“A New Start”

This will be the back page for the Fishkill United Methodist Church bulletin on 11 June 2017, “Trinity Sunday (Year A).  This is also Peace and Justice Sunday.

The key point about Genesis, at least for me, is not how God created the world but why He created it.  The book of Genesis, in fact the entire Bible, is about our relationship with God and our relationship with others.

It would be worth considering the words of today’s Gospel reading.  Often called the “Great Commission”, Jesus commands the disciples to go and make disciples of all the people.  But in the Cotton Patch Gospel and the Message, this passage speaks of the disciples teaching people in the ways that they were taught.

We are called to begin anew, to teach others what we have been taught, and to work for a world of peace and justice.  In the words of Senator Cory Booker,

Don’t speak to me about your religion; first show it to me in how you treat other people. Don’t tell me how much you love your God; show me in how much you love all her children. Don’t preach to me your passion for your faith; teach me through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as in how you choose to live and give.

In a world where people view confrontation and conflict as the solution, we need a new beginning.  We need to seek opportunities to seek justice in new and peaceful ways.  Today can be that day.

“A Particular Order of Things”

A Mediation for Trinity Sunday, June 15, 2014 (Year A)

The Scriptures for this Sunday are Genesis 1 – 2: 4, 2 Corinthians 13: 11 – 13, and Matthew 28: 16 – 20.

There is a certain degree of irony in the Scripture readings for this Sunday, at least for me. There is, of course, the Old Testament reading which I look at from one particular point of view and the Gospel reading for today and how I see it as well.

In another project that I am working on I write that believe that there are no three words that create more controversy in society today than the beginning words of Genesis, “In the beginning.” Intuitively, we know that there has to be beginning for everything, but for some reason, perhaps our own human frailties, we have a hard time understanding this.

It is very difficult to envision the creation of this planet and the life that exists, let alone the creation of the universe. In an increasingly complex and technologically oriented world, it seems far easier to accept the notion that God created the world and all that is here in a period of six days.

This is the view that we first learned in Sunday School and never adequately discussed in our science classes growing up. Perhaps it was not discussed because 1) it was too controversial and/or 2) it is a concept not easily demonstrated in the classroom as a demonstration or through experimentation. What we know from the development of the various science curricula in the 1960s was that understanding a rather abstract thought requires an approach that moves the student from a concrete viewpoint to an abstract viewpoint and this is not always easily done.

But we are by nature a curious creature, a creature created in the image of the same God that created this world and this universe. It is our curiosity that seeks to understand this world and this universe. To not ask questions about this world would be to deny our own creation.

Consider what Charles Handy said,

Learning is discovery but discovery doesn’t happen unless you are looking. Necessity may be the mother of invention but curiosity is the mother of discovery.” (The Age of Unreason , 1990)

We can only begin to imagine what the author of Genesis might have been thinking when he or she recorded the words that chronicle the beginning of the universe and this world. I learned this morning of a possible theological reason but I don’t think it affects the scenario that follows.

Perhaps it was the end of the day and families were gathered around the fire. One of the children in the group may have very well asked one of the elders how it was that they had gotten to that moment in time and space. And the elder may very well have responded, “In the beginning” and the lesson began.

It was a story told from the heart as well as the mind and it reflected the knowledge and understanding of the world at that time. It was as much a story of how a group of individuals came to be and was an explanation of their relationship with God as much as with this world. That story, how we came to be a group of individuals in a relationship with God, is still a valid story today, some three thousand years later, and one which needs to be retold time and time again.

But to tell the story as it was told three thousand years ago would 1) effectively deny who we are, 2) deny the relationship that we have with God, 3) ignore all that we have come to know about this planet and this universe, and 4) turn a living story in pages in a dry and dusty old book.

