Faith, Science, and the Journeys We Take

Note: the following was originally delivered as a sermon at the Congregational Church in Exeter on July 26, 2015.

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. – Genesis 1:1-5

One of the questions I get most when a new friend finds out I’m a Christian, is some variation of this: How can you believe that stuff?

The “stuff” part of that is always different. Some folks have difficultly believing in a virgin birth. Others a literal resurrection. Others that there is a life after this one. And I tell them that there are good Christians who have a variety of different beliefs on “that stuff”, and that a large part of being a Christian is living between faith and doubt, and not always being 100% sure, but being open to a greater truth.

So that’s what happens sometimes. Other times I get a question like this: “Do you really believe that this world was created in six days?” Or, “Do you really think Darwin was wrong? Do you reject evolution?” Or, my favorite, “What about the dinosaurs?”

I get questions like this all the time. They are all a little different, but all variations on the same theme: how do we reconcile faith and science?

And, in a world where things are given credence only when there is scientific proof, how do we believe without it? And I’ve recently had some of you ask me if I would preach a sermon on these questions, so that’s part of why I’m doing this today.

They’re good questions. And they’re not questions that are easily answered. Or, I should say, they are not easily answered in this particular church and others like it.

Because in some churches they are. I knew people growing up who believed that the earth was created in six, 24 hour days. They believed that this happened a few thousand years ago. And they believed that anyone who believed otherwise was not a real Christian.

The

The “Space Window” at the National Cathedral, donated by the crew of Apollo 11. (Photo copyright National Cathedral.)

It always troubled me to hear that. I wanted to be a good believer, but one of my favorite places in town was the science center and planetarium. And I couldn’t reconcile what I heard those loudest voices of Christianity in my town say with what I learned when I went to the science museum and saw the exhibit on the dinosaurs. Because they had lived long before a few thousand years ago, and things just didn’t add up.

And on a few occasions I even heard Christians say that God had put the dinosaur bones on the earth to test our faith. If we were real believers, we wouldn’t be distracted by them and we wouldn’t stray from the story: God created us in six, 24 hour days.

I could never accept that. I’m grateful that I’ve never been a member of a church that has asked me to check my brain at the door. I’m thankful for a faith that tells me to glorify God not just with my soul, but with my mind.

But not every church is like that. When my a friend of mine’s sister in law had her first child, my friend sent them a box filled with things for the baby. One of the things in the box was a picture book about dinosaurs. They called her and angrily demanded that she never send anything of the sort again because “real Christians didn’t believe in things like that.” My friend, who considered herself a good Christian, was baffled.

I feel baffled sometimes too. I love the Bible. I take the Bible very seriously. I think it contains an inherent truth about who God is and how God loves us. But I also think that taking the Bible seriously is different than reading it mindlessly. Faith is too precious, and God’s creation too extraordinary, to approach God’s word with anything less than our full selves; minds included.

But learning how to do that has been a process. Like I said, I loved science as a child. I loved that science museum and its exhibits. Everything was fascinating to me. And in a real way I credit that first interest in science with inspiring the big questions that led me to theology.

If there are all these stars in the sky, all these galaxies, how did they get there? Who created these dinosaurs? Who created a universe that even the greatest scientific minds of our generation cannot explain?

I had a Biology teacher in ninth grade who was also a Christian. One day in class a more fundamentalist classmate was asking her how she could believe the things she believed about how old the world was and still be a Christian. She responded simply that even if she didn’t believe that the world was created in six, 24 hour days, she still believed that God created the world. Genesis, while not a literal timeline of the beginning of the world, was true to her none-the-less. God’s hand was no-less a part of creation in her scientific view than it was in their literal view.

That always rang true with me. That idea that taking something literally and taking something faithfully are two different things. That God’s involvement in the world is not something that can be quantified and understood by our human measurements. That God’s work of creation can stand on its own and does not need to be supported by living in a scientific world and believing literally a story told by pre-scientific people. Especially one that seeks to explain what we as humans, of whatever age, will never be able to fully explain.

