Pastor’s Blog – In Conversation with the Scripture for Sunday April 28, 2019

Scripture for this week: John 20:19-31

Scripture for next week: John 21:1-19

About one hundred year ago, Albert Einstein was refining his general theory of relativity.  He was certain in his math.  He believed what his formulas were describing, but he did not like what they were telling him.  It was conceivable from the theory, that a star could collapse in upon itself and create a gravitational force so strong that nothing could escape it’s grip, including light.  The idea that light itself could be sucked into a black hole was difficult even for Einstein to believe.

The Theory of Relativity took hold in the scientific community and was further developed.  Eventually images were captured using telescopes that demonstrated space/time being bent by gravitation.  Over the decades, physicists and astronomers began to believe that black holes were not just rare possibilities, but that they were the engines of creation, holding together every galaxy.  A black hole at the center of every galaxy, it was almost too strange to believe.  But then, three years ago, a telescope captured the results of a massive explosion that rippled space time itself.  Two black holes collided, and we witnessed the evidence.  We had seen the evidence of the presence of black holes, but we ourselves had not seen one.  Until this year.

Scientists have created a telescope the size of the earth.  Radio telescopes positioned all over the globe can focus on a point in space, generating an image resolution the equivalent of seeing an orange on the surface of the sun.  That telescope captured our first picture of a black hole.

“That was one of those great moments,” Dr. Doeleman said. “It was a surprise how clear this image is.”

As matter swirls into a black hole, it accretes into a disk just outside the abyss’s edge. The ring of light in the new image corresponds to the innermost orbit of photons, the quantum particles that make up light. By laying a ruler across that ring, astronomers could measure the size of the black hole and see that it met Einstein’s prescription.

Now the reality has a face. Peter Galison, a physicist, filmmaker and historian at Harvard, and a member of the Event Horizon team, noted that there is “a wonderful open-ended sense of being able to see something” instead of merely accumulating statistical evidence.”

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Physics and spiritual faith have a tremendous amount in common.  At the cutting edges of modern physics, very little can be proven.  We have faith that our theories are accurate, but at the quantum level, simply making an observation changes the dynamics of the situation.  We have a picture of a black hole, but black holes are for the most part, a massive mystery.

What we have witnessed over the last hundred years in the field of physics, we have been trying to understand for many thousands of years with God.  Jesus is our photo or image of the divine.  He gives us a way to experience what simply never will be captured on film.  Our scripture lesson today paints a picture of what it will be like to experience God’s presence in our lives, and offers a path to achieve that experience.

Peace be with you.  Both times Jesus meets his disciples in their house post crucifixion, he begins with those words.  Peace be with you.  Jesus then gives us a picture of what it will look like when we have that peace.  We will experience the peace of God when we have forgiven those who have broken relationships with us.  That is what sin means in the most fundamental sense; to break relationships.

Our modern translations do not help us hear the original power of what Jesus said.  “If you retain the sins of any, they are retained is what the NRSV tells us.  Ambiguous at best.  The ESV misses the mark completely with “If you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”  That translation proposes that the disciples had the power to keep people from being forgiven by God.

What the Greek word actually means is:

Κρατέω to adhere strongly to, hold

Of commitment to someone or someth. hold fast (to) someone or someth., and hence remain closely united.[1]

Now if we read what Jesus said to his disciples from that perspective, we have a powerful image of what it means to experience the peace of God, or to be sucked into the black hole of despair.

“Receive a Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you let go, they are let go; those you hold fast, they have been held fast.”  David Bentley Hart.  The New Testament: A Translation . Yale University Press.

Sin is like the irresistible force of gravity exerted by a black hole.  Yet we have been given the miraculous power of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, that allows us to break the grip of broken relationships so that they no longer hold us fast.

May we all expert that power and come to experience the peace of God.

Pastor Eric

[1] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 565.