February 13, 2022, Living Unafraid: Evolution Sunday, by Pastor David

Luke 6:17-26  Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.  “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.  “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.  “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets."

Yesterday was Charles Darwin’s birthday - born the exact same day as Abraham Lincoln - Feb. 12, 1809. It’s a good day to celebrate Evolution Sunday - which we have been doing for the last 15 years or so. 

Meditation: We take a moment in silence now, noticing this blessed moment, breathing in God’s grace and preparing ourselves for deeper listening to God’s word. 

February 13, 2022 Living Unafraid: Evolution Sunday

Evolution: things evolve, things change. Today we take a step in the evolution of this church as we announce the appointment of a new pastor, Mark Salvacion. We don’t know what that appointment is going to bring exactly, but we know it will be a change. 

41 When I was appointed here 26 years ago, no one would have predicted that I would still be here today, preaching in a sanctuary with a blue river flowing through the rafters. All we could do was pray together for the evolution to be generally in the right direction. Two steps forward and only one back, most of the time. 
It’s almost cliché to talk about how much we are divided in our culture, but how we think about science and religion is one of the unseen divides. Darwin’s theory of evolution has made a huge difference in how we think - including in how we think about our faith, how we practice our faith, how we interpret the Bible. The divide as a result is how much attention to pay to this new knowledge. 

Some people feel we went too far in teaching Darwinism. They say we need to get back to teaching Christianity in the schools. If we just teach our children to pray as part of their daily lives, we would be in much better shape, they say.  

Some people think the church is irrelevant these days because science explains everything. They think there is no divine source or direction, so why go to church? Fewer and fewer pray or think that faith needs to be part of their lives at all. Easter and Christmas are nice things to do in season, but not part of a weekly practice. 
44 Well, obviously, we are a biased bunch here. People here find a way for faith to be part of their lives, despite the social tendency away from religious practice. I have found during my time at St. Luke that some people think we need prayer in schools, but I would wager that most people in our church agree that separation of church and state is a good idea, even if we wish people would supplement their education with a bit of Sunday school. Even within our church, I would say, there has been a strong move toward counting on science, evolution, medicine, rather than on faith for a lot of our guidance and the underpinnings of our thinking. 

To that extent, we hardly know what to make of the beginning of our scripture reading today, where a great multitude of people gather around Jesus just to touch the hem of his garment, looking to be healed. During this pandemic in our midst, we await the guidance of the CDC and scientists and we are embarrassed and skeptical of pastors and others who think they know better and ignore the advice of the scientists.

Now you know that for 25 years here I have encouraged people her to not take the Bible literally, but to take it seriously - to realize that a mystery may be found within the Word in many surprising and awesome ways. In fact, as science came to be applied to the study of the Bible in the 1800’s, a whole field of study arose called Biblical criticism, using the historical critical method. 

Again, some people think that knowledge is only for pastors in seminary, but I’ve tried to show you how these methods can powerfully unearth profound insights from scripture. For instance in the passage today, my Bible study compared this passage with the other place it appears in the gospel of Matthew. Matthew is the more familiar version - called the “Sermon on the Mount.” 

You’re heard of that, but you may not have heard of this version in the goapel of Luke called the “Sermon on the Plain.” Instead of going up a mountain to preach, Luke described Jesus coming down with the people on the plain. In Mark and somewhat in Matthew, which were written down earlier, evil spirits are the ones who recognize Jesus. They call out when Jesus does faith healing, “I know who you are. You are the Son of God.” 
But then here in Luke, written a generation later, that kind of healing is not highlighted, as in this passage. Instead of the evil spirits recognizing Jesus, the passage says, “Jesus raised his eyes to see his disciples.” We would hardly notice that detail, except for its contrast with the gospel of Matthew. It seems that Luke wants to highlight not the spirits that see Jesus, but the Christ who sees the people. 

Luke is more interested in showing how Jesus sees poor people, ““Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” These words are familiar from the Sermon on the Mount, but different, you see. We’re used to hearing “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Here Luke says “Blessed are the poor” full stop “for yours is the kingdom of God.” 

The eyes of God see those who are hungry, those who weep, those who are persecuted. 

Steve Garnass Holmes sent out a poem last week that expresses it well:
         Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Realm of God.    —Luke 6.20
The blessing is not in being poor.
           The blessing is that the realm of God is yours.

Your poverty, your hunger, your mourning
are circumstances.
           The presence, the fulfillment, joy of God
           are yours no matter what.

Your failures are mere passing breezes.
           But the grace given you is eternal as the stars.

Your riches, your fullness, your merriment,
they, too, are passing.
           But your belovedness is eternal.

Let the winds blow. Let them.
           You remain in the Beloved.

Let me just say, that I am sad about the way the wisdom of the church community is so easily dismissed in our culture - in the name of scientific understanding. I want us to be unafraid to respect science and use science as we deal with the pandemic, and as we teach our children. I think it is good to challenge superstition and evolve in our own beliefs. That is not always an easy evolution for us in the church, but I don’t want us to shy away from biblical criticism and critical thinking. 

After a period in the Enlightenment of trying to be rational about everything, after a peak of intellectualism where Nietzsche declared, “God is dead,” there has been an even worse period of growing apathy about the message of the church. And at the same time, beneath the surface there has been a rebound of new respect for spirituality. Christian community thrives at the margins, in the places where people are poor, hungry and hurting. When Christianity is no longer dominant in our society, Jesus starts to feel at home again. 

And I have to note that when we do get sick, our inclination toward prayer and religious practice goes up a notch. Friends of mine who are dealing with cancer have visited faith healers on top of their medical treatments, wanting to go all out in any healing practice that might help. When we’re in need, there can be great assurance in spiritual attention, the touch of a hand, the prayer of the faithful, the love of a community.
When we are hungry, when we are in need, when we are hurting, it seems we are more aware of God seeing us, God noticing that need. We are more aware of our own thriving in community, of being the hands and feet, the very eyes of God, God’s presence for each other. 

Responsive Hymn I Dream of a Church