Now, I recall reading or hearing somewhere that the order of creation outlined in the first part of Genesis mirrors the order of creation from the “Big Bang” to life today. And I have to wonder about that. I do not wonder if the elder who told the story some three thousand years ago had some magically insight into what took place,

Rather, it would seem that this elder took some time to think things through and place things in the most logical order. After all, you can’t have living things appearing on the planet before there was plants and things to eat. And you can’t have the plants appear before the land is established. And where the water and the air come from? So the story was laid out in a logical manner in the minds of the story tellers.

If this were the case, as I would think it had to be, then why is it that we don’t want to think today? Why is it that we are quite willing to let others think for us? As I see the world around us today, I see us going away from exploration and questioning and moving towards a state of inflexibility and closed minds.

We are not interested in what is around the corner, we do not care if there is life on other planets, and we are not prepared to answer questions that have not been asked because we do not teach curiosity and inquiry in our schools today. We want our students to memorize things without questioning what it is they are memorizing.

Don’t get me wrong, memorization is a very valid skill but it is 2nd on the list of learning skills with analysis and other higher level thinking skills coming after that. You cannot simply stop at memorization; you must move upward if you expect new things to be created.

Creativity is a natural part of learning but it cannot be learned if it is not put into place. And when someone says to me that we are not to question things, such as the Bible, I have to wonder what their individual goal or thought process might be.

And that leads me to the Gospel reading for today. The passage from Matthew is often called the “Great Commission”, the challenge to bring people to Christ. In some translations, the challenge is to make disciples but The Message translates those words as “train everyone” and “instruct them in all that I have commanded you.” Clarence Jordan, in his Cotton Patch Gospels, says to make students and teach them.

You cannot do that if you beat them over the head with the message, which is how I have seen people interpret the command to make disciples of all the people. If you are not going to show me what it is that you want me to do, if you are going to tell me that this is the way that I have to do then 1) I am not likely to listen and 2) I will not be interested in the outcome.

Were it not for my own curiosity, I might have walked away from the church some fifty years ago and never looked back.

But my story is a little different; I came to Christ on my own and in answer to His call. Not everyone is like that, though they will come on their own. How then do we teach them? How then do we train them?

And this brings forth the 2nd irony of this weekend. I just completed an on-line course in finding one’s spiritual gifts. I learned a couple of things; first, my present gifts are not what I thought they would be and second, I became convinced that knowing one’s spiritual gifts are important and necessary to the direction and mission of the local church.

If you have no idea what your gifts are, it becomes a little hard to do the things that you need to be doing if you don’t know if you can do them. And then we consider Paul’s words to the Corinthians as to how things are done.

So, today we have been charged and challenged to take the Word out into the world. We have been charged and challenged to do so in a way that expresses the love of God for all of his children, children born on this world that He created.

Just as there was only one order to the way the world can be created, there is only one order in which we can bring the world to God, through Christ and with love.

A Leap of Faith

Here are my thoughts for Trinity Sunday, 19 June 2011. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Genesis 1 – 2: 4, 2 Corinthians 13: 11 – 13, Matthew 28: 16 – 20.

This is part of a four-week stewardship campaign. My part in the campaign is to present a short witness statement and then give a summary of the current giving patterns in the church (based on a per-week basis). This latter part of the presentation is the same presentation that I gave last spring.

Good morning, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians I greet you with a holy embrace and tell you that all the brothers and sisters here in Newburgh and New York and far as the eye can see say hello in the name of Christ.

As I was preparing this message, I saw the line in Matthew that said that there were those who, even after the reunion with Jesus still held back, afraid to risk themselves totally. I can understand why they may feel that way. Jesus was now gone but they were still here and it was a world in which the political and religious establishment viewed them as a threat.

They were afraid that what the Romans and religious authorities did to Jesus would be done to them. Oh yes, they understood that He had conquered sin and death but He was the Messiah, He was the Christ. We are just mere mortals and death is certainty in our lives. And the Pax Romana, the peace that covered the world, was ensured by military and political repression. Those who sought to change the status quo quite often found themselves as enemies of the state, sentenced to die by crucifixion just as Jesus died.

