Evolution and Faith VI–Evolution Happens in Stress

Evolution happens in all facets of life, but let’s take personal growth for a moment. The shame we hide – that we all hide – keeps us from the creative love we need.

Evolution and Faith VI–Evolution Happens in Stress  (Audio Right Click to Download)

Evolution and Faith VI – Stress Drives Evolution
Luke 19:28-44; 23:44-46
28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, Why are you untying it? just say this, The Lord needs it. 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, Why are you untying the colt? 34 They said, The Lord needs it. 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen,  38 saying, Blessed is the king  who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven,  and glory in the highest heaven!  39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, Teacher, order your disciples to stop. 40 He answered, I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.  Jesus Weeps over Jerusalem  41 As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.
23:44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 while the suns light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. Having said this, he breathed his last.
This was among the more difficult sermons I’ve written in the six years I’ve been here – page after page this week – just kept trying, kept working, almost there. Difficult because it deals with a fairly deep subject, the shadow or the shame that we carry in our own lives. I think in many ways that’s what this story in Luke is addressing – which is not to say it is addressing only one thing. And I’d grant that it may seem like a stretch to take a story that’s political in nature and suggest it as something to do with what goes on within us, but I think if we focus on it for a bit, you may see what I mean . . . I hope.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, he was entering a high stakes, unresolvable, no way out conflict. I mean everybody was locked into their positions. The Jewish people were locked into their positions in this story, they hated Romans. Rome was oppressing them, draining them. This is a people who hadn’t had any meaningful self rule for hundreds of years. They were living under the thumb of the Roman empire and this fact undermined their very self-identity as they people of God, chosen to bless all of the world. How could they possibly do that when under the thumb of the Roman empire, an empire who drained their productivity through taxes?  Poverty was rampant.
Locked in to their position and that, as it does when there is so much injustice, created a spirit of revolt and revolution. But each time a revolt rose up in Israel, the Roman empire crushed it – brutally cruched it. There were times in the history of this relationship between Rome and Israel when Rome was crucifying five hundred people a day – five hundred people a day. Jesus was not unusual in that context.
What they wanted then, was the power, the raw power that it would take to turn the tables and overcome the Roman empire. They knew of the “powerful deeds” that Jesus had done in the countryside so as he came into Jerusalem they cried out, “All hail the King, hallelujah Messiah.”
But this king looked at life and relationship much differently than they. If we didn’t know that from the earlier chapters of Luke’s Gospel, we certainly know it when Jesus weeps over the City of Jerusalem, weeps because even now they did not know “the things that make for shalom. Even now after all he’d done and taught they did not understand what it takes to bring about the unity, the shalom God seeks. God had called this people to bring blessing and unity to the world, shalom, and even now they could not understand the nature of the violent cycle they were in. They could not see that the raw power to subjugate Rome would simply perpetuate a cycle of violence, a cycle of power, and could not possibly lead towards the blessing and unity this “people of God” were called to offer to the whole world.
Jesus did not want that cycle to perpetuate; he was looking for a different shift; he was looking for an adaptive change. An adaptive change is one that shifts the way people conceive of their positions or relations to one another. He was looking for an adaptive change that moved outside the confines of and us versus them, Roman versus Jewish identity. Such an adaptive change requires that people break free of their locked position and so rather than gathering the raw power needed to overcome the Roman occupation, Jesus turned his focus to the Jewish leadership and looked for adaptive change by shifting their identity in the presence of God.
Their rituals had turned into a farce, so he walked into the temple and gutted the infrastructure surrounding the sacrificial system. Those rules they were following, the laws and rituals, were intended to provide a process through which they could examine their own lives and develop and grow. The Torah, the law, was intended to move the people towards shalom, but they used it instead as a way to hide from themselves. They used it to identify themselves as God’s people – as the people who are pure and righteous – and the Romans by extension as all that was unrighteous, hideous and evil. Instead of using them to uncover what was breaking them apart and keeping them from shalom, from unity, they used them to hide from the truth and blame Rome for their situation. Were the Romans righteous? Absolutely not, but neither were the people of God and Jesus knew that for adaptive change, a change that would move them to shalom, to occur they must come to terms with that fact.
