June 11, 2018
Trinity Sunday (First Sunday after Pentecost)
I hope, in this sermon,
- to give a bit more detail to a peace and justice prayer I provided some weeks ago.
- to connect to the Hebrew scriptures in a way that may be meaningful for others.
- to give a bit more voice to how I have found my way into the Eyes to See mission group.
I won’t be explicitly referencing Trinity concepts, although for some that is the central view of the Lectionary readings for today.
I won’t be focusing on gender views of the Trinity but do recommend you read Deborah’s sermon from three years ago. Working with the same texts, Deborah worked with our gender perceptions of God and you may want to reacquaint yourself with that sermon and its relevance today. And, if you haven’t thought about doing this before, you can find years of sermons on the Seekers website. Because we follow the lectionary readings that repeat every three years, you can read a number of sermons inspired by these texts.
God’s care over creation
Today’s Hebrew scripture passage is the first creation story. The beginning of life is God ordained and structured and increasing in complexity from day to day until the end of the sixth day and there is a Sabbath rest.
I grew up in a conservative Calvinistic Christian faith tradition. I memorized scripture and parts of the doctrine. I made profession of faith (as baptism was something done to newborns). In all of this religious education, there was an initial expectation and assumption to take the scriptures as literal truth. God built the world in six days. Debating this in the face of scientific evidence that evolution put the creation of the world on a slightly different timeframe was an affront to the faith.
I lived with that internal conflict for years. It was not “safe” to discuss how the science of finding dinosaur fossils and other mammals did not jive with a world that is only 6000 years old. I had some friends in school with whom these concerns could be discussed, but never written down.
It took high school and a biology teacher, Harlan Kredit (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harlan_Kredit ) to allow for the conversation to be open. His curiosity about the world allowed each of us to be open and curious as well. His sponsorship of the senior biology trip to the Olympic peninsula in Washington state where we each could do our own experiments gave us time to do that exploration. His photographic eye for beauty in the natural environment allowed me to share an appreciation of God’s creation is beautiful, whether created in six days or thousands of years. Harlan’s perspective of valuing what can be observed and the wonder that still remains at the end of an experiment helped to bridge my internal conflict. I believe I learned from my education that it is important to turn to the appropriate sources to answer particular types of questions. Turning to science is not a good source for answers around why as much as scripture is not a good source for answers to how.
I wish the debate of creationism versus evolution was over, but I find the debate remains. And for those particularly interested in more details, I commend the Christianity Today sponsored debate between science educator Bill Nye and author Ken Ham from a few years ago. I have included a link to the article in this sermon for viewing later: http://www.christiantoday.com/article/bill.nye.vs.ken.ham.debate.live.stream.free.watch.online.creation.vs.evolution.debate.here.start.time/35688.htm
Evolution, for me and for many others, enhances my wonder regarding creation. The subatomic complexity amazes me. Science illumines the complexity of the world, even if it wasn’t created in six days. Those weeks ago, I lit the candle of peace and justice for scientists and their work to explain and understand our impact on creation. I would light the candle today for them again.
I will continue to light the peace and justice candle for the work of scientists. I will light the candle to shine the way for their inclusion into the dialogue around faith and purpose. I light the candle to give space for questions answered by science to inform the choices we all make about values. I would light the candle to have science inform me about what actions are best in healing this world.
Faith answers values questions. Science lends answers on the complexities and mechanisms questions. As one commenter, Richard Arthur, said in response to the Nye – Ham debate:
“As a Christian I will say this: My faith does not require me to believe in the age of the earth as outlined in the Bible. Christ commanded me to love and that is where all Christians need to focus.” http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2014/02/06/272535141/who-won-the-creation-vs-evolution-debate
Dominion versus Cooperation
The version of the Hebrew scripture read this morning, does not use quite the same language as the New Revised Standard language. The language of NRSV is pretty close to what I recall hearing from my childhood, particularly for these verses:
1:26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
1:27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
1:28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
1:29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.
1:30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.
Here I find myself stumbling again, but for a different reason. Dominion. We have had our share of news this week regarding the concept of dominion / domination versus subjugation. I have been keeping the news off more than normal as the rancor of dominion as filled the airways. Reading the prepared statement from Comey was enough.
