"Heliocentric" by Pastor Kinsey
The earth revolves around the sun, right. Nothing shocking about that. Not anymore. It’s a fact that everyone agrees on – although I haven’t consulted with the Tweeter-in-Chief… maybe he’d find some merit in the ‘many’ other sides of the argument!
500 years ago it was different, even Martin Luther himself cast doubt on the subject, declaring that Copernicus was, more or less, a young upstart trying to make a name for himself, and needlessly upsetting the apple cart. Luther was just going along with popular opinion, I guess you could say, as most people were pretty skeptical of the idea at the time.
Even a few decades later, towards the end of the 16th century, after Copernicus and Luther, along came scientist Johann Kepler. He was himself a devout Lutheran, and Kepler added to Copernicus’ heliocentric belief, that the Earth revolves around the sun, by correctly calculating for the first time that there was an elliptical pattern to the Earth’s orbit – which, only managed to help get Kepler in trouble with the Lutheran Church, and he was barred from his position at Tubingen University, and later excommunicated.
So, there was a time when saying, earth is not the center of the solar system, that was not acceptable! It took some time for us as a people to catch up to this heliocentric solar system!
At the time, of course, theology and science hadn’t been compartmentalized, and were still one discipline. And Kepler himself was motivated to learn more about astronomy, because of the biblical view – that the sun, and moon, and stars, and all the celestial bodies, were closer to God – which made his calculations about them all the more fascinating to him. And so, it’s not that surprising that Kepler also proposed a theological explanation for a heliocentric solar system – that, just as by faith we all revolve around God’s Son, that is, Jesus Christ is at the center of our lives, so God created the planets to revolve around the Sun – s-u-n.
Which brings me finally to our gospel: “13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’” In other words, do people think everything and everybody revolves around their own lives? Or, do they begin to see that their lives, and all their families, clan, religion, and all the nations, revolve around the Son of God?
It’s no coincidence that Jesus took his disciples to the edge of Israel, way up north, to the district of Caesarea Philippi. As the name implies, this was the stomping ground, the playboy mansion, really, for the Herod’s and other Roman elites, built as a resort get-a-way in the back-water of Palestine. There was no question that their world revolved around Caesar. We might see a parallel in present day Mar-a-Lago, a palatial resort, where only the super-rich are welcome, and might hope to play golf with the once, and perhaps future, Reality TV celebrity, our Commander-in-Chief. This was the type of place Caesarea Philippi was, and where Jesus asked his disciples for a candid take on what people were thinking about him.
It was roughly half-way through Jesus public ministry – between his baptism and crucifixion. His reputation was spreading among the masses who had been healed by him, who had learned from him, or heard of the miracles he performed. ‘So, what do they make of me,’ Jesus asked his closest friends and fellow journeyers?
Some say you are John the Baptist or Elijah come back to life, which was thought to be the sign that a new age was about to dawn. ‘Others still’ claimed he must be Jeremiah or one of the prophets, due to his speaking truth to power – to the corrupted Jerusalem crowd. Either of those titles would be a huge complement to most of us, yet to Jesus, they represented only minor planets of the solar system.
So Jesus asks his own disciples: “who do you say that I am?” Only Peter speaks up, or maybe he speaks on behalf of them all, “you are the Messiah, the Christ, God’s anointed one,” he tells Jesus, “the Son of the living God!” And Jesus affirms that Peter has spoken correctly. But not because Peter really understands what he has said – more on that next week! – but because God, Jesus’ father, has ‘revealed’ the answer to him. Jesus is ‘Son of the living God,’ and by a shot of insight God has revealed it to Peter.
Nothing about Jesus’ identity is completely comprehensible for us – apart from the Holy Spirit, that is, apart from revelation, or knowledge that comes from faith.
Yet, how often! do we think our striving toward God, is a way to garnish our faith creds, when it’s really the other way around! It’s God, who comes to us, God who loves us first, passionately and completely – and that’s the only kind of knowledge that can begin to form the gift of faith, germinating in our lives like a tiny mustard seed, about to blossom into a huge bush.
Or as Teresa of Avilla says, “It would be absurd to suggest that someone go into a room she is already in!” —(Teresa of Ávila,1515-1582) In other words, God has given us the room, the whole of creation, and the kingdom and realm of God, to live within, if we have the eyes of faith to see it, and welcome it, as a gracious gift. That’s the Copernicus and Kepler revolution – reorienting who we are, and transforming our lives. It’s not by our striving or work, that God’s love and forgiveness come about. It’s not by our status or ego. And only the counter-intuitive realization, that we already live in ‘the room,’ that we already revolve around God’s Son, within the realm of God, equally with all others – are we able to joyfully discover the revelation, that has already saved us. We are not the center of the universe! We draw our life from the light of the son… the Son of the living God.
God, is the great lover, the unambiguous giver of all good things. Even in suffering, God is bringing all things back around to life. Because as Paul says, suffering produces character, and character produces hope, and the hope we have in Christ Jesus, does not disappoint us!
Or, as Richard Rohr says it, “It is not that if I am moral, then I will be loved by God; rather, I must first come to experience God’s love, and then I will—almost naturally--be moral.
And the disciples have been hanging out in “the room” with Jesus long enough to feel it. It seems to roll off Peter’s lips, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. At least surrounded by the glitz and egos of the swanky district of Caesarea Philippi, it’s not hard to get it! But it’s when they get back to Galilee, back to their friends and families, and all the distractions of every day life, that they have a more difficult time discerning where the kingdom of God actually exits. Where is the center of the heliocentric universe, when there are so many bright attractive stars all around?
‘It’s hard to tell the weeds from the wheat,’ Jesus says. And, all that glitters is not gold!
After all this, Jesus tells the disciples – in fact, ‘sternly orders them’ – not to tell anyone that he is the Messiah! Wait, don’t spread the good news about Jesus Christ?! That seems wrong!
But I’m guessing Jesus is thinking of all the people who know him as John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets. You can’t just tell people what to believe. We’re talking about the living God here – how do we come to know the living Jesus, in the Holy Spirit? How do we find the courage to let the world – spinning around ‘me, myself, and I’ – go? How do we find a patient persistence, in sharing the good news, in such a way that others don’t reject the revelatory Copernican news, that the Son of God is the center of our lives, even though, some days, this calling seems to risk as much as Johann Kepler did!
But how can we keep it to ourselves!... that we indeed have found our true selves, we’ve had our eyes opened, and experienced that we live in the room of God’s amazing love and grace, already, right now, every day!
How can we?!