Year A - June 19, 2014

Homilist: Jennifer Helbley

Genesis 28:10-19a

Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24

Romans 8:12-25

Matt. 13:24-30,36-43

 

We are impressed by big numbers. So when Jacob was told1 that his descendants would number as many as the dust on the earth, which was reminiscent of the promise to Abraham2 that his descendants would number as many as the sand on the seashore or the stars in the heavens, Jacob was dutifully impressed. The best estimate on total number of people who have ever lived3 (regardless of if they were descended from Jacob) is somewhere between 100 to 115 billion. This means that we still have a ways to go, even with the low estimate for the number of grains of sand4 on the earth. And a very long ways to go if you are counting stars or the higher number of estimates5,6 of grains of sand.

Conveniently, we do have a unit7 that has the right magnitude for this type of counting. It is a unit similar to a dozen, recall that a dozen items is 12 items. So instead of 12 we are going to count in units of 6 x 1023. I would tell this to you in something like billions, but it honestly gets extremely confusing at that point. So the 1023 means that there are 23 zeros after the 6. That is a lot of zeros. This unit is called a mole. There is a Mole Day8, celebrated on Oct. 23, because you know October is the 10th month. So if you are looking for something pleasant after contemplating The Great Disappointment9, there's always Mole Day to cheer you up. For estimating purposes there is one mole of grains of sand on the earth and one mole of stars in the universe. Good estimators say there are probably a few less grains of sand and a few more stars. So God wasn't joking around with small numbers when he was giving Jacob a population estimate.

And yet, here we sit with a little squares of bread and about 10 mL (sorry, I'm a scientist) of grape juice on the table to represent Jesus. How can such little items be chosen to represent someone who knew how to impress with grandeur? He DIED. And we commemorate it with little bits of food that aren't enough to sustain us.

Let's take a moment to contemplate breathing. It is just chock full of so many10–13 exciting things happening. But I'll try to focus here. When you breath in, the oxygen in the atmosphere is attaching itself (biochemists like to call this binding) to iron. This iron transports the oxygen to the cells that need it by being carried around in the blood. The iron drops off the oxygen, picks up some carbon dioxide and returns to the lungs where you exhale carbon dioxide. Vital transport system. But it turns out we only have about 2.5 g of iron14 that is dedicated to carrying around this oxygen. (The whole body contains about 5 g but it is used in more places and is stored.)

 

You might be thinking that 2.5 g sounds like quite a bit. Many of you have no experience with grams and so have nothing to compare that with. So lets look at this spoon and knife that I have here; together they mass about 55 g. It is a cheap, mismatched pair. The knife may or may not have come from a cafeteria. These are made of stainless steel15—which is about 85% iron. The remainder is chromium and some other metals to get it to have the right properties. If I were to eat these, even if I ground them up, it wouldn't provide as much iron to my body as the tiny cracker. The wafer probably has about16 0.2 mg of iron in it. In other words, the flatware has 25,000 times more iron than the communion wafer. But yet, there is not much my body can do with the flatware. I need the iron to be bioavailable17,18. To start with, the iron in the flatware has too many electrons for my body to use it. And secondly, the body turns out to not like iron by itself. So we need a little bit of iron in the right package in order for us to absorb it. Depending on the food, we really only absorb about 10-30% of the iron we consume anyways.

There are as many atoms in my hand as there are stars in the sky. Yes, I hold in my hand about 1 mole of iron and chromium atoms. But quantity isn't enough. Jesus doesn't ask us to consume the bread of his body for impressive scale. To drink a few milliliters of juice so that we need not drink any more. we are asked to participate to get a little dose of Jesus so that we might be reminded that his power is great enough that only a little of Him will carry us a long ways. So that we might remember that even if our mass is so very small compared to the rest of the body of Christ, we are so very valuable.

So count the stars in the sky and recall that you hold power beyond numbers. You are the carrier of Christ to another person. It isn't a great act, it is merely you doing your job. Drop off some oxygen, pick up some carbon dioxide, and go around again.

 

 

1.Bible Gateway passage: Genesis 28:10-19 - New Revised Standard Version. Bible Gatew. at <https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+28%3A10-19&version=NRSV>

2.Bible Gateway passage: Genesis 22:17 - New Revised Standard Version. Bible Gatew. at <https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+22%3A17&version=NRSV>

3.World population. Wikipedia Free Encycl. (2014). at <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=World_population&oldid=617622241>

4.Krulwich, R. Which Is Greater, The Number Of Sand Grains On Earth Or Stars In The Sky? NPR.org at <http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2012/09/17/161096233/which-is-greater-the-number-of-sand-grains-on-earth-or-stars-in-the-sky>

5.A Mole of Moles. at <http://what-if.xkcd.com/4/>

6.How many stars are there in the Universe? Eur. Space Agency at <http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Herschel/How_many_stars_are_there_in_the_Universe>

7.Mole (unit). Wikipedia Free Encycl. (2014). at <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mole_(unit)&oldid=617437676>

8.What is Mole Day? at <http://www.moleday.org/>

9.Ellen White Truth > Life & Times > Two Great Disappointments > The Great Disappointment. at <http://www.ellengwhitetruth.com/life-times/two-great-disappointments/the-great-disappointment>

10.Chemistry 104: Equilibrium and Breathing. at <http://www.brynmawr.edu/chemistry/Chem/Chem104lc/hemoglobin.html>

11.Partial pressure. Wikipedia Free Encycl. (2014). at <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Partial_pressure&oldid=608836417>

12.Breathing. Wikipedia Free Encycl. (2014). at <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Breathing&oldid=617569784>

13.The Chemistry of Hemoglobin and Myoglobin. at <http://chemed.chem.purdue.edu/genchem/topicreview/bp/1biochem/blood3.html>

14.Human iron metabolism. Wikipedia Free Encycl. (2014). at <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Human_iron_metabolism&oldid=615612083>

15.Stainless steel. Wikipedia Free Encycl. (2014). at <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Stainless_steel&oldid=617231382>

16.Show Foods. at <http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/5624?qlookup=18235&max=25&man=&lfacet=&new=1>

17.Hurrell, R. & Egli, I. Iron bioavailability and dietary reference values. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 91, 1461S–1467S (2010).

18.Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Iron — Health Professional Fact Sheet. at <http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/>