A wide spot in my imagination.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Boy Scouts, Evolution, Love and other Controversies

Yesterday, the Boy Scouts leadership affirmed their ban against "open or avowed homosexuals."  That silly, unnecessary, hurtful, exclusive romp reminded me of a sermon I preached a couple of years ago.

The sermon touched on Valentine's Day, evolution, Scouting, mental illness...and love.  

Timothy B. Tutt
Pastor, United Christian Church
Austin, Texas

Sunday, February 14, 2010  
9:30 AM Worship

Transfiguration Sunday
 (Lectionary Year C)

“Everybody’s Son and Daughter – Jesus, Mental Illness, and Us”
Luke 9: 28-43

28Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now 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. 33Just 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. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36When 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.
37On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.
43And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

Today, three things collide...or perhaps I should say (hopefully), three things hold hands on the church calendar. 
First, it’s Valentine’s Day, of course. 
Second, it’s Evolution Sunday.   A group of Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans and others have suggested that today is a good day for churches to think about how science, particularly evolution, intersects with our faith.
Third, here in our little corner of the Realm, we are observing Scouts Sunday.
            So, Valentine’s Day, Evolution Sunday, and Scouts Sunday.

            Now, the first one, Valentine’s Day is not so controversial.   Everybody purports to like love, and most folks like chocolate, so we’re okay with Valentine’s Day.  (As for me, I’m allergic to chocolate so I would just as soon people give each other big boxes of mashed potatoes or chicken enchiladas, but I doubt that is going to catch on.)    Still, we’re okay with Valentine’s Day.

The second thing, Evolution Sunday is more controversial.   Maybe it’s not so controversial here in this church.   We’ve got a fair number of scientists and teachers, so I suspect most of us either embrace the idea entirely, or really don’t give it much thought at all.  But still, the larger world around us seems to be all a-twitter about “humans descending from monkeys.”  The Texas State Board of Education is a good -- or rather, bad -- example of that.  Ever so often the State Board of Education gathers here in River City and people have a good fight about evolution versus creationism, mainly in textbooks.   Seems like there are a lot of people who enjoy calling Charles Darwin names even though he’s been dead 128 years.    So, there’s the controversy of evolution.

Then, there’s Scout Sunday.   For some people, Scout Sunday conjures up a Norman Rockwell painting of freshly-scrubbed lads and lasses in their uniforms, pledging their duty to God.   But for other people, the Scouts (both Boy and Girl) are groups that symbolize intolerance in some ways through by policies that bar certain folks from participation.  GLBT people persons, persons of certain religious persuasions, or lack thereof, have been excluded. 
            In fact, one of our church’s denominational partners, the United Church of Christ, has called into question these policies.  Yet, we have a dozen or more kids in our church who like tying knots, making crafts, learning to cook in a Dutch oven, and sleeping out in tents.   So, Scout Sunday presents a contrast – inclusion versus exclusion.
            (Let me say, by the way, that here’s what we’re doing with Scout Sunday.   We are combining Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.   I think that honors gender equality.   Through this Scout Sunday, we are also acknowledging the Scout pledge to “do your duty to God” is one way that young people have the opportunity to think about their faith beyond the walls of the church.  That’s a shocking idea, huh?   That God doesn’t live only at church.   So, to our Scouts, thank you for finding ways to think about God beyond Sunday.  And we’re also used this Scout Sunday as a time to invite others to come and see how our community seeks to live out our faith.  Learning from others, learning from other faith traditions, is important.)

            So, we’ve got these three contradictions bumping into each other.   Valentine’s Day.  Evolution Sunday.   Scouts Sunday.   As we think about these things, there are a plethora of questions that come to mind:  How do Christians embrace evolution and express their faith?   How can a family take part in two organizations that may have contradictory ideas, like Scouts and the UCC?   What if you’re a liberal on these issues and your next door neighbor is a conservative on these issues – how do we get along?  How does one church express a certain angle on theology while another church expresses a different angle?

That brings us back to Valentine’s Day.   Love.  I know, I know, it sounds so cheesy:  Love.   I’m not talking about buying flowers, or going out to eat or signing your name to a hallmark card.  I’m talking about, “Love one another.”  The words of Jesus, the words of the Apostle Paul, the cornerstone of the Good News that the church has to share.   Love.  The hard work of loving God and loving others.

            Our scripture passage for today is about love.   Jesus, Peter, James, John have this remarkable experience up on a mountaintop, then they come down to town and there’s a pained father crying out for help for his sick little boy.   The child is crying and convulsing and slobbering and hurting.   And the dad begs Jesus, Please help my little boy.  He’s my only child.  What was wrong with this little boy?  I don’t know.  Maybe he suffered from epilepsy, or some terrible digestive sickness.  Maybe he had the precursor to one of our mental illnesses, some extreme version of Tourette’s Syndrome or some terribly manic bipolar disorder.   
You will see that the title of my sermon includes mental illness.  At our 10:45 service I’m going to delve into that aspect a bit more.  I really don’t know what was wrong with the boy.  But I think I know what healed him.  Love.   The love of a man who took the time to stop, to listen, to touch and to care.
That is the same love that houses homeless people.    That is the same love that Cathy described in talking about the Interfaith Hospitality Network.   That is the same love that spurs you to give to the CROP Walk.
That is the same love that our society needs to address the controversies we face.  Evolution versus creationism, inclusive groups and exclusive groups, liberals and conservatives, Fox News and MSNBC.   How do we live with each other?
            I have strongly held views on these issues.    But I am not interested in digging up Darwin and “baptizing” him in the blessed waters of post-modern scientific thought (particularly since he was already baptized once as a good Anglican).  And I’m also not interested in digging up Darwin and crucifying him on a cross of gospel tracts.   I’m also not interested in preaching a sermon that sounds like closing arguments in a case for or against the Scouts.  
I hope that what this sermon does is cause us to think about living the contradictions and spur us onto loving the contrarians.

Love one another.  Conservatives and liberals, creationists and evolutionists, Scouts and not, the mentally ill, the physically well, the Olympically healthy, homeless people and those with three home.  Love them by stopping, listening, touching, caring as Jesus did. 
To me the most vital issue in our society today is learning to disagree with civility, with respect, with dignity.  Certainly we must speak up with urgency and with passion and with justice when wrong is perpetrated.  We must cry out as the daddy did in this text. 
But we simply must learn better ways to disagree.
I think that “more excellent way" (as the Apostle Paul wrote)  is love.

I hope, I pray that as citizens, we will find ways to end this debate over evolution.   I hope, I pray that we will embrace scientific views and faith perspectives that help us explain and care for our planet.   I hope, I pray that all groups of people – Scouts, churches, garden clubs, nations – will transcend the lines that divide us and truly embrace, welcome, and include all God’s critters.
But I’m afraid I’m a fatalist.   I’m afraid that once we’ve settled the evolution-versus-creation debate, I’m afraid that once we’ve fully welcomed GLBT people into, I’m afraid that once we’ve moved beyond the Christian versus Islamic wars that tear us apart, we will just move on to some other “fight” that we can’t even imagine today.
            Sadly, that seems to be how we humans are.  
            We may settle the current issues.   But unless we learn to love, we will just move on to other issues.  Unless we learn to heal, we will continue to fight.

But if we learn to love, to agree with kindness and to disagree with even more kindness, if we learn to respect, to care and to include, then we can live the more excellent way that beckons:  “Love one another.”

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