“Word for Today” – Acts 27 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

October 27, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

Galileo 1The earth revolves around the sun.  Or so Nicolaus Copernicus taught us.  His watershed work, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, published just before his death, offered history’s first attempt at a comprehensive heliocentric cosmology.  I say a “comprehensive heliocentric cosmology” because as far back as the third century BC, Aristarchus of Samos proposed rudimentary elements of the same cosmological model.  Copernicus’ theory, of course, was trumpeted shortly later by Galileo Galilei who, after making detailed observations of the so-called “movements” of stars and planets in the sky through his telescope, became convinced of the theory.  Galileo, however, ran into a bit of trouble with the pope at this time, Urban VIII.  Although it is important to note that oft repeated stories of Galileo being charged with heresy and tortured in some dungeon are patently false and are generally peddled by those wishing to clumsily create some monstrous antagonism between science and faith, Galileo and Pope Urban VIII did enter into a tendentious relationship that was never fully reconciled.  For this pope, eager to demonstrate his fidelity to Scripture in the face of Protestant reformers who accused him of not taking Scripture seriously enough, insisted on a geocentric rather than a heliocentric view of the universe, a position shared at this time by both Protestants and Catholics as “biblical.”

Thankfully, now, we know better.  The Bible’s words concerning the sun’s course (e.g., Psalm 19:4-6) are analogous to our terms “sunrise” and “sunset” and are meant to explain how things appear from our perspective, not how they work cosmologically.  For cosmologically, we now know that the earth does indeed orbit around the sun.

Although many of us may say we believe the earth revolves around the sun, I’m not so sure that we act as if that’s true – at least not practically.  For many of us act as though the earth revolves around us.  Our needs, our wants, our questions, and our concerns are to set the agenda for others’ lives.  It may sound audacious, but this is the way many people live, or at least want to live – with the world, and those in it, revolving around them.

In our reading for today from Acts 27, Paul, under the watchful eye of a Roman centurion, embarks on a journey from Caesarea to Rome so that he may appeal to Caesar against a group of Jews who are calling for his execution.  While at port on the island of Crete, Paul warns those traveling with him, “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also” (verse 10).  Sure enough, Paul’s premonition proves prophetic: “Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the ‘northeaster,’ swept down from the island” (verse 18).  While the others on the ship fear for their lives, Paul offers these words of comfort:

Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, “Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.” So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. (verses 21-25)

Paul explains to his travel companions that even though the ship will not be spared, all of them will indeed be saved.  Why?  Because God desires that Paul stands trial before Caesar.  Thus, God will save Paul’s life and, by extension, everyone else’s.

What an audacious claim for Paul to make – that the lives of his shipmates would be spared because God desires that Paul make it to Rome!  Martin Luther explains thusly:  “For the sake of Paul alone, a ship is saved and 276 men who were with him in the ship” (AE 6:217).  It almost sounds as though Paul believes the salvation of his companions from certain death on that ship is thanks to God’s desire to save him from certain death on that ship.  Paul is promoting a Pauline-centric view of his companions’ salvation!  For God, thanks to one man, is saving many.

The picture of the one man Paul being the reason for the salvation of his companions is a picture of the salvation we have in Christ.  For because of the one man Christ, we receive salvation, not from a ship, but from sin, death, and the devil.  Our salvation is Christocentric.  It revolves around Christ.

Copernicus and Galileo were right.  The sun does not revolve around the earth.  Nor does the earth – even figuratively – revolve around a person.  But salvation does revolve around Christ.  And even though we cannot observe that with a telescope, we can trust it with our hearts.  I hope you do.

Entry filed under: Word for Today.

“Word for Today” – Acts 26 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com “Word for Today” – Acts 28 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

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