The sermon for week January 22, 2012
Leaving Your Net
In 1054, a new star appeared in the constellation, Taurus. It was four times brighter than Venus. It was visible in the daylight for several weeks and at night for two years. Chinese astronomers wrote constantly about it, they were enthralled by this new star.
European and Arab astronomers were strangely silent about the star, almost like they didn’t see it. They did see it, of course, as they were active observers of the sky and this star couldn’t be missed. Yet what they had learned and what they thought about the sky, namely that the heavens were fixed and unchanging, could not allow for the star. The new star made no sense with their worldview.
A few of these astronomers did write about the star, and their observations helped change the western system of thought, and astronomers are now comfortable that new things can appear in the sky (Benson 25-26).
This story presents two models of learning that can give us insight to our scripture readings today.
The Chinese response to the new star demonstrates a complete openness to learning. There is no pre-existing paradigm to deal with; there is just excitement and wonder at learning a completely new thing. No work, no shock, just joy at a new concept.
I think this is where my children Sam and Eve are; how they learn. They are surprised and take joy in learning. For Eve, she loves singing new songs, learning her alphabet and numbers, well… when she feels like it. And Sam is always surprised and happy to discover his hands are indeed his. They have no political ideology or theological system to defend. They are open.
You might have some moments like this, I know I do. Learning a new skill, an exercise routine, a hobby or whatever thing you’re into where information is easily and joyfully accepted.
The European and Arab astronomers show us another way of learning. Here there are more things at play and more at stake. These astronomers gazing at the heavens at this thing that shouldn’t be there think to themselves, “If we accept what we are seeing, we will have to reexamine everything we know about astronomy itself! And more than that, we will have to figure out how God works and who God is.”
The reason these astronomers thought nothing new could happen is because of Genesis. They believed that God had ceased working on the sixth day, thus ending the process of creation--completing it, nothing new could now happen. This idea was being challenged in 1054 when the new star appeared.
This is the same challenge to the theological worldview behind the resistance to evolution. “We would have to rethink our concept of God! Would God still be intimately involved in and sovereign over creation if we accept evolution?” thinks the creationist. It’s too overwhelming, so the evidence is resisted and ignored.
Which style of learning do the disciples engage in today’s scripture?
There is a tradition within the church that states that there was something about Jesus that the disciples recognized. They somehow knew he was the Messiah, God incarnate when he came strolling up to them as they were mending their nets. I have a hard time believing that. There’s a lot of stuff caught in those nets, like family business and community ties. Responsibility, financial stability. Jesus was a stranger from Galilee, and as we heard Nathanael state in last week’s text, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” He didn’t believe it at first. This is what they knew, this was their world and worldview, their community and their religious tradition were at stake if they left those nets behind (Weems).
Yet they left them.
They must have learned something that the gospels don’t record. Some new insight, saw some opportunity not recorded in the gospel accounts. Also not recorded were those who turned Jesus down, those who had too much in their nets. It would be too overwhelming.
Yet these disciples left their nets and embarked on the process of learning and considering new questions and new ways of doing things. It was a process that was painful as well as joyful. It was leaving behind their nets and all they represented: ideology, tradition, family, and taking on new things of all that Christ had to teach them. The disciples learned just how awesome learning can be as well as how scary. But there can be no transforming of our minds if we hold on too tightly to our own nets and stay on our familiar dock. We cannot learn about the new star if we are so tied to our false assumption of how the cosmos work.
David spoke about the idea of call last week. We heard that he was surprised to find out that he no longer sees himself as Samuel, the young priest with a new call, but instead finds himself in the role of Eli, the elder priest with wisdom and experience who tells Samuel to listen for the voice of God (Andersen). We heard of David’s realization and yet he found the ability to leave that net behind and still follow the call of discipleship. Have you had such an experience? Have you struggled to leave your net behind?
Russell Crabtree, our consultant, reported that our congregation set a new benchmark for education; not just for programming but also for the motivation to attend these classes. This shows a joy of learning and a willingness to leave your nets behind. This is what attracted me to Sylvania UCC in the first place.
Yet I have learned something else. Not only do you give yourselves permission to leave your nets behind and follow the call of discipleship, you also give me permission as well. You give me the space to see and consider the new star and ponder its meaning. Thank you for allowing me to leave my own net behind as I follow Christ. Traveling to Tampa for the Target 2030 Initiative, for David and I to go and check out the programs at the Chautauqua Institute, and for the Scientists in Congregations grant. I feel like I have your permission to learn not only from these programs but also from my mistakes as your associate pastor. I thank you for that as it is a luxury that few churches afford their clergy.
And together we are learning. That is what disciples do. We learn and we consider the teachings of Jesus, those strange and lovely teachings. Sometimes clear commands, sometimes mysterious parables with multiple meanings. We give one another permission here to ask questions and to live them out. We allow for both styles of learning here, the wondrous excitement of new learning as well as the struggle and tension of considering the new star. We are in the midst of challenge and opportunity. Let us dare to discern well and trust in God’s faithfulness as we walk the path of discipleship. AMEN.
Andersen, David. The Call. Sermon from 1-15-12.
Giberson, Karl. Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution. Harper One, 2008. 25-26
Weems, Cynthia. Reflections on the Lectionary Sunday, January 22. The Christian Century, January 11, 2012, page 21.