Over the past six months, I have had to deal with dominion and domination issues as well. My faith work has unveiled moments of domination and sexual assault that I experienced as a teenager in a work setting. My work a child welfare subject matter expert in a work environment where I am the only female has had me needing to assert my domain knowledge to have a voice in the shaping of the information system we are trying to build. I am constantly needing to assert my dominion.
Why must Genesis give the human race dominion over the rest of creation?
Or, why have I done such a poor job at being in this role? My domination of creation has led to climate change. My domination of creation has led to extinction of species. My domination has led to landfills and toxic chemicals damaging the earth. My domination has not been a good thing. Why did God think this was a proper purpose for me to have?
Maybe I have misunderstood the word and the role. Maybe I have put it out of context.
When I consider my biology teacher, Harlan Kredit, his life showed not domination but cooperation and conservation. Outside of the school teaching time, he was (and is) a ranger conservationist and a conservation biologist. Through both his direct action and his role in educating others, projects include raising 50K Coho salmon at a local hatchery, treeplanting, raising awareness of contaminating river drainage, channeling the local creek for the safety of salmon and mapping drainage basins.
If that is dominion and domination, then my definition needs to change.
So, when I relook at the passages for today, a few points come into view:
First, humanity’s domination isn’t the end of the creation story. God’s day of rest is the end. God’s view that things were good is the end. And, in the context of ALL, humanity’s work of domination may be as a surrogate or caretaker on God’s behalf. Certainly, this was the way that my biology teacher lived his role in the world. He built his understanding, his knowledge domain, to support and heal the world.
Second, Psalm 8 kept the glory of God as primary and seems to hold the people’s role of “dominion” with a sense of wonder to that larger context. Gaining new knowledge of the galaxy only increases the sense of wonder.
Third, both the gospel and the New Testament readings put humanity’s work in cooperation with God:
• I am with you.
• Put things in order; live in peace.
But if dominion needs to be understood with a new definition of its place in cooperation with God to care for all of what God cares about as well, there is a lot of work to be done to change my core understanding. There is work to be done to change society’s understanding. There is work to be done to expand our “domains” of knowledge for better support of the planet and our community. I cannot do this work alone. It is the need for companionship that brought me to the Eyes to See mission group.
Telling Ourselves New Stories (Eyes to See)
On Wednesday evening, members of the Eyes to See mission group and Peter Bankson (representing Time & Space) met with Paul Costello and others on staff for the New Story Leadership over dinner. We heard about the likely participants for this summer’s program.
Over dinner, we shared individual stories of our life and the influences that have shaped us and brought us to that table. We shared our current focus of work and effort. We encouraged each other, I think, in valuing the places we have been and what we were doing.
As the conversation flowed, I was mindful of the long history of connection Seeker’s has with New Story. I was reminded of the role that stories have in shaping individual views. While New Story is currently working with Israeli and Palestinian youth to create new stories, the organization has worked in other countries in the past. As Paul shared over dinner, we could celebrate with him the achievements of individual members. As he talked about different people, I was impressed also with the longer view of what countries New Stories has been involved with and how those countries have changed. I could quietly celebrate that Northern Ireland, for example, has reached some level of stabilization.
in the sharing, we also heard about the upcoming travelers and the places and ways that they are already changing the world with their work. The work of New Story connected to the work of other organizations to further social improvements and peace building.
And I was reminded of the value of story – to present information in new ways or different perspectives – to encourage, to change values, to shape perspectives. Genesis 1 tells a story of God’s care over all creation. Psalm 8 echoes that same story. To be reminded, as in the gospel reading from Matthew, that Jesus wants us to continue to teach others, knowing we are not alone.
I need to hear the stories of change and faith to keep me focused on the work of caring about abused and neglected children and their families. I need to be reminded, through stories, of new definitions of dominion and domination. I believe we all need to be reminded that God is with us always, whether what we see seems in chaos or order. And, as my biology teacher fondly said often, to be reminded, “It’s a great day to be alive!”.