Let It Shine: Evolution & Faith 2-15-15

We have so many celebrations going on today, it’s hard to pick one. We have President’s Day weekend, celebrating Lincoln who was born on Feb 12. There’s Transfiguration Sunday, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, Mardi Gras Sunday. We also had Valentine’s Day yesterday. And then there’s Evolution Weekend. Darwin was born on the same day of the same year as Abraham Lincoln. That’s why we celebrate evolution weekend on the Sunday closest to Feb. 12. That might seem to be the least likely of these holidays to hold up in worship. I am preaching about it, however, because the tension between science and faith in our time is real, and addressing that tension is important for our proclamation of the gospel. Listen for the word of God for you this morning:

 

II Corinthians 1:18-22 As sure as God is faithful, I declare that my word to you is not “yes” one minute and “no” the next. Jesus Christ, whom Silvanus, Timothy and I preached to you as the Only Begotten of God, was not alternately “yes” and “no”; Jesus is never anything but “yes” No matter how many promises God has made, they are “yes” in Christ.  Therefore it is through Jesus that we address our Amen to God when we worship together. God is the One who firmly establishes us along with you in Christ, it is God who anointed us and sealed us, putting the Spirit in our hearts as our bond and guarantee.

February 15, 2015

Let It Shine: Evolution & Faith

Today is the tenth anniversary of “The Clergy Letter Project.” Ten years ago, I signed this letter and we first celebrated Evolution Weekend, declaring that there is no contradiction between science and our faith. Our General Conference had voted on a resolution making a similar statement.

There has been a small, but vocal group that has kept trying to define our faith in such a narrow way that it does not allow the truth of the scientific theory of Darwin, which has been basic to so many other scientific discoveries in botany, biology, and medicine. There’s a group on the other side that (sometimes rudely) says that because the theory of evolution is accurate, Christianity has been discredited.

The Clergy Letter Project positions itself somewhere between these two groups that either disavow science or discredit faith. It has been endorsed by Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Unitarians, and other faiths. The Christian Clergy Letter, signed by 12,994 Christian clergy members all across the US, says in part, “Religious trust is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.”

 

The Bible, obviously, did not address the subject of evolution, since the theory of evolution was not discovered until the 19th century. When we read scripture, however, we find that we gain insight into subjects that may not have been explicitly addressed in ancient times. Our assigned reading for today, for instance, from I Corinthians, talks about a controversy that Paul was facing in the Corinthian community.

Evidently he had promised them that he would come to visit them and then was not able to do so. He may have changed his travel plans more than once, frustrating them – and they let him know. At the beginning of this letter to them, Paul explains why his failure to keep his word does not discredit God’s word. “Jesus Christ, whom Silvanus, Timothy and I preached to you as the Only Begotten of God, was not alternately “yes” and “no”; Jesus is never anything but “yes,”’ he writes.

Admittedly, Paul was not a very humble guy and he was shifting the focus from his own inconsistent action to God’s constant faithfulness. Still, he was pointing to something that we can get behind. The good news is good because it always declares God’s affirmation of God’s creation and of God’s people. Even if we get some of the details wrong; even if we are tussling with each other over what is true, God says “yes” to God’s creation.

Then there’s this word Amen in the passage. Do you know what “Amen” means? It doesn’t mean “OK, that prayer is over.” Amen  comes from the Hebrew word for “truth.” At the end of the prayer, it kind of means, “truly, truly, that’s so.” Our truth responds to God’s truth in prayer. Paul says, “Therefore it is through Jesus that we address our Amen to God when we worship together.” We address our truth to God and when we worship together, we listen for God’s truth addressed to us.

 

So, we might do well to listen to the Dalai Lama, who powerfully articulates the appropriate intersection between faith and fact, in the epigraph to The Buddhist Clergy Letter: “If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims or adopt them as metaphor.”

God’s truth is the truth. So if we were claiming something about God and then find out a different truth, a deeper truth, it is not God who was wrong, it was our claim about God.

Look, this battle about evolution was fought and settled decades ago. There are institutions like the Creation Museum out near my home town that still try to promote the idea that people lived at the same time as dinosaurs and that the earth is only a few thousand years old. That point of view lost the argument a long time ago – no matter how many millions of dollars they spend creating dioramas with people petting dinosaurs.

It almost feels absurd to talk about this, because it’s a settled issue for most of us too. But we have something to learn by thinking about what in our faith might need to evolve. We have something to learn by thinking about how our faith is enhanced by taking science and evolution seriously. [Vincent Van Gogh said, “When I have a terrible need of – dare I say, 'religion'? – then I go outside at night and paint the stars."]

There was a fear at one point that accepting evolution and science would undermine and discredit all of Christianity. Certainly some people have decided that science answers all the questions they need answered and decided they don’t need faith. Christianity does not depend on those people.

They are missing something really important. They are losing out on the timeless truths of the Bible and of Christianity that science cannot express. Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience of 2,000 years has helped us express enduring truths about life and death, about the importance of God’s creation, about the love of a Creator, the companionship of the Spirit, the healing and renewing power of a saving liberating presence.

None of that is available from scientific inquiry. Spiritual truth is simply different, complimentary, not contradictory to science. In this congregation we are determined to let truth shine, wherever it comes from. We are dedicated to asking questions and thinking about our faith, not just accepting a particular doctrine or line.

As Paul says, “God is the One who firmly establishes us along with you in Christ, it is God who anointed us and sealed us, putting the Spirit in our hearts as our bond and guarantee.”  A scientist can feel this sense of wonder and awe at the beauty of creation, at the absolute amazing evolution of one species into another into another. They don’t have to call that faith or religion or spirituality, but many do. Connecting that awe and wonder to the two thousand year old tradition and expressions of worship experiences – that’s holy, that’s a gift that can transform our hearts.

Responsive hymn: 3034 God of Wonders