Our Place in the Universe

Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, October 17, 2021

As an update on what I mentioned about space travel last week, William Shatner, aka Captain Kirk, launched into space last week and then did return. You might have seen the interviews of him after the space capsule landed, as he tearfully told of what he saw and learned from space. He was changed by seeing things from a different perspective, feeling differently about his place in the universe. I doubt you and I will ever be able to do that from space, but we can see the universe–and our place in it–without going to space.

Our texts today help us find our place in the universe. In our first reading, we heard God’s answer to Job’s questions as he is in the midst of great suffering, contemplating where he is and where God might be in it all. God’s reply to Job begins with “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” and continues with reminders that God is the one who has made the universe Job lives in. As the Creator, Provider, and Sustainer of all things, God is aware of Job and his place in the universe. 

In our second reading, Hebrews 5:1-10, we hear of how Jesus found and took his place in the universe, doing so with an awareness of his calling and work of sacrificial love in the world, which the author of Hebrews described as the high priesthood of Jesus. Jesus took his place in the world with humility, a “reverent submission” to God. Even though he suffered for his work, he was obedient to God and became, as the author described him,  “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

The gospel text (Mark 10:35-45) tells of how Jesus had to remind his disciples of their place in the universe. They envision their personal greatness and had the gall to ask Jesus for a place of recognition and power, seeking to find their place at either side of him when he came to his place of glory. Jesus told them they didn’t know what they were asking and certainly didn’t understand what was involved in joining him in his place in the universe. So he told them, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the answer or glory they were looking for.

And that leads us to consider that we, as followers of Jesus today, are to know and find our place in the cosmos. The first way of doing that is with an awareness of our calling. Just like Jesus, we are to be in tune with what God has put us in this world to be and do. In fact, our calling as a church is a continuation of his priestly calling. As the body of Christ in the world, we are a priesthood of believers, called to share the sacrifice Jesus made for the world and offering it to everyone by proclaiming the good news of reconciliation with God. Church for the Highlands was founded with the understanding that we are to be a missional church, a group of people sent into our world–primarily Highland–to share the love of Jesus. This is our calling and we must continue to hear it as we gather and exist together as a church. We must also hear it individually as members of this body of Christ, always being aware of how this relates to us and why we are here in this church.

We also find our place in the universe by living with humility. A great definition of humility, from Merriam-Webster, is “freedom from pride or arrogance: the quality or state of being humble.” C.S. Lewis defined it this way, “”Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” As we look at Jesus, we see the perfect picture of humility, one he gave as a model for us as we follow him today. Such humility reminds us of our place in the universe as servants. We practice humility when we consider the needs of other people, actively listen to people (especially those in our families and relationships), honor others rather than seeking recognition for ourselves, and practice daily thanksgiving as a way of remembering what we have comes from God. Living with the humility of Jesus may make us look and feel powerless at times, but we must see that selfless actions are what God uses to change the world–for good.

What goes with humility is submission—submitting to God in all things. When we submit ourselves to God, we are finding our place in the universe. Like humility, submission just sounds like weakness. It goes against our grain of self-empowerment and American rugged individualism. It challenges our desire to be in control of our lives, dreams, possessions, finances, and destiny. But when we signed up to follow Jesus, we submitted–surrendered–our lives to him completely. Isn’t that what it means to call Jesus “Lord?” Submitting to God happens when we give up control to God and God’s way of doing things. It is when we allow ourselves to be shaped by God’s words, ways, and plans rather than our own or those of our society and culture. Isn’t this what we hear Jesus doing in our Hebrews text this morning, going forward with God’s will and doing so with “reverent submission” even when it isn’t easy?  In what areas of your life do you need to submit to God today? In what ways does the church submit to the leadership and authority of God? 

As I mentioned earlier, William Shatner was emotional after getting a new perspective of earth. He told Chris Como in an interview, “I was moved to tears by what I saw. And I come back filled with… overwhelmed by sadness and empathy for this beautiful thing we call Earth.” He was reminded of the importance of finding our place in the universe. As we’ve learned from our texts this morning, it is vital that we too find our place in it as we continue God’s mission of love through Jesus.

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