A Sermon Preached at University Christian Church San Diego
September 16, 2012
The longer I live the more I see that life is pretty simple. It usually takes some work to complicate our lives.
• Love your neighbor,
• play fair,
• get some exercise,
• bathe regularly…
There are a handful of rules that make life pretty simple. My text for this morning is a simple word about God. In Psalm 19 the writer affirms...
“The sky or the heavens are telling the glory of God; the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.”
To know God, just look up, look at the sky. The evidence is there. It’s that simple. As we observe the grandeur of space it touches something deep inside our evolved and complex minds; it resonates within our spirits and creates a feeling of awe.
So without uttering a word the universe over our heads speaks eloquently and constantly and with great accuracy about God.
"Day after day it pours forth speech, and night after night it declares knowledge… their voice goes out through all the earth and their words to the ends of the world.”
The message of the psalmist -- just like the message of the video we just watched -- is that the physical universe shouts the marvel and wonder of God, without speaking a word. It is so simple it is awe inspiring.
I am not being simplistic here or playing down the complications we sometimes face. I am simply saying that basically life is pretty simple. The reality, of course, is that we humans tend to complicate things.
Here’s an example:
There is a controversy in our county that pits science and religion, evolution and creation, against each other. It is a culture war that is not found to the same degree in other cultures around the world, even other English speaking cultures. There is a kind of ingrained suspicion of rigorous scientific inquiry.
• According to a Gallup poll that surveyed over 1000 adults in May of this year, almost half of all Americans are “creationists” who believe that God created humans in their present form at some point within the last 10,000 years.
• On the other hand, the conviction of the overwhelming majority of scientists today is that the earth appears to be about 13 billion years old, and that human life has been evolving for hundreds of thousands of years, not a meager 10,000.
Hence the so called evolution – creation controversy.
It gets played out in school board rooms where some want to teach religion alongside science; and in editorial pages where arguments are made from both sides, and in articles and books written from every conceivable perspective. It gets played out in courtrooms where decisions are made about what should be taught in public schools.
It also gets played out in families.
As a youngster I loved to visit the Museum of Modern man here in Balboa Park, and was so impressed with those graphic representations of human life and the stages of development. But I also remember how my dad would regularly make remarks under his breath whenever the history of earth or human life was said to be in the millions of years. “Hmph. That’s what THEY say,” would be his comment.
In our Shepard family it went without saying that the Genesis story of creation was literally correct, and there was no wiggle room for interpretation.
Or we’d be in Yosemite, and it would be stated that a glacier slowly moving over millions of years formed Half Dome. His remark: “Oh really? We know better.”
So I grew up with these subtle comments that created a bit of an unsettling dichotomy in my mind regarding the relationship of science and religion, evolution and creation.
Now to be sure there are more than just two sides to this issue. It is not just the atheistic scientists versus the Bible believing Christians.
- Many scientists are people of faith;
- some are theistic evolutionists;
- there are Bible believing evolutionists,
- as well as those who affirm “Intelligent Design”,
- as well as those who believe in “Scientific Creationism”.
But the bottom line of what I am saying is this: we must resist the conventional notion that there is a basic conflict between science and religion, or creation and evolution. They are compatible, they complement each other. Science and faith work together to enrich our understanding of the Earth, the Bible, and ourselves.
Scientists and theologians come at life from two different perspectives. They speak about life, and in particular the origin of life, in different ways. But that does not mean they are in conflict.
The Clergy Letter Project
The Clergy Letter Project is an example of a positive effort to affirm this complementary approach to religion and science. It began 8 years ago by Disciples academician Michael Zimmerman who put together a letter affirming that religion and science have a lot to offer each other.
He asked clergy from every denomination to sign it. To date over 13,000 Christian, Jewish and Buddhist clergy, myself included, have signed this statement. One would be hard pressed to find any religious statement of any kind affirmed by so many diverse people of faith.
The Clergy Letter Project also encourages churches to do an "Evolution Sunday" each year to highlight the importance of this matter.
Here is just an excerpt for their letter...
“Religious truth is different from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts. We believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth… upon which much human knowledge and achievement rests. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.”
The “Clergy Letter Project” is just one positive sign that some headway is being made in the effort to end the conflict that still exists in many minds between science and religion.
The Evolutionary Evangelist
Another positive sign is the work of Rev. Michael Dowd who calls himself an “evolutionary evangelist,” and has written a remarkable book titled “Thank God for Evolution.” He is a full time evangelist who travels with his wife around the country spreading the good news of the marriage of Christianity and Evolution.
Dowd says that “studying evolution is like following the cosmic bread crumbs home to God. Dinosaur bones and prehistoric artifacts, Hubble space photos and DNA, are here to strengthen faith, not test it. Today when we learn about new fossil discovery or hear that we are made of stardust, we don’t need to think, ‘Oh no, this doesn’t fit with Genesis.’ Rather we exclaim, “Wow look at what God is revealing today!”
So what difference does all this talk of science and religion really make to us? As a faith community we have other fish to fry, don’t we? Why is this important?
The Credibility of our Witness
Part of what is at stake is nothing less than the credibility of our witness. Here is a point at which this matter and the recent struggles we have had as a congregation are similar: the credibility of our witness to our world is at stake.
Let me add here that what gives us integrity as a congregation -- what makes us credible -- is not whether we have conflict or not. What gives us integrity is how we deal with the struggles.
