Christian Thermodynamics S = k logW
Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth
was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and
the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light
was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
Happy Father’s Day! And I know we especially wish our greetings to
the “Father” Rob and “Father” Joel, who lead us each week.
Before I read today’s Gospel lesson, I first want to thank Rob for the
invitation to speak – I hesitate to say “preach” – on this Father’s Day, 2018.
And then, second, I want ask him “what were you thinking? Did you really
mean to ask someone who presents stuff in 50 minute and 75 minute
blocks to give a 15 minute sermon?”
But congregation members can relax, there are no notes to take,
quizzes to follow, or homework to turn in. Let’s get started: if we’re lucky,
I’ll get us out of here early.
Our Gospel lesson is from Matthew 5:13-16. You can find it on page
4 of your pew bible. This reading is actually from year A of the lectionary,
not the year B readings that Rob and Joel are currently working through.
Listen now for the word of God to us:
Matthew 5:13 You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how
can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is
thrown out and trampled under foot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be
hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but
on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same
way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good
works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
For the Word of God in Scripture,
For the Word of God among us,
For the Word of God within us,
People: Thanks be to God!
OK. I’m an engineering geek. I’m going to prove that up front,
because whenever I hear today’s lesson from Matthew I think about a very
non-Biblical personality, Ludwig Boltzmann. Herr Dr. Boltzmann was an
Austrian physicist who lived from 1844-1906. Part of Boltzmann’s fame
comes about due to his quantification of what physicists call the Second
Law of Thermodynamics. It’s written there in your bulletin: . In
non-mathematical terms, the Second Law says “entropy tends to increase”.
In non-scientific terms, we might say “things tend to get worse.”
We see the Second Law every day, although most of us don’t
recognize it. Here’s an example. I drink a lot of tea. I take my English
Breakfast tea bag, pour boiling water over it and wait a few minutes. Then I S = k logW
add some sugar and go back to work. My mornings are often very busy.
Students come in with various problems, the next semester’s schedule
needs to be created, and there are always lectures to prepare and give, and
homework to grade. So it’s not unusual that I forget to stir the tea after I
add the sugar. In fact, sometimes I get so involved that I forget to drink the
tea until almost lunch time. If both these things happen, then I usually
don’t even notice that I forgot to stir the tea. The sugar has dissolved from
its crystalline state and diffused throughout the tea. So it all tastes sweet.
Let’s look, for a moment, at one crystal of the sugar. In this crystal
are about a billion, billion little sucrose1 molecules all lined up next to each
other like Crayola crayons in their box. They are very orderly, very neat.
And if I forget to stir my tea and then drink it right away, I get unsweetened
tannic acid at the top and syrupy sludge at the bottom of the cup. But if I
wait long enough, the nice neat pile of sucrose molecules has fallen apart
and the molecules – all thousands of billions of billions of them – are
dispersed throughout the cup. When they are dispersed, they aren’t in
their original nice neat order – they are disorderly. Using the other
analogy, our crayons are all over the kitchen table. And when Boltzmann
spoke of “entropy”, for which he used the letter “S” in his Second Law, he
meant “disorder”. So in the case of the sugar in my cup of tea, or our box
of crayons, the disorder tended to increase as time goes on.
But it turns out that the Second Law is not just about microscopic
things like molecules and atoms and such, but about big things as well.
1 Thanks to Sandy Burt for pointing out that the food chemistry wasn’t quite right in the original version of
this talk, which used “dextrose” instead of “sucrose”.
Every year Lorene and I host a New Year’s Eve party for a few families we’re
especially close to. The week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is
spent baking and preparing, not to mention picking up and cleaning, to get
the house festive and ready for our guests. After the New Year’s
celebration, when the busy winter sets in, classes start up again for both of
us, along with choir and handbells and other things, the disorder gradually
grows throughout the house. Clothes aren’t always picked up, and my
school books appear in the den and the kitchen. Sing to Me lesson plans
are usually confined to the kitchen and the couch, but various papers and
envelopes containing cryptic penciled notations like “PSD = Field2/120p” or
“Es = energy per channel symbol” followed by a lot of math accumulate on
assorted flat surfaces. In short, disorder, that is, entropy, increases.
And the Second Law applies in still larger contexts, as well. We have
seen it in the past here at TPC. Disorder increases: programs become less
sharp or relevant, certain activities aren’t supported. The same thing holds
in the world in general: terrorism, gun violence, cries about the corrosive
impact of social media, increasing environmental damage. The Second Law
is true on both macro and micro levels. Increasing disorder is the way of
Now from a physicist’s standpoint, Bolzmann’s form of the Second
Law is not an absolute statement, like Newton’s Law of Gravitation – which
says that two masses will always attract each other — or Coulomb’s Law –
which says that two electrons will always repel each other. The Second Law
requires that the system being observed is isolated from outside action.
Furthermore, the Second Law states only that the disorder tends to
increase, not that increase is inevitable. To see what these two conditions
mean, let’s return to my warm (no longer hot) cup of sweetened tea.
