growing. Seeds had somehow wormed their way into the tiniest crevices between the marble blocks and found something to grow in. Did you know they have to pay people to remove plants from the Brooklyn Bridge, a steel structure far from topsoil, because if they didn’t, all these plants with their relentless roots would eventually threaten the structural integrity of the bridge?
Here’s a video clip about the relentless becoming of plants from BBC’s “The Green Planet.” The narrator is the wonderful David Attenborough. (1:20-2:32)
I Bring into Existence Whatever Exists. I Am Becoming What I Am Becoming.
Yeshua was connected to this energy of life, to what we — perhaps anemically — call God. He was connected to the wisdom within his tradition, passed down to him in creation stories, in the story of the Burning Bush and in the revelation of the Holy Name. He knew he was a child of the great I Am.
He knew, and here I quote the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, because only poets can come close to this sacred truth. Yeshua knew:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. (Think olive oil not fossil fuel oil)
Yeshua also knew our forgetfulness. He knew we humans, perhaps alone among creation, don’t remember who we are. We feel alone and scared and separate from life and we hurt each other, we hurt the Earth, we hurt ourselves. We desecrate. We violate what is sacred. And of course, Yeshua’s body was violated, desecrated, crucified. One more beautiful human tortured and killed in an act of state-sponsored violence.
Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
Hopkins is living during England’s Industrial Revolution; he’s watching it happen in real time. And it is ravaging the English countryside; may I say crucifying it? Coal smoke is spewing across the land. The green earth is being paved over by roads; its lush forests cut down. People are leaving farming villages to crowd into factory boom towns, often toiling in horrible conditions. Hopkins saw how economic pursuits had polluted the landscape such that it looked and smelled only of humans now. Acrid smoke instead of the fresh scent of soil. Even the shoes that people wore cut off their physical connection from the earth.
Yet — this pollution and desecration do not remove God’s presence in, and care for, this world. Hopkins concludes his poem:
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Despite what we do, despite our forgetfulness, deep down the Life-force is always pulsing, always renewing the face of the earth, like sunrise always follows from the night. The source of this constant regeneration is the great I Am, who guards the broken world like a mother bird uses her body to guard her eggs, fanning the vital energy of life with Her bright wings.
Yeshua was connected to this energy of life, to what we — perhaps anemically — call God. He knew he was a child of the great I Am. He knew he was the life that will never, ever die. Many Latin American protectors of Mother Earth, many of whom have died protecting Her waters and soils, like Berta Caceras, have said, “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds!”
Yeshua was a seed. We are seeds. We are Life, children of the Great I Am, relentlessly finding the crack in the wall, birthing stars, flaming out, never spent. Alleluia!
finally winding its way around a rock
now a sprout
emerges into the sun
eats up the light
and wonder of wonders
holy of holies
soon offers up tender green
dew-sprinkled leaves to
all those who hunger and thirst.
As Christ burst forth from the tomb, and as universes burst forth from something, and as seeds burst forth from rock walls, may new life burst forth from us and show itself in acts of love and healing and joy.