This has been an interesting week. First, with the shift from daylight savings time, darkness seems more pronounced. And with the increasing darkness of the days, I see an increasing darkness in the world.
There were some glimmers of light last week. The entire Dover, PA, school board was defeated in the election. Their defeat was almost totally because of their stance on the issue of “intelligent design.” But this glimmer of hope, this glimmer of light in a dark world was countered by the Kansas State Board of Education deciding to implement their new science curriculum which includes “intelligent design.” And then the world got a bit darker when Pat Robertson took it upon himself to say that God has turned his eyes away from the people of Dover for their voting to “exclude God from their lives.”
What has transpired this week is not about religion and science; it is about seeking the truth and knowing what the truth is. First, I will say that I have no doubts that God created this universe, this particular world, and the life that exists on this planet. That is a statement of what I believe. I also believe that God intended us to find out how He did it, not why He did it. Are we not created in His image? If we are, then why were we given a brain if not to think and discover things about the world around us?
Science is about the how of the world, not the philosophical why? Science is empirical; that is, it is based on the evidence that we see. Faith is that which is unseen. The two are exclusive and one cannot live by one alone. To put any suggestion of why something is done or to remove the search for empirical evidence by suggesting that some things cannot be determined because they are too complex for simple understanding is to change the nature of science.
The idea behind “intelligent design” is bad science and we are teaching enough bad science. The debate over evolution, creationism, and, now, “intelligent design” all started because science teachers were teaching evolution as a fact and not as a theory.
Let me state that not all science teachers teach evolution as a fact. There are some who do understand the nature of science and teach it properly. But the record shows that many science teachers in this country are woefully unprepared to teach science to begin with and so they do not understand what science is about. As a result, they transmit their misunderstanding of science to their students and it is this that has lead to the current situation.
Our science education process in this country is abysmal, to say the least, and any discussion about “intelligent design” should make that clear. Those empowered to teach do not understand what they are teaching and those who do not like what is being taught do not understand that what they want taught as science can never be defined as science.
I am not going to lay the blame solely on the teachers. Parents have failed in this process as well. The reason that parents have gotten upset about the teaching of evolution, from my viewpoint, is that their children are coming home with questions concerning the differences between what they are learning in school and what they are learning at home and at church. I think that is great, because it shows that the children are growing and inquiring about the world and ideas around them.
Those parents who have gotten angry about the teaching of evolution have found themselves in the position of defending what they believe. That is also good. If our faith is strong, we should be able to withstand the pressures of others. But I think what is happening is that parents do not want to defend their beliefs, because they do not know how to do so. As a result, their defense is that the teachers and the education system are at fault for their failure to teach the values that they believe. But if our educational system teaches one set of values, to the exclusion of others, then those who are excluded will also get angry.
The majority of school systems respond by teaching valueless values. And we wonder why we have so many problems. And the problems are not going to go away; they are going to continue to grow because we, no matter who we are, are not willing to grow. Did not Paul say to the Thessalonians that we are “children of light”? (1 Thessalonians 5: 1 – 11) Did not Jesus point out that we should walk in the light and not hide it? When I hear mention of the light in the New Testament I think of two things.
First, of course, is freedom from sin and death. The powers of darkness do not do well in the light; sin and death cannot accomplish their task when exposed to the power of the sunlight (or perhaps one should write the Son Light). Second, the light is gained through the seeking of truth. Jesus also pointed out that those who seek the truth will be set free. Freedom from sin and death comes from knowledge; such knowledge is both about Jesus and what Jesus said and did. Freedom comes, not because we listen to others but because we learn.
To stop learning is to let darkness creep in to our lives. To stop learning is to let knowledge die. When darkness creeps into one’s life, one’s knowledge dies, there is no growth. And when there is no growth there can only be death. As Plato once wrote, “One can easily understand a child who is afraid of the dark. The real tragedy of life is when grown men and women are afraid of the light.” (E-mail – Daily Dig for 8 November 2005)
Many use the Gospel reading, the parable of the talents (Matthew 25: 14 – 20), when a stewardship moment is needed. And for many, stewardship moments are about money; money to keep the church up or money to develop programs.
But I have always seen the parable as more than money. After all, when we joined the United Methodist Church, we said that we would support the church with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service. Is this not a summary of the parable of the talents?
To me, this parable is about skills and knowledge, growth and life. If we hold on to what we have (as the individual given the one talent did) then we will die.
But we if we take the talents that we have been given and utilize them, they are returned in kind. The individual given ten talents returned twenty; the individual given five talents returned ten. It is hard to decide what talents we have but we cannot be afraid to use what we have and go beyond where we are in life.
The problem is that we are trying very hard in this country to not lose the talents we have; we have become afraid to venture beyond the boundaries of our existence. We are building walls and shutting people out. We do not extend our fellowship beyond those we trust for fear that we might find something new. Pat Robertson’s comments are only typical of those who fear the future. Those that fear the future are not willing to go beyond what they have; they are not willing to grow. Whatever talents they have been given, they seem more concerned about holding on to them, not giving them away so that they can be returned. And did not Paul, in his letter to Thessalonians for today, say that we are not destined for God’s wrath? (1 Thessalonians 5: 5)
Why would Pat Robertson say something like he did last week? Why are his comments so totally ignorant of the world around him? Could it be that he must defend his ideas and the only way he knows how is to attack? Why is it that so many fundamentalists are defensive when it comes to defending their views? As I read many of the Methodist blogs this past week, I saw many blogs that criticized the views of others, especially in light of the Judicial Council’s recent decisions. Some of the criticisms were done in the light, open to comment and discussion, in hopes that the truth will come out.
