The Stuff That Makes Us

The Stuff That Makes Us

Have you ever wondered what gives things their stuffness? Like, why is it that my phone feels like a real thing, but the signal that brings my voice to someone elses’ phone doesn’t have the same kind of substance… Thingness… Stuffness… You know… Why do things exist? What is anything? 

Well, let’s take you or me for example. We are obviously made of stuff. Skin, bones, organs, blood, all that good stuff. Those body parts are made of smaller things called molecules. Those molecules are made of atoms. Atoms are made of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Protons and neutrons are made of quarks, and that’s about as small as we currently think things go. So now that we’re down at the very fundamental building blocks, this must be where our stuffness comes from right? Like, if you were to take apart a car, piece by piece, and weigh every nut, bolt, panel, and component, it would weigh the same amount as the whole car put together. If you buy 10 one-pound bags of flour, it weighs 10 pounds, right? So we should be able to count up the mass of all the itty bitty particles and account for all of our solid stuffness. Except that would be boring, and God’s universe is anything but boring. 

It turns out that if you take an atom, 99.95% of its mass is in the middle, contained within the proton and neutron. So if we take them apart and we weigh the quarks that the protons and neutrons are made out of, that only accounts for about 9% of the mass of the atom. That would be like putting 10 one-pound bags of flour in your shopping cart, but suddenly your cart was 111 pounds heavier! What?! Atoms are 10x heavier than the sum of their parts? Yeah! Crazy, right? It’s because those quarks aren’t just sitting around like Lego building blocks. 

They are interacting with each other, swirling around each other, pushing and pulling each other like some kind of itty-bitty swing dance. And the relationship that they share is so energetic that it creates most of the mass of the atom that they build together. That means that you, oh wonderful and complicated human, get roughly 91% of your mass, your stuffness, your thingness, your solidity, from relationships, from movement, from dance, from the interpenetrating energies of subatomic particles. 

You and me, the stars and the trees, are fundamentally made out of relationships. All of the diversity of living creatures and inanimate objects are just the outward manifestation of itty bitty relationships which take a tiny bit of mass and create the universe from their attraction. And if this is how the whole system got built, what does that tell you about the one who built it? What would you say about the nature of one who would design a universe which creates itself through a series of increasingly complicated relationships and interactions? What would you call such a being and what might you call this universal force? 

Well, I would call that force Love, and since this creative force seems at work in literally every single level of existence, I might also call its creator by the same name. I might even go so far as to say, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them,” and oh look, now it’s a sermon! Oh well. I guess you can’t spend too long diving into the mysteries of science without stumbling on some divine fingerprints. 

But I wanted to come at this whole love thing from a different angle, because I was serious at the beginning. I could preach every verse in the Bible by simply saying, “God is love, so when you love each other, you are entering into the fundamental mystery of God’s self and all of God’s creation.” But if every story of scripture and every sermon ever preached boils down to that one sentence, why do I still have a job? Why do we have seminaries and spiritual workshops and millions of Christian books if it’s that simple? It’s because even after thousands of years, we still don’t get it. We think that love is about being nice to people, or about hormones that make us feel good. We think that love is something that we can control like the water through a dam. When Jesus was talking to a lawyer in Luke 10 and said that the only real commands were to love God and love your neighbor, the guy’s first question was, “Who’s my neighbor?” Like, Jesus was peeling back the fabric of the cosmos to reveal how the whole thing works, and his first response is, “Cool, now who can I exclude from this?” He didn’t get it, and we don’t get it. 

Love is the generative force of the universe. It’s just the way it’s wired. Quarks take a tiny bit of mass and generate 10x the sum of its parts through their relationships within atoms. Love takes a few little people and generates unbelievable amounts of generative energy just by their connection. From the hearts of atoms to the hearts of stars to the hearts of humankind, creation is wired to create newness of life. How incredible is that?! Love is not just a silly platitude. It is a way of plugging into the generative force of the universe. It is how conscious beings enter into the mind of God. 

Love is something you give yourself over to, an orientation towards life and abundance. An orientation towards others, knowing that when two people give 100% of themselves to each other, there is more than enough for everyone. But we, like the disciples, are afraid that we won’t have our needs met and say, “Oh but Jesus, there isn’t enough to go around. We only have a few loaves and fishes”, but Jesus takes their little offering and multiplies it to feed thousands and thousands of people. It’s just what he does. It’s just what the universe does. I know that you’ve all been acculturated by a lifetime of consumerism to think that there is never enough love or support or joy or satisfaction or security and that there is so much to fear. But I am here to tell you that God is love and all who choose to enter into that sacred mystery share in the generative power of the cosmos. 

You need not be afraid of this life. Those who lay down their lives in love will find it returned to them 10 fold. Those who lay down their fear, their prejudice, their stubborn pride, and choose to be given wholly to their neighbors will find themselves abiding within the very heart of God. “Love each other” sounds like a really simple commandment, but it requires such an incredible reorientation to the hidden nature of the cosmos, that it might take us a lifetime to get it right. But when we get it right…oh, even for just a moment… When you lose yourself in self-giving love and find yourself filled by the love of another, there is an effortless, electric charge that is as close to God as we can get in this life. 

So friends, as we go back into a world that would have us close ourselves up in fear, I would encourage you to open yourself up to love. Love boldly and recklessly. Give more than you should, dream bigger than your fear, and let us create a community that truly embodies the radical expansion of God’s love. 

This post is adapted from a sermon given by Rev. Jackson at Community UCC on May 9, 2021.

Photo by Swee Ting Chan and Yun-Thai Li, Carl Zeiss Photography Competition at the Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge


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