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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 email@example.com 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
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)
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