Vast, Infinite and Mind Blowing
May 8, 2022
Fourth Sunday of Easter (C)
Acts 13:14,43-52; Psalm 100:1-2,3,5; Revelation 7:9,14-17; John 10:27-30
“The sheep that belong to Me listen to My voice; I know them and they follow Me” (John 10:27).
Some of you will recall being awestruck when you first began studying our universe in junior high school science class. Among the incredible facts you discovered was that light travels at a speed of 186,000 miles – per second. That’s right! In the blink of an eye, a beam of light can make it around our planet almost 8 times! So, if light can travel 8 times around the earth in a single second, how much distance does it cover in a year? If you said 6 trillion miles, you’d be in the right ballpark. It’s mind-blowing to think about. Now consider this astonishing development reported by astrophysicists just in March of this year (2022). The Hubble telescope, which orbits about 340 miles above Earth, has captured an image of a star 28 billion light years away! That’s billion with a “B.” And not 28 billion miles, but 28 billion light years. To calculate that distance from earth you need to multiply 6 trillion miles – times 28 billion years. The star, which astronomers have named Earendel, is said to be 50 to 500 times more massive and millions of times brighter than our sun. And if that doesn’t impress you consider the fact that it is the farthest star ever detected.
Unless you are an astrophysicist — and maybe not even then — concepts as big as these are very hard to put into any kind of earthly perspective. For me, just thinking about our vast, infinite, and mind-blowing Universe takes my breath away. And it raises so many, age old questions. What is my place in the universe? Where do I fit in?
From the Christian perspective, it is clear in the life and teachings of Jesus that our relationship with God is the most important thing in our life. Everything else — our health, our work, our family life, our sorrows, and our joys–even our knowledge of the fundamental laws of the universe — literally find their meaning in our relationship with God.
A man was visiting some friends who lived in a large city. His visit had been prejudiced by frightening stories of big city living so he was prepared for the worst. But when he arrived, his first impression was formed by a view of the city from the top of its tallest building. Now equipped with this perspective, wherever he went through the city that marvelous view from the top went with him.
Jesus tells us in the Gospels that, “No one has seen God.” Nevertheless, He used one image of God so often, it is obvious that He wanted us to think about God in a certain way. He wanted to give us help in knowing who God is. He wanted us to view God from a certain perspective. He wanted to give us a view from the top. It is striking, therefore, to realize that in the four Gospels, God is described over one hundred and forty times by the word “Father.” In the Gospels, Jesus uses a very special word for Father: “Abba.” It is a word of endearment, expressing great love and intimacy. And, of course, when He taught His disciples to pray, He taught them a prayer that begins, “Our Father.” This is the best known and most used prayer in all of Christendom.
“My sheep hear My voice. I know them, and they follow Me. I will give them eternal life,” Jesus says in today’s Gospel Lesson (Jn. 20:27). We are in the Sheepfold of Jesus when our view of God is from the top. When our union with God is conditioned by everything in this life that speaks to us of love, we belong to the Jesus who offers us eternal life.
In the Gospels, Jesus describes His sheep with much tenderness. He knows them. He lays down His life for them. He keeps them together. And the members of His sheepfold are ready to listen. They’re ready to hear the unexpected. They’re ready to take all the risks that following Jesus entails. They’re ready to oust any preconceived notions of how it will affect their lives. They’re ready to get rid of anything that might in any way keep them from moving toward the goal of eternal life. They’re ready for an ongoing transformation from who they are to who they ought to be; from what they are doing to what they ought to be doing.
In Thornton Wilder’s play, “Our Town,” one of the characters says,
“I don’t care what they say with their mouths — everybody knows that something is eternal. And it isn’t houses, and it isn’t names, and it isn’t earth, and it isn’t even the stars. Everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people who ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”
And that is what Jesus is telling us now. “I know My sheep … they follow Me … I will give them eternal life.” Eternal life begins now for those in the sheepfold of Jesus who are in union with God in the bond of Love.
Today, we gather not only to listen to our Gospel message about the Love of our Good Shepherd, but also to celebrate Mother’s Day. In describing her own mother, the late poet Maya Angelou gives us this wonderful imagery. She tells us, “To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power. Or the climbing, falling colors of a rainbow.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes said this about motherhood: “Youth fades; love droops; the leaves of friendship fall – but a mother’s secret hope outlives them all.”
Novelist Gail Tsukiyama writes about the unbending love of mothers for their children. She says,“There’s no bond so strong in the entire world. No love so instantaneous and forgiving.”
Perfect power. Eternal hope. Unbreakable bond, indeed. Novelists and poets and great teachers can certainly express those thoughts today better than I can. But permit me to add that a mother’s love can be likened to our discussion earlier of the Universe because it too is vast, infinite, and mind-blowing.
From another artist let us listen to a few lines from one of his great love songs. A song I would like to dedicate to all mothers — past, present, and future.
Did you know that true love asks for nothing?
Her acceptance is the way we pay
Did you know that life has given love a guarantee?
To last through forever and another day
Just as time knew to move on since the beginning
And the seasons know exactly when to change
Just as kindness knows no shame
Know through all your joy and pain
That I’ll be loving you always
As today I know I’m living but tomorrow
Could make me the past but that I mustn’t fear
For I’ll know deep in my mind
The love of me I’ve left behind
‘Cause I’ll be loving you always-1
Let us go forth in union with God – a union conditioned by everything in life that speaks to us of love, always. And today, there is nothing that speaks to us of love better than the love of a mother.
Happy Mother’s Day!
1- “As,” Stevie Wonder.