With all wisdom and insight God has made known to us
the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure
that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of
time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven
and things on earth. Ephesians 1:8-10
Have you ever been told by someone that you need to see “the big picture”, and that you’re getting too hooked on the details? Words like these from the Letter to the Ephesians invite us to see “the big picture” about God and the world. Paul, or perhaps a later author writing in Paul’s name (such things were common in Bible times), wants us to “think big,” to get rid of our tunnel vision and to see the beauty and majesty of God in all of creation, and to see the glorious revelation of God in Jesus Christ. And it’s not just in this passage. It’s all over the New Testament. St. John begins his gospel with those magnificent phrases we hear at Christmastime: (I like the New English Bible’s translation.) “When all things began, the Word (meaning Christ) already was. The Word dwelt with God, and what God was the Word was. The Word, then, was with God at the beginning, and through him all things came to be….All that came to be was alive with his (Christ’s) life.”
My favorite passage on this same theme is in the Letter to the Colossians, Chapter 1, where Paul declares that Christ is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created…all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” That really is a stupendous claim! Think about it: The same Christ who, in the fullness of time, became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, is the eternal Word of God (or “expression of God”) who has always been, always will be, and always holds all of creation—and you and me—in his eternal embrace! There’s the big picture! Think of that overarching truth—see that as the context within which we live our lives as followers of Jesus, who lived, died and was raised so that we might be free of bondage to our sins and able to live in companionship with him.
Are you with me? Can you think of the God we know in Jesus Christ in this cosmic way? Let me go on now and say two things about it—make two concrete applications for you to think about. The first has to do with what some people see as a conflict between science and faith. I had a senior warden in my parish in Massachusetts named Bob Sprague, a brilliant man, graduate of M.I.T., CEO of a large electronics company, a very generous giver to the Church and a regular communicant. But Bob had a terrible time reconciling science with Christian Faith. We talked and talked; he gave me books to read; I gave him books to read. I said he needed to see the big picture; he said I needed to see the big picture! What he couldn’t understand was how there was a place for God when science had proven everything had begun with a “big bang,” human beings had evolved through “natural selection”, and so on.
I tried my best to convince him that no matter what science might conclude, God was, and is, behind it all. If you take seriously the big picture as Paul and John and all the other early Christians experienced it so vividly, and if you consider the life-changing impact that Christ had upon them and upon countless ordinary human beings down through the centuries, it alters the whole picture. It introduces the whole concept of meaning into the mix. What does it all mean? Remember the days when movies or TV shows were only available in black and white? Even today, if you watch some of the oldies, as we like to do, you’ll find the occasional film in black and white. I’ll never forget how revolutionary it was when I first saw movies in living color! It’s like that when you begin to take seriously the meaning of life and the universe.
I wish I had had a little book by Barbara Brown Taylor when I was discussing science and faith with Bob Sprague. Barbara, who is a priest and author and one of the best preachers of our time, got so interested in this subject, that she took it upon herself to acquire a working knowledge of quantum physics and quantum theory, which is so much a part of scientific understanding today. Her book is called The Luminous Web, and I heartily recommend it if you’re interested in this kind of thing. I’ve read and reread it and underlined it profusely. Here’s just a little snippet: She cites a quantum physicist named David Bohm whose research has brought him now to see “a reality in which the universe neither occupies space and time nor contains many different things. Rather, he said, it behaves more like one interwoven thing.”
In other words, everything is connected to everything else! That’s the undeniable conclusion that so many scientists are coming to today. Taylor cites a good deal of current scientific thinking; but she also gives some everyday examples. “I think about the mother,” she says, “who sits bolt upright in the middle of the night, ‘knowing’ something has happened to her child. I think about the strange communication between twins, who may end up making similar choices in their lives even though they have been separated from birth.” A few paragraphs later she says, “What I see is an infinite web of relationship, flung across the vastness of space like a luminous net. It is made up of energy, not thread.” “Where am I in this picture?” she asks. “I am part of a web that is pure relationship, with energy available to me that has been around since the world was born.”
Now, back to Bob Sprague’s question: Where is God? Is there “room for God” in all this? It’s the wrong question now! I don’t think even he would ask that question in light of today’s science. The question now is about meaning! What does it all mean? Is there some force, some influence, some context, by which it makes sense? Yes! insist more and more scientists. Barbara Brown Taylor puts it this way: “I want to proclaim that God is the unity—the very energy, the very intelligence, the very elegance and passion that make it all go.” And about Jesus Christ she says, “I believe in an incarnate God, which is to say, a God who has chosen to be revealed in physical form….God’s self-revelation took the form of one particular human being. God spoke to a young girl in Nazareth and God’s word became flesh. Jesus was born into the physical world, not to remain above it all but to live in it all and through it all, so that we might discover the holiness of our lives in the flesh.”
Now, let’s leave the realm of science and faith and make another application of “the big picture” of God, Christ, the universe—and you and me. Let’s apply it to our life together in the Church. I sat at lunch one day with a fellow priest down on the Peninsula, in the Southern diocese. He was bemoaning the fact that there was a terrible fight going on in his parish over some issue. I don’t recall what the issue was, or even if he mentioned it. What I do recall is the anguish he felt. He was almost physically sick. “Why can’t they listen to each other and love each other, even if they have to agree to disagree with each other?” That little vignette has remained in my mind ever since as a kind of “parable” of the way it is with God and us mortals. I believe our God, whose will, in the language of Ephesians, is set forth in the Christ who gathers up all things in heaven and earth—I believe our God literally anguishes over our behavior with one another in the Church.
If you and I are so intimately connected with one another and with all creation, and if that intimacy is the very nature and character of our loving God, and if the nature and character of God has been made flesh in Jesus Christ, and if Christ, who so loved sinners like you and me, offered his life on the Cross in an act of cosmic compassion for us all, then how dare we judge one another as unworthy of kneeling at the same communion table, or belonging to the same parish, or living and serving within the same diocese and denomination? Please do pray, friends, for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church meeting right now in Anaheim, California. The media naturally will play up the most controversial events, because that sells papers. But look at the big picture, and the claim of God upon us. No matter what happens, love one another, friends; love our parish family; love our diocese; love our Episcopal Church, with all its humanness. For, as the Bible says, the Barbara Taylors say, and the scientists say, we really are in this together—this society, this nation, this world, this universe. All of us are held together in the embrace of our Savior who loves us beyond our imagining!