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Sermon and Reflections For The First Sunday after Epiphany - Year B
Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11
"Allurement"
Barry Robinson

From time to time we feature "Keeping The Faith in Babylon: A Pastoral Resource For Christians In Exile", a weekly set of comments and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts by Barry Robinson (Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada).   Barry describes his resource this way: "Keeping The Faith in Babylon... is a word of hope from a pastor in exile to those still serious about discipleship in a society (and, too often, a church) that has lost its way".   Contact Barry at fernstone@fernstone.org to request samples and get further subscription information. Snail mail inquiries can be sent to Barry at the address at the bottom of this page.
KEEPING THE FAITH IN BABYLON
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson

The First Sunday After Epiphany - Year B
Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11
"Allurement"


	In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the 
	earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the 
	deep, while a wind from God swept across the waters. Then God 
	said, 'Let there be light': and there was light.  And God saw 
	that the light was good...

In his inspirational view of matter and the universe, The Universe Is A Green
Dragon, physicist and author, Brian Swimme, imagines the story of creation being
explained in the form of a classical dialogue between a famous cosmologist named 
Thomas and a young student.  In one part of the conversation, the teacher is 
trying to explain the concept of allurement, or that mysterious attracting activity 
that all things have for everything else. 

Although Isaac Newton called this activity gravity, neither he nor anyone else has 
been able to explain what it is or why it happens at all; for gravity is simply a 
word which describes what happens when gravity is working.  This "attracting 
activity" says Thomas, "is a stupendous and mysterious fact of existence.  Primal. 
We awake and discover that this alluring activity is the basic reality of the 
macrocosmic universe."

   THOMAS:... Allurement evokes being and life. That's what allurement is. 
   Now you can understand what love means: love is a word that points to 
   this alluring activity in the cosmos. This primal dynamism awakens the 
   communities of atoms, galaxies, stars, families, nations, persons, 
   ecosystems, oceans, and stellar systems. Love ignites being.
   
   Think of the power of this alluring activity - its immensity.  We are 
   barely able to keep our cars puttering about the continent!  What would 
   we say if we had the job of getting the stars to rotate and revolve 
   around galaxies? What if we had to keep all the hydrogen atoms together? 
   Or keep them pressed into stars? Think of the tremendous galactic tasks
   performed every instant by this universe, and you will begin to feel 
   the magnificence of the cosmic allurement of love. It is this allurement 
   that excites lovers into chasing each other through the night, that pulls
   the parent out of bed for the third time to comfort a sick child, that 
   draws humans into lifetimes of learning and developing. The excitement
   in our hand as it tears open a letter from a friend is the same dynamism 
   that spins our vast Earth through the black of night and into the rosy 
   colors of dawn.

And here's the interesting question? If we could somehow snap our fingers and make 
this primal attraction between all things - which we can't see or taste or hear 
anyway - if we could just make it disappear from the universe, what would happen?

To begin with, the galaxies would break apart.  The stars of the Milky Way would soar 
off in all directions.  No longer would anything be held in the universal dance of 
life. Everything would simply go its own chaotic way, no atoms, worlds, persons 
ever pulled toward each other again.  All interest, enchantment, fascination, 
mystery and wonder would simply fall away.  With nothing left. No  community of any 
sort. Nothing.

