March 21, 2012
Good morning to all of you on this, the 25th day of the 40-day season of Lent - the day of the Ecclesiastical Equinox.
In the midst of March Madness, with so many blessings to count here at Baylor, including our Lady Bears' victory last evening over the Florida Gators and that today is Baylor Football's Pro Day, we pause to reflect that we are now only two weeks away from the week the Christian world of the West calls "holy."
We first go back in time. The year - Anno Domini 325 ("the year of our Lord") - 1,687 short years ago. Under the guidance of Constantine, Emperor of the far-flung Roman Empire, a council of Christian bishops convened at Nicaea - in modern-day Turkey, not far from Istanbul - to address issues arising from a theological movement within Christianity called Arianism. (We'll leave further detail to your Christian Heritage professors).
From this historic convocation in Nicaea came the original Nicene Creed: "We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ....." and the Creed goes on.
The beautiful Nicene Creed stands as a towering landmark in the centuries-long march of the Christian church. But more relevantly for our purposes here this morning, the Council of Nicaea took another important action. Those early bishops established the now-traditional date for Easter as the first Sunday - now, get ready - after the full moon following the vernal equinox.
Translated into everyday parlance, that means this very day, March 21st - even though the equinox usually occurs, astronomically speaking, on March 20 - yesterday.
Before the bishops' unifying action, Easter had been observed in the wake of the Jewish calendar's Passover. As with any calendar, a particular date will, of course, fall on any of the seven days of the week. Think of Christmas, or the Fourth of July - or your own birthday. Our Christian forbears naturally wished to celebrate Easter on a Sunday - the day of Christ Jesus's resurrection - the morning of the empty tomb.
That pivotal gathering at Nicaea ushered in an important uniformity that had evaporated over the years as more and more Christian communities planned their Easter celebrations. In short, from the year 325 A.D. onward, the Christian church would celebrate Easter corporately, together as one global community.
In the Christian calendar, Easter - as you know - marks the end of Lent, the forty-day period of fasting and prayer. This season reminds us, of course, of Jesus' 40 days in the Judean wilderness following his baptism by John. This six-week period (now drawing toward a close) calls us as Christians to reflect on Christ's sacrifice - his passion and his death. It reminds us, as German theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer graphically stated, that the Christian way is not the path of "cheap grace." It is, to the contrary, very costly. Think of Christian martyrs, such as Bonheoffer himself, who died at the hands of the Nazi regime in Germany.
The powerful symbolism of Easter draws, in turn, on the Jewish feast of Passover. In many languages, the words for "Easter" and "Passover" are closely related. Likewise, as Christians, we identify Jesus with the Jewish symbol of the sacrificial Passover Lamb.
Thus, Easter points us even farther back in time than the Cross of Jesus, back over an entire millennium to the Exodus - when God miraculously delivered the people of Israel from Egyptian slavery. In looking to the symbolism of the Passover Lamb and the Exodus, Christians are reminded that we too have been liberated, called to what the Apostle Paul described as a new life of freedom through a unique and unparalleled sacrificial death.
The realm where science and God intersect
At Baylor, we are called to be ambassadors of that new life. To that end, we gather in Chapel to learn, to know, to discern. We come humbly to reflect on truths that transcend lecture halls, and extend beyond the world of the laboratory. We gather together in community to reflect on incalculable certainties.
Dr. Francis Collins, the world-renowned geneticist, Director of the National Institutes of Health, and outspoken evangelical Christian, deeply understands this important Christian principle. When deciphering the human genome, this world-renowned physician and scientist understands that he is examining God's blueprints - what he calls "The Language of God." Science is not only a tool for understanding the world around us, it is more. Science is a language that helps Dr. Collins, as a physician and scientist, read the works of God.
Dr. Collins writes this:
"Science's domain is to explore nature. God's domain is in the spiritual world... the mind must find a way to embrace both realms."
Happily, for our purposes here in Chapel, today - the ecclesiastical equinox- is a perfect day to embrace both realms: scientific and spiritual. The vernal equinox marks a brief moment in time - a moment at which the sun is poised directly above the Equator. It's a day of transition from winter to spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and the days near an equinox are characterized by a miraculous astronomical balance. Because of the Earth's tilted axis and its current orbital position relative to the sun, on this day, the planet experiences near-equal amounts of day and night. We call such a day an equilux (by the way, Waco's true equilux was on St. Patrick's Day Eve, March 16, while you were enjoying spring break).
