5 June 2016 • Youth Sunday • The 3rd Sunday after Pentecost
O Lord, bless us today and give us the knowledge to use our gifts properly in our lifetimes. Amen.
Good morning, my name is Samuel Wischnewsky and this year I am the oldest member of the All Saints’ Youth Group. That means I have both the honor and the curse of delivering a sermon for Youth Sunday.
If there is one thing you should know about me, it’s that I like to contextualize things and in my reading of the Bible and my views of the world, I see a very clear parallel to my favorite thing: science. Now I know that when some of you hear the word “science”, your eyes glaze over and you might think, “Well, time to relax and tune out a bit.” But I’m going to challenge those of you who that describes to take a chance and pay attention because you are about to hear the first ever and therefore best ever science-themed sermon in the history of this congregation.
Now before I get to God, I’m going to explain two huge branches of science: general relativity and quantum mechanics. Wow, very scary names, but don’t worry—no math is involved in this sermon. So, let’s start with the older and more intuitive of the two theories.
General relativity was first introduced to the world by Albert Einstein. He proposed that all of space was combined with all of time into a fabric very creatively named space-time. The fabric bends when objects with mass are placed in it and these bends are what cause gravity. Now this theory has been very successful at describing very large objects that change slowly over time, like orbits of planets or gravitational waves in space.
Quantum mechanics, on the other hand, was developed later to describe increasingly strange phenomena that were observed when studying subatomic particles. When Max Plank studied objects that would absorb particular types of radiation and then reemit new ones, he saw that energy was only radiated in separable chunks. Now to explain this I will use the analogy of a car. So, imagine I am driving (which I can do, by the way). If I want to go 15 mph, then I have to accelerate from 0 to 15 and go through all of the speeds in between. But quantum objects don’t go through all of the in-between speeds. One second, they aren’t moving, and then next they are going 15 mph. Quantum mechanics has been very good at explaining the behavior of very small particles.
So, quick recap. General relativity: slow changes on a large scale. Quantum mechanics: instantaneous changes on a very small scale.
So . . . how could any of this relate to God?
Well, as I reflect on my experience with faith, I feel that there are two very different worlds: the world of the Bible and my world. I hear a lot of passages from the Bible, some of them funny, some of them sad, typically with a vaguely ominous moral. But I find that generally these tales do not really resonate with my own life. The world of the Bible seems to me like the world of quantum mechanics: there are fast changes with little transition time in between.
Just like in the Gospel today. Everyone doubted Jesus, so he raised someone from the dead and they immediately became believers. They went from nonbelievers to believers in a matter of seconds. Granted, this was due to the overwhelming evidence before their eyes that something heavenly had occurred.
Now these quick transitions are one very quantum mechanical style phenomenon, but the thing I really notice is how the world of the Bible—just like the world of quantum mechanics—really doesn’t make sense with my own life experience. Jesus walking around making people rise from the dead when there are doubters in the crowd and yet never providing any concrete proof of himself in this day and age. This is just like particles that can exist as both particles and waves. I do not really understand how this could possibly be—but honestly, no human really does. It’s impossible for us to picture these things that have been proven through science when they do not relate at all to the things we physically experience on a daily basis.
In my experience, my world is that of relativity. It is a world dominated by huge, slow movements, like those of the planets: slow transitions that I can understand, not these quick incomprehensible changes.
That brings me to my final point. Relativity and quantum mechanics are two of the most important branches of fundamental physics, and yet they do not work well together. The two are both completely functional in isolation, but when their equations are combined, the two seem incompatible. It is just the same with combining the human world and the divine world: one is understandable and coherent, while the other seems to be so unknown and impossible to understand. But just as science today is trying to combine quantum mechanics and relativity to create one unified theory that will apply to everything, we should all make personal attempts to combine the world of the divine with our own world.
There are many possibilities in science for combining the two theories, and one of the most promising is string theory. Based on the little I know about string theory—and that is very little—faith is just like it. String theory can combine relativity and quantum mechanics. I think faith can be like string theory in that faith is how we combine the human with the divine. In both science and faith, both worlds are valuable and have their place—understanding that they both function well alone and yet when perfectly combined could be something miraculous.
I love science because there are mysteries. If everything were known then there would be no reason to study it. It is just the same with faith. Knowing that there is a spiritual world to explore and connections to seek means that faith is not instantaneous but more of a journey. So, maybe we live in the boring world of relativity and we don’t get to see people rising around us or angels appearing out of thin air. Maybe some people still do go straight from zero to 60—but I don’t.
If I woke up one morning and everyone miraculously lived in a society where they could learn and work to the fullest of their abilities, sure, that would cement my belief. I know I’m not alone in wishing for a quantum mechanical miracle. Everyone wants someone to be healed or someone to come back. But, sadly I live in the world of relativity. I feel that I can accept that sometimes, but most of the time what I want is more. And faith, fluctuating as it does, is hard to hold onto.
What I know from science is that there is quantum mechanics and there is relativity. What I know from this place is there are biblical stories and there are joyful people listening and hoping and I guess maybe I am one of them, hoping for more quantum mechanics in a world of relativity. What about you?