                                    +

The first eleven chapters of Genesis, the Bible's first book, are among the most
important in all of scripture.  They are also among the best known among Christian 
people but, unfortunately, in a stereotypical way.  When it comes to the story 
of creation, our text for today, for instance, literalists want to argue that we 
are listening to pre-scientific history, or the actual record of how the universe 
came to be.  Scientific minds, aware that nobody was there in the beginning anyway, 
laugh at such a simplistic notion of the beginning of life and dismiss Genesis as
religious naivete.  Both views misunderstand the basic message of Genesis; and 
the message comes to us in the form of a story.  What we are dealing with in the 
Bible, for the most part, are stories, attempts on the part of many different authors 
to make sense of their experience by telling a story about it.  Stories can be true 
or not true in the factual or historical sense.  There really was a person named Adam 
and Eve; or they were meant to represent humankind.  And whenever we listen to the 
bible, our job is to get past this question of whether we are dealing with fact or
fiction so that we can hear the sense that comes out of the story - the really 
important truth that the story wants to tell us.  Not whether it happened just that 
way, if you like, but what, after all, does it mean.  What did it mean for the person 
who wrote it - which is often the difficult work of biblical interpretation.  And 
what does it mean for you and me, here and now, as a believing community, people who 
are in need of a story of our own, one that makes some sense of what our experience is.

It is why, you may have noticed, that nearly every time I attempt to preach to you 
I begin with a story that, I think, is related to that sense the Bible is trying 
to speak.  A story from my own experience or someone else's that helps to peel back 
for me, at least, some of the mysteries these stories of scripture are trying to 
reveal.  That is why I began this morning with that story about allurement.  The 
fantastic notion that at the very heart of what we all call life, there is this 
immense, incredibly powerful force that attracts everything to everything else. 
Pulls toward rather than pulls apart.  It is one of the things I believe the story 
of Genesis is trying to tell us.

It is, in a sense, the Gospel of Genesis, the Good News before there ever was a Jesus 
of Nazareth, the news of what God was doing in the very beginning of things.  And 
the news, my friends, in these very first verses of the Bible is the deepest mystery 
we can imagine: God wills and will have a faithful, loving relationship with all 
things. 

	Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw 
	that the light was good; . . .

That is the mystery you and I were meant to celebrate: that everything and everyone 
is now bound in a relationship with God.  The binding is irreversible.  God has 
decided it.  Everything was made out of love and flows toward love.  Call it gravity. 
Call it allurement.  Call it whatever you want.  This connection that binds all 
things cannot be nullified.

Of course, there are many things that this ancient story is trying to say.  But 
for today, let's just concentrate on this one: That things were created from the 
very beginning to flow toward each other.

We know, for instance, that this story was likely written somewhere in the sixth 
century B.C. when it was darned tough to believe something like that because 
the community of believers to whom this was written was a disheartened, forlorn,
depressed group of exiles living in Babylon.  The story of creation was written to 
refute the massive, cultural and political story of the time: that the forces of 
oppression and destruction ruled the universe.  During that terrible time the people 
of Israel had watched their lives literally fly apart in all directions.  Nothing
had stayed together.  They had been torn from everything that had given their lives
meaning and purpose - and - the prevailing story seemed to be saying - that was
the way things were meant to be.  That was what life was - human beings continually at 
odds with one another, driving each other away, destroying, alienating, forsaking. 
It must have been very easy to believe that that was true when that was one's 
own experience.

No! said this story of creation.  That is not the way things are.  People and things 
are meant to flow toward each other, not away from each other, to be attracted to 
each other, not repelled, bound to each other, not forsaken.  That was the real 
human truth the author was trying to address to a real people with a real problem. 
A people who needed a different story to make sense out of their lives.  And as 
eco-theologian, Father Thomas Berry, has written,

	It is all a question of story.  We are in trouble just now because we 
	do not have a good story.   Weare in between stories.  The old story, 
	the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it is no 
	longer effective.  (- The Dream of the Earth)

But, maybe it is not the story that is no longer effective, but our way of listening 
to it.  For certainly, there are a lot of parallels, it seems to me, between the 
people for whom this story was first written and people just like you and me.  Here 
we are in a world which seems determined to pull things apart, a world which 
is dominated by the idea that living in alienation from one another, going in 
opposite directions is what we should be doing.  Clearing our city's streets of 
the homeless so that they will not be seen instead of rushing to offer them 
hospitality, bent on killing Iraqis rather trying to understand them, doing 
everything we can to squirrel away for ourselves all the nuts we can find before 
anyone else gets them.  And where has such a story brought us?  To the brink of human 
and ecological extinction.

