Hyde Park Mennonite Fellowship
Linda Nafziger-Meiser, Pastor
Ordinary Time Winter 2007
February 17, Transfiguration Sunday
Title: The glory of the Lord reflected in many mirrors
Evolution Sunday #2
Texts: Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3:17-4-2; Luke 9:28-36
Exodus 34:29 Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 34:30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. 34:31 But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. 34:32 Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 34:33 When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34:34 but whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 34:35 the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
Psalm 99:1 The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake! 99:2 The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples. 99:3 Let them praise your great and awesome name. Holy is he! 99:4 Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. 99:5 Extol the LORD our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is he! 99:6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called on his name. They cried to the LORD, and he answered them. 99:7 He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; they kept his decrees, and the statutes that he gave them. 99:8 O LORD our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings. 99:9 Extol the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy.
2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 3:18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. 4:1 Therefore, since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 4:2 We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God's word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.
Luke 9:28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 9:29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 9:30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 9:31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 9:32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 9:33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" --not knowing what he said. 9:34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 9:35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" 9:36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
Notes: This the Clergy Project’s second year of advocating an Evolution Sunday close to Darwin’s birth date. Here is the focus statement:
An Open Letter Concerning Religion and Science
We've reached our goal of gathering 10,000 clergy signatures. The next step in our campaign is outlined here.
See below to endorse the following letter
Click here to learn more about the "Clergy Letter Project"
Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.
We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.
Contemporary quote: "The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another." -- Thomas Merton
One day the zoo-keeper noticed that the very bright chimp under his care was holding a book in each hand, apparently reading them and cross comparing. He looked a little closer and discovered that one was the Bible and the other, Darwin's The Origin of the Species.
Stunned, he asked the chimp, "Why on earth are you reading these two books?”
"Well," the chimpanzee said,
grinning at him as only another primate can,
"I just wanted to know if I was my brother's keeper—
or my keeper's brother."
I found myself playing with this idea of being a “keeper” or a “brother” this week as I pondered the gospel text, Luke’s version of the Transfiguration.
Peter is sleepy and groggy
and as is his unfortunate tendency even when wide awake,
shoots off his mouth;
unfortunately, he’s never heard one of Einstein’s lesser-known equations:
"If A equals success, then the formula is: A=X+Y+Z. X is work. Y is play. Z is keep your mouth shut." (Yes, this was really Einstein.)
So, instead, Pete opens his mouth
and out comes a really stupid-sounding response
to the awesome visitation
—awesome in the old-fashioned sense of the word—
the visitation of Moses and Elijah to Jesus on the mountain….
He suggests building shelters to keep them in.
“This is so good,” he seems to be saying,
“that let’s do whatever we can to capture this event—
and these great men, heroes of our tradition—
He wants to be…shall we say….the keeper of this phenomenal experience.
Luke points out immediately that he speaks out of ignorance,
not really knowing what he’s saying…
Reminds me of another thing that Einstein said:
Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity;
and I'm not sure about the universe.
But the fact that Luke includes this stupid response at all in his gospel seems significant to me….
Isn’t this a totally human response?
Seems like we tend to “keep” the wrong things….
Instead of being concerned about doing all we can
to be our brother’s or sister’s keeper
to discern if the chimps among us are
also their keeper’s brother….
We instead try desperately to keep, to enshrine,
those experiences that,
while rich and sacred and important in the moment
are transitory, are meant to be transitory,
experiences that change, that end.
We don’t like things that seem powerful and good and meaningful
We want to hang on to those things and moments,
We build shelters, put together nostalgic scrap books, museums, shrines,
and sometimes, doctrines, dogma,
mandates designed to last throughout eternity….
It seems to me that this is a really good introduction to the theme
that many Christian churches across the US
are grappling with today.
an interdenominational discussion
on the ways we humans understand the amazing world around us,
is an initiative by the Clergy Project.
When the Intelligent Design movement began to gain publicity and political muscle, many mainline Protestant and Catholic leaders were aghast
at what they saw
as the intentional collapsing of two separate systems,
religious truth and scientific truth,
collapsed into one muddy congealed mass
which obscured the truth of each.
Instead of seeing both religious and scientific truth
as two different spotlights—or two different kinds of light—
shining on the complexities of our lives and world,
enormous effort is made to squash them together under just one spotlight,
But what happens in that effort is usually a loss in both spheres,
a diminishment in both perspectives.
It’s like our binocular vision, our seeing with two eyes.
The slightly different vantage point of each eye
enables us to see depth;
while we can still see with just one eye, depth perception is lost.
If you doubt this, try driving–especially at night—
with one eye covered….
On second thought, please don’t.
But if you did,
you would soon discover how hard it is to discern distance;
are those oncoming headlights in my lane
someone passing another vehicle a mile away—
or are they dangerously close to a head on collision?
It’s really hard to tell.
Having two points of view
even in one head
The perspectives of each eye contribute to a third perspective,
the addition of depth in the scene in front of one.
I think of the conversation between science and religion as similar.
Both perspectives contribute their unique gifts to a depth of field,
a wisdom of perception, that neither discipline can offer alone.
Now, I do believe that God is the Creator of the universe
and that God’s loving and –yes, intelligent—design
is visible in all the marvelous details of our material world.
And I wonder, will the understandings of science and religion eventually merge?
Ultimately, I think so.