We must have a witness with integrity to offer each other, and our world. What we say has to make sense to people.
There are many less-than-credible voices in our world today.
- -there are still those who claim the holocaust never happened;
- -those who claim homosexuality can be “cured”;
- -those who claim global warming is a hoax;
- -recently a senatorial candidate in the Midwest spoke about “legitimate rape,” affirming some beliefs that were literally INcredible;
- -and there are still many religious folks who take everything in scripture literally – something the Bible does not do for itself -- and find themselves at odds with a modern view of the universe.
Bishop John Spong likes to tell the story of a conversation he had some years ago with the scientist Carl Sagan. Sagan – who was an atheist, but also a friend of the Bishop -- came up to Spong and asked him about the ascension, that story from the book of Acts when Jesus ascended into the sky.
Sagan playfully asked Spong if he had ever thought about what the ascension of Jesus looks like to an astrophysicist? Spong said he had not but he was sure he was going to find out. Sagan said that if Jesus had literally ascended into the sky and if he had traveled even at the speed of light – 184,000 miles per second -- he would not yet have escaped our galaxy. Jesus would still be moving out into space!
The story of the ascension is a faith witness to the great esteem given Jesus by the earliest disciples. For us to take it literally makes no sense.
We must have a faith witness that makes sense to people.
The Message To Our Young People
Another thing at stake in this science-religion controversy is the message we give our young people. Our youth must never discouraged from pursuing careers in science. They must never get the impression that their faith is somehow at odds with scientific inquiry, or that they have to hide or skirt around what they believe in order to study science.
Young people have a hard enough time finding their way in the world. For them to think they must choose between faith and science is unnecessary. The church has needlessly lost way too many youth that way.
The Advances of Modern Science
Yet another reason this matter is important is because of the advances that have been made by modern science, in fields of medicine and travel and technology and biology. As a faith community we must never find ourselves hindering the progress that science is making. There are cures to be found, space exploration to be achieved, human lives to be saved, quality of life to be bettered, and so much more that science is pursuing.
So “Thank God For Evolution!”
- -for the way it helps us to marvel at our world: its beauty, its deep history, its incredible diversity.
- - for the way it helps us to stand in awe – just as the psalmist did -- before the vast reaches of space and be grateful for this fragile piece of stardust we call Earth.
- -for the way it prods us to treat our planet with respect, careful of the impact we are making, taking seriously those who call for its preservation.
- -for the way it offers us a credible explanation of the origin of life and the universe, an explanation that spans billions of years, and is compatible with the Bible’s witness.
- -for the way it helps us to see the wonder and uniqueness of human life, life that has evolved and adapted over all these eons, and that -- just like God -- is in process, moving toward things even more marvelous and wonderful.
Old Joe and the Carpenter
There was a man named old Joe lived way out in the hills of San Diego somewhere -- Julian or some such place. He was so far out in the country that there was only one neighbor anywhere near where he lived, a man who had been his friend for a long time. Their families knew each other, their kids grew up together, they were always doing things with each other that good neighbors do. Between their properties there was a beautiful little creek that added to the beautiful of their property and their friendship.
But one day, something happened – I am not sure what it was – and they had an argument. Maybe it was a dispute about their property line. Whatever it was they had an argument and after a few weeks they stopped talking to each other.
Neither one on them felt good about what had happened but neither one knew exactly what to do to become friends again. Old Joe became rather depressed. He didn’t like what was happening but was not too good at making up.
One day there was a knock on Old Joe’s door. He wasn’t expecting anyone, and when he opened the door he was surprised to see standing there a young woman with a tool box on her shoulder.
“I’m just a carpenter,” the young woman said. “I’m looking for some work. Have anything for me to do?”
Old Joe was just about to send him away when he thought about his neighbor. “As a matter of fact I do,” Old Joe said.
“You see that creek right there that separates my property from my neighbor’s property?”
“Yes I see it,” said the carpenter.
“I want you to build a tall fence all along that creek – 10 feet tall -- so I never have to see my neighbor’s property again. Can you do that?”
“Hmmm,” said the carpenter. “I think I know just what you need.”
“Good,” said Old Joe. “I need to go into the city, so when I get back this afternoon I hope you have it finished.” And then he left.
It was late that afternoon when Old Joe came back, drove up his driveway, got out of his car, hoping to see a big fence. Instead he was shocked at what he saw. Instead of a fence along side the creek, the carpenter had built a bridge over the creek.
It was a beautiful bridge, built out fine wood. It was sturdy and well painted, and even had some hand rails that made it easy to get across. Old Joe just stood there, too surprised to say anything. Before he could talk, his neighbor, with whom he had been fighting, came walking over the bridge toward him.
“Joe,” he said, “What a wonderful idea you had to build this bridge. I would never have thought of this.” And he stuck out his arms to embrace his neighbor. “Thank you for reaching out to me. I am sorry we have been arguing, and I am glad to be your friend again.”
Old Joe had no words to say, so he just hugged his neighbor and they became friends again.
The carpenter who had built the bridge was getting ready to leave. But Old Joe stopped her. “Please don’t leave,” he said. “I’ve got lots of other work I can have you do.”
“Sorry,” the carpenter said as she walked away. “But I have other bridges to build.”
Maybe there’s someone you know that you can build a bridge for. What do you think?
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