The paths through history also tell us that the church authorities have never taken kindly to those who have spoken out against traditional church. Even John Wesley was barred from preaching in churches belonging to the Church of England because he spoke out against the failure of the church to respond to the needs of the people. To be a Methodist at its beginning was as dangerous as it was to be a follower in those days following the Resurrection.

And now Jesus is commanding all who were there to go out into the world and instruct everyone they meet in the ways of the Lord. This is not the time to upset the apple cart; this is not the time to do something daring and bold. It is the time to sit quietly, hunker down, and wait for the moment.

It is still true today. One does not mention that one is a Christian or a member of the United Methodist Church. One does not invite friends, neighbors, colleagues, or passing acquaintances to the Vespers in the Garden that start this coming Friday at 7 pm or our summer services. It is a quick and easy way to make enemies and we don’t link up with our enemies on Facebook, just our friends.

Thanks to a number of people who have no idea what is written in the Bible, the average person today has a distorted view of God, religion, and Christianity. You would be surprised how many people today recoil at the notion that I can be a certified lay speaker in the United Methodist Church and also hold a Ph. D. in Science Education. For many people, to be a scientist, to seek answers that go beyond simple statements of fact, means that one cannot be a Christian. Believe me, one of the most intellectually challenging things that I do is read Sunday’s lectionary readings and think about how to make those words relevant to the 21st century. Let me be so bold as to say that if you are not willing to spend some time thinking about what the Bible is about and you let others dictate the message of the Bible, then you are not completing Jesus’ commandment at the end of the reading from Matthew for today.

But how can any of us do what we have been asked to do, go out into the world and instruct everyone whom we meet in the ways of the Lord? We don’t have the skills; we don’t have the ability; we don’t even have the time. If we were to end the reading from Matthew there, it would be difficult to do anything, let alone that which is expected of us.

But Jesus also told us that He would be with us as we ventured out into the world. I can speak from my travels across this land, both as a lay speaker and otherwise, that when you open your heart, your mind, and your soul to the power of the Holy Spirit, great things happen.

About twenty-five years ago, my mother participated in one of the Volunteer in Mission trips sponsored by the United Methodist Church. My mother had no business being on that mission. She was a grandmother in her late 60s. She didn’t have the skills necessary to do the carpentry work on the school building part of the team would do; she didn’t have the medical training that the nurses who went to provide basic medical care had. She knew very little about dentistry, other than the dentist on the trip, Solomon Christian, wasn’t taking much in the way of pain killers or other such drugs. She didn’t have any of those skills but she did know one thing.

She knew that the children for whom Solomon would provide the basic dental work would be hurting. And so my momma went as the DH, the designated hugger. She hugged each child with the love of a mother for her own children or a grandmother for her grandchildren. Her hugs and encouragement eased the pain of the necessary dental work.

I cannot speak to why my momma went to St. Vincent other than to say she took a leap of faith. She knew that she would be needed and so she went. And it remained for the rest of her life, one of the high points.

And if Virginia Mitchell can undertake such a mission, what is to stop each of you? Last week was Pentecost and it marked the beginning of the church. But it wasn’t an organization meeting as this Saturday’s church conference will be; it was the inclusion of the Holy Spirit to empower the people to go out into the world.

It does take a leap of faith to see that you can do great things. It is not what others think that you can do; it is what you think that you can do. Perhaps you will not go on a mission trip; perhaps you will only sing in the choir or teach Sunday School. Maybe it will be just saying hello to the stranger who walks by the church and inviting them in. And yes, perhaps it means giving from your income as much as you give from your heart and soul. I know that these are hard times for us all, and I am not going to be like other Southern-sounding preachers with their syrup-sweet accents who promise you great things will come if you but send them your money.

