Sermon
Six weeks ago, I approached Pastor Walt (Walt Edmonds, Senior Pastor) to ask him if
he had ever heard of the Clergy Letter Project or of Evolution Sunday which the Clergy
Project was sponsoring.  He said that he hadn’t so I explained that the Clergy Letter
Project was an initiative started a number of years ago by a professor in Wisconsin,
Michael Zimmerman, who was concerned that people of faith are being given the
misperception that science and religion are inevitably in conflict.  He wanted to get the
message out to the public that many clergy from most denominations, including United
Methodism, affirm the validity of evolutionary theory and embrace it as a core
component of human knowledge, fully harmonious with religious faith.  I also explained
that in 2008, the United Methodist Church endorsed the efforts of the Clergy Project in a
resolution passed by the General Conference.  Walt said that he would look into it, which
he did, and got back to me a week later.  He said that it looked interesting and that he
supported the goals of the Clergy Project.  He also said that Evolution Sunday seemed
like a good idea.  Then, confirming the notion that no good idea goes unpunished, he
suggested that I take the lead on Evolution Sunday and preach.

So here I am, in front of the Methodist community I love so much and who has loved
me for over 20 year, to celebrate Evolution Sunday.  But first, we need to be sure what
we are celebrating.  Biological evolution or Darwinian Evolution has gotten a lot of press
lately but much of it has spawned more confusion than understanding.  So let’s start by
clarifying what evolution really means.

Evolutionary biology is the study of life on earth and the mechanisms that have lead to
the amazing diversity we see all around us.  It provides a comprehensive framework for
all the biological sciences and as stated by Francis Collins, current head of National
Institutes of Health and also a devout Christian, is indispensable to our understanding of
all life, including human life.  To state it succinctly, biological evolution is about descent
with modification.  Life has descended from a common ancestor and through small
changes in genetic structure, inherited traits are passed on that make an organism more or
less likely to survive and reproduce.  It is a natural process, needing no interruption or
tinkering from the outside.  With this evolutionary foundation, we see the emergent story
of life unfold, from our first single celled ancestors, through the ancient dinosaurs, to the
birds in the air and the fish in the sea and also to us.  It is not a straight line process.  
There are many turns and twists and it is not a simple process.  But, as Francis Collins
points out, whether one looks at the genes of a mouse, a chimpanzee, or a human, we all
contain the genetic markers of our ancient shared ancestors.  In short, we are all one
family of earthly life and the story of life is our story.

Of course, we Christians have another story, the story we find in the Book of Genesis in
the Old Testament.  In it, God creates all that is, from the sky, land and sea to birds in
the air, the fish in the sea and animals that walk the earth.  And finally, God creates
Adam, the first human.  God does this in a mere seven days.  If one compares the two
stories, they could not be more different.  Seven days versus more than three billion
years—that is quite a difference.  In Genesis, God directs the creation of all living
creatures through speaking “Let there be” while evolutionary biology emphasizes the
gradual emergence of biological diversity from incremental genetic change.  No wonder
some Christians feel the need to make a choice, between science or faith, between the
book of nature as discovered by humans or the book of scripture as revealed by God’s
Word.  However, as the theologian John Haught states in his book Deeper than Darwin,
what we have here is a “reading problem.”  If we read each book in the same literal way,
we are clearly in trouble for the texts are not compatible with each other at that level.  
However, when we read the Genesis text more deeply, we see that it is not a chronicle
of primordial events, but a story that conveys the caring relationship between God the
creator and that which was created.  We see that creation, from top to bottom is declared
as good and valued by God.  We also see the creative imagination of the early Jewish
community, expressing their self understanding as created beings.  In this deeper reading,
we see a sense of God's caring for creation, that it is valued, and that there is a sense of
purpose.  With this sort of reading, the Biblical text is no longer in conflict with science
for science does not and cannot address issues at this depth.  These insights exceed the
methodologies on which sciences are founded and science must (or at least should)
remain silent.  Of course, we all know of scientists that speak with great confidence that
God is no longer necessary and that God's existence is disproven.  However, in these
cases, they are not speaking simply from their science but from their own personal
interpretation of the way the world works.