In my cup of sweet tea, each swallow is just as sweet as any other
swallow; each drop as sweet as any other drop. From the physicist’s
viewpoint, the little sucrose molecules are uniformly dispersed throughout
the liquid. From the Second Law viewpoint, their distribution throughout
the whole system is as random as possible. If I took any little drop of the
tea and made it a tiny bit sweeter by sucking in additional sucrose
molecules, the rest of the tea would be correspondingly less sweet. There
would be more sugar, and therefore more order, in that drop than in any
other drop. So the disorder is maximized when the distribution of sucrose
is uniform. But if I pour my cold, sweet, tea into a pot, and put the pot back
on the stove, and boil away the water, low and behold, I wind up with sugar
crystals again. Stained and brown, but still crystals. The sucrose molecules
are again lined up, this time more like broken crayons put back in their box,
but aligned and orderly, none the less. Entropy has been decreased. So
what happened to the Second Law?
What happened is that I added energy in the form of heat to the
system. And in this case, heat is just a form of light! When I did that, the
system wasn’t in isolation anymore, overcoming the Second Law for my tea.
The analogy holds on the other levels, as well. In the week between
Christmas and New Year’s, Lorene and I put a lot of energy into the house,
reducing the disorder and reintroducing order—well, a little order, anyway.
So what does this have to do with us, or the salt or light that
Matthew mentions in our Gospel Lesson? Well, a number of things. Where does the energy come to repair a disordered congregation, or, even more
importantly, a disordered world? The way I see it, our job, as Christians, is
providing that energy, bringing order in the sense of participation, justice
and compassion. We are God’s energy – God’s light — to combat the
world’s entropy. Genesis 1 tells us that God’s first act is to create this
energy, this light, for all of His creation. Matthew directs us to not hide
that light, to not conserve it for ourselves. We must apply it in the world.
“Wait a second,” I hear you say, “my own life is in disorder and I
don’t have the energy to fix that, how can I hope to make a difference in
the world beyond my own life?” The answer is the Pentecost answer that
came to Peter, James, and the others in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. In the
disorder of post-crucifixion Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit applied the flame, the
energy, the light, to restore order. The Holy Spirit, a gift from God to those
who believe in Christ, gives us an exact, yet indeterminate, amount energy.
How much is this exact amount? Just enough to reorder our lives around
His will. Just enough to affect just enough of the congregation or
community or world at large to achieve just the effect He needs us, as
individuals, to have.
“But I don’t have that energy! How do I get it?” That’s not a new
question, just as concerns about the contemporary church and society as a
whole aren’t new complaints. Paul’s letters to the churches in Macedonia
and Asia Minor all deal with this exact problem. In each case entropy has
set in, and things are not going as well as when Paul was present. And what
advice does he give?
“Find your strength in the Lord”, he tells the Ephesians.
“Live at peace among yourselves…rebuke the idle, encourage the
faint-hearted, support the weak, and be patient with everyone. See to it
that no one pays back wrong for wrong, but always aim at what is best for
each other and for all.” is his advice to the Thessalonians.
To the Galatians he says: “You my friends, were called to be free;
only beware of turning your freedom into license for your unspiritual
nature. Instead, serve one another in love; for the whole law is summed up
a in a single commandment ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ “.
To the Corinthians “…but I will show you a better way… there are
three things that last forever: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of the
three is love. Make love your aim; then be eager for the gifts of the Spirit.”
So that’s the light part. What about the salt – or in my case the
sugar? Well, from a physiological viewpoint, salt “is not salty”, nor sugar
sweet, when it is in crystalline form. We need to separate the molecules in
order to savor the salty/sweet taste. And we TPC Christians can’t exhibit
the love and energy we are called to give to our troubled world while we’re
in this nice orderly configuration – packed like little white sucrose
molecules in our neat Sunday order. We need to accept the energy of the
Holy Spirit and disperse into Towson, and Baltimore, and Maryland,
…and Honduras, Harrisburg, West Virginia, Vermont, Maine,
…Louisiana, Jamaica, Bangladesh,
…and wherever else we are called to be –
…Towson University, the Bloomberg School, UMBC, Hopkins Hospital,
…our banks or law firms,
…our pre-school, elementary and secondary schools,
…Northrop-Grumman, IBM, Textron,
…Sunday Community Lunch, Habitat for Humanity
… in short, wherever we work and live and serve.
We combat the entropy of this world when we apply our Christian
energy, our light, while we are dispersed into the world. Otherwise, we are
the sludge at the bottom of my unstirred tea – a small patch of
concentrated sweetness — while the rest of the world gets tannic
Paul tells the Galatians “But if you are led by the Sprit, you are not
subject to the law.” He’s talking about the Jewish Law. But the thought
holds for Boltzmann’s Second Law, as well.
Matthew tells us “let your light shine before others”, and “you are
the salt of the earth”.
So… be God’s energy in the world. Disperse… and do His work.
We are salt and light.2
2 Rev. Robert Carter sermon, Discover and Do, February 5, 2017
Charge and Benediction:
So friends, be God’s energy in the world. Disperse… and do His work.
And may the Blessing of God the Father, the grace of Jesus Christ the
Son, and the light and energy of the Holy Spirit be with you and empower
you as you disperse into God’s world this week, remembering that …
We are salt and light.