Because God could have created the world in a second. God did not need six days. And God could have created the world over the course of millenia, always active in creation, always working, always transforming. Because God is creating the world, and all of us, even still today.

And that means God is still creating our ways of understanding the world. Back when the books that make up this book were written, thousands of years ago, and over hundreds of years, the world looked so different.
The Bible is a pre-scientific book. It comes from an era before this one, one in which human beings did not know all that we now know. But we are now living in a scientific world, and sometimes it doesn’t translate well. We know the world is not flat, heaven is not literally just above the clouds, and the world is more than 6000 years old. But that doesn’t mean that this book is worthless. Because it still holds truth. It just means we have to read it in a different way than we read a science textbook. And we have to say “both ways are valid”. Read it like poetry. Read it like inspiration. Read it like a testament to the greater truth of God.
Because if you can do that, you will find something great…you will find that you can see the world itself in new ways. And that can be a gift.

And that’s also the other side of this. Because the other half of the questions about faith and science that I get are about this: how do we know? How do we know God is real? How do we know that God loves us? How do we know it’s true?

It’s not like back when you had to do a project for the science fair. This is not like scientific knowledge. Because, great truths are discovered through the scientific method. It would be a whole lot easier if we could approach faith that way. But there’s no controlled experiment, no equation that can yield us a definitive answer. It doesn’t work that way.

I’d love it if we could do that?. Wouldn’t you? But faith, just like science, is not that simple. It means taking risks. It means opening your mind to new things. And it means being willing to be changed by new discoveries.

Your minds are always welcome in this church. Your questions are always honored. Your struggles to find God’s truth are always allowed here. And your questions, your search for God’s love, with your heart and soul and mind, will always be respected. To do anything less, would be to disrespect the God who created us good all those years ago.

I’ll close with this. Thursday afternoon, after I’d already picked the text and topic for today, and after the bulletin had been planned, I was walking back to the church from lunch. And there was a car parked in front of it with a bumper sticker. It read, “Too stupid to understand science? Try religion.”

I had to laugh. But then I thought about our church. I thought about many of you. Physicists, biologists, chemists, science teachers, medical professionals. I thought about one of our members who is in the Galapagos right now studying what Darwin studied. I thought about even our children and youth who love science and devour every book they find.

And I thought, “science isn’t an enemy to us here.”

I left a note on the car. Not an angry or hostile one. Just one that said, hey, I’m not trying to convert you but I’d love to show you Christians who love science. So, I invited that person to worship today. I don’t think they came. But I hope that maybe their perception of what it means to be a person of faith changed, just a little bit.

Because in the end I believe both people of faith and scientists hold something in common: we are explorers. We don’t stand on the shore and say it can’t be done. We get in the boat, and go on the journey. And if we look hard, we just might find something there that is true. Something worth searching for. Something worth believing.

Scientists are on voyages to find the next vaccine, the newest planet, the cure for cancer. They never stop exploring. And if we are true to our faith, and to who we are created to be as human beings, than neither do we.

We keep going on our own voyage. Our own journey that defies easy answers. We have to work at it. We pray. We struggle. We wonder. We ask the big questions. And somewhere, despite all odds, we find faith, and when we least expect it, we just might find out a little more about God.

John 3:16 and Soundbite Faith: Sermon for March 15, 2015

John 3:14-21
3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

3:15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

3:17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

3:18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

3:19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.

3:20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.

