The Rev. Dianne O’Connell                                                                     

First Congregational Church                                                     

January 30, 2011                                                                     

Genesis 1:1-10

John 1:1-14

Psalm 8

God: The Epic

(Three parts thereof)

Good morning.  Last week I made the offer to take suggestions for sermon topics and several of you came through with some powerful questions.  The first one “out of the box,” read something like this:

"Dianne, we live in a technological world and yet very little is shared from the pulpit about how to merge our beliefs with new discoveries.  How do we cope with the knowledge that there are billions of stars yet we cling to belief that God is a being that directs our actions here on earth?  It seems to me that we diminish God. (signed) Emma"

I’ve shared this question with several of my personal sermon consultants this week and find that almost everybody jumps into the conversation with enthusiasm and goes out of their way to share resources, send me links, news clippings, a thumb drive, even the full text of a 1939 sermon by Paul Tillich.  As the week drew to a close, I shared my growing collection of resources with a friend, who sighed,

“You have four different sermons there.  You are going to have to pick a focus.”

And she was right.  I had a topic of epic proportions; we’re talking about the creation of the Universe here, and perhaps, the preservation of Civilization.  Keep it short and to the point, my friend repeated.  Okay, I’m going to explore three questions.

One:       Theology and Technology, are they mutually exclusive?

Two:       Inner and Outer Space, does God endorse both travel packages.

Three:    Are humans destined to be slaves or partners in this earthly enterprise?

One: Theology and Technology, are they mutually exclusive?
I hope not, because if they are, we are in serious trouble as a Civilization.  It is true that historically, the religious community has been less than supportive of the scientific community and the scientific community has held the religious community in some distain.  We can point to Galileo vs. Pope Urban VIII on up to today’s debates concerning stem cell research.  Need we even mention the on-going evolution versus creationism battles in our public schools.  In the interest of our country’s new goal of practicing civil discourse, let us give each side in these debates credit for sincerely-held beliefs. But having said that, I also want to encourage those of us who consider ourselves progressive Christians to formulate and express our own sincerely-held beliefs – identifying ourselves as Christians – so that the community at-large knows that there are an overwhelming number of us who not only support science, technology and medical research, but do so from a well-developed spiritual/ethical base.

Those in the scientific community need to do a better job of communicating the importance of science to religious people.  And I would add, that we religious people need to do a better job of explaining the role of faith and spirituality in a technological world.  Why?  Because, as we were told this week, America has reached another Sputnik moment. We either move forward with some vigor, or we doomed to fall way behind.

Emma Walton loaned me a PowerPoint presentation this week with some interesting facts to consider.  The 25 percent of the population in China with the highest IQs is greater than the entire population of North America.  Translation:  They have more honor kids than we have kids. Plus, China will soon become the number one English speaking country in the world.

You probably know that we are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, in order to solve problems we don’t know are problems yet. The amount of new technical information is doubling every two years.  For a student starting a four year technical degree, this means that half of what they learn in the first year of their study will be out of date by the third year of their study.

Predictions are that by the year 2013 – that’s two years from now – a super computer will be built that will exceed the capabilities of the human brain.

Except for small pockets of dissent, we in the religious-spiritual community are just as interested in technological progress as anyone else. In fact, we are engaging in truly scientific experiments of our own.  Science and religion are both interested in a person’s quality of life. Like a hospital care team, involving the medical specialists, the chaplain, the nutritionist, even the housekeeping department – our world needs to keep our working relationships functioning while encouraging one discipline to learn from the other. But there is more.

So far, we’ve been thinking from the point of view of a scientist.  With this week’s Sputnik references, let’s take a look at the work of one aeronautical scientist.

Point Two:  Inner and Outer Space, does God endorse both travel packages?

U.S. Navy captain Edgar Mitchell was one of the astronauts on the Apollo 14 mission to the moon back in the 1970s. Space exploration symbolized for Mitchell what it did for the nation: a technological triumph of historic proportions, unprecedented mastery of the world in which we live, and extraordinary potential for new discoveries. What Mitchell didn’t anticipate was a return trip that triggered something even more powerful. As he watched the Earth float freely in the vastness of space, he became engulfed by a profound sense of universal connectedness. That moment, for Mitchell, was an epiphany, and it sowed the seeds of his next mission, which he described on his website.  His mission would be:

“To broaden the knowledge of the nature and potentials of mind and consciousness and to apply that knowledge to the enhancement of human well-being and the quality of life on the planet.”


To that end, he founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences in 1973. Noetic, from the Greek word noetikos, means “inner/intuitive knowing.”  We call it spirituality.

As a physical scientist, Mitchell had grown accustomed to directing his attention to the objective world “out there.” But the experience that came to him while hurling through space led him to a startling hypothesis: Perhaps reality is more complex, subtle, and mysterious than conventional science had led him to believe. Perhaps a deep understanding of consciousness (inner space) could lead to a new and expanded view of reality in which objective and subjective, outer and inner, are understood as equal aspects of the miracle and mystery of being.

Mitchell’s Institute scientifically studies the inner space of the mind.  There are other scientists bent on the similar quests.

Andrew Newberg is director of research at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia. He talks about his neurological study of religious and spiritual experiences – a study now called “neurotheology.”  The goal is to address the philosophical, theological, and scientific issues related to this field. We understand that practices like meditation and prayer can lower anxiety and depression, and even help the brain remember better. Thus, religion, spirituality can change your brain.