No! says the story of Genesis.  Get with the program!  Get with the way things really
flow.  Start moving in the right direction: toward all things, not away from them.  
For that is the only kind of movement that can create and sustain life anywhere.

	YOUTH:  And the same holds true for humans?

	THOMAS: The same holds true for you, yes.  You do not know what you 
	can do, or who you are in your fullest significance, or what powers 
	are hiding within you. All exists in the emptiness of your 
	potentiality, a realm that cannot be seen or tasted or touched.  How 
	will you bring these  powers forth?  How will you awaken your 
	creativity?  By responding to the allurements that beckon to you, by 
	following your passions and interests.  Alluring activity draws you 
	into being.  Our life and powers come forth in response to allurement.

                               --------- 

Genesis 1:1-5 - - The first account of creation has been described as 
poetry, liturgy, poetic theology, a proclamatory sermon, and as many other forms 
of literature. This week's reflection is an attempt to hear it as a story addressed 
to a particular group of people faced with a particular problem and attempting to 
find meaning in their chaos. In particular, the reflection focuses on the singular 
most important truth about God and creation contained in the story: that we are 
bound to one another and all things in a relationship that is irreversible.

	1.	What other truths do you hear in these first few verses for exiles 
	in Babylon?
	2.	Talk about an experience of trying to go against the basic movement 
	of the universe - allurement - and what happened to you or someone else 
	as a result?
	3.	What is it that should attract us about the poor, the oppressed, our 
	enemies?


Acts 19:1-7 - There were two problems that the early church faced when it 
came to John the Baptist.  One was the continuing movement of John's disciples, which
Jesus' ministry did not replace.  The other was the real probability that Jesus had 
been baptized by John, even though John's baptism was a baptism of repentance.  It 
is possible to conclude that what we have in this week's passage is, on the one 
hand, evidence that John's movement was still having an impact on a great many 
people and, two, in the ministry of Paul, an attempt to counteract John's popularity 
with a message and ministry about Jesus.

	1.	Do you think Jesus' response to the situation of the disciples 
	at Ephesus would have been different than Paul's? Why or why not?
	2.	What is the Holy Spirit and how does a person get it?
	3.	What is the evidence that a person has the Holy Spirit?


Mark 1:4-11 - The single most important evidence that Jesus was baptized by 
John is that all four gospel writers wouldn't have mentioned it if it hadn't been 
a problem.  Matthew is sensitive about it to the point of hesitancy on the part of 
John (3.14).  Luke avoids mentioning who baptized Jesus (3.21-22).  John has the 
Baptist clearly declare that Jesus' baptism will be superior (1.31-34).  Mark alone 
is confident that Jesus' baptism was unique or that his readers would understand why 
it had happened.

	1.	If John's baptism was a baptism for "the repentance of sins", how 
	has Jesus' baptism been traditionally explained to you?  And did you buy 
	it?  Why or why not?
	2.	Does your church sprinkle or dunk?  Which is better?  Why?
	3.	What did your baptism announce?  How have you done with your follow
	through?


FOR FURTHER REFLECTION - "We need something that will supply in our times what was 
supplied formerly by our traditional religious story.  If we are to achieve this
purpose, we must begin where everything begins in human affairs - with the basic 
story, our narrative of how things came to be, how they came to be as they are, and 
how the future can be given some satisfying direction. We need a story that 
will educate us, a story that will heal, guide, and discipline us."  
                                            (- Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth)
											

HYMN  I Danced in the Morning  (Voices United 352)
Keeping the Faith in Babylon:
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
A publication of FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
All rights reserved. Please do not copy.
FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
R.R. 4, Lion's Head, Ontario Canada N0H 1W0
Phone/Fax: (519) 592-4551
E-mail: fernstone@fernstone.org

copyright - Barry Robinson 2003
            page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2003 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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