3:21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

So, I’ve talked before about how I love watching football. This has been something I’ve done my whole life on Sundays. And when I was a lot younger, a little after I learned to read, I used to watch the people in the stands holding signs for their favorite teams or players.
And there was one sign in particular that I would see at every game I watched and I just didn’t quite get. It just said “John 3:16”. And I didn’t know who John was, or why he had such a funny number, but all I knew is that a lot of people who went to football games really liked this John 3:16 guy. I didn’t know if he played quarterback or defense, but I thought he must be the most phenomenal football player ever.
john-3-16-21It was much later that I actually understood they were talking about a Bible verse, and later than that when I read what John 3:16 actually said. But even without the words, John 3:16 has become sort of a symbol of visible Christianity.
Sports games. Hats. T-shirts. Bumper stickers. Tattoos. Whatever it can fit on, people have put it there. I’ve even heard of some preachers in other traditions who preach on this verse in every single sermon they give.
And you may well know the verse by heart: “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only begotten son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”
It’s a good verse to know. It talks about the depth of God’s love and sums it up in one line. Martin Luther himself even called it the “Bible in miniature.” And on the surface, the posters and the sermons may even tell you that this verse it so important that it’s is pretty much all you need to know about Christianity.
But you’ll notice we didn’t just read John 3:16 morning.
Instead, we read the whole passage. We went beyond the soundbite and to the substance. Because this passage lifts up the idea that we need God’s light to overcome the darkness in life. And it lifts up hope.
And that’s only the small part we read today. If we went back and read the rest of the chapter, we’d read about Jesus meeting Nicodemus, a pharisee who came to him in the night because he was starting to believe, and we’d know the words here are being directed to him, a man struggling with doubt.
Or go back even further, and read the entire Gospel of John, one of the four Gospels. Or read all four Gospels, each telling the story in a different way.
Go even further and get the whole New Testament, the whole story of Christ’s life and death, and resurrection and the early church. And then, look at the whole Bible. The Old and New Testaments, the story of God’s involvement in creation from the beginning.
And you could go even further than that. Because after the last words that would become Scripture were written, God still continued, and still continues, to act in the world.
John 3:16 is a good verse. But it’s not the beginning and end of Christianity. It’s a verse in a chapter of one of dozens of books in the Bible, each one of which has to be understood in light of when and why it was written. And each one of which must then be understood only in light of the overarching message of all of those books taken together, which is all about God’s love.
But sometimes with the Bible it’s easier to throw out a Bible verse and not give any context, or nuance. That can go badly.