But there comes a moment in time when you are staring at the abyss and you have to get to the other side. You cannot do so if you don’t have an abiding trust in the Lord. The Israelites wandered through the wilderness for forty years and when the time came to cross the River Jordan, they balked. The spies they sent in lied about what they found and the crossing was delayed. They had seen all the signs that God had provided and yet, when the time came, they were not willing to make the leap of faith necessary to cross the River Jordan. Each person comes to that point on the River Jordan sometime in their life; each church, no matter what denomination, also comes to that point. Today, I will show you a plan that asks you to make that simple leap of faith.

In The Beginning

Here are my thoughts for this coming Sunday, Trinity Sunday.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 4, 1 Corinthians 13: 11 – 13, and Matthew 28: 16 – 20.


Every time that I prepare my thoughts I look for the common theme on the lectionary readings for each Sunday. Sometimes it is right there before my eyes; other times I have to work to find that common theme. On this Sunday, Trinity Sunday, the theme was there but I had to look for it.

Trinity Sunday, as others have and will point out, is the only Sunday where we celebrate what we believe more than an occurrence. Our liturgical calendar focuses on the events that mark the life of Christ and the Church (Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost). Today, we celebrate a central point of our theology, the Trinity. It is the point where our belief begins. It is often times a confusing point for others who say that it is a contradiction to speak of one God but to believe in a Trinity.

I believe that the idea or concept of the Trinity came about through the discussion of the early church and its struggles on what the basis of belief was to be. But as we read today’s passage from Matthew (Matthew 28: 16 – 20) from a variety of translations, we see that there is a consistency in what Jesus said to the disciples on that day of the “Great Commission”.

From the New International Vision we read

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

From the Darby Translation we read

But the eleven disciples went into Galilee to the mountain which Jesus had appointed them.

And when they saw him, they did homage to him: but some doubted.

And Jesus coming up spoke to them, saying, “All power has been given me in heaven and upon earth.

Go [therefore] and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have enjoined you. And behold, *I* am with you all the days, until the completion of the age.

From The Message we read

Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally.

Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”

And finally, from Clarence Jordan’s translation (The Cotton Patch Gospels) we read

Well, the eleven students traveled to Alabama, to the mountain which Jesus had selected for them. When they saw Him they accepted Him as their Lord, but some couldn’t make up their minds. Jesus came over to them and said, “Every right to rule in both the spiritual and physical realms has been given to me. As you travel, then, make students of all races and initiate them into the family of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to live by all that I outlined for you. And you know, I am right there with you — all the time — until the last inning.”

In each of these translations, the phrase is still the same, the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. And if I understand the development of church doctrine and church history, this phrase pre-dates the development of church doctrine. The Trinity is not just some mythological phrase developed in the early days of the church but something that has been part of the church since its very inception. It is a core part of the basis for our belief.

The Old Testament reading for today comes from the Book of Genesis (Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 4). This one passage is as controversial as our belief in the Trinity. But that is because there are those who wish to give these beginning passages of the Bible some sort of physical reality.

Genesis is about whom we are and our relationship with God. It answers questions about who we are but it also asks us to ask more questions. It is not about becoming God, which some fear modern science does. But Christian fundamentalists would rather we not ask questions; they would prefer that people blindly accept their definition of who God is and what has happened, even when the physical evidence tells us otherwise.

If we are to understand the creation of this earth, let us start with one simple and basic premise. God created the heaven and the earth. We know why He did it. He created mankind in His own image so He left it up to us to determine how He did it. It is a story that has transcended culture, for every culture has its own version of the creation. It is a story that brings awe and wonderment to the eyes of those who seek the truth. The Psalter for today (Psalm 8) expresses the very awe and amazement that each one of us has when we gaze into the heavens on a clear, starry night and see His works.

And when we read Genesis, let us read it as people who are trying to understand who God is and what He means for each one of us. Sometime, long ago, we began to ask the very questions that make us who we are. We sought the answers in various ways and by various means. In fact we are still seeking the answers.

But there are those who would rather not let me look for the answers. Currently, there is a movie, “Expelled”, making a circuit around this country. For those that are not aware, this is a movie produced by Ben Stein that tries to show how “liberal academics” have prevented assorted other academics from doing research into the area of “intelligent design.”