Ultimately, I think that there is just one truth, God’s truth—
which just possibly
might be far too complex for our minds
in this life
But at this juncture in time,
this controversial movement seems to me
to be an inappropriate effort
that distracts us from some of the more important issues,
such as living lives of humility
that reflect the Being of a loving God
truly becoming our brother’s keeper…
After all, Jesus’ teachings point clearly to the radical idea that
it is impossible to be truly right on any issue
without also being loving.
Kenneth Miller puts these issues well in Finding Darwin’s God:
Each of the great Western monotheistic traditions
sees God as truth, love, and knowledge.
Each and every increase in our understanding of the natural world
should be a step towards God, and not,
as many people assume, a step away.
If faith and reason are both gifts from God,
then they should play complementary,
roles in our struggle to understand the world around us….
The ability of science to transcend cultural, political,
and even religious differences is part of its genius,
part of its value as a way of knowing.
What science cannot do is assign either meaning or purpose to the world it explores .” (emphasis added)
As the Clergy Project letter puts it:
Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth.
Its purpose is not to convey scientific information
but to transform hearts.
Another Einstein quote: Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
Far too often we are just like Peter:
we try to enshrine a given insight—
which may be a stunning new take on something,
a huge, quantum leap beyond what it replaces—
but then refuse to yield to the next equally stunning insight built on the first.
After all, this kind of change demands
that our understanding of reality has to shift….
and that is always more than a little scary….
Think of the huge new advances in understanding gravity
and the laws of motion that Newtonian physics brought;
it was thought to be entirely adequate to explain the natural world
and made it easy to refuse
to look seriously at the new possibilities
generated by Einstein’s theory of relativity….or later,
by the even more astonishing possibilities
of quantum mechanics.
At every step, the old orthodoxy protests the new; even Einstein tried to rework his equations so that they would not support the initial ideas of quantum mechanics--with which he disagreed!
Peter’s tendency happens with religious insight as well:
think about the durable model of reality
that the medieval world lived by for a thousand years…
In this model, reality on earth was understood
to be a precise mirror of reality in heaven….
It was a system that brought a good bit of stability…
until the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation
brought a flood of new insights
that expanded and changed the intellectual and religious landscape
with new and astonishing possibilities
unthinkable even a few generations earlier….
And again, the old orthodoxy protested vigorously, for years.
It seems to me that the current furor over evolution as a threat to religion is an unnecessary battle. I am as baffled by Richard Dawkins and his belittling assault on any religious belief as I am by the strident Intelligent Design promoters in Kansas public schools last year.
Both sides seem utterly unable to concede that there is any need for binocular vision….
Reminds me of another quote, something about life being like a swimming pool where most of the noise comes from the shallow end...
and both sides in this debate seem utterly limited
to the shallow ends of the exploration
of the great mysteries of creation
and spirit that surround us all.
We need the depth of vision that having more than one point of view brings! And we need the humility of recognizing that we don’t yet have the final word on science…or Spirit.
Here’s Einstein again: The important thing is not to stop questioning.
Curiosity has its own reason for existing.
One cannot help but be in awe
when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life,
of the marvelous structure of reality.
It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend
a little of this mystery every day.
Never lose a holy curiosity.
Mirrors of Divine light and glory:
Our texts today give us another useful image to ponder
as we try to expand our vision…
Paul, in the second letter to the Corinthians,
uses a gorgeous complex metaphor
of the way in which human beings can reflect the glory of God,
in our dealings with each other.
He is making an allusion to the story in Exodus where Moses is leading God’s people through the wilderness and they come to the holy mountain, Mt. Sinai. Moses goes up on to the mountain and meets directly with God; when he comes back down, his face shines with God’s glory and he speaks God’s words to the people. But his face continues to shine and it freaks them out, so he puts a veil over his face until it is time to go back and meet with God again.
So Paul draws on this story and tells the squabbling, bickering Corinthians
to look with unveiled faces at the glory of the Lord
as reflected in a mirror…
as they see that glory in each other’s unveiled faces,
that act itself transforms us more and more into the image of the Divine.
This is what Mennonites have called a “high anthropology;” a high value placed on every human being regardless of their political views,
regardless of their actions,
regardless of how much we may disagree with them.
We value each person highly simply because they, too,
are created in the image of God,
they too carry the glory of the divine image.
Do you remember Bob Buxman’s illustration here recently from the Jewish Talmud, where even the most down-and-out bum on the street is always preceded by angels calling, “Make way! Make way for the image of God!” ?
When we offer that degree of respect and reverence for each other,
we reflect the glory of God like mirrors
and not just the church but all of society is changed, transformed,
to a greater depth of vision
that sees greater and greater degrees
of God’s glory reflected into the world.
How does this play out in a practical way for us here at HPMF?
The Creationism/Evolution issue isn’t a huge issue for this congregation. But I see you offering this kind of respect regularly in other tension-ridden areas.
A very few examples:
troubled populations of kids
or who are in hostile work environments
or have difficult situations in your extended families…..
but rise to the occasion and respond with kindness and compassionate care.
You know, I think that catches all of you.
I think you have the binocular vision that allows you to see depth.
I think you are unveiled faces that reflect the light and the glory of God into this gorgeous, complex earth and its many communities.
I think that you catch the wisdom of the chimp—
and realize that yes, we are our brothers’ keepers,
and our keepers’ brothers in all the communities of earth as well.