I’ll give you two examples. At my seminary there was this guy who was a reluctant seminarian. He didn’t want to be there. He didn’t know why he needed to got o school to preach. And he figured he knew all he had to know. And he took a New Testament class and the professor was trying to get them to read passages of Scripture in context and to use all the tools he was giving them, and to even debate the meaning of the text.
And he had no time for this. He’d get to feeling like his faith was being threatened and he’d just quote John 3:16 and say that was all he needed to know. And I don’t agree with the teaching style here, but one day the professor had had enough. And he burst out, “I’ve heard enough about John 3:16” Have you ever read John 3:15? Or 3:17? 3:18? Have you ever read anything beyond this one passage?
The professor didn’t want soundbites. He wanted his students to not create their own little versions of the Bible and discount the rest. That’s a good caution for all of us, because we often create our own favorite Bibles, full of only the verses we love. And that’s dangerous.
Which brings me to the second story. A few years ago billboards went up quoting a single Bible verse, and it wasn’t John 3:16. Instead it was a verse that most of us like to pretend isn’t in the Bible. It says, “Slaves be obedient to your masters”.
The Bible does say that. A letter written by Paul to another culture at another time has that line, and I wish it didn’t. And a few years ago an American atheist group put that verse up on billboards so that people would read it and understand why, in their eyes, religion, and belief in God, is wrong. And honestly, that’s pretty compelling. If that’s all you know about the Bible.
I believe people are free to believe as they want, and I’m not preaching against atheists here, because honestly some of the most moral people I know are atheists. But what I am preaching against is taking one verse, pulling it out of context, slapping it on a billboard, and saying it speaks for all of Christianity. Because it clearly doesn’t. It’s lazy intellectualism. It’s reasoning that wouldn’t pass muster in a freshman year logic paper. And yet, in our soundbite culture, it gets people talking.
But we can’t condemn it too harshly. Because we Christians sometimes do the same thing. We find a few verses that support whatever it is we support, or condemn whatever it is we condemn, and we latch onto them. We live in the black or white, instead of living in the nuances.
We’ve created a culture in which people believe that you can either accept every verse of the Bible on its own and without debate, or you have to throw the whole thing out. There used to be this bumper sticker I’d see in the South a lot: “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” And it used to make my blood pressure rise everytime I’d see it. Because the Bible says a lot of things, some of them contradictory, and we have to wrestle with that.
The good news in that is that there’s a lot of room in the valley between “God so loved the world,” and, “slaves be obedient to your masters”. But it takes a lot of work to live there. It’s not easy. It’s nuanced. It’s takes work. It’s sometimes uncertain and tenuous.
But it’s faithful. And it’s worth it.
We live in a soundbite culture. The message has to fit the billboard, or the t-shirt, or the five second preview of the news. But the thing about slogans and soundbites is we grow weary of them. We don’t believe them for very long, especially if they don’t generate real action. And the people who hear them finally grow disillusioned, and move on to something else.
It’s the same with faith. I find it interesting that we are getting more and more evidence that the largest group of new non-believers are former Christian fundamentalists. People who once lived in a world that couldn’t tolerate nuance when it came to faith are now leaving that world and going to one that cannot tolerate nuance when it comes to doubt.
That makes some sense, because fundamentalism is fundamentalism, regardless of what you believe in. And if all you’ve ever learned is that the only way to have faith is to believe a list of things without question, then when you leave of course you think there is no place for you than in a culture of disbelief.
That means that what we do in churches like this one can matter a great deal. We engage the questions, live in the nuance, and believe that Christianity cannot be explained in soundbites, but instead must be understood in the journey.
We can be a safe haven for those who care to look for the substance under the slogans. A place where those who feel disillusioned by the debates about faith can actually come and dig deeper, and find how God is calling them to practice it. A place where youth and young adults don’t have to choose between their faith and their reason, or experience, or friends. A place where we don’t ask you to check your thoughts, or even your doubts, at the door.
I’m not sure how you squeeze that all onto a sign at a football game. It probably wouldn’t fit. In fact, several years ago our denomination, the UCC, tried to get a commercial all during the Super Bowl that had a similar message: God is still speaking. It was, oddly, even after they raised the millions needed to put it on TV, rejected for being potentially offensive. Have you seen Super Bowl commercials? That’s what’s offensive?
`Apparently so. So, for now, we have to spread the message another way. Which is by how we embody Christ in how we live. In the end, the way you live out your faith journey, both the things you know for certain, and the things you’re still working out for yourself, is going to be the message you send to all of those who are looking to find fellow travelers on the journey God has prepared for us. The good news is that the love of God for the world as it is embodied in one of you will always speak louder than it will on a sign, or a t-shirt, or a billboard. For those tangible reminders of how God so loved the world, those of us who see them are always thankful.
And so, live the chapter, not just the verse. And live the book, not just the chapter. And live beyond the book, and for a God who so loved the world, that God wants us to love back with our heart, and soul, and mind. Amen.

There Will Be Signs – Sermon for December 2, 2012

531347_584509721564509_303926534_nLuke 21:25-36
21:25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.

21:26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

21:27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.

21:28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

21:29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees;

21:30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.

21:31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

21:32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.

21:33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

21:34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly,

21:35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.

21:36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”I’ve talked before about growing up in the South, and having friends who went to very fundamentalist churches. My friends often went to churches that preached that we were in the “end of days” and that the time was coming when the world would face an apocalypse and violent end times. And sometimes on the side of the road there were signs that said things like “repent, the kingdom of God is coming” or “Jesus will return soon to judge us all.” All around us was the idea that something really bad was about to happen, and Jesus was the reason.

So, as a child I always found that Christianity to be a little scary. It’s those childhood fears that get stirred up when I read passages like the one we have today. It’s never comfortable to read about destruction, and this passage is no exception. Here we have Jesus foreshadowing for his followers the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and, even more disturbingly, the end of the world.

This happens every year. Every first Sunday in Advent those of us who are in churches that subscribe to the lectionary, the calendar of Scripture passages that is used by Roman Catholics and most Protestants, are assigned a passage from one of the Gospels which features Jesus describing the end of days.