This moment marks an astronomical transition, an earthly rebirth. For the first time in six long months, the sun is now beginning to cast its rays anew on the long-dark North Pole. The vernal equinox reminds us of the sheer power of the sun's rays falling on our planet home.
The sun - along with Planet Earth's dynamic, ever-shifting position in relation to our galaxy's life-giving star - is truly a wondrous, mysterious gift from our Creator God. As we learn as schoolchildren, if the Earth were located much closer to the sun, the sun's heat would be too intense to sustain life. The reverse would be true if the Earth were located much farther away. Even the sun's light is a life-giving gift - a physical parallel to Jesus's words as recorded in John's Gospel:
"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)
We at Baylor are likewise charged to be bearers of that life-giving light before a humanity that all too frequently dwells in darkness. (Matthew 5:16)
Examples of the Faith-Science embrace at Baylor
Engineers with a Mission
In the moments that remain, let's now bring Jesus's charge close to home - right here on campus. One of many Baylor examples is our chapter of Engineers with a Mission. These students and faculty members understand this charge, and given their particular talents, they likewise understand God's mighty gift of the sun as the sustaining force of physical life. With that knowledge, Baylor engineers - students and faculty - have harnessed the sun's power to help communities in need.
Ryan McGhee, a Baylor graduate who served on a mission in Honduras, put it this way:
"It's an act of worship for me. I have been given a specific skill set for engineering work and while I'm not the type of person who can get up in front of a church group and play music, I can sit behind a desk and do calculations. Hopefully I can bring glory to God that way."
Through their work, Ryan and other Baylor Students have brought glory to God. And they don't just provide solar power. Engineers with a Mission have built micro-hydro generators as well, tapping into the life-giving force of water, which brings us happily back to our morning's astronomy lesson.
As we learned in basic science, the Earth's tilt creates the seasons through a global temperature imbalance. This critical imbalance - a seeming imperfection - actually helps set moisture in motion, creating our indispensible water cycle.
Living Water International and Baylor Wells
As we all know, human livelihood has always been closely connected to water. Consider the emergence of human societies. Charting the history of advanced civilizations on a map, it's crystal clear that humans have always been tied to major waterways or to the sea. Water has played a pivotal role in exploration, trade, agricultural expansion, and industrial development.
In the words of Benjamin Franklin: "When the well is dry, we learn the worth of water" (Poor Richard's Almanac)
Let me, in closing, relate the story of someone who knew well the worth of water: Harry Westmoreland, Jr. Some years ago, Harry started his own drilling company (Lone Star Bit Co.) here in Texas. Just four years later, Harry's career took a surprising turn. He traveled to Peru and met a missionary drilling water wells in that country. Inspired by this experience, Harry soon shared his newfound passion with friends at his local church. Together, they traveled to Kenya to drill water wells. From this single trip, Living Water International was born - and now helps provide clean water to the "least of these" in 25 countries around the world.
Baylor Wells Project
Let's bring this story right here to our Baylor home. When Baylor senior Dustin Williams and his friends heard about the global water crisis, they wanted to pitch in and help - by bringing the Wells Project to Baylor.
Last year, the Baylor Wells Project partnered with over 300 students and asked faculty, staff, and students to drink - for 10 days - water instead of Dr. Pepper, Gatorade, or whatever. The money saved was then donated to the Wells Project - captured in the slogan "drink water to give water."
It's little wonder that H2O is important to us as Christians. The Bible richly abounds with powerful water imagery. After all, Jesus's ministry centered around the waters of the Sea of Galilee. He was baptized in the waters of the Jordan. And he spoke frequently about water. In John's Gospel: "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them" (John 7:37-38)
As human beings, we need water to survive. Indeed, our bodies are literally 2/3rds water. It's how we are made. And so too, as spiritual beings, we, at our best, thirst for our Creator. So, in this season, let us drink deeply from the water that gives life. And as the days lengthen, may we be revitalized by the powerful energy of the Light of the World.
In these closing days of Lent, as we look ahead to Easter Sunday, reflect prayerfully on your own sense of calling. Perhaps, like me, you may have no particular talent for either engineering or well drilling, but your deepening sense of vocational mission will allow you a pathway to become a talented, winsome bearer of life-giving light, of precious living water.
Happy Ecclesiastical Equinox Day!