Evolutionary Christianity I – Power to Become Children of God

Abstract

The sermon claims that the central event of Christian faith – Cross and Resurrection – is descriptive of the evolutionary process of all creation. What comes from the death is something new and unexpected – novel – like the property of flow that came out of the union of 2 Hydrogen atoms and an Oxygen atom. (Who’d have guess that?) It further describes the activity of God in the Logos as not so much acting upon us, as being expressed through us. This is the new humanity – the humanity self-conscious of its own participation in the creative activity of Logos. For those who receive this word, who trust this creative word, he gave power to become children of God.

 

 

Evolutionary Christianity I – Power to Become Children of God   Audio – right click to download

This Lent series of sermons pushes at the edges of some thinking I have been doing, particularly around evolution and its relationship to Christianity. But I’ve also been talking to a couple of church Elders this week who suggested that there may be more people in the pews of our church, (and certainly on the web reading this), who think of God as being outside creation, acting upon us, than I might think – more people who think of God as one who breaks into creation and alters the course of our lives by breaking the laws of nature, (at least sometimes).

If you’ve been listening to me for any length of time, it should be clear that I do not think of God that way. But I’d like to be clear, while I hold the theological positions I do strongly, I don’t believe that I need to convince you that I am right. There is a lot to be said for the traditional-mythic understanding of the faith. Recently I wrote a tongue-in-cheek open letter to Evangelicals. It began, “I need a little help over here on the dark side.” I meant it, there’s a lot to be said for a group of people who believe Scripture has something important to say, who believe it is important to share our faith, and who believe that a walk of faith is about transformation. If that theological framework is working for you, that is OK with me. That said, it doesn’t work for a great many people in our culture; I’m among them, and that is why I am exploring other ways to describe our faith. I’m exploring language that is intelligible in our modern or post-modern context. I’m glad to dialogue with anyone about it, but if you find that I’m just annoying you, may I suggest you stop reading? I’m not writing to tick anyone off.
Today’s text is the prologue to the Gospel to John. I think it’s one of the most important texts for our culture’s understanding of Christianity today so I’ve preached on it fairly often. In this text you may recall, it says, “In the beginning was the Word.” But it’s my habit not to translate that word, but rather to use the original Greek text which says, In the beginning was the Logos,” because Logos holds so much meaning. Some say the Logos held all of the philosophical content of the entire Greek language. It held the patterns or the ideas that structured creation for them.

It’s rich, it’s what reveals reality. When John used it in the prologue, he also had in mind the Hebrew scriptures which envisioned a very dynamic role for the “word.” “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth” . . . God spoke words and brought creation into being. Word is dynamic and creative. The Wisdom traditions in the Hebrew scriptures understood Sophia, (Greek for wisdom), to be an interdependent character with God, an agent of God’s strength and creative power. If you read Proverbs chapter 8 and then read John’s prologue you can’t help but see the reflection of Sophia in the Logos. For John, this interdependent character, this agent of God’s creative power, was always oriented towards God. With that I’ll read the prologue of John

In the beginning was the Logos and the Logos was oriented towards God. The Logos was God. He was in the beginning oriented towards God. All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being with him is life and the life was the light of all people. That light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man who was sent from God. His name was John. He came as a witness to testify to this light so that all might believe that through him. He himself was not the light but he came to testify to the light. The true light which enlightens everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world and the world came into being through him and yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own and his own people did not receive him. But to all who received him, who trusted in his name, he gave power to become children of God who were born not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or the will of human beings, but of God. And the Logos became enfleshed and made camp among us and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a parents’ only son full of grace and truth. John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, he who comes after me ranks ahead of me, because he was before me.” From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. The law indeed was given thorough Moses. Grace and trust came through Jesus the Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only son who is close to the parents’ heart, who has made God known.

So I don’t mean to be too negative, but I think we have to say that the human condition leads a little something to be desired. Let’s take the words “I love you.” I love you. Words of intimacy, words of closeness and yet what do they mean when we say them? One would hope what they’re used to say, “I want the very best for you. I’ll commit my life to ensure that what happens to you makes you whole, greater, more and more beautiful.” And yet all too often “I love you” means “I’m glad that you are fulfilling my needs right now.” It’s a selfish thing binds us up on the inside. It’s part of human finitude.

Many years ago my first wife died of breast cancer. We were part of a support group as we went through that disease together. We discovered that during the depths of that illness it was very common for couples to split apart. We called it the Newt Gingrich syndrome. You may remember, he left his wife while she was sick with Cancer. It was very, very common. It’s not an unusual circumstance. People withdraw from one another in those moments, partly because of this need thing. Even if you didn’t want to, you found happening. It happened to some degree with me.

I’ll never forget the day when Deb came down and said, “I’ve found another lump.” I knew right then and there that it was only a matter of time, it was over. Now, my first reaction should have been, “Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.” And in fact I probably did give her a hug, but my brain wasn’t doing that. My brain was thinking, “What am I going to do without her income?” She was the major breadwinner. How am I going to raise these children? And I found that until I came around to settling my heart and mind concerning how I was going to make it, how my needs were going to be fulfilled, it was very difficult for me to have an open heart and take care of her.