For some of us, this all lends credibility to Jesus’ comments that the Kingdom of God is within us (Luke 17:20) and “No one has ever seen God; but if we love each other, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (I John 4: 12) The mystics suggest that this Divine Love or Divine Spark is what draws us closer and closer to our Original Source.  Could this be true?

Point Three: Are humans destined to be slaves or partners with God in this earthly Enterprise

It all depends upon how you view God, I suppose. It’s time to refer to the theologians.  I think there is truth to the idea that we assign God attributes that we want or need our God to possess. Most of us know that we can’t begin to comprehend the Unfathomable Mysterium Tremendum but we try to comprehend the small part that is of most importance to us at the time.    

The Book of Genesis, for instance, while not hard science, provides a theological basis for our values, our relationship with God and with each other, as well as what aspects of life we deem Holy.

Let’s go back to the beginning.  Maybe not all the way back, but back to the Babylonian Exile.  The Babylonians, if you remember, conquered Israel in 597 BCE. The Jews were held captive until Babylon itself fell to Persia in 538 BCE. – about 58 years.

While in Babylon, the Jewish people could not help but hear references to two religious poems:  The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Enuma Elish. The Gilgamesh story of The Flood dated back ten to twenty centuries; and the oldest copy known of the Enuma Elish, back to about 1700 B.C.E. 

The Enuma Elish told the story of the Babylonian God Marduk and the creation of the world. In it, Marduk kills the goddess Tiamat and forms the sky with half her body and the earth with the other half.  He then turns to the work of making humanity. 

“I will establish a savage,” he says, “’man’ shall be his name. He shall be charged with the service of the gods that they might be at ease.”

In Babylonian mythology, mankind was created to be slaves to the gods and to the ruling elite, who thought of themselves as gods. 

The exiled Jewish priests took issue with this viewpoint.  They huddled, compared mental notes, and for the first time wrote down their own ancient stories. The Creation Epic of Genesis One was developed as part of this process.  The Jewish version was similar to, but significantly different from, the Babylonian story.  The priestly writers assured the people that Yahweh, not Marduk, created that Universe. And it wasn’t through some bloody battle between a god and goddess resulting in the death of one. Their language spoke of something definitely more loving,

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was HOVERING over the waters.  Let there be light.  God saw that the light was good and he separated the light from the darkness. And it was good.

And then God became lonely and created a man, and gave him dominion over creation. And then he created a helpmate for the man.  All acts of friendship, even love – right from the Beginning.  While the Babylonian god created humanity to be slaves, the Judeo-Christian God created humanity to be beloved heirs. 

Let’s remember some more of the imagery in Genesis One. Our God walks with his creations in a garden.  He teaches them.  Gives them gifts.  Corrects them, when they get it wrong. To help them exercise responsible dominion, God gives humanity the intellectual tools to figure out how this world, this life, all works, both out there and inside here. He gave mankind rules and the power of insight so that we might build and nurture relationships between brothers, villages, nations, and possibly someday, planets.

I offer these observations because in the Judeo-Christian religious worldview, right from the beginning, God cared about our individual acts and the well-being of his creatures.  The Babylonians saw mankind as slaves.  The Hebrews saw mankind as partners and heirs in God’s creative effort. God created the world and our job was to learn how it works and to take care of it.  And this would eventually involve the physical sciences as well as the social sciences.  It would involve art, music, and spirituality.


The Greeks invented a different god for everything.  The genius of the ancient Hebrew religious writers was that they recognized that all aspects of God were really All One God -- in one mysterium tremendum package.

So, yes, there are billions of stars, Emma. And someday, one of our descendants will travel to some unexplored rock spinning around one of those stars -- thanks to our teachers of science and math. But right now, today, we can wish upon one of those stars and experience a connectedness, an Intuitive Knowing, deep in our own inner space, and know that we are part of that Universe, that we are loved – thanks to our spiritual teachers and teachers of theology, art and poetry. 

May God bless our whole pantheon of teachers now and forever more.  Amen.


Prayer of the People Introduction

Are there joys or concerns that you would like to share with the congregation at this time? 

Let us each remember those friends and loved ones listed on our prayer request sheet and ask our Lord to be with them as their needs require.  .


Let us take a moment to settle into the silence.

Hear and feel your quiet breathing.

Hear and feel the quiet of this place

and this community of people.



In this quiet hour may our spirits be renewed.

In this gathering of old and new friends

may we be ready to extend ourselves to those in need,

and with trust to receive the hand that is offered.

In this time of celebration, may our minds be open to new truth,

and our hearts be receptive to love,

as we give thanks for this life we are blessed to share. Amen.


Brothers and sisters, as individuals and as church community, we have been given much.  Now may we share our time, our talent, and our treasure as a reflection of our gratitude for God’s gifts.


Lord God, accept these gifts, bless them to the use of this church community that we may be a blessing to others, in the name of your son, Christ Jesus.  Amen.


The God we worship is never confined to one holy place.

So go and travel with the God

who leads us to both ordinary and extraordinary places.

Who encourages us to learn, to love, to serve, and to expand

Our God-given talents and insights. Amen.

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