Here is the text of the sermon I preached on Sunday, February 10th for Evolution Sunday.
“…we can…think of the end of our present life not as the end of our journey with God but simply as the beginning of its next phase. If so, we can conceive that divine grace, working entirely through the attractive power of love, might sanctify us all. There would be no need for the divine violence of casting sinners into hell. God would, instead, love the hell out of us.”
–David Ray Griffin, Two Great Truths: A New Synthesis of Scientific Naturalism and Christian Faith
Loving the Hell out of Us
I am the product of my parents. My father has a mind for science. My mother had a heart for faith. That isn’t to say that my father doesn’t have a heart nor my mother a mind. It is merely my perception of them to make a story about my life. My parents are far more complicated and interesting than the categories I create for them.
Nevertheless, it is with love and respect that I draw from the two of them an ongoing love for science and for faith, a lovers’ dance, two very different ways of knowing and of loving the world into which we are thrust.
Each day as I break a new personal record of consecutive days alive and breathing, I find myself negotiating my parents’ legacy in my own life. Science and faith. A love for facts and discovery. A desire to follow the will of God.
At times the lovers get snippy with each other, insisting that each’s own way is superior. True enough, one way is better at another in some things. Each way is also blind to its own shadow. Each way can also be blind to outside forces that manipulate each toward more sinister agenda.
Science is almost always used for the material of war.
Faith is almost always used for the emotion of war.
Each glimpses how the other is manipulated but that clarity often vanishes in the mirror.
The challenge to me and to us is how science and faith can contribute to the good. If science and faith are both ways of seeking what is true, is it too much to ask of both disciplines to seek also what is good? One of the historic principles of Presbyterian Church Order emphasizes both truth and goodness. You find this paragraph from the 18th century in our Book of Order:
F-3.0104 Truth and Goodness
That truth is in order to goodness; and the great touchstone of truth, its tendency to promote holiness, according to our Savior’s rule, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” And that no opinion can either be more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level, and represents it as of no consequence what a [person’s] opinions are. On the contrary, we are persuaded that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise it would be of no consequence either to discover truth or to embrace it.
These old Presbyterians were talking about truth that comes from faith, but that did not exclude truth that comes from reason. Both ways of knowing truth are in order to goodness. Of course, determining what is good as is determining what is true requires work, conversation, public debate, research, failure, humility, perseverance, and the ability and willingness to respond to change with corresponding change of mind and heart.
When I arrived at Southminster four years ago, a frequent question was asked of me: “What is your vision? What do you think Southminster should do?” My response then was that I didn’t know. I am new. We will have to see what Spirit presents to us.
Many times these types of questions are asked in terms of strategy and marketing. How do we brand ourselves and so forth? I am not against strategy, marketing, and branding, I suppose. But it must take a distant second to content. Who are you? What is real? What is God calling us to be and do? Truth and Goodness first. Strategy, Marketing and Branding, second.
I like this quote [mis] attributed to Charles Darwin, whose birthday, we celebrate on the Sunday closest to his birthday as Evolution Sunday.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
No one likes change, of course. Especially, churches. We all know the old jokes, such as the seven last words of the church:
“We’ve never done it that way before.”
I am going to mention this morning two types of changes that would behoove us to be responsive.
First, some religion. Jesus preaches a sermon. The boys are washing their fishing nets. Jesus tells the boys to drop the nets in the deep water. Simon, who later Jesus calls Peter, the rock upon whom I will build my church, is resistant to this new idea. It sounds like something that has been tried and has failed in the past. Those are the other seven last words of the church:
“We tried it that way once already.”
Simon goes with that one and says to Jesus:
“Master, we’ve been hard at it all night and haven’t caught a thing. But if you insist, I’ll lower the nets.”
Of course, the story concludes with a huge catch of fish and a moral from Jesus:
“Remember this lesson friends, when we go to catch the big fish.”
Here is the question:
“Does Peter, the Rock, represent the church in his resistance to change or in his responsiveness to Jesus?”
I will let that question hang there. You answer it yourself.
One more piece of religion. That is the quote from David Ray Griffin from his book, Two Great Truths: A New Synthesis of Scientific Naturalism and Christian Faith. The question is how does the world end? Not just the world, the galaxy, the universe, the cosmos? Does it end with divine violence, sending sheep and goats to their separate areas? Or does it end through the lure of love? Griffin says, and I agree with him, that the end is the process. God’s work is not complete by sending sinners to hell. God’s work is complete by loving the hell out of us.
