Communion Meditation delivered by The Rev. Timothy C. Ahrens, at the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio, May 6, 2001, Easter 4, dedicated to Daryl, Christopher, Matthew and Michael Wilber in these painful days after Kathy's death and to Daniel Preston Cooke, our newest baptized member of the church and always to the glory of God!
Revelation 7:9-17 and Acts 9:36-43
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our heats be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our salvation. Amen.
Loren Eiseley was a scientist on vacation walking the beaches of Costabel, witnessing what the ocean had spit upon its sandy shore during the night. Watching the natural selection process at work, he coolly mused to himself, "in the end, the sea rejects its offspring." He saw shells with their tiny animals inside, he saw a small octopus dying on the sand, and he thousands of starfish which the stormy waters had washed ashore.
It was the hour before dawn and as he walked he saw another kind of death at work, flashlights of professional shellers greedily grabbing the starfish from the sand and stuffing them half alive into their bags. There were bags and bags filled with dying starfish.
Then he walked around a bluff and he saw the rising sun lifting its rim of light onto the stormy sky ahead, and there before him arched "a gigantic rainbow... which had sprung shimmering into existence." Then standing beneath the rainbow, just within its color of light, was a moving human figure. He could barely make it out from this distance. The figure was looking down. Then bending down it cradled something in its hands, stood tall, and flung some object far into the breaking surf. As Eiseley drew near he saw the man reach down again, stand again, and fling the object again. It was a starfish the man was throwing.
Now he was beside the man. "It's still alive," Loren said. "Yes," said the man, and he took the star and spun it far into the air and then into the sea. "It may survive if the offshore pull is strong enough," said the man. "Are you a collector?" asked Eiseley. The man smiled as he stooped and rose and flung again, "Only for the living," he said. "The stars fly well. One can help them to be saved." Without other words being exchanged, Eiseley walked on.
As he reached a bend in the shoreline he turned, and looking back, he saw the man toss another star. Loren Eiseley wrote in his famous essay, "The Star Thrower:"
For a moment, in the changing light, the sower of stars appeared magnified, as though casting larger stars upon some greater sea. He had the posture of a god. (As his scientific mind refocused, he continued) No, he is a man... the star thrower is a man, and death is running more fleet along every sea beach in the world. (Quoted in GodStories, p. 318).
As he walked the beach, Eiseley pondered Darwin and nature's law of tooth and claw; where death is some sad rule in progress. He pondered Carl Jung, and the inner struggle between darkness and light in the human soul. He thought that he was witnessing the immense universe at work in cycle of death and resurrection. And he pondered the biblical injunction "Love not the world, neither the things of this world." But as he thought about this world, he was filled with love. He said to himself, "I do love this world! I love its small ones, the things beaten in the strangling surf, the bird, singing which flies and falls and is not seen or heard again... I love the lost ones, the failures of this world." And with that, he turned and moved down the beach quickly to find the star thrower.
As he reached the man with the stars in his hand on this rainbow swept corner of the world, he picked up a still-living star and spun it high into the waves. All he said to the man was, "Call me another thrower." With no more words spoken, the two stood as one, dancers - stooping, lifting, flinging. Perhaps, Loren thought, "far out on the rim of space a genuine star was similarly being seized and thrown." He continued on feeling like the movement of his body was sowing life."
After some time, he walked on, looked back and saw for one last moment, the star thrower against the rising sun and the receding rainbow. And Loren, too, caught in the dance of life against all death in the world, picked up a star, like a fool in love with the world, and cast it as though he and the man "were casting stars on the some infinite beach beside the unknown hurler of all suns."
With those words, Loren Eiseley ends his famous essay.
So it is with God. God spins and flings the universe into being. And then into our history of tooth and claw and endless human struggle, God births a star thrower. His name is Jesus of Nazareth. God births this star born man in a tiny town in an occupied territory of one of the greatest empires in history. At first glance, we think him a fool - standing against the tides of empires, of violence, of humanity. But, watching him work methodically, we witness in him, a love for this world. He does love this world. He loves the small ones, from the starfish to the birds that sing and fly and fall. He loves every creature great and small, every child of God, every star of God washed upon the shore of life.
"Live!" he cries in every encounter. He enters into ministry by proclaiming good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, liberty to all who are oppressed. "Live!" he says to you and me.
To the evil within the man who is demon possessed, he says, "Come out of him, Satan!" Then to the liberated man he says, "Live!" To woman caught in adultery, he says, "I do not judge you." Then he says, "Go and sin no more! Go and Live!" To the fishermen who cast their nets in empty places in the sea, he redirects their efforts against their protests, and they fill the nets to overflowing. Then he says, "Don't be afraid of miracles. God is at work here. Come with me and catch men and women and sow life. He touches the untouchable man - the leper - and says if you want to be clean, you can be. The man responds, "I want." "Be clean," Jesus says. "Go! Live!" Four men bring a crippled friend on a pallet to Jesus who proclaims, "your sins are forgiven...Take up your pallet and walk." And he flings another star from the beach - "Live!"
To tax collector, who is busy on the beaches of Galilee, collecting starfish, he says, "Make another choice. Be just, "Live." To the scribes and the pharisees who are busy trying to manage the beaches and administer the rules of the beaches (we would call them ministers and church bureaucrats today), he says, "Don't be wrapped up in beach management when your precious creatures are dying here. I know it is against the law to cast starfish into the surf, but do it!"
Then he invited 12 to cast stars with him. He showed them how to sow life. He said, "Love your enemies, for God is kind to the ungrateful and selfish." He said, "Be merciful to all as God is merciful to you." "Judge not that you will be not judged. Forgive and you will be forgiven." He is killed for sowing life. But, the life force who has created him is greater than death. And the Creator, the God of the Immense Universe, picks up God's son - broken, battled, breathless from the star throwing struggle. God cradles him into the palm of God's hand and flings him from death to life, back into the surf, back into the waves, and he is risen.
But, the story doesn't end there. By his example, by carefully teaching others to be star throwers while he was still with them, they too become star throwers. Throughout time, they speak his words, "Live!" and raise the dead, heal the broken,, release the imprisoned, and bring justice to the oppressed across the beaches of time.
Under the rainbow of promise, still alive among the nations, the star throwers of this world, stand as a witness as the surf crashes to the beach - stooping, lifting, and casting hope and life far into the surf.
Was he a fool, a Quixotesque chaser of windmills, this Star Thrower of ours? Was this man spinning stars back to life just one single, solitary sower against too much death? Was his a wasted life? Or was he God's new creation? Was he God's Eternal Amen who according to Revelation 9:17 is alive among all the nations "wiping away every tear from our eyes?"
I cannot answer for you. I can only answer for me. All I know is this. He has knelt down by me, picked me up from the crashing tides into the palm of his hand, stood, and cast me far into the surf and said, "Live, Timothy." And there, in the water of life, I have seen the others whom he has cast into the sea of love with me. They are from every nation. They are of every tongue. They are the smallest and the most fragile, and they the ones we believed were the strongest and most well healed. And to each he has spoken the words, "Live!"
The Star Thrower of Nazareth is alive among the nations. He is calling us, even now, to his table of grace. The bread and the wine which await us, are the for our spiritual sustenance in the waters of life. Come! Live! Amen.
(This sermon has drawn extensively from the "Epilogue" of GodStories by H. Stephen Shoemaker, Judson Press, Valley Forge, PA, 1998, pp. 317-322).
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