The Powers of 10
In high school I saw a little movie called “The Powers of 10”—anyone know it?
It is a 10 minute film you can still see on youtube that begins with a couple having a picnic
in a park in Chicago.
They are viewed from one meter above their picnic blanket.
Every 10 seconds, the view increases to 10 times farther away.
At 10 meters, you see the couple, the blanket, and the park;
at 100, you see the streets surrounding the park.
At a distance of 1000 meters, you begin to see Lake Michigan,
and at 10, 000, much of the state of Illinois.
At 10 to the 6th power you can begin to see the central US and all of the great lakes,
and 10 to the 7th, the whole planet.
Each power of 10 takes you further and further out, past the planets, past the solar system,
finally, at 10 to the 24th power, you are looking toward the earth from deep space.
I think about the power of these different views of the same situation:
the couple on the picnic blanket, a view that looks like a weather map, seeing our sun as one prick of light.
They are all so different, even though they are picturing the same reality.
The local vantage point cannot see the cosmic view.
It’s hard to imagine the big picture from the picnic blanket in the park.
I imagine it was the same for the familiar characters of the Christmas story.
We have heard it so many times, with such historical perspective, that it seems natural, fitting—
as if God planned it this way.
From our distance 2000 years later, we have the big picture view.
But consider a moment what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph to learn
that they would have to travel in Mary’s ninth month of pregnancy to Bethlehem.
This was not a small inconvenience; travel in those days was dangerous.
Bandits attacked travelers, you had to depend on the kindness of strangers for food and lodging.
Not to mention that walking 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem is taxing for a healthy person,
let alone a woman carrying a full term baby.
Can you imagine their questions?
How are we supposed to make this trip? Who will take care of us? Could there be worse timing???
And then, once Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem and had their baby,
God commanded them to go to Egypt, some 200 miles away.
Now they were refugees on the run, trying to escape the violence and paranoia of King Herod.
And Herod was back in Bethlehem, killing all the babies under the age of two.
How could this possibly be part of God’s plan?
From the local view, it didn’t look good.
It was a lot of turmoil, struggle, and suffering.
But from a cosmic view, it was good-- very good—
because this is how the Savior came into the world.
Right now many at Our Savior’s are struggling with the news that I am finishing my ministry here.
It’s hard because we have accomplished so much together,
we have worked hard and played hard and loved well.
It is difficult to see that work together end.
It is a time when questions arise about the future-
How will we make the next phase of the journey? Who will take care of us?
It is a time when anger can erupt: this is terrible timing! We were just getting going!
And the doubt: What are you doing, God? Can this really be your plan for Our Savior’s?
These are all natural feelings to have at the departure of a pastor, especially one you have loved.
And I know you have loved me, because I have experienced your acceptance, your care,
your joy in our working together these past six years.
These feelings are absolutely true and right from your perspective.
But it is a localized view-- the view from the ground.
Equally true are the views from the powers of 10, the big picture views.
And there really is a much bigger picture than we all can see from our vantage points.
It’s a picture where God is working through good times and failures, losses and joys.
It is a picture of Body of Christ with its many parts-- people, churches, the synod, and the world at large.
It is a picture where even the things that are difficult to accept can be put into the service of God’s plan.
It’s like Joseph, upon meeting his brothers 20 years after they sold him into slavery, saying
“You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”
It’s St. Paul, saying in Romans, “God works all things for good for those who love him.”
It’s the truth of the cross, an instrument of torture and state sanctioned execution,
becoming for us the tree of life, the source of our own resurrection and rebirth.
It is the incarnation, God entering the world to become one of us,
means that no part of our world is cut off from God.
God uses any and all circumstances, favorable or not, for God’s purposes in the world.
So how do we get to that bigger view?
There may be multiple ways, but I know of at least two.
One is prayer.
Through prayer we open ourselves to God, who is the biggest picture.
In prayer, God surrounds us with love and safety.
God begins to put our fears and ego into perspective, and help us see ourselves in context.
The other is patience.
Patience is an attitude of waiting with hope.
As we wait for God to reveal something more, we start to see small signs of God’s activity.
Noticing these signs help us grow in trust and believe more fully that God has our good in mind.
I know that God has a plan for this small and mighty church called Our Savior’s.
And though my vision is far from perfect, here is what I have seen of the big picture
in my practice of prayer and patience:
I see this congregation welcoming families to hot meals and warm beds in Family Promise.
I see a rainbow flag hanging out front and this community making an intentional welcome to LGTB.
I see care teams visiting homebound, and children leading worship.
I see new people entering this church and saying, ‘I think this place needs me,’ and finding a home here.
I see a congregation that is figuring out, little by little, how to be church in this changed religious landscape
because they have the tenacity and faith to do so.
Right now is a time of grieving, giving thanks, and letting go.
That is important work, because it acknowledges what God has done among us,
and what it has meant to each one of us.
Our view from the ground is where we live, it is important to acknowledge and cherish it.
In Advent, we sing, “O Come O Come Immanuel.”
The name ‘Immanuel’ means, ‘God is with us.’
That’s the biggest view—that in any and all circumstances,
God is with us, with this community, and will continue to be with you.
God has gifted you with strong leadership, with people of all ages who roll up their sleeves,
and with a mission to make a difference in the community beyond these walls.
God will give you all that you need to carry it out.
Because the view from the powers of 10 is that God is faithful.