Scripture: John 1:1–14
Last month, history was made as crews aboard two vessels traveled to space. Included on these vessels were two billionaires—Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson—and the fact that these flights were conducted by companies and not countries is significant. Bezos and Branson join Elon Musk, three men with a combined net worth of 400 billion dollars, in what has been labeled as the billionaire space race. These men and their companies have taken it upon themselves to find a way to get themselves and others beyond the reaches of the planet Earth. This is not a new endeavor. Ever since humans began looking up at the stars, they have wondered about the place where they live and what would happen if they left that place. From the fable of Icarus crafting wings and flying too close to the sun…to Galileo’s telescopes and Da Vinci’s dreams of building ships to fly through space…to the space race of the 50’s and 60’s and our trips to space and to the moon…all the way to last month’s space flights…humans have wondered what would be like to leave planet Earth.
This week is the second in a series that we are calling A Season of Creation. For the second year in a row, we are asking what Scripture has to tell us about God’s Creation and our role in it. We share this series with other churches around the world, celebrating Creation in a similar way. Today in the series is Planet Earth Sunday. More often than not, we have talked about Creation in the micro here on our planet: fields and forests and rivers. But today, we take a step back and ask what Creation looks like in the macro: Planet Earth and beyond. Like every generation of space-race-inclined humans, we as people of faith also wonder where we fit into the universe when we look up into the night sky. We ask how and why God created so much beyond our own planet, and what that Creation says about our faith here on Earth.
One of my favorite youth group activities stimulated this imagination. When I was a youth minister in Topeka, one of the youth leaders would invite his friend, a local science teacher, to lead us in an activity every year. It went something like this:
What if the sun was the size of a basketball? (OR an 8-inch ball?) If the rest of the solar system was to scale…
- Mercury would be the size of the point of a pin, right in front of the Switcher table [where the livestream switcher person sits in the sanctuary] .
- Venus would be the size of a peppercorn, right about at the fireplace in the parlor.
- Planet Earth would be another peppercorn, somewhere around the playground.
- Mars would be the size of the head of a pin, on the other side of 14th Street.
- Jupiter would be huge—the size of a Cheezeball—down to the butcher shop past Jade Garden.
- Saturn a little smaller, probably the size of an acorn, but it would be across 15th Street into the hay field.
- Uranus would be the size of a plastic bead, halfway down the hill.
- Neptune would be a second bead, just about down to HyVee.
- And Pluto, smaller than the point of a pin, would be not quite down to Kasold Curve.
With more time and fresher legs, we could all mark off these distances together. And we would begin to understand how we fit into God’s Creation. It is easy to think of ourselves as masters of our own universe, but the reality is that we are tiny parts of a tiny planet in a tiny solar system, surrounded by much more than we could ever truly imagine. I wish I could have brought you all with the Blue Team into the Rocky Mountains to see the size and magnitude of God’s Creation. High mountains. Deep canyons. A massive sky full of stars. Even on the way out and back, the vast prairie reminded us, to quote a more-famous Kansan, “all we are is dust in the wind.” The size and magnitude of the cosmos is mind-blowing.
Now, right about now, you might be saying to yourself, “Thanks, preacher! I was already having a bit of a rough morning, thinking about how insignificant I feel, or perhaps how useless I feel. Or maybe today was a good day, and I was actually starting to feel pretty good about myself. But you have managed to squash that pretty handily, thank you very much. Thanks for reminding me how utterly insignificant and irrelevant I am in the grand scheme of things!”
And my response is, “you’re welcome. That’s what I am here for…”
“…but wait, there’s more!”
Today’s Scripture passage continues that message of insignificance. John 1 is sometimes referred to as the Creation Story of the New Testament. Just like the passage that Cristina preached about last week—Genesis 1—John 1 opens with the words “In the beginning…” These first 14 verses of the Gospel talk about the immensity of Creation, and a cosmic Christ’s participation in that work. The word that is usually translated here in John 1 as “world” is actually “cosmos,” and has much greater designs than just Planet Earth. John here is talking about how Jesus participated in the Creation of the entire cosmos, acting as co-Creator before coming to dwell with humans here on earth. John 1 reminds me of mountains and skies filled with stars and the immensity of Creation.
And if the immensity of the cosmos is not enough to remind you of your insignificance, John rubs it in a little bit. Here in verse 11, he reminds us all that when this amazing, co-creating, cosmic Christ showed up, we didn’t recognize him for the amazing gift that he was. We as humans didn’t accept him or value him. And of course, John will remind us several times before the end of the book that we participated in his rejection and violent death. In other words, not only are we insignificant, tiny pieces of dust in the wind on a peppercorn, but we actually participated in the brokenness of the world by rejecting its co-Creator.
Nowhere in John 1 do we find the hope of Genesis 2, where humanity has a place of honor. Or Psalm 8, where we are just a little lower than the angels. Here in John 1, the only mention of humanity is our ignorance and inability to see God at work!
“But wait, there’s more.” There is good news here, too! Alongside Creation’s vastness, and the ineptitude and ignorance of its human inhabitants, there is Logos. Verses 1 and 14 bookend what is essentially a song of praise of Logos: “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.” (vs 14.) “And the Logos became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
If you are following along here or at home, your version probably doesn’t say Logos. It probably says “Word.” That has become the favored English translation for that Greek word Logos, though that translation is just the tip of the iceberg for the depth of this concept. Logos, of course, is referring to Jesus, and how he was the Word, the cipher or the translation to us of God’s love and grace and power and glory and truth, in human form here on earth. John here connects the word spoken at Creation with this eternal Christ, this second person of the Trinity, the power of God incarnate on Earth. Jesus is Logos is Word.
