Evolution and Faith VII – Death of the Church

Evolution and Faith VII – Death of the Church (Audio Right Click to Download)

Mark 15:33-37
The Fourth Word at the Good Friday Service
When it was new, darkness came over the whole land until it was three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabbachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen he is calling for Elijah.” Someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Let’s see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” Then Jesus gave a loud cry, and breathed his last.
I’d like to invite you into a conversation we’ve been having at the First Presbyterian Church of San Rafael these last weeks of Lent, a conversation about evolution and faith. We’re not talking about a six day creation, with God resting on the seventh. I really, really hope that argument’s over and done with. No, we’re talking about evolution as the way in which everything unfolds in all of creation. We are looking at a creation that evolves and opens towards unity, or shalom, in the presence of God.
Evolution happens right at the edge of things. That’s how it works. In the midst of the chaos when a system ceases to function, there is a new step forward in the evolution of creation. Take the first ecological crisis on earth for instance. Early in the evolution of life there  were colonies of bacteria that lived on the boundary between the oceans and the land. Some bacteria had evolved to perform a simple photosynthetic process; they were able to take light energy and turn it into chemical energy which they could use to flourish. The byproduct of that photosynthesis is oxygen. Enough bacteria produced enough oxygen that it polluted the atmosphere. I say polluted because these bacteria could not live in an oxygen rich atmosphere. They were poisoning their own environment.
As they biological system came under this stress, as resources became scarce, bacterial colonies in effect attacked other colonies in search of a food source. One might have expected that over time an equilibrium would develop with just the right number of bacteria able to live with just he right amount of oxygen being produced. But something novel happened. I say novel because it was unpredictable, a surprise. That’s how evolution happens, new, novel creative moves emerge from the chaos and stress as a system breaks down. In this case, as bacterial colonies “collided” some came together in a way that produced the first eukaryote cells, the first animal cells. They were able to use the oxygen; they could thrive in this “polluted” atmosphere.
A surprising move forward. It’s how evolution works, right at that moment of stress and there are three characteristics to these moves forward. First, an old form is transcended, the original bacteria, but it’s constituent parts are included into the next. Second, each step produces more complexity and yet also greater unity. Finally, each step is a surprise, it is novel, like when two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom came together. You probably could have figured out from their valances that they might stick together, but if you’d never seen it, you never would have predicted the property of flow. Step by step in the midst of chaos, right at the edge of things, this is how evolution moves forward. But what is really interesting to me is that this is exactly what happens in the cross and the resurrection.
When Jesus dies on the edge of society and rises, an old life form is transcended and yet included in what is next. That next is a novel moment in creation. Jesus rises as a new creation, a new human being and that new human being, is infinitely more complex while being unified with all that is. To what degree this is a metaphor and to what degree an ontological reality is a subject for another time, but either way, cross and resurrection point right at the process of evolution. They are not only, not in conflict, they are in fact, two sides of the very same coin. It is how God’s creation unfolds towards unity and shalom.
It happens in all facets of creation. Our bodies evolve yes, but the internal landscape of our life does as well. Researchers have shown for instance, that human beings evolve morally from an egocentric sense of the self, to an ethnocentric sense of the self, where we identify with a group, to a world-centric sense of self, where we see ourselves connected to all people, to a kosmocentric sense of self, where we identify with all that is and recognize our unique role in a unified whole.
The structures of society evolve as well. Researchers have traced economic and technological evolution. Human society was one time supported with the technologies of the hunter and gatherer. Then we evolved into agricultural communities, then became an industrial society. Each step of the way, transcending and including that which went before, always moving toward greater complexity and unity, always surprised by the unpredictable next. (I mean really, do you think Mary Magdalene with all her insight, could have predicted the personal computer?)
This same process takes place within the inner, religious and cultural values of human society. Our worldviews have evolved. Again, researchers have traced our development from a magic orientation to creation where spirits of all kinds control what is happening and we offer gifts mountains and such to appease them. This was a typical orientation for tribal societies, but as tribes banded into nations, they needed something other than blood to hold them together and so came the birth of the mythic worldview. Stories are told that bring coherence and purpose to human society. In our tradition, twelve tribes came together and saw themselves as carrying the blessing of God for all people. Of course at a certain point those myths break down. They are deconstructed in a modernist worldview and our cultural values shift. We seek truth through by experimentation until the post-modernist comes along and says, “Truth? You’ve got to be kidding me. No such thing because all truth is perspectival.”
Each time a moment of chaos yields new creation, new forms of complexity and unity. But on Good Friday I mention it because it is a painful process. There’s always cross before there’s resurrection. There’s always death of the old before emergence of the new. When I look at the death of Jesus, I see a moment in cultural history, a moment when the old was passing and the new was emerging. When Jesus died upon that cross, the old passed away and the disciples waited for the new to emerge, the body of Christ was on the cross at the moment when Judaism met the Greco-Roman world and they were awaiting the next.
I’ve said it before in this room, exactly seven years ago today in fact. The body of Christ is on the cross again today. Every time the mythic church meets modernism, it begins to shrink and die. Perhaps that’s not a fair thing to say at Calvary Presbyterian, still a relatively thriving church with a new dynamic pastor. And yet seven years ago there were at least fifty percent more people in these pews. When the church meets modernism, it loses the framework that gives it life and begins to die. It’s the way things unfold in an evolving creation and so we await the next. So my question for this text, as we look at the cross on this day is how can we be faithful to the God who drives creation forward? How can we serve what is next?
And the Gospel speaks loud and clear. In fact, it’s the reason the Gospel of Mark was written, the entire Gospel was written to help us understand how to be faithful at the moment of death, at the moment we wait for new creation to emerge. Jesus made it clear to the women when they came Easter morning. There was no victory lap in the Gospel of Mark you understand. He wasn’t even there. He simply sent them a message. Go tell the disciples to meet me in Galilee, meet me on the edge of the sea, right at the boundary of chaos where something new can emerge.
Meet me in Galilee when you’re ready, Spirit will drive you into the wilderness and your spiritual formation will begin.  Meet me in Galilee and we will find ways to re-describe a living to a very different culture. We’ll find a way to describe our faith that is as different from Christianity as Christianity was from Judaism. We will find a way to describe our faith that is as much the same as Christianity as Christianity was to Judaism. Meet me in Galilee and we will serve people on the edges of society, we will open our hearts and welcome them into the unified whole. Meet me in Galilee and you and I, and he, and she, and she, and he will join together. We will show the world an alternative to the fractured, lonely, suffering society with its fake pleasures and hollow dreams. We will be woven together into a new body of Christ, a new whole.
Meet me in Galilee, but be prepared, be prepared for chaos to overwhelm and for something unpredictable to take place. Meet me in Galilee, but be prepared because it’s there I will ask you to take up your cross and follow me.

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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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