As some of you know, Forrest and I got away to Florida this past week to celebrate, a year late, our tenth- year wedding anniversary. One of our get aways was Universal’s Island of Adventure, home of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. After reading the series out loud to our children, seeing all the movies, attending the Discovery Times Square Exhibition of Harry Potter, it seemed right and fitting to return to this great fantasy that has shaped the moral and imaginative landscape of the millennial (generation y) – as well as their elders. We enjoyed a simulation of riding a broomstick throughout Hogwarts – having a picture taken at the Hogwarts express at Platform 9 3/4s – visiting Hogsmeade and enjoying a butter beer at the Hog’s Head, and loading down at Honeydukes and Zonkos joke shop. It is amazing the seed of a story that came from author JK Rowling, grew into this massive enterprise, employing thousands of people to capture the images, artifacts and personalities that brought this universe to life. If you have to ask…well I suggest you read the books.
We also visited another fantasy land, one just as, if not more powerful, creative and thrilling to see – the world of NASA at the Kennedy Space Center, where the efforts to go to space are detailed, and one gets to see and touch the artifacts of the era of the US manned space programs. Back in 1962, President Kennedy told the nation, as he promoted the vision of moon travel and beyond:
“… some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic?...We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.( Sep. 12, 1962, at Rice University, Houston, Texas)
It was breathtaking to see the launch sites, even where the ill-fated Challenger was launched back in 1986; to see the space suits, touch the moon rocks, a simulator of the Atlantis cockpit, a model of the entire Atlantis on display, the Apollo 14 command module, plus a memorial wall commemorating the fallen Challenger and Columbia Crew. Another universe, open to us by the determination of some of our leaders, and the blood, sweat and tears of hundreds and thousands of people, in addition to the sacrifice of life of those willing to risk space flight, to see the technology and dreams move forward. We now have unmanned missions to Mars, as well Voyager, as the amazing Hubble telescope which has transmitted stunning images of deep space – giving us a picture of a vast mysterious universe beckoning our imaginations and skill to see, connect, embrace – to expand our notions of home.
These two amazing universes – one of the internal imagination of an author, inviting us to explore themes of good and evil, right and wrong; to see the good in unusual places, to see evil in the ordinary places -- and our actual universe filled with uncharted life --studied and explored for millennia, inviting us to push ourselves, to find our place in the stars, to see the connections between galaxies, planets, stars and where we fit in in the midst of this picture -- both universes invite us to risk, to explore , to challenge the known and embrace the yet unknown.
NASA and the world of Harry Potter meld in magical way with our readings today – the final speech of Moses to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy, the continuation of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew, and the exhortations of the Apostle Paul to the Christ-following community in Corinthians. Our scriptures point us to an intersecting universe that brings all these stories together. A universe envisioned from God. A universe meant for us—a universe on how people should live together according to God-inspired, Spirit-mandated ways. President Kennedy talked about choosing the hard over the easy. Harry Potter was taught to choose the right over the easy. Moses said we have choices of life and death put before us. Will we live according to the covenant, the ordinances God laid out to the people of Israel throughout their journey in the wilderness, as they are about to enter the Promised Land? Will we hold fast to God’s ways – following the commandments that bind God’s people together on a spiritual path? That engage us in moral and ethical behavior that included worship, activities of daily life, and teach us to interact fairly and justly with one another? The plan of life was laid forth by Moses, as directed by God. Yet for centuries the people had a difficult time following these decrees – then as now, we are no different. They were rebuked repeatedly by the prophets for not choosing life –for not connecting to the universe that God created, a universe on earth – that Jesus called the kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God.