Now, I have not viewed this movie and I don’t think that I want to. I have read enough reviews to determine that I would not be interested in watching it. And the reading of the reviews has not been limited to negative reviews, either. So, having examined all the evidence and considered the various points-of-view that have been proposed, I have chosen not to watch the movie.

The one thing that continues to bother me about the reporting of the movie and the description of its content is that only those who support “intelligent design” are being punished by the “liberal establishment” of college academia. From my own experience, I have a hard time seeing college academia as liberal; rather, many times the academic setting that I have encountered is very conservative and very hesitant to change or come up with new thoughts. At best “intelligent design” is a new thought and should be examined, as it has been.

And after examination by and through the rigors of science, it should get what it has received; a vote of no confidence. If there are persons who wish to delve into this area, let them. But don’t hold them up as martyrs to a lost cause. Because if you do, then you must also hold up the following individuals as well:

  1. Steve Bitterman, Southwestern Community College in Red Oak, Iowa
  2. Alex Bolyanatz, Wheaton College. Illinois
  3. Howard J. Van Till, Calvin College, Michigan
  4. Richard Colling, Olivet Nazarene University, Illinois
  5. Nancey Murphy, Fuller Theological Seminary
  6. Gwen Pearson, The University of Texas of the Permian Basin
  7. Chris Conner, Texas Education Agency
  8. Paul Mirecki, University of Kansas
  9. Eric Planka, The University of Texas at Austin
  10. Judge John E. Jones III

With the exception of Chris Conner and Judge Jones, they are all academics who have been reprimanded, punished academically, or threatened with physical harm for the act of teaching evolution as scientific fact or for refusing to acknowledge the validity of “intelligent design”. Chris Conner was Director of Science for the Texas Education Agency and was fired because he sent an e-mail out notifying people about a talk concerning creationism and how it masqueraded as science. Judge Jones was the judge in the York, Pennsylvania case where proponents of “intelligent design” were seeking to include it in the science curriculum. He, as others on the list, received death threats. (See Creation, Power, and Violence and comments in Expelled Exposed: The Untold Sequel – Dr. Richard Colling; for a discussion of “Expelled”, go to “Expelled Exposed”, a web site produced by the National Center for Science Education).clip_image002

I would have no problem with “intelligent design” if its advocates and proponents would follow the “rules” for scientific inquiry. And as I understand the process, there are points where something becomes “irreducibly complex”. Every time I hear that phrase I cannot help but think of the following Sidney Harris cartoon (from http://www.sciencecartoonsplus.com/gallery.htm).

Science does not work without a complete explanation. And if the explanation does not work then you keep working, not simply blow off the explanation. Kepler had problems reconciling the data on planetary motion because he held to the view that the various observed planetary orbits were circular when, in fact, they were elliptical. The determination of the neutron came about because of the continuing problems reconciling atomic masses with the number of protons and electrons in isotopes. Had the concept of “irreducible complex” been accepted, it is quite likely that neither the idea of elliptical orbits or neutrons would have been proposed.

I suppose the thing that is more disturbing than having someone tell me that I cannot think on my own or telling me what to think is the fact that there are others who, in the name of Christ, would try to force me to think. Apparently it is not okay to prevent people from holding onto their thoughts about “intelligent design” but it is entirely proper to prevent people from thinking otherwise. And it is quite alright to use the name of Jesus Christ and God to do so. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, asked them to put things in order and to live in peace with each other. The same is true today.

We cannot do that if we put our own version of the truth above other versions. The fact of the matter is that science and religion can live together, if you understand what each is to do and can do. But when you use one to determine the other, you will have problems.

Go back and read the various translations of today’s Gospel reading. In the NIV and Darby versions, we are to make disciples of the people; in The Message, we are to “instruct” them and Clarence Jordan tells us to make students of them and teach the ways that Jesus taught. While there is no doubt about a belief in the Trinity, as presented by these translations, there is some question as to what we are to do. If the word “disciple” is to mean student, then you cannot teach by force but must do so by example.

