Written by Pastor Ed
Realizing Our Potential
May 22, 2016
Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31
For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated with space. Maybe it’s because of my age and the fact that I can remember watching with fascination as Alan Shepherd was launched on his, what now seems incredibly short, but then was a major trip into space. Thankfully it happened during the school day and the whole student body gathered in a stairway to watch the event on the one TV that the school had. I say thankfully since we didn’t have a TV at home to watch it on.
Similarly, as John Glenn made his first orbital flight, my teacher allowed me to stay and watch the entire flight while the rest of the class had to return to the classroom. Those are images I remember well, along with the grainy images of the moon landing, which I have pictures of somewhere , taken of the TV screen at my uncle’s house where we watched.
Thanks to Gay’s parent’s retirement home a few miles from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, I had the opportunity to witness numerous shuttle launches over the years, and then in January had the opportunity to tour the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA where our son was doing an internship. It is rather mind expanding to think about the kind of work that goes on in a place like that – and that it’s just an everyday occurrence to sit and talk matter of factly about the Rover that’s running around on Mars, or the planning being done for an eventual manned mission to Mars.
And while the Psalmist didn’t have anywhere near the knowledge of the universe that we do, it only took a contemplation of what was visible to make him feel small and insignificant. The same was true for other authors as well. The writer of Proverbs, or at least the section we read, contemplates the place of Wisdom in creation and in the process marvels at the wonder of the created world.
And when you put humankind in that perspective, you recognize how small a part of the universe we really are. I was looking for an image for the front of the bulletin, and ran across the one you see which gives some sense of what the psalmist asks. We are but a tiny speck on a tiny speck in the whole of the universe. It’s very humbling, or I think it should be, to recognize how insignificant humanity really is.
And yet, the psalmist continues, God has made us only a little less than divine, a little less than the angels, or gods, depending on your translation. Humanity has been given charge of God’s creation, has been able to figure out the vastness of the universe, or at least some of it. It’s amazing that even ancient civilizations were able to figure out the movements of the stars, the solstices, etc. The fact that we can explore the moon, or send a rover to Mars is amazing.
So what is our view of humanity? Are we, as according to some, insignificant wretched pieces of flesh, utterly corrupt and sinful unless we are somehow redeemed by God in Christ? Or are we full of potential, like little gods who have been given dominion over the rest of creation to do as we please with it and exploit it to our full advantage? Or is it somewhere in between?
This past week, in our MCA Faith Studies series we explored the idea of faith development, particularly as it relates to young adults, but more broadly as we view it across the life span. It was an invigorating conversation and we explored all kinds of questions from “What is faith?” to “what is an adult?” But underlying much of the discussion was the question of how we view humanity?
It’s an intriguing question, because how we answer it makes a fair bit of difference in how we view our place in the world, and even how we see our role in passing on our faith to our children.
One view of humanity is that, with the Fall, the arrival of sin in the garden, humanity is totally wicked and evil. There is nothing good in us. And certainly we could cite many examples to prove that point of view. All you have to do is pick up the newspaper or go on-line to read the news and you can see the presence of evil people in the world. And certainly we agree with the Apostle Paul that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The evidence is all around us. But somehow, to take that view of our humanity is to ignore much of what goes on in the world, and the second half of Psalm 8.
But neither can we swing all the way to the other extreme and think that humanity can do no wrong; that there is no evil or sin in the world. And certainly from time to time we see the goodness of the human spirit as we respond to things like the Ft. Mac. Fire, or the response to refugees around the world. But while the psalmist creates a lofty picture of humanity as “crowned with glory and honour,” humanity is still less than the gods. While being made in the image of God, we are still part of the created order. And while we have been given dominion over the rest of creation, it is clear that we are not free to do whatever we want with that creation, for to do so is to put ourselves into peril.
There are limits on us, something James Loder whom our speaker this week referred to, called the Void. Ultimately we are limited. And we are reminded of that every day. There are certain things we simply can’t do. There are people we can’t get along with, deadlines we can’t meet, places we can’t go to. Our powers of endurance limit us. And ultimately we are limited by death, something that stares us in the face from time to time, or of which we are reminded by events around us.
I was reminded of my age this week when I and one other person in the group became the “oldsters” as we reacted to a video, and when my elder son turned 37. And I’m not as old as some of you. But all of those things remind us of our limitations as humans. So while we may have been created in God’s image and given dominion (and we could debate what that word means) over the rest of creation, we are still human and come face to face with our limitations.
But both the psalmist, as well as the writer of Proverbs, point us to that which overcomes our limitations and allows us to realize our full potential, namely, our creator. After recounting Wisdom’s role in creation, the writer goes on:
“And now, my children, listen to me: happy are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.” Prov. 8: 32-33
The psalmist marvels that God, the creator cares about us, such an insignificant yet important part of the creation. Yet God does care about us, and comes to us in many ways, both large and small. Whenever we face those limits of our humanity, we are reminded of the cross, where Jesus faced that ultimate limit of death, and then defeated that death in resurrection. So we too have those resurrection moments.
Granted they aren’t always life and death experiences, but whether large or small, God breaks into our lives to remind us that the limits of our lives have been overcome, not by our own doing, but by God in Christ.
And it is in that realization that we can then live to our fullest potential. It is no longer, as Paul says, I who live, but Christ living in me. The I, who has limits, has been taken over by Christ, who has burst the bonds of limits. Faith then becomes living without regard to the limits put on us by our humanity. We become transformed into the likeness of Christ. We call it salvation.
Unfortunately, all too often we miss those moments of God breaking in. Perhaps we only see the limits of our humanity. I have often experienced that at the time of a person’s death, in many ways the clearest example of our limitations as humans. We die. Yet, as I have often exclaimed to a family gathered around a bedside, that is a truly holy moment when we recognize God’s breaking in with a hope that lies beyond our limitations.
As I noted earlier, we experience our limitations all the time. Whether it’s falling and breaking a bone, discovering that we can’t do something we wanted to do, realizing that not everyone likes us, or facing our own death, we are reminded again and again that life has limits. That’s reality. But it is also the case that the God who created this vast and marvelous universe, the moon and the stars, galaxies far beyond what we can see, that same God breaks into our world of limits and shatters those limits in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for us.
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.