In our passage from Matthew, we experience the bluntness of Jesus’ words -- the extreme hyperbole of his speech. Last week we heard how he warned his listeners that their righteousness must exceed the scribes and Pharisees if they were to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Now Jesus digs deep, exposing the radical core of God’s universe. Smoldering anger, careless insults and conflicts tear at the life of the Kingdom. Jesus’ examples are stark: If one’s eye or hand creates sin in the body – eliminate it. Divorce, the breaking of the sacred bonds between two people, had become easy in Jesus’ time. Only men could get a divorce, often for grounds such as a wife talking back, not having children, not being desirable, not working to expectation. Divorce in Jesus’ day, more often than not, left women in dire straits and poverty frequently resulting in a life of prostitution to survive. This was unacceptable to Jesus. In the same vein, Jesus wants our speech to be transparent, direct, forceful, truthful: yes is yes, no is no.
Jesus, through his strong stance, is revealing the true nature of God’s vision of the covenant law. It is easy for us to drift from resentment to a raging anger, an anger that eats away at our heart, which encourages us to live unreconciled, to hurt someone else in the pursuit of our own wants and desires. Like the faulty O ring, that small piece that led to the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger, Our chronic anger, covetousness, avarice, the casual breaking of commitments to others -- mar the image of God within us and cause harm to the just reign of God in the world. There is no mistake: Jesus’ words are forceful and reinforce that God’s love urges us continually to choose life, chooses us to choose the life of a reconciler, as one who loves, sacrifices, and treats those we are in relationship with – with care and kindness and forbearance.
The Apostle Paul puts it to us this way: are we ready to be fed the solid food, as mature Christ-followers? The jealousy and quarreling Paul witnessed among the Corinthians was unacceptable to the teachings of Jesus, the law of life God transmitted to Moses. People in Corinthians were choosing factions. “I like elder X over Elder Y” “Apollo is so much nicer than Paul,” …Paul says all this favoritism is nonsense. We all work together, different tasks, all important in building up the kingdom of God – which Paul describes in these terms: ”You are God’s field” “you are God’s building.” The directives show us how to work together for the greater good. If we think we are working for our own personal greater glory, we have missed the boat. That’s why rupture in connection – through anger, jealousy, quarreling, -- choosing death --causes catastrophes through out all systems – with a partner, in a family, in a church, in our society, our planet, our every universe. Life is connected, at all levels.
Each one of us has a role to play in creating God’s universe here on earth. Greater than the wizarding world of Harry Potter. Greater than NASA’s dreams -- our world’s dreams of space travel and life in other galaxies. Our travel in here in our hearts, here out on our streets – and we are given the tools to create it – through selfless love, acts of reconciling, choosing the path of life. Jesus’ words are a Hubble telescope pointing us to the breathtaking depths of the universe to which we are connected. Our life together is a Voyager mission; we can crash through carelessness and sinfulness – or through choosing life, travel to worlds unknown, worlds of mercy and kindness yet fully unexplored here on earth.
Last week, Forrest and I had the good fortune after our visit to the Space Station to see again the, Gravity. It’s a story a mission specialist, Dr. Ryan Stone, and astronaut Matt Kowalsky conducting a routine space walk when their shuttle is destroyed by a freak accident. Stone and Kowalsky are left alone tethered to each other in space. At a critical juncture, Kowalsky untethers himself from Stone, to give her the chance to reach the space shuttle, resulting in his certain death. The story goes on to how Stone makes it to a Russian space station. She panics. And plans to kill herself. But she has a hallucination of Kowalky, sipping Russian vodka, telling her: “ I get it. It's nice up here. You can just shut down all the systems, turn out all the lights, and just close your eyes and tune out everyone. There's nobody up here that can hurt you. It's safe. I mean, what's the point of going on? What's the point of living? …. But still, it's a matter of what you do now. If you decide to go, then you gotta just get on with it. Sit back, enjoy the ride. You gotta plant both your feet on the ground and start livin' life. Hey, Ryan? It's time to go home.” Ultimately Stone does makes it home.
All the great stories, the deep spiritual stories, the ones that don’t go away, are stories guiding us always to choose life. The life God intended: one of loving connection and fairness. To work together. To love and through love find home – here, in a book, in Space, in the hearts of those we love and in the hands of Jesus, our Lord. Amen.