14 Jun 2015
“‘… and the seed would sprout and grow, [but] he knows not how.’” (Mark 4:27) (+)
There’s a new book out entitled Black Hole by Marcia Bartusiak that details the history of the discovery of these strange creatures. The complete title goes like this: Black Hole: How an Idea Abandoned by Newtonians, Hated by Einstein, and Gambled on by Hawking Became Loved. This mouthful of a title is based on the history of a theory that first appeared in 1916, but was consider so preposterous that it was rejected even by the scientists who recognized that the theory’s math made perfect sense. Ever since Newton started writing out the equations of gravity, scientists have realized that the more stuff there is the greater is the force of gravity. I’m standing here in this pulpit at a mean, lean 175 pounds. That 175 pounds is actually tugging on the entire earth and lifting it up ever so infinitesimally, while the much larger earth is pulling me down and making sure I don’t float off this podium and get stuck up there by the ceiling.
Einstein took this theory to the next level. Gravity doesn’t only tug on other stuff; gravity actually warps time and space. If something is large enough, it actually pulls space and time in around itself. The names of Newton and Einstein may seem like they belong to long ago history, but Stephen Hawking is still around and is actually a part of pop culture. He’s the guy in the wheelchair that can communicate only through his computer-generated voice, and he’s so well known that he’s been on the Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory. His first claim to fame was his work with black holes, but even though he saw the logical possibility of them, he still doubted the likelihood of their actual existence. The thought of gravity being so strong that it could keep tugging itself inward until it actually disappeared was too much for any of these geniuses to take seriously.
They couldn’t understand how this could happen so they decided it couldn’t happen. They couldn’t imagine an object so dense that not even light could escape its grasp so they kept creating obstacles that prevented black holes from forming, but the black holes didn’t care about their objections.
I think this is an important lesson to remember in so many ways beyond just the example of black holes. So often people, including myself, seem to reject an idea, a practice, a discovery simply because we can’t imagine it, because it seems so strange, unexpected and different. And I think that’s what Jesus is talking about this morning in His parable of the seed growing by itself. The ancient Jewish farmers would scatter seed over the ground and almost by magic that little, dry speck would transform into the plants that would provide food for families and entire villages. I saw on the computer the other day that some guy in Germany has grown a sunflower plant that is 30 feet tall, and all from a tiny seed. We can explain the science behind germination, but to the ancients the trans-formation of seed into food was a lesson that God’s ways are far beyond our own. In Jesus’ words, the farmer witnesses this event happening, but “he knows not how” and is amazed by God.
There’s a message here about being constantly ready to be surprised by God. The human mind, even the greatest minds like those of Newton, Einstein and Hawking, maintain a marked resistance to believing in the extraordinary. It’s a lot easier when we run into a belief-roadblock to let the computers of our minds set themselves again to default, to go back to their original settings, than it is to work through the complications of challenging what we already believe and accept. But just like black holes didn’t stop being black holes because we resisted believing in them, so God will not stop trying to surprise, amaze and lead us because we’ve grown used to where He once was.
Now don’t get all caught up in this particular example, but try and see it as an illustration of the point. Marriage is starting to become an institution of the educated and the affluent. Statistics are showing that marriages are lasting when the ones getting married are college educated and more affluent. The economic stress on others, however, is weakening marriage. Financial constraints are pushing young people to wait longer to get married, but not necessarily to wait to have children, which can then further worsen their money problems, which can further delay marriage, and financial arguments are a leading cause of divorce once marriages are entered into.
For the longest time opponents of gay marriage marched under the banner of “defense of marriage.” The Supreme Court, however, seems ready in the very near future to allow gay marriage across the land. But there are already academics and sociologists talking about something called “Marriage Opportunity.” It’s a coalition of liberals urging marriage for economic benefits for the poor, conservatives fighting for stronger families and gay people taking advantage of their new legal right. Marriage is waning, but may yet prove resurgent, but in a way no one, especially most churches, would ever have expected. The defense of marriage may be nothing like what was originally expected.
Before we get locked into this one example, think about this past Friday’s anniversary of the 1967 Supreme Court decision that overturned state laws forbidding interracial marriage. When I heard the story on the radio, they mentioned that there’s a children’s book out on this topic. When the author reads his book at schools and libraries, children today can’t even imagine that there were once laws like this when I was a child. The laws were intended, I hope by well intentioned people, to protect marriage, but God had other ideas. I wonder if both of these are examples of the nature of God being above and beyond us and even our best intentions, or as Jesus’ farmer says in the parable “he knows not how.” We have to be careful to not limit God by our imagination, our intelligence and our expectations. So let us be ready to be surprised and led by God. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen
Fr. Randolph Calvo