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Growing in Evolutionary Integrity

Sermon - 5/08/11
Rev. April Oristano
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Ecclesiastes 3:18-4:12

I said in my heart with regard to human beings that God is testing them to show that they are but animals. 19For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. 20All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. 21Who knows whether the human spirit goes upwards and the spirit of animals goes downwards to the earth? 22So I saw that there is nothing better than that all should enjoy their work, for that is their lot; who can bring them to see what will be after them?

 

4
Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them. 2And I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive; 3but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.

4 Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from one person’s envy of another. This also is vanity and a chasing after wind.
5 Fools fold their hands
   and consume their own flesh.
6 Better is a handful with quiet
   than two handfuls with toil,
   and a chasing after wind.

7 Again, I saw vanity under the sun: 8the case of solitary individuals, without sons or brothers; yet there is no end to all their toil, and their eyes are never satisfied with riches. ‘For whom am I toiling’, they ask, ‘and depriving myself of pleasure?’ This also is vanity and an unhappy business.

9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. 11Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? 12And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.

 

The Teacher of Ecclesiastes seeks to share wisdom with the whole of humanity.  Today I think we can say we feel that echo – his words resonate – guide me to help this world.  If we seriously consider the marriage of science and religion as I proposed last week we could share with the teacher a 13.7 billion year common creation story, - All living things, all cultures and belief systems, share a creation story AND we have a response to our Wisdom teacher that would knock his socks off.  A response to his observations that there is no justice in this world.  A response to him and to us about the fear we have of death.  We do indeed have a purpose that can sustain work and ambition without greed or envy like he saw all around him.  Like we see around today. 

[I mean I don’t disagree with his observations – do you?  When you look around, the oppressed ARE still victims.  Economic, political, environmental oppressors still gain power.  We do all face death.  It is maybe the most confusing part of life.  Life lived only for greed, power, and motivated by envy of what your brother or friend has – is no life at all.  (But consider how even those with a purpose – with principles – can become an extreme of their own vision)]

But are the luckiest ones in this life those that have never been born?  Is it better to not exist than to exist and know death? (I can’t say that.) Do our religious stories provide the existential comfort that we seek when we look at the world with the eyes that the teacher has? 

It is Jesus who is our role model.  The early gospels are a beautiful, challenging guide for modeling a deep abiding integrity and purpose in the face of challenge, chaos, destruction, death.

He modeled for us a trust in time, a faith in the creative power of God.  He modeled humility in the face of ignorance – with the woman who begged at his feet for scraps of food.  He had a radical honesty and authenticity that shook the most crooked politicians of his time and frightened most faithful followers too.  He demonstrated how compassion for even the most lost causes was an act of faith in the future, taught personal accountability as a deep spiritual practice and modeled a deep integrity that was grounded in the past, aware in the present, and looked toward the future. 

The lectionary text from the gospels today is from Luke – the story of the disciples meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus. It is a resurrection story, where the disciples are walking together discussing the past – and in their present Jesus is walking with them but they don’t recognize him.  It is as they are sharing a meal, physically breaking bread, that they feel the emotion and power of the past in their present.  And in that powerful moment they share a purpose for the future – have a shared story to tell and take action to spread the good news.

Last week I introduced some of you to a book I was reading called Thank God for Evolution written by UCC minister Michael Dowd.  (He is another wisdom writer).  He uses the phrase Deep Time to describe the perspective humans ought to adopt. He details a cosmic story, that is both evolutionary and spiritual and his guide for the world in finding their way together.  Deep Time/Deep integrity honors what science and religion both offer to this world in order to heal it. 

Deep time in the past tense means we value the contribution and sacrifices of countless ancestors and others, human and nonhuman, who have made this moment possible.   Connie Barlow created a litany from which I will share parts about the gifts of death to the universe:

Stars are born, and stars die. Along the way these stars fashion the very atoms of our bodies. Mountains are born, and mountains die. Along the way these mountains create the particles of sand and clay that blend with dead plants to become soil. Glaciers come and glaciers go. Along the way they grind rocks into new soil and sculpt ponds and lakes. 
Species come and species go. Along this odyssey of evolution, marvels emerge: eyes, limbs, feathers, song, terror, love.

Evolution teaches us that we exist because of the cycle of life and death that preceded us.  Each death makes new life possible.  Each new creative emergence is nested in it’s past, is firmly grounded in the present and is constantly moving outward, to the future.

