Sunday, October 20, 2013
Texts: Jeremiah 31: 31-34; Psalm 8
31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says theLord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
Gazing into the vast night sky, the Psalmist, feeling small, spoke to the Creator of all that vastness with these words: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is humankind that you are mindful of them?” (Ps. 8: 3-4).
Just as the vastness of space struck the ancient Psalmist with awe, so the vast mystery of time may cause us today to consider our place—and our “time”—in an ever-evolving cosmos. Science has by now answered many ancient questions but has brought us to the threshold of new mysteries. The intersection of science and religion gives us fresh cause for awe, hope, connection, and meaning.
Usually our theological eyes are trained on human events over the last few thousand years at most. But evolutionary Christianity invites us to recognize a Sacred Force for life and love that existed long before humans and that will exist long after planet earth is absorbed by our sun. Yet this sense of our individual tininess and our species’ frailty is not cause for despair. Contemplating our place in a 13.7 billion-year-old and ever expanding universe may prompt us to ask, using the Psalmist’s language: “What is humankind that you, Creator, are mindful of us?” We then might add, “What is humankind that we, Creator, have become mindful of you?” One answer to that question is that we are the universe becoming aware of itself.
Usually our meditation is an inward spiritual practice teaching us mindfulness of our thoughts and feelings, helping us listen for the Holy that beats within us and guides us and connects us to others. But let’s spend the next moments focusing outward upon the distant stars—contemplating what lies far beyond what we can observe or know. Let’s contemplate a universe racing forward in time and changing both suddenly and slowly as it goes.
If it’s true that evolution continues and that we as a species are still evolving, what will a future look like if we can—God help us to do so!—evolve not only physically and intellectually but also morally and spiritually. If it’s true that modern humans are continuing to evolve—and according to a recent research, we’re evolving faster now than ever before—what are ways we might eventually evolve in matters of faith? Often we try to imagine what we as individuals might be capable of doing—and set personal goals to that end. Or we try to imagine how our children might develop into adulthood—and support them in developing their gifts. But if it’s true, as some evolutionary theologians posit, that a still–evolving humanity can evolve morally as well as physically and intellectually, then imagine a more spiritually evolved humankind thousands and thousands of years from now. What would a future—tens of thousands of years hence– be like IF we as a species can develop spiritually?
Next, let’s go backward in time – to the 7th century BCE and hear again words the prophet Jeremiah spoke, which I’ll reshape as if he’d known about scientific evolution:
The days are surely coming, says the Lord . . . when I will make a new covenant with humanity. By that time human beings will have evolved to a state where the law of love is written on their hearts, the way of compassion Jesus will walk will be the path that humankind prefers, and a new level of consciousness will have overtaken their species to connect them to one another more deeply. IF they don’t destroy the planet first.
According to James Fowler, a few rare individuals develop spiritually to a stage where they view all people as from a universal community to be treated with universal principles of love and justice because the welfare of the other is as important as her or his own welfare. Now imagine a future where this spiritual state is not rare but is in fact attained by most people. Take a few moments to inhabit that world mentally. What would it be like for compassion and justice to be our default interactions? How would you live differently if compassion was the rule rather than the exception, the “law” of the land?
Hear again the voice of the prophet Jeremiah, slightly modernized: The days are surely coming, says the Lord . . . when people will no longer need to teach one another about me or say to each other, “Know the Lord” because by then they shall all know me, their consciousness of Me will be heightened, their experience of me will be universal, the God they seek will be found in the interrelatedness between people. I will be within their hearts.
Let’s pause now to imagine how a heightened consciousness of our connections with other humans and with all creation would, in effect, help us to “know the Lord.”
We’ve stretched our imaginations in order to gain some sense of scale with which to consider God’s enduring work in the world and our small but important role in ushering in the next new wave of change. We can’t bring about evolution, of course. It is a force beyond us. It is silently at work in our very DNA and will be eventually played out through thousands of years of human reproduction and survival.
But on the personal scale, we do have some choice about the ways we will change. We can cultivate habits of hopefulness and an eye for new possibilities. As Paul Tillich said, “Faith is being apprehended by the future, that realm of as-yet-unrealized possibility which comes to meet us in the experience of hope and promise.” Theologian John Haught imagines God as The Future, the realm of infinite possibilities, but God needs us to actualize those possibilities.
So in this next period of silence, begin by considering a situation in your life for which you need hope. Perhaps you feel you are coming to a dead end and can’t see the way ahead. Perhaps you face a choice among several options and don’t know which path to choose. Perhaps you’re simply stuck in a rut and have forgotten you CAN change the path you’re on. But think about a situation in your life where you feel stuck with how you’re living your life or caught with an impending decision. If you believe God is manipulating your movements, you may resign yourself to what IS rather than seeking out new possibilities. Certainly much about life is fixed, unchangeable, or is a product of chance. In traditional theology, God is thought to rule from “up above.” In evolutionary theology, “God leads from up ahead, luring us forward in love, animated by a promise that needs us in order to be realized. Living in faith and hope means becoming agents of conscious evolution, as co-creators of a divine promise.
Imagine now God beckoning you toward a fuller future. Imagine your own spiritual journey forming you in ways that help you “Know the Lord” deep within. Imagine how you might grow up spiritually to live love and help create a community of peace and justice.
Some evolutionary theologians like Bruce Sanguin, from our recent “Painting the Stars” series, believe that Jesus was not an “interruption of natural processes but rather their fulfillment.” Jesus’s luminous life was “not a supernatural event outside of natural processes but was the fulfillment of them, an eruption or intensification of the whole process of evolution.” Jesus was the “first fruit” of a more fully evolved human. Jesus didn’t “come down to earth” but “emerged as a child of earth demonstrating what the universe is capable of.” He is a glimpse of the future, what we are capable of—a new creation, a new species. Jesus is the way that is the future trajectory for us. Certainly much prevents us from following in the way of Jesus. Fear keeps us falling back into our reptilian (fight or flight) responses. But our future depends on the hopeful way of Jesus.
Hear this good news: the universe is now capable of producing Jesus. We are, in evolutionary terms, capable of being a new species. We are, in Paul’s phrase, a new creation.
What fear is holding you back from stepping more confidently and consistently into the way of Jesus, which is the way of the future? Name that fear in your own mind. See it as a barricade in your path. Now mentally move that barricade, tear it down, go around it, climb over it, but overcome that fear to move forward.
Imagine the evolution of Christianity itself that will nurture the faith journey of evolving people. Imagine what happens if our species can evolve toward peace and love—a new covenant written in our DNA.