Connected

The Rev. Paul Nancarrow. This sermon is based on Luke 7:1-10.

Quick question: Have you ever heard of quantum entanglement? Anybody?

Quantum entanglement is the fancy scientific term for the fact in quantum physics that certain kinds of particles can interact with each other, and then continue to influence each other even when they become separated in physical space. It’s a phrase that means things can be connected even when they are not in contact.

And in physics that is really a very odd idea. It has been one of the central tenets in physics, from the 1600s till now, that things can only influence each other when they are in contact. Two billiard balls have to smack each other in order to change their direction and speed. A wave of electromagnetic energy must contact an antenna before a signal can be received. Things have to touch in order to influence.

But early in the 20th century, when quantum mechanics was being worked out, it seemed that one of the consequences of the equations was that two particles could influence each other, could affect each other’s quantum numbers, even when they were very far apart. And that consequence was not very well received.

Albert Einstein, for instance, didn’t want to accept it. He called it “spooky action at a distance,” and he thought the whole idea was absurd. In fact, he came up with a thought-experiment to prove it was absurd. Imagine, he said, you had two photons, two blips of light, and you had them interact and then shot them off in different directions. And suppose, after they’d flown apart a great distance, you changed the direction of one of them. That meant that the other photon, at a great distance, without any kind of signal back and forth between them, instantaneously, would have to change direction too. And the notion of a single particle changing direction without any causal contact seemed so silly to Einstein, that he thought it disproved the very notion of quantum entanglement. No spooky action at a distance. Case closed.

Years later, when laboratory equipment and apparatus had improved a lot, someone came up with a way to actually do Einstein’s thought-experiment. They created two photons, shot them off away from each other, changed one of them – and the other one changed too, right along with it, right on cue. Quantum entanglement is real. Spooky action at a distance happens. Things can be connected even when they are not in contact.

Which is all well and good if you’re interested in quantum physics – but why bring it up in church? Why bother mentioning it in a sermon, of all things?

Because there is a kind of action-at-a-distance going on in our Gospel reading this morning, and the phenomenon of quantum entanglement can give us a nice modern metaphor for understanding how it could apply to us.

In the Gospel story today, Jesus heals the slave of a centurion. Jesus heals lots of people in the Gospels. But what makes this story different from most is that Jesus heals the slave without ever meeting him. In most of Jesus’ healing miracles there is a moment of contact between Jesus and the person he heals. Jesus lays hands on them, or looks at them intently, or speaks a word to them, or makes mud and uses it to anoint their eyes, or asks them if they really want to be healed. In most of Jesus’ healings it is the moment of contact that makes the healing meaningful.

But in this story, Jesus never meets the slave. For that matter, Jesus never even meets the centurion. Their entire interaction is carried out by intermediaries, Jewish friends of the centurion who come to Jesus and speak on his behalf. Jesus never even speaks a word of healing; he commends the centurion’s faith, and the healing is accomplished. In this story, Jesus’ healing is an action-at-a-distance, Jesus’ healing works its influence across great distances of space and ethnicity and class and power-relationships and boundaries and being a stranger in a community and questions of who gets to be “in” and who gets left “out.” In this story, Jesus’ healing is a connection that happens even though there are so many factors that would work to keep Jesus and the centurion out of contact. Even though they never meet, Jesus and the slave and the centurion are all “entangled” in the quantum field of God’s love.

And the point of the story is to remind us that we are “entangled” in the field of God’s love, too. The healing that Jesus brings us works across all kinds of distances, and joins us in connection even when there are things in the world that would work to keep us out of contact.

And that is good news for us, because none of us here have ever been in contact with Jesus. Unlike the centurion, who could have gone out to meet Jesus if he’d wanted to, who could at the very least send his personal friends out to Jesus – unlike the centurion, we don’t the option of meeting Jesus face-to-face. We can’t talk with Jesus or look in his eyes. Jesus talked and looked and healed and lived and died and rose and ascended a long time ago, and none of us were around when it happened, and none of us could ever be eyewitnesses of contact with Jesus.

And yet we are still connected to him. Through the mystery of God’s love, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the power of Jesus to speak and touch and heal and show compassion and call to mission is still with us, that power is at work in us. And we are connected with the ministry of Jesus today, here and now, every bit as much as that centurion was there and then. Just because Jesus does not physically come in under our roof does not mean that we cannot be healed by him. Even though we are not in contact, we are still connected.

And if we all are connected with Jesus, that means we are also, in Jesus, all connected with each other. Today we welcome into Christ’s Body by Baptism Claire and Gabriel Fiechtl. And Baptism is an outward and visible sign of how we are “entangled” together in the field of God’s love. Baptism connects us each to the other. And that connection remains even when we might no longer be in immediate contact. Even when Claire and Gabriel grow up – when they go away to school, and have jobs and careers, and raise families of their own, and may follow a life path that takes them very far away from their beginnings at Trinity Church – even then, we will still be connected. Even when the Fiechtl family moves away from Staunton this summer (at least, that’s the plan) and are no longer part of our immediate parish family, no longer in direct contact with the hospitality and compassion and community we share – even then, we will still be connected. Baptism is a gift of Christ that means even when we are not in contact, we are still connected.

And that connection doesn’t stop with just the members of our immediate parish family, either. Through the mystery of God’s love we are connected with all sorts and conditions of people, and by the grace of Christ we can go out in mission to build up right-relationships of mutual well-being that reveal our connectedness in all sorts of ways. In mission we build up well-being with our neighbors, whom we can be in contact with, day by day and street by street. But through prayer and giving and outreach and civic engagement we can also build up well-being for people far beyond our immediate contact, we can be connected in goodness with people we may never meet or know or talk to face-to-face. Our call to mission makes us recognize that even when we are not in contact, we are all still connected.  

And so today I invite you to take a moment to reflect and pray about how you are “quantum entangled” in the field of God’s love. With whom are you in contact in Christ? And how might you be connected, even with people you may never have met, through the working of the Spirit?

Our Gospel today tells us that the love of Jesus can be action-at-hand and action-at-a-distance. May we be active in Christ’s love, near and far, today and always. Amen.

Comments

  1. LAURIE CLEMENTS says:

    Good sermon!