In the end, no matter how many lifetimes it takes,
“All will be well.”
With all of that hope, let’s tackle some change.
The first change is that many churches in America are closing.
A friend sent me this article this morning in Baptist News. The article by Pastor Elizabeth Mangham Lott is entitled, “My seminary has closed. But churches are closing too, and it’s time to face some hard questions.”
This is true for Presbyterians as well as Baptists. Our denomination, or its antecedents in 1965 numbered four million. Today about 1.5 million. I am sure that Craig Butler, Southminster member, and treasurer of our presbytery, would be happy to educate us on trends within our own presbytery.
Rather than blame each other, we can ask some hard questions. How do we respond to this change? The article concludes with excellent advice:
“How will we know which path is ours to take? Well, that’s something I did learn in seminary. We sit in holy quiet together, embracing ancient practices of contemplation and discernment. We follow the threads across ancient texts and look for the ways God has always been finding new and wildly imaginative avenues to know and be known by a people. We foster honest, brave, healthy, truth-telling communities that step even more fully and boldly into their calling as followers on the Way of Jesus. We ask really good questions and listen to each other in hopes of getting to even better ones.”
The second change is a far bigger change. It dwarfs the first change in magnitude almost making the first seem irrelevant. But actually, how we respond to the first change will enable us to be better equipped at responding to this second change.
I have spoken of this second change often and from different angles for over twenty years. I haven’t talked about it every Sunday, but I think you know it. And you mostly don’t like it.
Here it is: Americans make up 5% of the world’s population and consume 25% of the world’s resources. Another way to put it is this: If the rest of the world consumed as much as Americans consumed we would need four planets of resources. We have one planet. This is the case when I first started talking about it 20 years ago. It is an inequity that is unsustainable and can only be sustained temporarily through violence.
This change will likely be good for the rest of the world when America stops consuming a quarter of the world’s resources and instead consumes what is proportional to its population. This change will be uncomfortable for Americans when this standard of living changes.
Whether one thinks that inequity is justifiable or not, inequities always result in change. There is always a re-ordering eventually. Evolution happens when species outstrip their environments or when environments change. Whether we come about this question by studying Peak Oil, Climate Change, or militarization and its accompanying propaganda, there are hundreds of ways to show that these inequities exist and are not going to last. Those inequities are the inequity of human population vs. planetary limits and the inequity of the elites of the world vs. the rest.
This change can come abruptly or gradually or in a combination. As humans in general and Americans in particular, collectively reach the end of our credit limit, and nothing has been done in the past twenty years that I have been talking about it in regards to changing our course, major changes likely will come sooner than later.
Now remember. It is all good.
Simon Peter, the rock of the church, was in the end, responsive to change and Jesus will love the hell out of us.
If my parents taught me anything it is that life ends. My mother lived to be 91. My father is 100 currently. Even long lives end. Given that something will kill us someday, how do we live now?
Do we live to make ourselves as comfortable as possible for as long as possible? That is one way. But there is another way: the way of Jesus. The way of Mohammad. The way of Moses. The way of Buddha. These spiritual leaders knew that life was bigger than themselves and they were all responsive to change.
How might we be responsive to change? I think the fire drill is a great start about being responsive and prepared.
What about snowstorms? Are we as a church responsive enough to that in regards to care for the building but also care for members?
Let’s go bigger.
You have heard that we are due for an earthquake (New Yorker, Atlantic). I have not talked about that at all with the congregation in any organized way. Dick Burnham and I were talking about it the other day. A very small percentage has done any awareness or preparation for this.
For me the physical preparation is important, but more than that, the internal preparation is equally as important as is the social preparation.
Change is coming. It comes in many ways. Practicing responsiveness through education, internal spiritual preparedness, and social connection can put Southminster in a place where it can be a helper rather than irrelevant, or worse, a burden. This goes for the congregation as a whole as well as individuals within it.
This is what I do. I am not some slick marketer who can come in and tell you how to get young people in the church, or sing and dance to soft hits of the 80s. I find most of that stuff to be a bunch of bull. I can however tell you what I think is going on and help open discussions on how we might respond, theologically, ethically, and practically to changes that are coming.
Truth and Goodness.
March 10th after church we start with some conversations about what it means to be the church on Denney and Hall in Beaverton.
You can talk to me over pie for breakfast on Wednesdays at Sharis on Allen and Murray or coffee Tuesday mornings. Or whenever. I will leave you today with Charles Darwin (although likely a misquotation):
It is not the strongest of the species that survives,
Nor the most intelligent,
But the one most responsive to change.