Now, that’s a lot different from what we’re getting elsewhere in the world, isn’t it? Here we are, a little over a week after Thanksgiving, and already in December, and for many of us the preparations for Christmas are well underway. Maybe we already have our tree, or are well into our Christmas shopping. Maybe we’ve put up lights or gone to Christmas concerts. In short, maybe we’ve spent this Advent doing all the things that make the Christmas season so different from the rest of the year.

I’m not a Grinch. This season is actually my favorite time of year. But I am aware that Advent didn’t always used to be an elaborate run-up to the day itself. Advent used to be second only to Lent as a time of preparation and prayer in the church. Traditionally churches didn’t celebrate weddings during Advent or have any other major celebrations. Advent was about preparing for the celebration that was to come. And, more importantly, Advent was about learning how to wait, and how to watch.

It’s been said that Advent is really about two different Advents. We are waiting and watching for two different comings. The first is the one that happened over two thousand years ago in Bethlehem. It’s the story of the birth of Christ in a humble manger. It’s the Son of God come in the most unexpected way to perform the most extraordinary of missions. It’s a story that in and of itself is worth commemorating year after year.

But there is a second coming that we’re waiting for too. And that’s what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel passage. Jesus is talking about the time when he will come, not for the first time, but for the final time. And he is talking about how everything is going to change. Hear the words of Christ again:

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.”

We will know, says Jesus. There will be signs. They will be all around us. And when we see them we will know that Christ has come again. Jesus goes on: “stand up, raise your heads” for when you do you will see what is taking place. Jesus says that the signs we see will be slight at first. They will be like the new leaves on a fig tree that foreshadow the coming of summer. They will be subtle, but they will be there.

So what are the signs around you? And what are they pointing towards?

Some see what is happening around us as a sign. War, hunger, financial disaster, and all the rest. There are some churches that are using what is happening in the world as a way to pray upon the fears and anxieties of those who are at a loss as far as what to do next. They say that we are in the last days, and that the violence and conflict and crises in the world are all the indications that we need. But put your faith in Christ, as they understand him, and on the last day, in the final judgment, you will be saved.

It’s very much like the message I heard down south growing up. The world is going to hell, and the best you can hope to do is save yourself. So believe as we believe, and you will be saved.

I don’t think that this is what Jesus meant, exactly. Now, make no mistake, Jesus is talking about things changing completely. Jesus says directly that “heaven and earth will pass away.” But, despite the anxiety that comes from this text, this is not a text that is finally about destruction. There is something here that is much deeper than that.

Here we start the church year in darkness. Here we start the watch in gloom. Here we begin our preparations for a joyous season in a time of anticipation and worry. But we don’t remain there. And we don’t remain alone.

This morning we lit the first candle on the Advent wreath. This first Sunday in Advent, like each of the other Sundays in Advent, is given a larger theme. Next week, the second week, is all about peace. The third week is about joy. And the final Sunday before Christmas, fittingly, is about love.

But today, this first Sunday, the traditional theme is hope.

It’s an odd theme for a Sunday that focuses on these texts about the end of the world, isn’t it? We’re told to be on watch at all times for signs that Jesus is coming for the last time, and that when it comes we will faint and shake. Hope? It sounds more like terror.

But maybe it doesn’t have to.

Unlike all those churches that preached about the scariness of the end of days when I was growing up, the ones who tried to scare you into faith, Jesus does something different here. And he’s not talking about those “Left Behind” books or “end of days”. Yes, he says, things will change. And, yes, it will be different and it will shake us up. But, ultimately, this isn’t a text about judgment and destruction.

Listen to how Jesus tells us to look for the signs of his second coming. He doesn’t tell us to look for destruction and violence. He doesn’t tell us to look for pain and death. He tells us to look for signs of life. He tells us to look for the budding of fig trees. He tells us to look for the churning of the oceans. He tells us to look for him and his kingdom.

