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How Far Have We Come?

Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
February 12, 2017

So how many of you hate our Scripture Lessons for this morning? Never get angry? Forget about adultery and divorce? Never swear by anything but your own heart? I’m not sure what I was thinking when I chose to stay with the lectionary today. Our liturgist, Russ Brown, told me he wanted to read   it in a ‘Hell fire, damnation preacher voice,’ which totally makes sense to me.

But some of us still read this ancient text without skipping over the difficult parts; and the danger of taking them literally as if they apply today as they did 2000 years ago has created so much harm. It feels important to me to deconstruct this prophetic challenge of the historical Jesus.

What was he saying to his audience, of mostly poor folks who followed him up the mountain to hear his teachings? What does he still have to say to us? How can we take the long view?

Each of these pronouncements begins “You have heard it said…but I say…” Jesus takes Biblical and theological ideas and challenges his hearers to go deeper. It is not enough not to murder…You can’t call another a fool without damaging your own integrity and heart. You can’t fight over money with your neighbor without creating enmity that destroys both your lives.

It is not enough to get a legal divorce before you fool around. You can’t throw a woman away giving her nothing but a piece of paper. In Jesus’ day that forced her into poverty and/or prostitution because theirs was a culture that didn’t allow women to work. I am convinced Jesus would not make this same demand now. I believe he would celebrate with me the courage it took for me to end my marriage to a man who beat me, to find a way to live a peaceful, compassionate life, to raise my children on my own, because I could.

It’s not enough to make a promise by swearing an oath, by God, or your mother, or anything else you hold dear. You need to be so centered in yourself that you simply speak your truth, Yes or No, always.

Jesus is speaking a challenging truth in a prophetic voice to an audience that is used to there being 613 laws to live by that define Judaism over and against all other faiths. He is demanding that they get to the core of their true selves, that their actions match their words and more importantly their hearts! And that their hearts are being guided by the law of love!

Today is Evolution Sunday. It is Darwin’s birthday and Lincoln’s birthday. Both men transformed the world with their vision and their courage. We honor their legacy each year by lifting up the intersection of science and religion in our faith. We look at how they took the long view of history and ask us to do the same.

Evolution is still being debated in the public sphere but not in scientific, medical or environmental circles. We know that it is the truth. We know that we are born of a magnificent universal history that goes beyond our human imagining and requires of us that we take the long view. We lifted up that long view in our Call to Worship going back 15 billion years to the Creation story that is founded in fact. God is still speaking through this story. And this story is filled with creativity and discovery.

Creation is continuing to create. We are a part of that creativity -- not necessarily its center or penultimate fulfillment. We are asked to find our place within the web of life, to take responsibility for the part we have played and continue to play in its unfolding. We can no longer rest in the comfort of the Genesis story that places us at the top and invites us to domesticate and dominate the natural world.

As Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry point out in their landmark book, ‘The Universe Story,” (and quoted in our Quiet Meditation today):
         “In the modern period, we are without a comprehensive story of the universe. The historians deal not with the whole world but just with         the human, as if the human were something separate from the story of        the Earth and the universe. The scientists have arrived at detailed        accounts of the cosmos, but have ignored the human dimension of the        universe. We are somehow failing in the fundamental role that we    should be fulfilling – the role of enabling the Earth and the universe     entire to reflect on and to celebrate themselves, and the deep mysteries   they bear within them, in a special mode of conscious self-         awareness.”
When we understand the ongoing, transformative miracles of continuous creation, we are invited to see life celebrating life in wonderful changes.  When we can take the long view we discover that God is at work in the mystery and beauty all around us.

The long view reminds us that God isn’t done with us yet. God/spirit/ mystery/presence/the sacred/the holy touches all of life and asks us to deepen our perspective by stepping back.
Our nation and our world is in crisis, no question, and it is easy to become overwhelmed by the challenges we face. Today I will share with you advise I have received from others as I spend too much time watching and reading the news, scanning my Facebook posts, and hearing friends express their concerns. I give it because I need to be reminded myself:
         1. Don’t speak too much about politics or focus on individuals.
         2. When you share your thoughts, focus on the positive
         3. Don’t allow yourself to speak angry, mean-spirited words.It feeds into the toxic environment we are dealing with and it does not help or heal.
         4. No more helpless or hopeless talk allowed.
         5. Support the arts, artists, beauty, mystery.
         6. Check your sources and be sure not to spread fake-news -- even if you wish it were true!
         7. Take care of yourself! Eat right. Exercise. Get enough sleep. Reach out to positive loving people (like us J).
         8. Remember you are part of something bigger than yourself. You are part of the Universe Story. You are part of a faith journey that has been unfolding from the beginning of time.

Human history has been full of dark times. There was a time, not so long ago, when a charismatic leader could convince folks that anyone who was not of the Arian genotype was inferior. Stanford University had research projects designed to prove the superiority of racial types in the 30’s and 40’s. Wars have been fought based on deep xenophobia. And there are still those who might be persuaded by such ignorance, but not so many as before.

Jesus brought people together from all walks of life and ate meals with them. and encouraged them to see the sacred in each other. We must do the same,  standing by our immigrant neighbors and our Muslim neighbors who are being targeted.
The founders of every great religious tradition spoke to the sacred in each and every one of us. Their teachings call on us to evolve from frightened alligator brain, fight or flight, reactors, even from emotional mammalian reactors, to inspired, inspirited, compassionate choosers. We are evolving now into followers of the Christ Spirit that dwells within each one of us. More and more of us long to live out that law of love even as fewer of us identify with any particular faith tradition. Our hearts and minds are calling us to deepen our practice, to say our Yes means Yes and our No means no.

We have work to do to stand for justice, work for the healing of nations and the denouncing of violence and xenophobia, to educate our leaders as to what we citizens truly desire. We want peace (as taught by the Prince of Peace). We want justice (as all our prophets and Jesus demand). We want kindness and compassion to be the hallmark, the benchmark, the guiding principle of our lives.

We are the leaders we have been seeking. We are evolving into the wholeness our natures require. Let’s take the long view of history and the journey ahead. Together we will remind each other to take a break when we need it, to work together as we need to, to be like musicians working together to sustain a note…Take a breath knowing others will continue to hold it. Add your voice once you’ve renewed your strength.

Isaiah reminds us, “but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint.”

And so we begin. And so we continue. How far have we come? How far do we have to go? Together, we will not give up!