This week's Cutting Room Floor covers one aspect of the sermon I didn’t have time to get to and also the new revelations from the Webb telescope. Let’s dive in.
From time to time, I’ll approach preparation and delivery of sermons from a different angle. As someone who likes to take on difficult tasks, approaching the sermonic moment with these variations keeps preaching fresh and makes it fun. The first person sections from this week were an example of the different approach. I know not everyone understood what was happening (my daughter included!) but some of you have remarked how your engagement with the sermon changed because of that shift.
One of the finer points that I could not tease out was the false and hypocritical worship of Bethel. It was false, to be sure, but it was also hypocritical. It was hypocritical because it professed to worshiping Yahweh when they were not actually worshiping him — saying one thing and doing another. This is a great danger of syncretistic worship which is when you take two religions and intermingle them so they combine to form a new thing. Think Jesus and wineskins here — Jesus did not come so that the Kingdom would be new wine in old wineskins because that would ruin them both. He came to bring a new thing. A new way. A new kingdom.
Another way to think about hypocritical worship is that it is ritual without righteousness. Here we see one great danger of succumbing to the worship of our idols and creating God in our own image. Hypocritical worship leads us to believe that the rituals associated with our worship makes one righteous. This is anti-gospel. It is anti-Jesus. Righteousness is the product of faith in finished work of Jesus Christ worked out in obedience.
Telescopes, Stars, and Existential Crises
Did you happen to see the new images from the James Webb telescope this week? They are stunning! Many of us have marveled at the images from the Hubble Telescope for years. The images coming from the Webb telescope improve on the already breathtaking Hubble images. There’s nothing like viewing hundred of galaxies within a small patch of sky and pondering the vastness of the universe and our own limited existence.
One fact I found interesting is that the Webb team consulted with religious leaders ahead of releasing the photos. They were concerned that this new information could shake the very foundations of the entire religious worldview of some people. The fact that humanity is not in the center of the universe nor (plausibly) the only habitable planet could be unsettling for some. But not to me.
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. - Psalms 19:1
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? - Psalms 8:1-4
Humanity has been pondering their existence, the origins of the universe, and our place in it for centuries. And the Bible has a word for us. All of the universe, even that small sliver that Webb enhances for us, declares the glory of God. It was divinely crafted by God to bring forth praise and elicit the awe and wonder that so often corresponds with creation. If these images lead us to anything, it should lead us to marvel, awe, and wonder at a transcendent God who does all things well. I hope it also places our lives within their proper context — so desperately and infinitesimally small yet so deeply loved by God without condition.
Love you deeply. See you Sunday!