Use your brains to worship God
Today we remember Nicolaus Copernicus and Johannes Kepler, who have tentatively been added to the Episcopal Church’s calendar of saints. They are meant to represent those who use reason in the pursuit of knowing, loving, and worshiping God.
Copernicus was born in the late 15th century in what is now Poland. To put Copernicus’s lifetime into perspective, he lived during the era of both Columbus, and of the Protestant Reformation. He was a Renaissance man, one who could read and write four languages and who also was a mathematician, astronomer, physician, classical scholar, translator, artist, Catholic cleric, jurist, governor, military leader, diplomat, and economist. Of all these, we remember him because he was the first person to scientifically suggest that the sun, not the earth, is the center of our universe.
Copernicus knew that God had created an orderly universe, one that God had given humans the ability to understand. He thought that science is pleasing to God, because science is a study of how God does the things that God does in our world. However, at the time people understood scripture to clearly say that the earth is the center of our universe; after all, wasn’t it the SUN that stood still when Joshua’s army defeated Jericho? So, given this understanding of scripture, Copernicus astutely waited to publish his theory until shortly before his death in 1543.
Three years later a Dominican friar began preaching against Copernicus’ theory. Some 70 years after that, the Roman Catholic Church denounced Copernicus’ work while investigating the claims of another astronomer, Galileo. The church didn’t reverse this denunciation until 1835, by the way.
Johannes Kepler lived much later than Copernicus. Kepler was born in the late 16th century and was a German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer, and key figure in the 17th century scientific revolution. He had an instrument available to him that Copernicus had not had—the telescope—and with the telescope Kelper was able to discern the mathematical laws of planetary motion, confirming Copernicus’ theory.
Like Copernicus, Kepler incorporated religious arguments and reasoning into his work. He was motivated by the conviction that God had created the world according to an intelligible plan that is accessible through human reason. If these two astronomers make it into our church’s final calendar of saints, they will be quintessentially Anglican saints. Ours is a faith that encourages reason, one that sees that that God is incarnate in all creation: as the order of things, there is meaning and purpose in our lives, which we know through our participation in creation. So as Anglicans we tend to embrace what science tells us about nature, using science as a way of understanding what scripture tells us.
In our Epistle lesson today. Paul talks about the Holy Spirit having given us gifts of understanding, the ability to discern our inner, spiritual reality.
12Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.
Today our culture separates our spiritual lives from the scientific. However, Copernicus and Kepler each were sure that God was the creator of all things, and their work was to discover what can be discovered about the gift of creation that God has given us. Each recognized that the gifts bestowed on us by God include not only our inner, spiritual reality, but also all of creation. Copernicus and Kepler offer us a model for exploring creation, while reminding us that our understanding of the physical reality of this world is incomplete without the understanding that our world and everything that is in it, everything that is within us, is a gift from God.Just like the magi in our Gospel lesson today, we need to use our brains to approach and worship Jesus.