Both hugely important but in very different ways.
I refer to the two significant items which dominate this morning’s news: the detection of gravitational waves and the possibility for peace in Syria.
Not that many of us understand what gravitational waves are. Certainly you can’t see them through my study window but nevertheless – thanks to some very hi-tech equipment straddling the US – it seems that they are there.
You can actually hear them, middle C – the first note Mrs. Armitage taught me (What did she know that the rest of us didn’t?)
Stranger still is that not even Albert Einstein really understood what his General theory of Relativity of 1915 was predicting. It seems that he dithered for over 20 years over whether gravitational waves actually existed.
So in 1916 he told one colleague that they did not exist, then said they did. Then in 1936 with an assistant he set out to publish a paper dismissing the idea before changing his mind again.
But that’s life as it is lived. Looking back everything can seem so obvious, inevitable even. But at the time we are never quite sure, uncertainty rules. Just watch Everton.
A fascinating meeting with members of my old church in Heswall on Tuesday. They are in the process of rebuilding the Good Shepherd along with the old church hall on Telegraph Road and they were advised to learn from our experience.
So I told them the story, which stretches some 15 years, and showed them around the Ministry Centre. And in doing so I saw the whole process, with all its challenges and setbacks, disappointments and delays, through their eyes. They were starting with the outcome – and looking back.
But for those of us at the time, nothing was inevitable. By no means was the Ministry Centre a foregone conclusion. But now it is built and flourishing, we see God’s faithfulness – and faith vindicated.
But sadly it seems that we are light years away from peace in Syria. This morning’s breakthrough is simply that the 17-member International Syria Support Group have agreed to seek a nationwide “cessation of hostilities” to begin in a week’s time.
Not much, but at least some progress. US Secretary of State John Kerry, a key broker, commented. “What we have here are words on paper, what we need to see in the next few days are actions on the ground.”
It’s not much but it’s a start, hopefully the beginning of process rather than a false dawn. We can only pray for a good outcome, which no doubt can only be achieved after a series of disappointing setbacks and broken promises. But that’s life as it is lived.
So what keeps us going forward? Why the search for gravitational waves (which only existed in one side of Einstein’s brain), why push for peace in war-torn Syria? And on a much smaller scale, why persist with the parish centre project (as it was called at the time)?
One word: HOPE. That God purposes our peace, he wills our shalom, he is working for our good.
This sense of a promised future, still to be fully unrealised, dominates scripture. So we read, for example, in Hebrews 11 of those men and women of faith, motivated by God’s promise of a glorious future.
Verse 13 captures the tension of trusting in God’s promises in today’s uncertainties.
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”
This hope in God comes from God himself, deeply implanted in the human heart. The scientific endeavour, knowing that there is shape and purpose to be discovered, has a Christian origin.
“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.” (Hebrews 11:1 Message translation)
It was Winston Churchill, a shrewd political operator if ever there was one, who wryly observed: “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
Meanwhile, as we read on the first day of our Lent course (page 3):
“You might begin today by thinking about some situations, whether in your own life or far away, where the world is not yet right. Hold them before God, in prayer and patience. And then look for the signs of hope around you, the first stirrings of God’s new life.
“And give thanks to God for the way in which he is at work in the world today.
“There’s a long way to go. But the party begins here”