So why bother with biological evolution?  Why not let faith and science exist in two
different domains while building a wall between the two and let each one be separate and
distinct.  Like the old song says, “Give me that old time religion, it’s good enough for
me.”  Won’t separate but equal work here?  Frankly no, it won’t work and for a number
of reasons.  First, being that biological evolution happens to be true, far reaching, and a
continuously growing domain of knowledge, separate but equal will assign to faith an
ever decreasing space.  The methods of science are the best means we have of
discovering how things work in this world.  These methods are rigorous and unforgiving.  
And in those areas for which it is suited, there can be no more powerful tools for truth.  
In the life sciences, the truth of biological evolution is overwhelmingly supported by the
current evidence and shows no sign of being overturned.  The Christian faith must adjust
to these truths, or it will be diminished.  Second, many of the challenges we face in
society today from infectious disease, to cognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s or autism,
to cancer and to environmental degradation will need scientific and technological
solutions founded on these principles.  The NIH, just down the street and the entire
biotech industry that runs along the I-270 corridor are testaments to the power of the
evolutionary biological understanding of life.  As one example, if we are to feed our
world and insure our ability to produce food for an ever growing world population,
genetic research into more hearty and robust crops is essential.  Finally, many of the
career opportunities in the future for our young people will require a solid grasp of the
biological sciences.  Preparation for those jobs will mean being steeped in the knowledge
of evolutionary biology.  This knowledge is not optional, but there is a deeper story going
on here.  Evolution can be read from a theological, faith oriented perspective.  As we see
in this morning’s scripture reading in Deuteronomy, we are instructed by God to follow
his commandments and that, if we do so, we shall “live and become numerous” but, if
we turn away and do not hear . . . we shall perish.  On the surface, the text is referring to
the laws and instructions laid out in the Book of Deuteronomy.  When we dig deeper, we
can see another message for us today.  It is an ecological message that calls us to live
according to the biological laws of natures eco-systems.  As proclaimed in the book of
Genesis, God is the creator of all that is.  The laws and patterns come from the profound
mystery we attribute to God.  So nature’s laws are God’s laws.  We are called to live
according to these laws and to act as good stewards of the world we have inherited.  We
are called to “earth care” as our good friend Matthew Sleeth would say.  In our own
congregation, the Earth Stewards are working hard to raise our awareness of how
intimately linked we are to the ecological health of the whole planet.  To respond
properly to these laws, we must first understand them and to understand them will
require ongoing scientific investigation.  So in that sense, the call of one to do science is
just as legitimate as the call to any other profession.  We have already discovered much
but, perhaps because we have separated the world of faith from the world of science, we
in the faith community don’t always get the message.  It is a message we need to hear
for we are rapidly approaching ecological tipping points that are sure to lead to great
suffering and death if we don’t respond with a sense of urgency.

When I read the passage in Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians that you heard this morning,
I was struck by the language used by Paul to describe the process of becoming the Body
of Christ, his church.  It is the language of an evolving process.  As he states, we were
first people of the flesh, infants in Christ, not yet ready for solid food.  Even over time,
some were still not spiritually mature, as shown by their jealousy and quarreling.  He
then goes on, using the image of a field that has been sown.  Paul has been the planter
and Apollos has been the one to do the watering but only God enables growth to take
place.  It is the language of new life, of transformed life, of life which has been given
new meaning because of a radical change in the condition of life.  For Paul, that radical
change waste coming of Christ, which changed everything.

So let us learn to read beyond the surface of both the book of scripture and the book of
nature—for we are the Body of Christ, filled with his spirit, with his epiphany.  Three
weeks ago, Pastor Walt defined epiphany as “suddenly appearing, almost out of
nowhere.”  He emphasized that epiphany means “a sudden burst of reality that cannot be
hidden or ignored.”  Through the epiphany of Christ, we can see the process of
evolutionary biology in a deeper, more meaningful light.  Where the science sees only
contingent, blind process, the eye of faith sees the fruitful ongoing creativity of God’s
Logos, of God’s Word, of God’s Christ.  Where science sees the random walk of genetic
probability, faith sees the creative warmth of God’s breath over his creation.  Where
science sees only the surface of causal interaction, faith sees God working in the depths
of the evolutionary process where we humans are called by Christ to participate in the
establishment of the Kingdom of God.  We see Christ at work in, with and for the
evolutionary process in which we are God’s created co-creator, to use the phrase of the
theologian Phil Hefner.  As Paul says, we are God’s building, we are God’s field.  We,
as God’s created co-creators, are called to participate in God’s kingdom, to “to do justly,
act mercifully and to walk humbly in this awesome, beautiful and sometimes fearsome,
God created world.  This is not a scientific understanding; it is a theological one.  
However, the science we discover in biology, in physics and the other sciences will not
threaten this understanding but only enrich it.

I know for many of you, a statement that science will enrich theology and faith may
seem odd, awkward, or just plain strange.  But as I mentioned earlier, even the General
Conference has affirmed the validity of this perspective.  So today we celebrate
Evolution Sunday, recognizing the contribution that evolutionary biology has made to our
understanding of the natural world.  I encourage us to continue in conversation over the
coming weeks by reading articles and books, asking questions and engaging in the joy of
discovery of our natural world.  Over the past few years, I have been participating in an
organization called WesleyNexus which is dedicated to the sharing of sound science and
religion within the Wesleyan tradition.  On the web site, we have articles and links on a
variety of topics within the broad domain of science and religion.  I invite you to check
us out at WesNex.org on the net, join our conversation and give us feedback.  May God
bless you all this day.  Amen.
Deeper Than Darwin by Rick Barr
A Sermon Delivered on Evolution Sunday at
Damascus United Methodist Church, February 13, 2011