How many people here have heard of the story of Icarus, who was given wings and flew too close to the sun? It’s an ancient myth and cautionary tale, that essentially boils down to: you fly too close to the sun, you get burned.

Pastor Anna told me that while I was gone on vacation, she did a sermon based around quantum mechanics. She did a “science” sermon. I was super jealous. I love quantum theory! I only just barely get it, but I still think it’s cool. Spoiler alert: I’m a huge nerd. I grew up on Star Trek and Stargate and Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. Stars are really popular in science fiction apparently.

So, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to take my own crack at a somewhat scientific sermon. And those of you here who are sighing inwardly and getting ready to check out because you don’t come to church for astronomy and physics, don’t worry! It’s all about love, and it’s all about God, and it’s all about you and me. But let’s get out of this building and off of this planet for a few minutes; let’s go on a trip, upward and outward, to the terrifyingly beautiful universe we live in.

Imagine if you will a really big planet, like Jupiter or Saturn. Just floating along there in space doing its own thing. Now imagine a decent sized hunk of rock, like a moon or something, that lets itself get caught in the planet’s gravitational field. The planet’s gravity holds onto it, and it gets stuck circling the planet. It stays there, at the same distance, reflecting light at it and getting light reflected back in turn.

Now, if it’s far enough out, we get something like our own moon up there in the sky, circling for 4.5 billion years and still going strong. But if it’s circling too close, that’s when the problems start happening. You see there’s this thing called the Roche Limit, discovered by a guy named Ėdouard Roche. Think of it as an invisible boundary that encircles anything with enough influence to catch stuff in its gravity.

Let’s say a moon is going on its merry way through the universe and comes across a planet like Saturn or Jupiter and starts orbiting it, but instead of orbiting it at a safe distance, like our moon, it happens to get drawn in close and starts orbiting somewhere within the planet’s Roche limit.

Now, science tells us that truly massive stuff exerts a lot of force on things around it, but really everything has its own gravity. Stars, planets, you, me, salt-shakers, motorcycles, George Clooney—you name it, it has at least a little gravity. If George Clooney was hanging out alone in space—y’know, like he does—and there was a grain of rice hanging out near him, eventually—long, long after he started to get hungry—he and the grain of rice would be drawn together, because they each have their own gravity.

We don’t notice it, because we’re really small and we’re stuck in a closed system with the Earth, where its gravity overrides pretty much everything else, but everything has its own gravitational force that also holds it together and keeps it from falling apart.

Now if this wandering moon I was talking about gets caught within the Roche Limit of say, Saturn—which is, by the way for anyone who’s interested, about 60 thousand kilometers away from it—the gravity of the planet starts to compete with the very gravity the moon uses to hold itself together. The side of the moon facing away from the planet is farther away and affected by less gravity than the side facing toward the planet, so bit by bit the moon is torn apart, the farther bits moving slower and the closer bits moving faster, and eventually the whole thing turns into space dust.

This powder continues to orbit all around the planet, and eventually becomes what looks from a distance like rings—like we see around Saturn today. But it’s not really a moon anymore. The influence of the planet completely took it over and destroyed it.

Now why, God, why have I turned the pulpit into a science class this morning? Because we are a church full of little moons, bopping around the universe, and there are a lot of stars and planets and giant Space-Clooneys waiting out there for us, each one of them with influence. Gravitational influence.

We have our country. A blazing sun shining in the sky, a beacon of light and hope that warms its friends and burns its enemies. It has a powerful draw. The inalienable rights granted to its citizens, the safety it provides, the pride it engenders, technology, stability, Big Macs.

We have money. A great, shimmering planet that shines like a diamond in the night sky. It can put food on our table, give us a sense of safety and security, keep the loan sharks at bay with one hand and grant us convertibles and video games and the first color TV on the block with the other.

We have people, too, with just as much influence as any planet. Glittering stars scattered throughout our galaxy whose call affects any who wish to hear it, for better or worse. Martin Luther King shone such a light, and we can orbit his star as much as any other. The Buddha is a star. …Freud is a star. Pope Francis, Ayn Rand, Aristotle… even Adolph Hitler’s one of those stars. Mohandas Gandhi, Donald Trump… Mr. Rogers, Mother Theresa… men and women of gravity, of one kind or another.

Anger is a planet too. A great burning gas giant with eternal storms roiling its surface. It offers heat and beauty to those that orbit it. Courage and power and protection and purpose. And we all know what its like to get caught in its pull.

But anger has a Roche Limit, doesn’t it? Have you felt it? If you let yourself be drawn in too close by anger’s gravitational pull, if anger becomes the center of your universe… it starts to tear you apart. You orbit faster and faster, destroying anything in your path, until eventually it destroys you. Its gravity overpowers everything that is holding you together and grinds you into dust.

The same is true with anything we let ourselves orbit. If we orbit planet Money from a safe distance, we can benefit a great deal and even do a lot of good for others. But if we let money and the love of money draw us in and get caught up in it… if Money becomes our focus, then it too will tear us apart. Gambling addictions? Falling into a debt spiral? Or the all-consuming selfishness of unchecked greed?

And I’m sure we here from all points on the political spectrum can picture what it looks like when someone chooses to orbit too deep within America’s gravitational field. What’s good about patriotism can, if we’re not careful, become Nationalism and can become Jingoism. Unity can become Xenophobia. Righteousness becomes dangerous. Difference of opinion becomes partisan squabbling. Freedom becomes Sedition and Ideologies become Civil War.

People have Roche Limits too. Those gleaming stars: our idols, our teachers. If we fall in too deep we lose ourselves, and destruction follows.

Now, here we are, in church worshipping God. With all these things and ideas and people reigning over our universe, you might think that what I’m gonna say next is there is really only one star we should be orbiting. Jesus Christ. But… I respect other religions too much to belittle them like that, and I respect the Christ too much to make Him just another celestial body in my drawn-out Space metaphor.

To me, God isn’t just one of many stars we can choose to orbit as we wander through the universe. God is the very gravity that holds us together. That keeps you or me from falling apart and turning to dust. God doesn’t have a Roche Limit that would tear us apart if we got too close. God’s the very thing keeping us from falling apart in the face of all the other things that try to exert their influence on us.

As Christians, we choose to let Jesus be the head of our church and to reign over our lives in a way no planet or star or country or political figure ever could. We let Christ into our lives and He holds us together, so that we can orbit country and money and lust and presidents and anger safely. If we hold on tight to God, we can orbit those stars and planets without letting them tear us apart or rule us.

Christ reigns differently than any King or President ever did. When Christ reigns in our minds, and our wills, and our hearts, He does not reign with an iron fist. He doesn’t conquer or draft or tax. The reign of Christ doesn’t look like an Empire, or even one nation under God indivisible. The reign of Christ lifts up the oppressed, feeds the hungry, shelters the stranger. In the Kingdom of God we love our neighbors. We share meals with Samaritans and tax collectors and Pharisees and sinners. Sounds like dinner at a family reunion to me. We give with open hearts, and we learn with open minds.

If you’ve been here a while, almost every Sunday you hear about what things Jesus has been trying to teach us. One of the reasons we come to church is to learn what it means to live a life that’s holy. A life that’s better, more righteous. As Christians we have Jesus’ example to follow, and in my biased opinion it’s the best example we’ve got. We can take that Christ and His teachings into us by seeking to understand, by seeking to embody.

If we let Christ reign in our hearts, if we let the gravity of God hold us together when we approach all those dangerous and beautiful stars and planets out there in the universe, we will never be turned to dust.

Here endeth the science lesson. Thanks be to God. Amen.