The reality, and this is a reality that I believe is born out by the story of the Resurrection, is that it is our darkest times that come right before the brightest days. I hear stories in my work a lot. Stories of people who have hit an absolute bottom in their lives. Maybe it was that they finally hit their bottoms with drugs or alcohol. Maybe they realized once and for all that they were in an abusive relationship. Maybe they found out that they had a medical diagnosis that they never expected. Their world had never seemed darker. It was the end of the world for them, or so they thought.

But then, something happened. They got sober. They walked away from the person who was hurting them. They found out they could not only live with their illness, but they could thrive with it. And, in much the same way, that’s how Jesus’ vision of his second coming is different too. We hear about the second coming of Jesus, and we might think of those fundamentalist churches that say it’s the end of the world. But maybe it’s not just the end of the world, but just the end of the world as we know it.

I thought about that yesterday at Liz’s memorial service here. None of us knows exactly what happens when we die. We know that the world as we know it ends, but we don’t know what happens next. And Liz was no exception. And yet, even in her final days, Liz did have hope. She didn’t know what came next, but she knew that she would be in God’s care, and she trusted in God’s love. At the end, that hope gave her peace.

And that’s the great promise of the Gospel, and the great promise of Advent. Everything is going to change. Even life itself. But the wars, the pain, the death, the suffering…they are not signs of the reign of Christ. They are signs that the reign of Christ is yet to come.

The real signs are all around us. Some are as subtle as a new leaf on a fig tree. Others are as unexpected as a baby being born in a lowly manger. Or a person we love who feels peace in her final days. They are there, but they are not obvious unless we stop and we look. And that is what Advent is all about.

“Be alert at all times” Jesus tells us. Be alert for the end of the world as you know it, because you’ve never seen anything like what is to come. Be alert in all the glow of lights and the sound of carols for what they represent. Be alert for hope, and in hope. And when you are, and when those small signs are seen, that’s when you know that Christ is about to change the world. May God bless us in this Advent as we look with hope for Christ’s arrival. Amen.

Six Days and Some Dinosaurs: Sermon on Genesis 1:1-2:4

As you all know, I’ve spent the last week on vacation. I was down on Cape Cod and the weather was refusing to cooperate. It was cold and rainy. But one day I decided I was going to go out on the beach anyway, and I headed out to Truro. I went to Head of the Meadow Beach near low tide. The water was out and I walked out onto the sandbar.

The waves were crashing hard and the wind was picking up and the rain was setting in.

 

I started to turn over rocks. I found one that had three different colors on it. You could see the different eras, the years, on that rock, each stacked one on top of the other. I thought of the millions of years it must have taken to get like that. I thought about it coming loose from the bottom of the ocean and making its way onto the shore, and about how incredible our world is and how long it has taken to form it.

 

And then I returned home and began the sermon for this Sunday. And I was reminded of the account of creation in Genesis. Of a six day creation in which God created everything. Of a story that is familiar to us all. And about a story that sometimes brings with it controversy and confusion.

 

This morning’s Scripture passage is one of two Biblical accounts of creation. Biblical scholars generally believe that the creation story in the following verses of Genesis was separate, though not contradictory, and the two were combined later to form the narrative we know. Even in the earliest chapters of the Bible, there are multiple ideas about how the earliest days of creation played out.

 

But we should be used to that. Because we live in a world that tells us that the creation story is a little different depending on where it is being told.

 

I knew people growing up who believed that the earth was created in six, 24 hour days. They believed that this happened a few thousand years ago. And they believed that anyone who believed otherwise was not a real Christian.

 

It always troubled me to hear that. I wanted to be a good believer, but I couldn’t reconcile what I heard those loudest voices of Christianity in my town say with what I learned when I went to the science museum and saw the exhibit on the dinosaurs. They  had lived long before a few thousand years ago, and things just didn’t add up. On a few occasions I even heard Christians say that God had put the dinosaur bones on the earth to test our faith. If we were real believers, we wouldn’t be distracted by them and we wouldn’t stray from the story: God created us in six, 24 hour days.

 

I could never accept that. And I could never accept that that meant I was not a real Christian. I’m grateful that I’ve never been a member of a church that has asked me to check my brain at the door. I’m thankful for a faith that tells me to glorify God not just with my soul, but with my mind.