But there is so much more to this concept of Logos. If, perhaps, you happen to be reading at home with your handy Spanish translation of John, you will find a different translation of this word Logos. According to Miguel de la Torre, John 1:1 reads “En el principio era el Verbo…” Which, literally translated means “In the beginning was the Verb.” What an amazing translation! Not only is Jesus the Word, which is much more static and fixed. But think about what it means to see Jesus as Verb: much more dynamic and active and creative. I love to read both of these translations together, as a reminder that the God who spoke Creation into being didn’t stop speaking. God in Christ is the God of action and movement and dynamic power. God is Verbo: a verb of explosive energy and activity. The God of Creation has not stopped speaking.
Which is the concept that I think John was trying to get across. Because just a few short verses later, in chapter three, we see the Logos, the Word, the Verb in action. Jesus has been approached by a learned teacher of the law, someone who knows his stuff. But like John likes to remind us, even this wise teacher didn’t get what Jesus was really about. So, Jesus has to teach the teacher, explain to him what his work on this world is all about. And as he teaches the teacher, he utters these words in verse 16: “For God so loved the cosmos that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
The work of the co-Creator Christ was only the beginning. For that co-Creator, that Logos, that Verb, came to show us a love that explodes even beyond the cosmos. In other words, every bit of the cosmos, as massive and unimaginably huge as it is, is surrounded and overwhelmed by God’s love. Imagine the most unimaginable distance and space, and God’s love is bigger. You can go all the way to Kasold curve. You can go to the heights of the Rocky Mountains. You can go to the depths of our solar system. You can go to the farthest reaches of our imagination and beyond. Imagine the biggest and widest expanse that you can conceive, and it is still just cheese puffs and peppercorns next to God’s love! God so loved the cosmos.
And this is not just pie in the sky stuff. I have heard more than one sermon take this reality and miss the point: “see, the silly scientists don’t get it…it’s all Jesus!” But let me offer a different suggestion. Let me suggest that the scientists are the ones most equipped to explain the magnitude and scope of the cosmos, and thus the expanse and power of God’s love.
You may have heard me preach before about Francis Collins. He is a world-renowned scientist. Thirty years ago, he was the head of the Human Genome Project that mapped the human gene. Just about ten years ago, he became the head of the National Institutes of Health. He is a scientist’s scientist. And somewhere along the way, he became a committed and sold-out believer in Jesus. He began to follow Christ later in his life, when he began to understand the significance of what he saw with scientific eyes, both in the macro of the universe, and the micro of the human genome. He knew that there had to be Something or Someone behind it all, and for him, that meant the God of Jesus, the co-Creator Christ.
This discovery led to a lot of heartache for Collins. For many in his scientific community believed that all Christians were anti-intellectual fools, unable to understand the majesty of scientific discovery. And many of his Christian friends believed that all scientists were godless atheists and that science itself was an anti-Christian endeavor and not to be trusted. But Collins refuted both of them. I love this quote and a hundred others like it: “The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. He can be worshipped in the cathedral or in the laboratory. His creation is majestic, awesome, intricate, and beautiful.”
For Collins, every scientific discovery is not a refutation of the God of Scripture, but proof of God! Evidence of the overwhelming and never-ending love of Jesus. He writes that all of life and scientific discovery is the “language of God.” The term that he uses for this idea is “Biologos.” Borrowing from John, who uses (upper-case) Logos as the ultimate communication and translation—the Word or Verb that is Jesus—Collins suggests that creation itself is telling us of God’s love. Bio—life—itself is logos—speaking to us about the power and majesty that is the love of God. For Collins, biologos is his way of saying “imagine the most beautiful, surprising, intricate, awe-inspiring notions that science can discover…that’s God!” That is God speaking to us! That is the Verbo—the verb, the action, the dynamic love of God. Scientists, whether they know it or not, are helping us to worship the God of Creation, by giving us words and concepts and descriptions of the power and majesty of God.
And when you listen to Collins, all of a sudden, that feeling of insignificance is reversed. Now, we start to understand how the God of immense Creation loves you. Knows your name. Created you in particular. “Whosoever believes…” We are all caught up in the immense and unimaginable love of our Creator. God’s love is that big. And it is offered…to you. Every mountain. Every river. Every planet. Every scrap of DNA. Every bird sings that song of God’s love, offered in Christ to you. Dynamic love, given for us all.
But wait, there’s more! Francis Collins is not just a geneticist and a theologian. He’s also a pretty good musician, too. If you want to buy his book, Language of God, buy the audio version because he reads it and plays guitar and sings on it. He and some of his fellow members of the National Institutes of Health have formed a folk-rock band, called The Directors. They have a battle of the bands with a similar group from Johns Hopkins. I can’t make this stuff up.
And, speaking of stuff I can’t make up…you haven’t lived until you have heard Francis Collins and famed theologian N.T. Wright sing a duet…on guitars and vocals…on Zoom…of their rendition of the Beatles’ “Yesterday,” written with new words: Genesis. I know you won’t believe me until you Google it, so go ahead. I found that this week and I had to look around to see if anyone was playing a joke: there is no way that this is a thing.
But, yes, it is a thing. And not surprisingly, it is really theologically powerful. I wish I had the time to actually play the whole thing for you, but as an alternative, a few lines will have to suffice:
Genesis. Earth and Heaven in a cosmic kiss.
Evolution must have been like this.
Oh, I believe in Genesis.
DNA shaping creatures from the dust and clay.
Double helix in the Milky Way.
Oh, Genesis means DNA.
How He made it all 14 billion years ago.
Wisdom, truth, and love for he spoke and it was so-o-o-o.
Genesis. Eve and Adam in a land of bliss,
In a paradise we all now miss.
Oh, I believe in Genesis.