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Thursday, January 20, 2005

Star-Struck

A sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Epiphany, Year A
At St. Paul's Episcopal Church, St. Joseph, MI
(This sermon coincided with the annual meeting of the parish.)

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

One of the adjustments that Kristen and I had to make when we first moved here to St. Joseph was getting used to the fact at nighttime, it’s dark out. Now, I know that sounds pretty obvious. Certainly at some point in our decades of life we had to come to grips with the sun setting and rising?

But in the city it’s different. There, the constant amber glow of arc lamps fills the night sky, shutting out the darkness. You could be out at two in the morning, and it would be as bright as an overcast day at two in the afternoon. It also means that you rarely if ever see the stars.

Not so, here. After the sun goes down we can lie in the grass and look up and behold the vast wonder of the night sky. You can see and plot the constellations. If you’re lost, you can find the North Star and orient yourself. The stars turn out to be fun and useful.

In this way, we’re not that different from the people in biblical times. As New Testament scholar Bruce Malina puts it, for the ancients, “watching the night sky was the closest equivalent to what watching television is to a lot of us. It was entertainment, and it was also news, as the stars were seen as having profound and divine influence over human affairs.”
[1]

If we wanted to tune in to their programming one evening, we could drive out to a country lane, get out and look to the south, and see the constellation Aries. To the ancient Romans, Greeks and Jews, this constellation represented a mighty lamb. One first-century astrologer called Aries "the leader and prince of the constellations." Or as Biblical scholar Sarah Dylan Breuer puts it, “Aries the divine Lamb was the ruler of the other constellations, and the starting point from which all other constellations were mapped.”
[2] In other words, even as we get our bearings from the stars, the stars themselves get their bearings from this celestial lamb.

These stars are also associated with the beginning of Spring, and so the constellation brought to mind the passing of the long, fallow time of winter and the beginning of new life and new hope for the natural world. This was indeed a lamb with cosmic power.

I mention all this to clarify what John the Baptist meant when he called Jesus the “Lamb of God”. Of course he would have had in view the lamb of the Spring Passover feast who will deliver his people from their sins. But he also brought to mind the mighty lamb that was overhead in the sky when Passover was celebrated.

John says twice that Jesus is the Lamb of God. The second time, two of his disciples decide to cut their losses and join up with the new guy. If John was right, this Lamb is God’s deliverer, one who is connected to God with cosmic power. This is the guy whose team you want to play on.

So the disciples come to Jesus and he welcomes them with a question: “what are you looking for?”

They don’t tell him about the Lamb of God thing. Getting a good look at him, maybe they feel self-conscious. Here was just another person to all appearances, not someone with star power. So they ask him to be their teacher, and Jesus agrees, saying “come and see”.

So what were they looking for? A new teacher? A savior? Someone who bears the power of the cosmos? They got all this and more in the bargain. But that wasn’t enough. They needed to come and see, to get to know this Jesus, to be involved, to be transformed.

Looking up at the starry sky, did Andrew and the other disciple dare to dream that they would be part of a new people that God was creating? Did they dare to imagine that God was through Jesus, bringing in a new kingdom, God’s kingdom, that would one day cover the earth? Could they even conceive that this Rabbi Jesus would be killed for what he did and preached, and that he would be raised on the third day? What were they looking for? Even they might not have known fully. But by accepting Jesus’ invitation to come and see, in time they would find out.

What are we looking for?

We have all heard this question put to us, at least figuratively speaking, in our baptism. And in that event, we were invited to come and see, to sojourn with Jesus, to do the things that he did, to see the world the way he did, to love others with the heart of God, and to invite others to come and see.

We accepted that invitation, although each of us knows the false starts and foot-dragging and faithlessness that all people seem to have in common.

That’s okay. Jesus accepts us. He takes us wherever we’re at. But he doesn’t leave us there, doesn’t just say, right, good enough, you’ve got it, you’re done. He invites us again (and again) to come along and see for ourselves. We journey with him in prayer, and in Scripture. As his first disciples, we hear and wrestle with his teaching, we see and ponder his healing and miracles, and we even join him in his death and resurrection. Teacher, savior, God: this is whom we’ve found.

Later this morning at our annual meeting, we will have the opportunity to brainstorm and dream about the future of our parish. This is a prime time to entertain the question “what are you looking for?”

There is a challenge for us in this question. It can be easy to let the amber arc lamps of the mundane and business as usual obscure the night sky of our imagination and shut out the stars of the Lamb. But I invite you this morning to come with me to a grassy hill where we can lay back and look up in the darkness and take in the stars. Come and see.

What will we be looking for? The challenge for us in this question is to move beyond just what sort of church program we may or may not want. Perhaps we, as those first disciples maybe did, might cast a glance at the stars and dare to dream?

Do we dare to dream not just about personal faith or spirituality, but about the faith and life of a community? And not any community, but a new people of God, given a mission and sent out to a world that’s hurting and scared.

Do we dare to dream not just about budgets and programs and staff, but about lives changed, renewed, restored? How might our lives, our jobs, our families and friends, our region of Michigan, be different?

Do we dare to dream not just about this parish and these people, but about the reign of God and a changed world?

Our dreams can get at the heart of our answer to this question. What are we looking for?

Can it be a new teacher? Can it be a savior who will deliver God’s people from their sin? Can it be the mighty and compassionate lamb, around whom even the stars of the universe take their places, and by whom we can set our compasses? Yes, all this and more. And this one invites us to join his reign, and continue the work of transforming the world. It is my great hope that we will use this opportunity that’s been given to us this morning to come and see, to dare to dream, to reach for the stars. Amen.

[1] Quotation found online at http://www.sarahlaughed.net/2005/01/second-sunday-after-epiphany-year.html. I’m pretty sure that this is actually a quotation from Ms. Breuer herself, summarizing Malina.
[2] First quote from Breuer quoting Malina and Rohrbaugh, p.51, second quote from http://www.sarahlaughed.net/2005/01/second-sunday-after-epiphany-year.html.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Sarah Dylan Breuer said...

Jason,

Yep. The wording is mine, and it's summing up things that I've heard Malina say on at least a couple of occasions. He might say something to that effect in his commentary on the Revelation of Jesus to John as well -- it certainly would be in character -- but I don't have a specific reference in mind.

BTW, I highly recommend the work of the whole Context Group, of which Malina is a member. Good stuff.

Blessings,

Dylan

Friday, January 21, 2005 4:17:00 AM  

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