I can forgive myself. It’s human finitude. There’s a limit to how much the human heart can deal with, how much fear it can cope with. We came closer together and I certainly cared for her, but, “I love you?” I’m thinking I fell short.

That fear we feel when we contract like that has broad implications. Isn’t it the heart of what’s become a financial crisis? I don’t know a whole lot about money, but what I do know is that money is based on relationships of trust. The thing I carry around in my wallet, it has no inherent value. The only value it has is the value you and I agree it has. So it’s built on a relationship of trust and yet the farther and farther that trust vanishes from our human relationships, the more distant we become from one another, the more isolated we feel, the less we can trust in that relationship and so in that money. So we become insecure and find ways to get more and more money so that we feel safe. But it doesn’t really work. We use the money to consume, almost so we can forget the situation we’re in and so injustice prevails in our economy, trust continues to break down.

Fear, contraction – it has far reaching implications. It’s what produces a great deal of the violence in the world. One of our elders told us about a study she read concerning violence. Apparently when you’re hit, when you’re struck, you feel it as a harder punch than it actually is. So you respond with the strength of the punch that you felt and so you’ve escalated the violence. That person of course feels the violence as greater than it was and so retaliates in kind with an increase in the amount of violence. It spins out of control between human beings. It’s neurological and in the end it creates cruelty – the kind of violence between people that we call “man’s inhumanity to man.” It stuns us and we can’t begin to figure out how to break ourselves out of it because fear has contracted us and the crust of violence is wrapped all around us.

As I say, the human condition leaves a little something to be desired. The trouble is that we think that situation is static don’t we? I mean most of us here don’t believe in the concept of original sin, but I think we do believe in something pretty similar. We assume that this human condition, the way we are, all of this violence and breakdown in trust, is the way it is. It is the human condition.

I think we are more comfortable with that than the sometimes painful and yet dynamic reality that change does in fact occur. It occurs through a process that moves through death to new life, from cross to resurrection if you will. That is the nature of the way evolution operates. From death to new life, from cross to resurrection. People talk about a tension between Christian faith and the concept of an evolving universe. Tension? They are two sides of exactly the same coin. Cross and resurrection – the central concept of our faith – describe the process of evolution. It’s how we break out of the static nature of the human condition and move towards a dynamic new reality.

It’s what the Gospel of John understands. The Gospel of John points to this Logos, this creative drive or power that lives within creation, the patterns of creation that unfold and carry it forward through death to new life, always growing, always evolving, forever towards the presence of God. That’s our hope, is it not?

The Logos became flesh. It always has become flesh. For 13.7 billion years and who knows, maybe before. The Logos has become flesh because the creative power of God moves into creation in that way – interpenetrating the creation.

But the role of Logos now is more than and agent of God’s creative power; Logos reveals the reality of God’s way of being and in so doing lifts our conscious minds above the self-involved instinct driven condition of our lives. John is describing a new reality we are self-conscious of our own evolution. The universe has created a mind, the universe has created eyes, the universe has created a heart to know and to feel and to understand itself. We are part of it. Logos, is not now so much acting upon us, as Logos is being expressed through us. That is if we receive Logos and trust in the creative power of Logos.

Consider the implication of the creative power of God expressed through us. The text says that if we receive this Logos, if we trust this Logos, we are given power to become children of God – Children of God? – those that can create, that can move creation forward. This is a move of evolution; nothing about the brain would have suggested such a dramatic thing as this self-consciousness. It is a novel creation.

It’s how the universe works – organic molecules in the oceans become self replicating cells. Who’d have guessed that? Cells gather and find some way to organize and become community. Who would have guessed that? Then they specialize, until finally you have organisms that can see, hear, taste, touch, smell, know, . . . and love. That’s the novelty of new life, of resurrection. That’s the beauty, that’s the power, . . . and it rests in you.

If we receive this knowledge, this awareness, this presence of the power of God, and let it form us, it begins to shape us and we express the power of God in breaking free of that selfish finitude that keeps us from loving one another. Justice begins to flourish as we live a life that trusts in the presence of this power – a power not of limited resources, but abundant creative resources. A life entrusted to Logos can break the cycle of violence, the crust that’s over us. It cracks open the static nature of homo sapien and the true light that enters the world, enters through our hearts.

It does not so much act upon us, as it is expressed through us. We’re going to be talking about the implications of these claims over the next six weeks. But consider the power that lives in each human heart. We do not live in a static world. We live in a dynamic world and you and I have the capacity to make it more whole, more beautiful, closer to the presence of God for the Logos of God expresses God’s love and power through us.

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About Sam Alexander

Sam Alexander is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of San Rafael and also serves as Adjunct Instructor in Homiletics at San Francisco Theological Seminary.


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