And when we read Paul’s words to the Corinthians for today (1 Corinthians 13: 11 – 13), he writes of living in peace. He is also speaking of moving onward, of beginning a new life in Christ and in community. But it is a community of love, not hate; it is a community that comes together, not drives apart, the people. It is hardly the community that we so often find in our world today.

I am convinced that we are allowed to question things we see in this world. We have been an inquiring soul since our first days as a sentient being; it allowed us to name the plants and animals of the earth. If we were not questioning creatures, then we would be no more than just one of the animals that lives on this planet. Questioning the world around us, the ways things work and the way things are, will ultimately lead to the question of whom we are and why we are here. And that will led us to seek God. And that is the beginning of our life.

On this day, when we are reminded of why we are here and what we are to do, we are also reminded that we will not do it alone. Ours is not a life of Christ but a life in Christ and a life with Christ. It is a beginning that continues.

Isn’t this the 21st century?

Today’s New York Times (9 July 2005)has an article about evolution and the Catholic Church (“Leading Cardinal Redefines Church’s View on Evolution”). It prompts me to post the following sermon, entitled “To Be Continued”, that I gave on 22 May 2005 at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church. I fear that we are returning to the days when Galileo would be tried by an ecclesiastical court for believing something that the church did not support.
Considering the political events of the past month, the choice of the Old Testament, made several years ago, is ironic. The Kansas State Board of Education, following the lead of the Ohio State Board, is considering the adoption of the theory of evolution by “intelligent design” as an alternative to Darwin’s theory of evolution.

This is not a new proposal but a restatement of proposals made in the 1980’s. Back then, the fight was for the inclusion of creationism as an alternative to the theory of evolution. This fight was defeated because it was clear that it was the inclusion of religion in a scientific topic. Its backers then developed the idea of “intelligent design” but the meaning is still the same.

This congruence of Bible, politics, and science reminded me of the Apollo 8 mission to the moon during Christmas, 1968, and its television broadcast on Christmas Eve. Then Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders, the crew of Apollo 8, read from the first chapter of Genesis (our Old Testament reading for today) as the on-board TV camera looked down on the barren, lifeless soil of the moon. (see for a description of that night and a link to a movie of that broadcast.)

As best as I can recall, for this was perhaps the most turbulent time in my own life, I thought it was the perfect adaptation of God’s word and God’s creation. Were it possible to have done so, I would have used a copy of the video of that reading this morning.

Then there were a few minor and inconsequential protests about the inclusion of religion with science (more to the point, the protests were about individuals reading the Bible while working for the Federal Government). Today, the controversy today is not about adapting but rather including religion in science.

The problem for Christian fundamentalists (and I would have to agree with them on this point) is that the theory of evolution is taught as fact rather than a theory. They also argue that it is in direct contradiction with the first chapter of Genesis. Their fear, from the time that Darwin first proposed his theory in the late 19th century to today, is that God is being taken out of the student’s lives.

The argument that God is being taken out of student’s lives by the inclusion of such topics as evolution begs the question of what is happening in the student’s lives when they are at home. To have public schools responsible for the moral or religious development of students is an abdication of a parent’s responsibility. School and education have always been about learning (or at least it was supposed to be that way) and it is possible that students will learn new ideas that contradict what they learn at home. But the answer is not to require that schools teach only those ideas that don’t contradict what is taught at home. Under the disguise of science, this is exactly what Christian fundamentalist are trying to do.

Their basic argument is that evolution is too complex to be adequately explained by Darwin’s theory. And since it is so complex, there must be some sort of intelligent design which guides the development of life on this planet. The proposal before the Kansas State Board of Education is a requirement that biology teachers teach an alternative theory of evolution based on what its proponents call “intelligent design.”

