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May 20, 2018

“The Evolution of Creation”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Genesis 1.1-13

Mark 8.22-26

May 20, 2018

Today we dive right into the second part of our sermon series on evolution. Last week I preached about the evolution of our understanding of God, and today we focus on evolution and creationism. Each week I take a topic and scripture passages to the Sunday school class and they discuss and debate, while I furiously take notes. I gather that information, blend it with commentaries and historical background and other knowledge and attempt to come up with a sermon for the following week.

I feel like I need to begin this sermon with a disclaimer: I am not a scientist. You probably already know that, since I don’t have any special science degree letters at the end of my name, but I feel like I should be incredibly honest that this is not my expertise. My college chemistry professor will vouch for that. So, we attempt to tackle this conversation of faith and science, knowing that it is at war in many circles in the world.

Are evolution and creation two separate concepts? Are they two ideas that cannot be melded together? How can we find a balance between the two, if any? The Sunday school class spent the good part of an hour trying to make sense of both together – mostly trying to combine God and science. As good, educated Presbyterians, we often try to use our faith and our brains and trust that it all will fall together neatly – except, it doesn’t always.

To talk of “creation” or a “creation story” one implies that someone created or made that product. Evolution does not necessarily need a creator, and usually suggest something happened accidentally and evolved over time to make the world “better.” Some suggested that evolution might have been created by God, but there were questions about how the world evolves to improve upon God’s creation. Wouldn’t that imply that God’s creation wasn’t perfect? Why would God create something that needed improvement?

So, we left the class perhaps with more questions than answers. No single answer was sufficient and nothing seemed to fit together perfectly. Whichever way people lean, there was always the question of death and struggles. If God is Creator, why would God create bad or allow bad to happen? If God created evolution, why would God allow certain diseases and illnesses to thrive? No concept is perfect and completely explainable.

As humans we want to know where we came from and how we fit into this chaotic and detailed world. This is a trait that goes back to the ancient near east, where many creation stories were told to explain how we came to be upon this Earth. Why do the fish swim? Why do the birds sing? Why do we have knowledge but the other animals do not? We have many questions about our purpose in life, and that has been throughout time. Some of the creation stories have similarities, and others are completely different. They all attempt to explain our origin.

The Bible even has two creation stories – the first in Genesis 1 and the second in Genesis 2. These stories are not the same and were written by different authors. One is more orderly and list oriented while the other one is not. The first culminates in humans being created together on the final day before rest and the second one determined that man was created first, and the woman created from the man. So, to say that Christians follow a Creation story means that one must first pick a creation story.

I chose the first creation story to look at because I love how poetically it was written. Obviously this is just a portion, as there are more days. What I l find beautiful is the way God spoke to create, showing the Divine care of the world. We read that in a beginning there was this formless void of darkness and chaos ensued. God created out of that chaos. How comforting to know that God takes the chaos of our lives and orders it so that we need not be overwhelmed or frightened.

Whether God created in seven days, or sixteen, or created humans last or first, or created a Big Bang, the purpose of these stories is not to be literal. They attempt to make sense of a chaotic world and to show us the overall understanding of God as One who cares for humanity and all creation.

Science attempts to answer the question, “Where did we come from?” as well, but uses a different angle. Science asks the same questions but uses empirical evidence. Religion uses less empirical evidence, usually based on experience. Last week I discussed that our faith and understanding of God is based on scripture, tradition, confessions, and experience. Science merely uses documented experience. If it cannot be documented, it is not easily explained. For example, those who have near death experiences cannot document their intense feelings and understanding of what is happening, and so science attempts to explain it, but cannot always do so. Members of the class went on to share experiences in which science could not explain what happened to them, but it was real and deepened their faith.

As Rob and I were discussing science and religion this week, as we are apt to do on a Monday afternoon, he quoted Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: “Archaeology is the search for fact, not truth. If it is truth you’re interested in Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is just down the hall.” Perhaps we could substitute the word “science” instead of “archeology,” and “religion” instead of “philosophy.” The point is the same – the two are looking for answers, but different kinds of answers.

Our second scripture passage is not about creationism but is often a topic of debate in the science vs. religion debate: miracles and healings. So often we want an explanation for Jesus’ healings. We might wonder if some early medicine was being used or herbs or oils. Did Jesus use science to heal, and the disciples just didn’t realize it? Does it have to be explained?

This particular healing is interesting because the man is brought forward by his friends, not asking for healing himself, and immediately is taken to a secluded place by Jesus. The Christ spits in the man’s eyes, places his hands over the eyes, and then asks if he can see anything. The man tells Jesus that all he can see are people walking like trees. His vision is still blurry. Jesus tries again, and then the man can see. Does Jesus mess up the healing? Is that just one step in the healing process? Was it science? Did Jesus have magical spit?

Perhaps it sounds like a cop out, but there are many parts to faith that we simply cannot explain. We don’t know how to bridge together the idea of a Big Bang theory and a Creator who cares for us in an intimate and detailed manor. We do not understand how Jesus could be a healer without the modern convenience of science and medicine. Our attempts at explanation are just that – attempts.

Does any of it change our faith? Or does it make it stronger? We must still ask questions, but perhaps we can leave a little room for the Holy Spirit. On this Pentecost we remember that God’s Spirit moves in mysterious and unexpected ways. God’s Spirit hovered in the first creation story. God’s Spirit was present in this healing. God’s Spirit is with us now, after the ascension of Christ. The Spirit is this amazing part of the Trinity who encompasses all that we cannot explain. Perhaps too often we sweep up all the unknowns into the Holy Spirit dust pan, because not everything ties together so neatly. Christians like to display the parts of religion that are explained more easily – that Jesus was fully divine and fully human; that Jesus ate with sinner and stood up for the downtrodden; that Jesus broke bread with the disciples. These we can describe for the most part. Everything else is put in the “other” category, trusting in the Spirit at work in our lives.

Yet, we still trust in God. We still trust in the Spirit. Every so often we pull out the box in which the dust pan was emptied, brush off the dirt, ask the questions, and seek answers. We renew our faith through the Spirit’s movement and trust that God works in religion and science, and in ways we are yet to understand. Thanks be to God. Amen.