But worse still, worse than moving them to examine their own lives, Jesus pushed them to re-humanize the Roman people. Jesus simply couldn’t work up the self-righteous outrage that a people locked in their position can do. In chapter 13 someone came and told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He was supposed to be scandalized, outraged, for the righteous, good people of God had been horrifyingly ill treated, God himself had been blasphemed and the Roman governor was responsible. “Stone him,” is what they wanted Jesus to say, but intead he asked them, Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.
“Look within your own heart,” he was saying, “find the horror that pollutes your life, and when you turn your eyes on the Romans you will see them in a different light. Instead of investing your energy in hatred, invest your energy in offering them a blessing for you are called to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth.” That’s what Jesus was getting at. “Crucify Him,” was their response. Now the violence is turned on him. But what’s his crime? He revealed their shame; he showed them just how far they’d wandered from the purposes of God, just how far they were from offering unity and shalom to the world.
Of course they wanted to get rid of him. Their violent anger towards Rome and their violent anger towards Jesus had the same motivation: do anything to hide the rot and pollution that keeps you from the presence of God. Why? Because looking at that is painful. From death to new life, that’s how evolution works. If we are to grow towards shalom, towards unity, then we’ll have to know the pain of a cross experience as our shame is exposed to our eyes. That is the adaptive change that Jesus was looking for and it is exactly what is demanded of us today.
Suppose we were to update the story just a bit. Suppose we were talking about radical Islam and the US. Should we view radical Islamists as human beings who come from a particular time and place with their own set of expectations, identities and wounds, in need of the same love of God as we, or does it serve our needs better to identify them as evil so that we needn’t bother to examine our own lives, the way our nation relates to the rest of the world? We are locked in a cycle of violence in that part of the world; adaptive change is the only way to move towards shalom. Does it raise your ire just a little bit? Does mine.
But adaptive change is how and evolving creation responds to stress and pain. It’s the way the world works; when a no way out stress point develops, when the system can no longer be sustained, that is when evolution happens, and it always requires an adaptive change. It is the way it works in cultural and political evolution, it works that way in spiritual evolution and it works physically as well.
I read a story recently about the way the most rudimentary forms of animal life began on this planet. The oceans were full of bacterial life. At some point bacteria evolved a rudimentary process of photosynthesis. They were able to process light energy into chemical energy and draw upon that to grow and thrive. In fact they did so well that the first ecological crisis on our planet brought the system to a stress point. The byproduct of photosynthesis is oxygen and while that is good for you and me, it’s bad for bacteria. They were literally poisoning themselves. As the atmosphere became more dense with oxygen bacterial forms of life competed for the shrinking resources they needed to survive. But in the end, this was a no way out situation. Either bacteria had to change their identity so to speak, either they had to become a different sort of life form that processed energy differently, or they would not survive.
Over time something surprising began to develop, something novel. Biologists think that as the resources depleted various bacterial colonies in effect attacked other colonies. (I’m not thinking they did this consciously you understand.) In that process some forms of bacteria found a way to combine, and together they made the first animal cells – cells that were able to process oxygen. They gave up their individual identities and made an adaptive change in order to evolve. It’s the way the world works. Jesus had a handle on that when he was talking to the people of Israel; he sought adaptive change.
Now why would I tell you that? Because it’s also how it works among individuals and even more to the point, it is how it works within individuals. Relationships grow and evolve through adaptive change; individuals grow and evolve through adaptive change.