The teaching of something such as “intelligent design” or the formation of any theory that requires the existence of an outside influence violates every precept of scientific inquiry, especially the part that says you must base your ideas on what has happened on what you observe.

Darwin’s theory, like all theories, is not a fact. Rather, it is the best explanation of the observed facts. It is not complete and it certainly doesn’t cover all the various nuances of evolution. Yes, it is a complicated, complex, and possibly incomplete theory. But to fill in the blanks with a conclusion that there is a greater force outside our realm of knowledge is to deny that we have the ability to think and act as individuals in this world.

I know that there has been and will always be a great deal of controversy about the role of science in religion and religion in science. Since mankind became aware of its place in the universe, there have been attempts to determine who brought us here and how we got here. Religion answers those questions from the tenet of faith; science answers those questions from the tenet of empirical evidence. The two are mutually exclusive; any attempt to mix them or use the one to complete the other brings no answer at all.

At this point let me say that I believe that God did create the heavens and the earth. I also believe that the physical record of how the world was created and life evolved is very similar to the way it is described in Genesis. But I don’t think that it was done in seven days. The physical evidence says that it took much, much longer.

Now, in an attempt to rationalize the difference between Genesis and the physical record, some will say that we have no idea of what God’s day is. That is simply an attempt to explain God in terms of our own existence. There are those who say that the earth and solar system are much younger than the physical evidence suggests and that God has manipulated the physical evidence so that we will think otherwise.

These individuals tell us that the means for measuring the age of the physical evidence is faulty and filled with errors. This is an interesting explanation because even scientists agree that the measurements for the age of fossils and the earth are not precise. But precision does not mean errors were made; it means that there is some uncertainty in the measurement. Improving the measurement will improve the precision and lessen the uncertainty.

And I would ask why would God manipulate the evidence? If the physical reason is evidence of God’s hand in creation and it is lie, then how are we to believe that God loves us enough to send His son?

I think that God meant for us to find the evidence and use it to learn more about who God is and what He has done. We were, as it is written in Genesis, created in His image. We are thinking creatures, capable of rational thought. So should we not be using that capability in our lives? I think that the physical evidence about how this world was created and life evolved is one way to better understand who we are and what God’s plan is. After all, even His son told us to look at the physical evidence.

When John the Baptist was in prison and knowing that he was about to die, he sent his disciples to Jesus to ask Jesus if he indeed was the Messiah or should they wait. Jesus sent the disciples back to John with the command to look around and see what was happening. The blind were receiving new visions, the sick were being healed, the lame were walking, and the deaf were again hearing. The signs were there that the Messiah had come; all one had to do was look. But not everyone, as the historical record shows, was looking or willing to understand.

Genesis is about whom we are and our relationship with God. It answers questions about who we are but it also asks us to ask more questions. It is not about becoming God, which some fear modern science does. But Christian fundamentalists would rather we not ask questions; they would prefer that people blindly accept their definition of who God is and what has happened, even when the physical evidence tells us otherwise.

It has long been said that when Galileo left the court after being sentenced to house arrest for violating church teachings, he muttered that his conviction did not change the fact that the sun was the center of our solar system. Despite the evidence provided by the Apollo missions to the moon and our many other space activities, it still took the Roman Catholic church over three hundred years to admit that perhaps they were a little hasty in their judgment of Galileo and Copernicus.

The problem for today’s church is that it must live in a secular world. And in a secular world, the church must work extra hard to keep secular ideas from creeping into the church. (Having said that, it is interesting to note how many fundamentalist churches use the secular concepts of mass marketing to further their own missions.) But instead of seeing the rise of secular faith as an enemy that we must fight, we should see this as an opportunity to learn to read the Bible with a new understanding.

The word “truth” in Hebrew means dependable and reliable rather than that which can be rationally placed in a system. God is true because He does what He says He will do. But we attempt to place God in our organization of reality by labeling Him as omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. This puts God outside the realm of truth. If truth is that which is dependable and reliable, then perhaps we should look at God in terms of what He has done.

