ThE word, ‘evolving’, creates some tension with some Christians and I suppose with some people belonging to other religions as well. Even in the 21st century there are people of good intention who believe it to be a matter of faith to accept what the Church once insisted was the age of the universe and the order of creation. Such folks hold strongly to this belief fearing that if we start to shed the beliefs that have been handed down to us for God-knows how long that we’ll start sliding down that slippery slope that leads away from the Church, thus away from salvation – that’s why I say that such people have good intentions.
But just because your intentions are good, that doesn’t mean that what you say and what you do is RIGHT or GOOD for yourself or for others. Zealous people of faith have been known to maim and to murder and otherwise damage those whose beliefs don’t match their own beliefs or the beliefs of the community-at-large.
Because community is important. We need community to maintain our sanity. Communities provide support and security. Yet the sacrifices we make to remain within a particular community can be enormous. Some people will do horrible things to defend a particular community, from excluding people who are not approved of by whatever criteria the community has established, consciously or not, to demeaning or humiliating, injuring, torturing, or killing those who don’t comply with your expectations, and therefore you either need to get in line with what the commander desires or face dire consequences yourself.
Human evolution has a social component[ it entais how to peacefully live in community, in harmonious, peaceful, caring community. And the challenge has to do with the HARMONY component: we can be peaceful and caring to those within the community, but there are always those who you struggle to accommodate to the point where you might actually declare out-and-out WAR against them.
I’m reminded that today is REFORMATION SUNDAY, I’d like to do a survey, if I could: I want to know whether you consider Reformation Sunday something to celebrate … because at my last church there were many Catholics who came to the worship services and special events, but were still faithful Catholics, and we KNOW that Reformation Sunday celebrates the deeds of people who in some way LED to a break in the Catholic Church, which you may consider to be an abomination. So here goes…
Raise your hand if you think Reformation Sunday ought to be celebrated.
Now raise your hand if you think Reformation Sunday ought to be mourned, marked as a Day of Infamy.
Now raise your hand if you were so concerned about what others might think if you raised your hand that you feigned indecision and kept your hand way down.
if you raised your hand for the third condition, you’ve demonstrated something about community: it’s about accommodating, even celebrating our differences, but it can also feel restrictive if we put up criteria, like a creed or a code, or a Book of Discipline.
And I believe that the greatest challenge the Church – ANY Church – faces today is in DECONSTRUCTING the walls that they have erected, LIKE ‘CATHOLIC’ ‘PROTESTANT’ ‘EASTERN ORTHODOX’ ‘JEW AND GENTILE.’ By that I don’t mean erasing the differences between people of different beliefs who all have their own sacred texts and legends and history and their sincere efforts to make the world a better place, but too often we want to make the world a better place for OUR community at the expense of others. Too often we insist that our way is superior and therefore it’s okay to insist that others adapt to it, which is religious bigotry. What Richard Rohr would tell us is that we have to overcome our dualistic way of thinking – that our way is right, and all others are wrong.
And that is where we meet Jesus today in our Gospel lesson. Jesus is out-of-country. He’s in Lebanon, or what today is Lebanon; it mentions a woman of Syrophoenician origin, which would be a new word for you even if you had started reading the Bible with the book of Genesis. Jesus is in Tyre, which is a city-state controlled by Phoenicians who were a maritime culture – they were salty dogs – perhaps of Canaanite origin, AND THEY HAD A HUGE “EMPIRE” – at its height it included the entire North African coast along the Mediterranean and included city states on such islands as Sardinia, Sicily, and Cypress. Jesus is a Jew … albeit an Galilean Jew …but he was a Jew who was not just Jew by culture but JEW BE RELIGION, and he was proud of that, as a Jew should be. But I think Jesus was from a bout of xenophobia that had lingered in him since…well…since he became proud of being a Jew.
That being said, let be bring up that topic of EVOLUTION once more and briefly. People who don’t believe in evolution have a hard time evolving…or dealing with the truth of evolution. Those who insist that the Bible is inerrant and infallible are having a hard time with evolution. The want the Bible to be the last word in all matters, because life is simpler and safer if they believe that. They feel safe, if not comfortable, in their community, but they butt heads with communities that think differently.
Today’s Gospel lesson – given on this Reformation Sunday – has to do with seeing things differently. HUMANS seeing things differently, differently than people two thousand years ago saw things. JESUS IS EVOLVING! I know that some who hear me say this will shudder, because so much of what is written in the New Testament depicts Jesus as perfect-from-birth, as never saying the wrong thing, of never having to stop and ask directions, of always knowing exactly where he was and what he was doing. And yet he has just made a very xenophobic, hurtful comment to this mother who just wants to have daughter cured. Imagine going to a doctor and being told that he won’t treat you or your family because you’re not…whatever.
You have to realize that the hero of this story is not Jesus, who heals this woman’s daughter, but THE MOTHER WHO WOULDN’T TAKE ‘NO’ FOR AN ANSWER.
And I am so thankful to Mark, the Gospel’s author, for writing this story of a very human, and evolving Jesus, a Jesus who
As if I haven’t shocked or challenged you enough, I share with you the Old Testament lesson, once again in the context of EVOLUTION. Those who always equate the God described in the Bible as the God who is perfect in every way – they have a challenge with this Old Testament story, because GOD’S NOT SUPPOSED TO CHANGE HIS MIND. God is OMNISCIENT: GOD KNOWS EVERYTHING! GOD IS WISE ALSO, KNOWING WHAT TO DO IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES, NEVER HAS TO STOP AND ASK FOR DIRECTIONS, AND NEVER NEEDS A HUMAN OF ALL THINGS TO TELL HIM WHAT TO DO! How could a human being like Moses persuade an all-knowing, ALL WISE God to change his mind and decide NOT to give up on these idolatrous, stiff-necked people who just can’t follow directions?
It’s an embarrassing depiction of God who is the all-and-all of all.
And so you have to appreciate the Bible as a book where we see THEOLOGY EVOLVING.
And understand that IT’S NOT GOD WHO IS EVOLVING BUT RATHER OUR UNDERSTANDING OF GOD THAT IS EVOLVING.
God is ready to give up on these Jews, and tells Moses, “I’ll start fresh with you. I’ll make a huge nation out of you, Moses, you alone. These other folks just don’t stack up to you with regard to obedience and faith.”
And it’s MOSES who convinces God not to give up on this community, the children of Israel, and he does this by appealing to God’s ego – “It would look really bad for you, God, if all these folks that you saved from Pharaoh ended up dying in the wilderness. No one would respect you. No one would believe in you.”
God says, “You’re right, Moses. I’ll keep leading you ornery folks through this wilderness.”
And one of the lessons we should take from this Old Testament lesson is that we are a people prone to go astray, but we are still people of God, because God continues to lead us, and we continue to strive for a more perfect understanding of God, a more perfect love of all that is good, a more perfect willingness to follow God through unknown territory. And as we follow, and teach others to follow, we too evolve.
Moses evolved – he realized that the One True God, the God of infinite and radical, would not abandon his people for transgressing.
Jesus evolved – he came to see ‘God’s people’ as comprising more than a single tribe or race.
And so yes, I do celebrate Reformation Sunday. Martin Luther made some good points six hundred years ago, as did other great church reformers. They weren’t perfect, but they insisted that God WAS, and IF God is perfect he can certainly abide with an imperfect people, but we need to respond to that grace with a passion to be the people who carry God’s love to all the world, which is what Jesus did, and what he wants us to do. Let us pray that we might recognize the ways we can best express that love to all people, and once we recognize them, to go out and do them.