Sunday, February 10, 2013

Many Voices, One Church

Note: Continuing with our series that recognizes and celebrates the contribution of lay preachers within the local church of St. Paul-Minneapolis, the editorial team of the PCV is honored to share the following homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, which falls this year on Evolution Sunday.

For an introduction to this series, click here. Also, please note that to avoid possible negative consequences, names of preachers and/or parishes are not always disclosed in this series.


Readings: Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11..

In our Scripture readings for today, we hear how God calls to Isaiah and how Jesus calls to Peter. We also hear some very reluctant responses. In the first reading, Isaiah beholds a breathtaking vision of God. He sees God’s full glory. At this amazing spectacle, he moans, “Woe is me, I am lost.” He worries that he has unclean lips.

Then in our Gospel story from Luke, Jesus tells Peter and the others to lower their fishing nets and give it another try. They catch so many fish their boats almost sink. At this, Peter exclaims, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

I point out these somewhat cowardly responses because I suspect that many of us share these sentiments. I admit that I do. Often when I perceive God calling me forward to take a new step or move in a new direction, my first response is to resist. “I can’t do what you’re asking, God. I don’t know how; I don’t have the time. And I’m sure not holy enough.” I wish God would go find someone else for the job.

Resistance like this, however, is simply false humility. No matter what our shortcomings, whatever our weaknesses or strengths, we are the one through whom God works.

As you listen further to the Scriptures, note that neither Isaiah nor Peter stay stuck in their resistance. They move past it. Peter drops everything and goes to follow Jesus. At the end of the Isaiah reading, when God asks, “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah finds courage and responds, “Here I am God, send me.”

Can we respond like that? “Here we are God. Send us.” How is God calling us? What is God sending us to do?

One particular way that God calls came to my attention recently. This Sunday is Evolution Sunday. This is a time to look at how science and religion work together. I would like to explore where we might find God’s call in that.

For the last century and a half, science has been uncovering the reality of evolution. As Christians we have been coming to terms with a new understanding of our ancient creation story. Instead of God forming the entire universe in a mere six days, we now know that God’s creation has been ongoing since the beginning of time. It is still ongoing today. Nevertheless, the truth of Genesis still stands; God sees that creation is good.

On this Evolution Sunday, let us remember that science brings us facts, data, and an understanding of the laws of nature. And this is good. Religion, on the other hand, helps us to find meaning in it all, to experience the sacred in creation. And this is also good.

What does this mean for us? Where is God’s call at the intersection of science and religion? I would like to raise up two possibilities.

First, God has created a self-creating universe which is an interdependent web of life. All life, in fact all matter, have evolved from the same source. We are all star dust. We’re born from elements bursting from dying stars somewhere out in the cosmos eons ago. That star dust formed our solar system and our earth. Every creature on earth lives, dies, and goes back to the elements. Those elements then rise back up evolving into new creations.

This is all part of God’s ongoing creative process. In this process, we humans are not removed from the rest of creation. Nor are we superior to is, although we used to think so (and some people still do). We are, in fact, an interdependent part of creation. As Native American spirituality points out, the buffalo are our relatives. So is our environment, the animals, and plants. So are people: those near us, those who are different from us, even those we are at war with. We are all interdependent. We are all sacred parts of God’s evolving creation.

Therefore let us use care with our natural resources. Let us build structures that support people who suffer, who are oppressed, or who are disempowered. The call here is to develop a sense of kinship with the Earth and with each other.

Secondly, just as life forms continue to evolve, so does human consciousness. Theologians working in the area of Evolutionary Christianity point out the evolving phases of human consciousness. In the earliest millennia, consciousness was tribal and rooted in group think. Over time this slowly evolved into a new consciousness called the Axial Period. Consciousness grew to understand and honor the individual. The ancient Greeks said, “Know thyself.” Later in the Enlightenment period, Descartes said, “I think therefore I am.”

Some evolutionary theologians say that we are now entering what they call the Second Axial Period. Human consciousness is evolving into a new phase. We are moving beyond the individual focus and toward greater consciousness of our connectedness. Theologians such as Ilia Delio, a Franciscan nun and author of Christ in Evolution, help us see that as our universe continues to evolve, so does our human consciousness. Things are changing! This is a hopeful message, and I am very excited about how these concepts can help us develop our faith life.

So we must ask, how does God call us in this emerging consciousness?

In this Second Axial Period, we find there isn’t so much individual focus as there was when I was growing up. We have less focus on how do I get to heaven, or am I personally saved. Instead, the focus is moving away from the individual toward asking how we work together to bring about the Reign of God. And that Reign is not up in heaven but right here on Earth, in the midst of God’s creation.

Nevertheless, we are still individuals, and that continues to be important. God still calls each of us as individuals. But the call is not just to grow in our own personal piety. The call is to help the world evolve into the Reign of God that Jesus promised.

The call here is to become active participants. We are not simply to be bystanders, not simply to be recipients of creation. We are, in fact, co-creators with God in evolution. We are called to actively build God’s Reign (1) by cherishing the earth, (2) through our work for justice and for peace, and (3) when we find ways to touch others with compassion. When we do these things, we are co-creating God’s Reign.

As we open ourselves to hear this call, we each need to look inward as individuals to see where our resistance lies. We must ask ourselves what holds us back. Where are we stuck in our excuses, self doubts, or false humility?

As Lent begins for us this week, this time of reflection, let us ask ourselves two questions:

(1) How is God calling me to participate in this evolving co-creation?

(2) How am I responding?

Maybe we can sit with these questions in our hearts until we too can courageously respond as Isaiah did, “Here I am God. Send me.”


For an excerpt from Ilia Delio's book The Emergent Christ: Exploring the Meaning of Catholic in an Evolutionary Universe, click here.

For some helpful articles on evolutionary Catholicism, click here.

For information about the upcoming workshop, "Our Role in God's Evolving Creation: A Catholic Spirituality for the 21st Century," click here.

1 comment:

  1. This is such a wonderful reflection that I wish I had been there. Thank you for posting it here, Michael. I think I know this preacher. I will thank her too, for stepping up to accept the charism of preaching.