 

But not every church is like that. When my college roommate’s sister in law had her first child, my friend sent them a box filled with things for the baby. One of the things in the box was a picture book about dinosaurs. They called her and angrily demanded that she never send anything of the sort again because “real Christians didn’t believe in things like that.” My friend, who considered herself a good Christian, was baffled.

I feel baffled sometimes too. I love the Bible. I take the Bible very seriously. I think it contains an inherent truth about who God is and how God loves us. But I also think that taking the Bible seriously is different than reading it mindlessly. Faith is too precious, and God’s creation too extraordinary, to approach God’s word with anything less than our full selves; minds included.

 

I had a Biology teacher in ninth grade who was also a Christian. One day in class a more fundamentalist classmate was asking her how she could believe the things she believed about how old the world was and still be a Christian. She responded simply that even if she didn’t believe that the world was created in six, 24 hour days, she still believed that God created the world. Genesis, while not a literal timeline of beginning of the world, was true to her none-the-less. God’s hand was no-less a part of creation in her scientific view than it was in their literal view.

 

That always rang true with me. That taking something literally and taking something faithfully are two different things. That God’s involvement in the world is not something that can be quantified and understood by our human measurements. That God’s work of creation can stand on its own and does not need to be supported by living in a scientific world and believing literally a story told by pre-scientific people.

 

God could have created the world in a second. God did not need six days. And God could have created the world over the course of millenia, always active in creation, always working, always transforming. God is creating the world, and us all even still today.

 

I thought about that as I stood out on that sand bar on Cape Cod. I thought about the power of the waves crashing in. I thought about the beauty of water and all the species of life that lived in it. I thought about my ancestors who sailed on those waters almost four hundred years ago and how, in the big scheme of things, in the vastness of God’s time, we are not so far removed from one another. And I believed in God not any less. In fact, looking down at that rock, faced with the grand scale of God’s creation and the majesty of God’s work in it, I believed all the more.

 

I heard a story once of a native American woman who told her grandson a story from her tradition. When she was done her grandson looked up at her, amazed and asked, “Did that really happen?” She replied, “I don’t know if it really happened, but I know that it’s true.”

 

The same is true of Genesis. “I don’t know if it really happened, but I know that it’s true.”

 

I know it’s true that God created the heaven and the earth. I know it’s true that God created us. I know it’s true that God is involved in creation still. And I know that that little ocean stone that washed up on a sand bar in Truro is more than just a rock: it’s evidence of God’s steadfast love throughout the continuing process of creation.

 

The creation story of Genesis taught me how to read the Bible. It taught me how to take something seriously, but not literally. It taught me how to grasp the truth of God’s involvement and God’s love, without being a slave to fundamentalist interpretations. It taught me that was it true is different from what is exact.

 

And I read other passages that way too. I look to see what God is saying to us today. I look to find God’s love, which is always where the truth lies. I try to make sure that the full reality of God’s grace and God’s love is not obscured by the finite constraints of human understanding.

 

And so when I read, “slaves be obedient to your masters,” I know that, even though it was used this way, it was not meant to condone the continuing captivity of slaves in the American South.

 

I know that when I read, “women should be silent in church” that it is not meant to stop women from preaching 2,000 years after Christ’s resurrection.

 

I know that when I read in Deuterononomy that a rebellious or disobedient child should be stoned to death, that God does not actually want parents to kill their children.

 

And I know that when a pastor uses a Bible to tell an abused spouse not to get away from her abuser, that is not the truth either.

 

God created us good. God created us, in the words of Psalm 8, just a little lower than God and crowned with glory and honor. God created every part of us, including our minds, and to not use everything God gives us is not an act of faith. It is an act of disrespect for our awesome creator.

 

Your minds are always welcome in this church. Your questions are always honored. Your struggles to find God’s truth are always honored. And your quest to read the Bible, this document not of scientific facts or historical timelines, but of God’s love, with your heart and soul and mind, will always be respected. To do anything less, would be to disrespect the God who created us good all those years ago. Amen.