I teach preaching at a seminary and some time ago one of the students preached a sermon on a passage in Judges. I’m not going to tell you where it is. Phyllis Trible, a scholar at Union Seminary in New York, called it a “text of terror” and terrifying it is. It’s the story of a Levite who was traveling towards home. He was traveling with his concubine. He stopped at a city and one of the residents invited him to be a guest of his house. Apparently the men of the city found out that he was there. They came to the door of the house and demanded that the stranger be sent out so they could rape him, use him sexually. The owner of the house, who was honor bound to give hospitality to the Levite said to the men, “Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing.” When they refused, the Levite through his concubine out the door; she was “raped and abused all through the night.” If it is possible the story gets worse; I’m not even going to tell you the rest of it; that’s enough to make my point.
I ask my students to “preach about what God does; find out where God’s grace is and tell us about that.” The person preaching suggested that the grace in the passage comes as it raises our ire against the perpetrators of such horror and atrocity. Such things continue to happen in our world today and this story gives us the focal point to stand against this horror and say, “No more!” It is certainly true that we should stand against such unspeakable horror in the world, but I wonder if our self-righteous ire will provide the adaptive change necessary to eradicate all forms of sexual violence or whether it masks something within.
It is easy to identify ourselves as righteous and good when we see an abuse perpetrator. He, it’s usually a he, is evil, wrong, bad. But there was a young woman in class who said something quite beautiful. She had served an internship at a local agency for domestic peace. She trained to work with victims of domestic abuse. She said the training was hard, very hard, because she found that the only way to break the cycle of abuse was to re-humanize the perpetrator; it simply doesn’t work, doesn’t improve the situation to identify him as irredeemably bad, an aberrant being to be tossed out, left for nothing.
We’re talking about totally horrifying and unacceptable behavior to be sure. We are talking about a stress point in human relationship, a system that cannot be sustained. It requires and adaptive change, one where the victim no longer identifies herself as worthless, at fault for what happens to her, but one where the perpetrator is drawn out in a safe environment, one with clear boundaries on behavior for absolute sure, where the darkness and shame in his life can come into the light to be healed. Anything thing short of that – even a break up (which is, absolutely granted, sometimes the only thing to do) – runs the risk of starting the cycle all over again with different partners.
Now it gets personal. We sit in judgment at the Roman’s cruel use of power; we recoil, horrified at the spectacle of sexual violence; our self-righteous ire rises within us as we cast our eyes on a woman abused by her husband. It is true that all these behaviors are part of a world gone mad, a world that does not know unity, peace, shalom. Certainly our moral judgment should move us to put systems in place that keep such things from happening, but when our self-righteous ire grows within us, something else is going on, for that’s when we are covering the polluted shadow living within us.
When we identify ourselves as “good” and the other as “bad,” we are not looking through the eyes of the one who said, “Let there be light and there was light.” That’s not how it is in the eyes of God. God is much less interested in who is “good” and who is “bad,” and more interested in seeing each one of us grow and develop. Everyone of us has a role to play in the unified whole that is God’s creative purpose. The only way that’s going to happen is if we ferret out the shadow of shame, the part of our internal life that generate violence, hopelessness, emptiness. The only way it will happen is if we expose it to the light of creation so that it can be destroyed, thus making us whole. Any moment our self-righteous anger rises, any time it has juice, it is a sure sign that “shadow work” is needed – not because we are wrong and that the other person is actually good. No, because it exposes something within us.
It is neither the alleluia we express when we see someone “get there’s,” nor the “crucify him,” we shout to deflect attention from our pain that are the way to unity. No, the way to unity is the way shown by Jesus on his life journey; it is the way that exposes the emptiness of a world separate from the presence of the powerful, creative, evolving love of God. That is what we see on the cross.
The text calls us to unity. In order to be unified within ourselves, we must know that we’re neither good nor are we bad in the eyes of God. We behave badly or behave well and that fact exposes our need for God’s healing love. That’s what the story of Palm Sunday calls us to examine. In the end, the way that Jesus chose leads to the next; it leads to the novel, new life moment of resurrection. That is the hope that drives creation towards its unified beauty.

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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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