One night in the 7thCentury,
some Anglo-Saxons were having a few pints,
beside the hearth of a mead hall,
when a bird flew through the room.
One of the Anglo Saxons said,
Our life is like a bird that flies in through one window
of the hall and then back out
through another into the night.
For that brief moment, we see it.
It comes and just as suddenly it is gone.
We do not know where it comes from
or where it goes.
He went on to say that if Christianity
can tell us something more,
give us some sense of hope,
then we should listen.
Where do we come from? Where are we going?
The Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner, said
these are the two great questions:
the whence and the whither?
Whence comest thou? Whither goest thou?
Where did the universe come from?
The Big Bang, we say.
But where did that primal speck of matter
and that primal spark of energy come from?
Who lit the fuse?
And where is the universe going?
It has a story. It has evolved into an orderly cosmos,
produced life, intelligence, creativity, art.
What is the universe becoming?
What are we becoming?
The source of our lives is mysterious
as a moonless midnight on the moors
of 7thCentury England.
Our destiny is equally unknown and unknowable.
Reason offers hints.
The wonderful order of creation
suggests some rhyme and reason to it all.
The trajectory of evolution from inanimate slime
to intelligent, reflective, creative life
suggests something about our destiny.
But we cannot prove either our origin or our destiny.
The big questions, the whence and the whither,
are matters of faith.
Faith is the attitude we take toward the mystery
from which we come
and to which we are going.
Rahner said that our name
for the whence and the whither is God.
Calling the mystery God is a way of saying we trust it.
We believe that the mystery is friendly,
that the mystery loves what it has made
and will bring us to a good end.
As wonderful as this world is,
we know it isn’t what it ought to be.
There’s so much disappointment, so much sorrow,
so much pain.
We lose the ones we love.
The certainty of our own death
makes us wonder if our brief lives even matter.
So we are prone to despair.
St. John the Divine knew about despair.
Christians were being slaughtered wholesale
by the Emperor Domitian.
Those who survived were selling out the faith.
Christianity itself stood on the brink of extinction.
John had been exiled to a dark cave
on a lonely island.
He was on the verge of despair
when a series of visions swept through his consciousness
like a night bird flying through a medieval hall.
Some of his visions were nightmares.
He dreamt of war, famine, and disaster.
Who wouldn’t have nightmares given the horror
of the persecution?
But then came the final vision in today’s lesson.
After all the death and destruction,
John saw a new heaven and a new earth.
God who created heaven and earth
in the Bible’s first book
did it again in the last.
Only this time he made it better.
The Creator had not forgotten the blueprint of life,
had not forgotten the design of beauty,
had not forgotten us.
So God says,
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain
will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.
The first things have passed away.
This world is a rough draft.
This life we are living is a rehearsal, a run-though.
Our real life is yet to come.
Then the Lord says,
It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega,
the beginning and the end.
The whence and the whither,
our source and our destiny.
We came from God. We return to God.
-- the same God revealed in the man Jesus
– a God of life and love, of peace and mercy
– a God who heals, redeems,
and embraces his creation.
If Christ is our Alpha and Omega,
that makes all the difference
for our experience here and now.
This life is our path into God,
and that makes it holy.
17thCentury poet and theologian, said,
You will never enjoy the world aright . . .
till you are clothed with the heavens,
crowned with the stars,
till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God
. . . till you love men so as to desire their happiness,
till you delight in God for being good to all,
you never enjoy the world.
Traherne means, to live well here and now,
to walk the path aright,
we have to know where we come from
and where we are going.
We walk this holy path
from the whence toward the whither,
with two feet – prayer and action.
The action is how we treat each other
and how we treat this earth God has given us.
On Rogation Sunday, we underline
this important part of our sacred path.
Stewardship of creation
isn’t just thinking nature is pretty.
It’s actively loving the earth as God loves it.
The holy discipline of loving this earth
prepares our souls for the love of Heaven.
So I’ll close with the wise teaching of Gary Snyder,
a Pulitzer Prize poet, who has spent considerable time
here in Boulder.
Snyder is one of our best guides to the art
of loving this earth rightly.
Find your place on the planet.
Dig in and take responsibility . . . .
Stay together, learn the flowers, go light.