Facing our death, or the deaths of those around us is an act of deep integrity and we need not be ashamed of death with our children: (more from Connie Barlow):

Cells are born, and cells die. Along the way, the winnowing yields fingers and toes, fins and wings, and the miracle of healing from injury. Forests of cells are born and die, but do not let go. Along the way, these ancestor cells stiffen into wood of uncommon strength and endurance, allowing the living green cells to reach for the sky. Baby animals are born in abundance, and myriad plant seeds are cast to the wind. Along the way most of these children become food, supporting the vast ecological web of life. Humans are born, and humans die. Along the way each may blossom with love, and accrue wisdom as elders, and then by their passing make room for generations of children now and forevermore.

 

We all, every living thing, in this moment, share in the entire cycle of life.  We all strive to live and all face a death.  We are alive now – and can give life to others, and contribute to the great, shared story. 

Deep time in the future tense means we accept full responsibility for ensuring a just, healthy, beautiful, and sustainably life-giving future for Planet Earth and its diverse species.  (more from Connie):

Ideas are born, and ideas die. Along the way they nourish the human journey, onward, inward, and outward, in an arc of wonder that now embraces a hundred billion galaxies. Love comes, and love fades, dies, or endures. Along the way we experience the richness of existence, sanctified by laughter and tears. Each of us is born, and each of us will die. Along the way our awareness of death urges us to live fully, to give fully, and to take not one moment for granted. 

 

I mean is that a universe we can say yes to? Is that a life worth living? 

 

Looking at life (yours and all life) through deep time eyes is an act of honoring evolution because it is shaped by all that we continue to learn about this world -  it is an act  faith because it means trusting the universe, as it changes, welcoming those challenges and little and large deaths, finding the meaning in the new life that comes.

You see we do have something that the animals do not have:  We have the ability to cherish and protect what continues to nourish us.  Most animals do their part naturally.

Our desire to live and our fear of death has encouraged humans to see themselves as more important than the other living things.  More valuable and therefore can do whatever they want.  It has kept us blind to the way in which the world uses Death naturally and creatively at every level of reality and from celebrating death as fully sacred  - just as sacred as life.  The instinct to live is biological, and a good thing.  

While we’re on the subject of death: 

I was conflicted in my response to the death of Osama bin Laden. (how did I feel?)

Feeling glad that Osama Bin Laden is dead, rejoicing in his killing is not against nature.  Instincts for survival, for justice, the feelings of pride, of national identity, of status (superiority?) – all of which upset me this week – but that I too have felt – they are our very early evolutionary selves still crawling out of the primordial goo – So I not only felt the relief that so many of us did but I also felt the deep, deep echo of time saying to the world “this is not over.”  There is more to do.

I don’t want to be spitting in the wind. 

When I watched the President in his address on Sunday night what stayed with me was his reflection that “the real damage was the enormous loss of life and the pain of losing spouses, friends, children.” And how it was in the people we lost, in their deaths, that we found each other, that we realized what was important, and that we are all connected, “regardless of belief system or political agenda.”  When we meet Bin Laden’s death with the same jubilation that he took in killing so many many people – we are building upon that loss, deepening the chasm that the world needs us to make new life of .  I felt that way when we got started in Afghanistan 10 years ago (I remember that day), and I felt it on Sunday night. 

As the week progressed I found my shared reflections with others to be on a deeper level, a more evolved level, if you will and I returned to the sense of trust in community. 

Even as we seek to grow in evolutionary integrity - to live in the way Jesus taught us,  to heal ourselves through the spiritual and evolutionary practices of Trust/Faith, Authenticity/Honesty, Responsibility/Compassion,

Service/Purpose –we will feel well, as humans, we will.  And it will not be enough to save the Earth – there will be more work to do – for as Thomas Berry says, “You cannot have well humans on a sick planet.”

To read Ecclesiastes 3 & 4 through the lens of environmental justice - We are both the oppressors and the oppressed.   We are stepping on our own toes, cutting our own breath short. We are threatening and defeating what we could be. 

Our small selves have but a brief window of opportunity to delight in, and contribute to, the ongoing evolution of the body of life.  I for one am still learning what it means to be responsible to the future – and simultaneously, grateful for the comfort of knowing that what I can contribute will be built upon by those that come after me – and grateful that I can feel the compulsion, that I have the awareness at all that I need to evolve, need to change my habits, need to create new worldly comforts that do not compromise my ability to breathe. 

If the human project is build community – be that body of Christ, the hands that serve, the hearts that heal, the minds that make meaning – together – a shared meaning.

Then my response to another T. Barry quote, that “We have got to fit the human project into the Earth project.”  Is to say that the Earth project is the same – to honor and heal that which we are all a part of – we know the answer, whatever the answer lies with each other. 

We give thanks for our shared history, and our shared present, and I pray that we may recognize how to share the future.  

 


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