When we do this, then we can see the world in a different light. We can see the secularization of the world as the fruit of biblical faith. When we do this, we are able to see that a secular attitude is one that frees us to see something of the true dimensions of the biblical revelation of God as the living God known through the events of history.

But this process, while a liberating one, is also one with great danger. It allows us to see God at work calling us to respond to the new possibilities for movement toward the goal of an open community of mature persons – a goal revealed through Christ. But it is also possible that we can respond in a wrong way and allow ourselves to become prisoners to a limiting ideology. If we allow ourselves to be imprisoned in such a manner, then we cannot be open to seeing what God is doing in the events of our time and being ready to respond to His call to join Him in the struggle to move towards the free and open society that He intended for us.

We are reminded that we don’t live in a mechanistic world ruled by necessity or in a random world ruled by chance. We live in a world ruled by the God of Exodus and Easter. He will do things in us that neither we or our friends or neighbors would have supposed possible.

We should value an understanding of faith that, while solidly based in the Bible, does not see the scripture as God’s final word on every subject but as a foundation from which to process new information. We should have an understanding of faith that focuses on matters of justice for all. Our faith should recognize the complexities of existence and be comfortable with not having all the answers. Nor should we feel it necessary to defend God against all comers. These things make it possible for us to have a personal experience of faith to trust God and to follow Jesus.

To follow Jesus is to make a choice. It is a choice that many individuals are not willing to make. There are also those who would rather force you to make the choice instead of allowing you to make it yourself. This is the problem with the teaching of evolution. It should be allowing you to see the wonder of God’s world and God’s work but, because some fear that you will not make the right decision about God, they would rather force you to accept their notion of what God did. This is certainly not what Jesus ask of those who came to Him.

We should listen to what Paul was saying to the Corinthians. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians dealt with the problems of that early church. In the conclusion to the first letter, Paul offers a solution.

The Holy Spirit, who dwells in each of us, can empower us to live righteously. Furthermore, the Spirit can reconcile the differences between each of us. Instead of fighting each other, we should encourage and love one another. There is a need for God’s grace, not selfishness; there is a need for God’s love in this world, not anger; and there is a need for communion between members of God’s world, not conflict. Rather than using the Holy Spirit to divide us, the Holy Spirit empowers us to come together and find answers to the questions that we face. We are not the first to face the problem of seemingly unanswerable questions.

The disciples went to the mountaintop with Jesus but there were some who still doubted. Matthew does not tell us who the doubter or doubters were. We are not even told what it was that they doubted. Perhaps it was that they weren’t sure it was actually Jesus. Perhaps they were sure that He had even died, though they had watched it happened. Maybe they had simply been through enough and did not want to be fooled or hurt again.

When Thomas had expressed his doubt about the resurrection, Jesus provided it. But this time, He did not. He simply told them, in the words of the Great Commission, to go and make disciples, go and baptize, go and teach. Jesus did not answer the questions but rather commanded the disciples to go out into the world and tell the world of the Good News proclaimed in the Gospel.

The Star Wars saga came to a conclusion this week, though it ends in the middle. We now know how things began and we know how things will end; it is the order that has us confused. In Kansas, there is an attempt to close the world and end the story of life. There are still questions about life that we need to ask but this proposal will not allow us to ask them. This is not the way the story of Genesis should end.

Genesis is a story about beginning, the beginning of the world and our own beginnings. It is not a story that ends with the Resurrection of Christ neither at Easter nor with His return to Heaven. Rather, it ends like so many action/adventure movies, with “. . . to be continued.”

Pentecost can be seen as the preparation for the Great Commission that we are given today. God calls us today to continue the story, to bring the Good News to the people of the world. Let us hear God calling us today and continue the story.


If you would like to use my thoughts, please contact me first (Dr. Tony). There are some footnotes that go with this document that didn’t make into this copy. I would not want you to get into trouble because you printed something without my permission or if you missed proper credit for a citation. Continue reading