A Sermon on Faith and Science

This is a sermon that I preached this past year at Shenandoah University.  There are a few references to the sermon we had heard the week before.  So, read Genesis 1. Get comfy, and enjoy.

When I was a child, my mum used to tell me that if I ate the crusts on my sandwiches, my hair would curl.  I spent years perfecting how to cut crusts off my bread while still maintaining maximum sandwich potential.

My older brother, in true sibling fashion used to tell me that if I made a certain ugly face and the wind changed direction that my face would forever be stuck that way. Thankfully, that never happened, though he would probably say it did.  I even used to try to do this.  I would make an ugly face, then spin around hoping that the force of the wind against my face would freeze it in permanent grossness.

I can think of other stories my family would tell me: eating carrots would help me see in the dark (and I would boast to people that I had wonderful night vision…), if I went outside with wet hair I’d catch a cold, and then my favorite: eat your vegetables if you want to grow up to be big and strong.

Clearly no amount of carrots eaten helped protect my vision, cutting those crusts off my sandwiches never stopped my hair from curling and judging by the size of me, I did not grow up to be that big and strong.

When we think of stories like this that our families may have told us, what stories do you think of?  George Washington and the Cherry Tree?  How many of you have watched the Disney movie, Pocahontas?  In this movie, we see how facts are taken and made pretty and we are quick to forget that there was a historical tragedy waiting just around the riverbend.

What if I told you about a book that we’ve all heard about? It contains stories of floods, murders, famine and creation.  The creation story that most of us are familiar with is the first thing that when we open our Bibles.  If you grew up in a church tradition, it was probably one of the first stories that you learned in Sunday School.  That familiar story, of God creating the heavens and the earth.  A God that saw that it was good and then, after six long days, God rested.

This however, is not what I was taught growing up.  My science classes, while they consisted of learning about acids and solutions, they also talked about evolution.

Saying evolution or science in a church is like saying the f-word in front of your grandmother.  You just don’t do it.  How can a pastor stand in a church and say that evolution happened and is still happening, and at the same time say that Creation occurred?

I want to engage in a brief history lesson.  The Genesis 1 story was written with the intent of helping the people of ancient Israel to best understand that humankind was the expression of one Creator.  We will be quick to disappoint if we try to interject factual history into these biblical accounts.

The picture of Creation that is painted in Genesis 1 talks about 6 days of God’s work and a day of rest, Sabbath.  My first question is: what is a day?  Our modern concept of time tells us that a day is 24 hours, a period when the Earth rotates on axis. When astronomers looked at the skies, at the Milky Way, they took measurements and observed stars that were burning billions of years ago and they helped to create our modern understanding of a day, of time. In the Christian world, we discuss time as a linear movement.  There is a beginning and an end.  If you asked me to explain time to you, I would trip over my words.  I think that my favorite Doctor, Doctor Who would say this: That time…well, it’s a bunch of wibbly wobbly timey wimey…stuff.

The challenge we are faced with today is one where we believe we have to choose “either/or”, the world tells us that we cannot pick “both/and”.

It reminds me of a story from the New Testament.  In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus heals the hand of a man on the Sabbath…well, not only did he heal someone on the Sabbath, Jesus healed a man in the Synagogue. He took what the Jewish people knew about God, what they knew about laws and rules and challenged them. Jesus engaged everyone to live in the tension that was in the world around them.

When I was thirteen years old, I moved from the city life of London, England to the cow pastures and rolling hills of Southern Virginia.  I was faced with an alarming dilemma in my 8th grade Science class.  The people around me talked about how their faith led them to believe that creation was the answer for everything.  That science was a tool created by Satan to lead people astray.  Then there was me.  The girl who had barely stepped foot inside of a church.  The girl who didn’t really know what the creation story was and the girl who knew that we humans shared 98% of our DNA sequence with chimpanzees.  How was I meant to thrive in a learning environment where everyone around me was saying, thinking and believed something so different?

As I planted myself into the United Methodist Church, I was surrounded by people and situations that made me want to pick one side.  Was I pro-life or pro-choice? Did I like contemporary worship or traditional hymns? Does the toilet paper go over or under? Did I believe in evolution or creation?  The whole time these questions were in my heart, I was struggling to make sense of it all.

Why couldn’t God be a part of all of these choices?  Why do we try so hard to make God fit into our own boxes? 

Our God is so great and big, there is not a vessel known to us that could contain God.

So, why are scholars so quick to jump down the throats of scientists? Why were the Pharisees quick to judge Jesus?  Why are we so determined to negotiate faith on our own terms? Spoiler alert:  I do not have the answers.  What I have experienced however, is this:  Science is an art form.  A study.  A way for those who are left-brained to explore creation and the world around us.  I think that we are so used to being able to explain things, and enjoy setting things into our pre-made boxes, that when something doesn’t fit perfectly, we panic. We know how to give directions, how to bake a cake.  We know why the grass is green, and when we are faced with the unknown, we panic.

We want to be able to look through our Bibles, call our parents, ask our friends to piece it all together for us, when the truth is that we can’t.

Last week, Rhonda shared this with us.  There is a Buddhist teaching that says Buddha is like a finger pointing to the moon.  She took this saying and said that the bible is like a finger pointing to God.  Rhonda doesn’t believe in the finger.  She believes in the one to whom the finger points. I agree with her and also would argue that the arts, history and science help push us towards the trajectory of God.

God’s creation is the ultimate love-story.  God wanted so badly to be in communion and fellowship, that God created us, man and woman, all of us children of God to be in relationship with one another and with God.

In order for us to better understand this relationship, we have to explore.  We have to be willing to push ourselves, to push our boundaries and dig deep.  How do we dig deep?  We dig deep by running around the fields, we dig deep by tubing the river on Labor Day.  We dig deep by reading scripture and asking questions of ourselves and our faith.  We dig deep and press ourselves to think because that is how we better understand God and also how we push ourselves away from God.

Author and modern theologian Rob Bell once said: “The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God”.

I want to remind you of this: the more we try to put God into our predetermined boxes, the more God reveals that isn’t possible.

I challenge you all today to remember the moments and times when you are uncomfortable and remember that God is there with you, encouraging you and pulling you closer to understanding and at the same time, turning everything you’ve known upside down.

You can believe in the big bang theory and you can believe in Creation. The stories of the Bible are meant to guide us towards God, and as we walk that path, we use different studies in order to better understand the world God has created.  Whether it be psychology, physical therapy or science that challenges you, remember that God is walking with you every step of the way.

We are created beings, made in the image of God.  We do not have to pick either/or…we are in fact, both/and people.  Both/and meaning that the Kingdom of God is already here and it is something that we are waiting for.  Both/and meaning that we can believe in creation and the sciences. The two illuminate each other as we read the love story that God inspired.

There is pain in trying to find answers on our own, there is pain in trying to say one study is better than another.  God reveals beauty through us and through our questioning.  God has and will continue to make beautiful things out of the dirt and the pain.  What God wants is for us to sit in the pain, to question and to wrestle.  It is about redemption, about the continual love-story of God and the creation of God. That is where the true evolution and creation occurs.

 

 

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