But others attacked the views of others and used false names and addresses so that there could be no response. Some, who did leave a valid address of some sort, do not allow comments posted on their sites. They freely spew venom, hate and ignorance but do not allow others to fight back. They are willing to cast darkness in the world for they fear the light.
“Seek ye the truth and the truth will set you free.” The truth is found in the light and if you make the world dark, then truth cannot be found.
The challenge today is to find the truth in the world; to understand the truth in the world. Yes, Jesus is the light, the truth, and the way we should live. But Jesus lived among us, not separate from us. He encouraged us to move beyond simply following the law; he encouraged us to live the law. His parable of the talents was not about money but rather about what we can do in this world.
My understanding of the Book of Judges is limited, since I am still learning. But I have come to know that this book of the Old Testament is about those whose talents were put to use, in leadership and prophecy. It was a time in the history of Israel when leadership was provided by talented individuals. These individuals used their talents for the betterment of the society and the nation; they sought no personal gain. Again, it is my understanding that the people of Israel were uncomfortable with this system of leadership, not because they thought it wouldn’t work (which it did) but because the nations around them had kings and the trappings of power. How could the nation of Israel be a strong nation if it did not have kings and the trappings of power?
We know of course that that Israel did have a king, the one true King. But they were blind to God, as the Book of Judges depicts. And when there is a call for leadership among the people, it is those whose talents and abilities shine that are chosen. That is why the reading from the Old Testament for today (Judges 4: 1 – 7) focuses on Deborah.
It was her talents, her abilities that allowed the Israelites to succeed. I wonder how many fundamentalists or conservatives would be comfortable with someone like Deborah leading them. It is clear that the general of the Israelite armies, Barak, was not. In the passage following today’s selection, Barak is unwilling to go into battle on the words of a woman but he will go into battle if she goes with him.
I have seen too many people today who are uncomfortable with the changing nature of the world around them. They seek security in the old ways; they seek comfort in limited knowledge. They have taken the one talent they have been given and hidden it. And the parable of the talents tells us what happens to such individuals. There are those who have been given many talents but they are unwilling to use them, not because they fear the lose of the talents but because they fear what might happen, what others might say, if they use their talents. How many talented people refuse to work in public service today because of the climate of society?
And why should they not be afraid? The power of darkness is frightening and gains more power through fear. But those of us whose talents are few can do a lot to encourage others and in our encouragement, in our own work, we can overcome the darkness in the world and bring light to the world. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians, “encourage one another and build up each other,” (1 Thessalonians 5: 11) are just as true today as they were in Paul’s time.
We must use the talents that we have been given, in ways we might not yet understand and for reasons that are not exactly clear to us. But when we use these talents, when we seek to move beyond where we are at this moment, then great things happened. The talents we are given are returned to us in kind. The world around us is no longer a world of darkness but one of light.
We are reminded that the world was in darkness when Jesus was born. The single light of His birth in Bethlehem did not die but rather was spread. It was the shepherds who saw the light first and they took the light with them The wise men came and took the light back with them to their own countries. The disciples came and then took the light beyond the boundaries of Israel and through the world.
The task of taking this light out into the world falls upon us today. It may seem that this is an impossible task. But God does not call us to do impossible tasks; He merely wants us to use what we have been given, not for our purposes but for His. And His purposes are to bring light to the world.
Though written for another occasion, the words of “Light One Candle” are very much appropriate as we think of our talents and bringing light into the world.
LIGHT ONE CANDLE (http://www.peterpaulandmary.com/music/14-10.htm)
Peter Yarrow– ©1983 Silver Dawn Music ASCAP
Light one candle for the Maccabee children
With thanks that their light didn’t die
Light one candle for the pain they endured
When their right to exist was denied
Light one candle for the terrible sacrifice
Justice and freedom demand
But light one candle for the wisdom to know
When the peacemaker’s time is at hand
Don’t let the light go out!
It’s lasted for so many years!
Don’t let the light go out!
Let it shine through our love and our tears.
Light one candle for the strength that we need
To never become our own foe
And light one candle for those who are suffering
Pain we learned so long ago
Light one candle for all we believe in
That anger not tear us apart
And light one candle to find us together
With peace as the song in our hearts
What is the memory that’s valued so highly
That we keep it alive in that flame?
What’s the commitment to those who have died
That we cry out they’ve not died in vain?
We have come this far always believing
That justice would somehow prevail
This is the burden, this is the promise
This is why we will not fail!
Don’t let the light go out!
Don’t let the light go out!
Don’t let the light go out!
So today, there may be questions in your mind about what your talents are and what you should be doing? Listen carefully as you hear the voice of God asking you to open your heart, your mind, and your soul and to allow Jesus Christ to enter. And those who have allowed Christ to enter may hear God again calling you, saying “take that which has been given to you and go out into the world, using your talents so that others may come to know peace, joy, and freedom.”
Shall you be like the one individual who, given the single talent, did nothing and let the world stay in darkness? Or shall you answer the call, that voice inside you, and take the talents that you have been given to light the world?