Sunday, February 12, 2017: Evolution Sunday: “Your One Wild and Precious Life?”

THOUGHT FOR CONTEMPLATION:

“Believe, when you are most unhappy, that there is something for you to do in the world. So long as you can sweeten another’s pain, life is not in vain.”

(Helen Keller)

PRELUDE

WELCOMING WORDS: Mark V.

CALL TO WORSHIP:

We stand in awe of all created things,

The power within them, that gives them form,

The ancient law that rules them all,

Fish of the sea, birds of the air,

The singing cricket and the roaring lion,

All evolved from microbial life,

All evolving, evolving still – Hallelujah!

(4h & 5th grade Opening Prayer)

INTROIT

LIGHTING OF THE CHALICE: Anders and Calla G.

We light this chalice

For the light of hope

The warmth of love

And the power of action.

(Anita Farber-Robertson)

OPENING HYMN: “All Creatures of the Earth and Sky” (v. 1-3) (#203)

OUR COVENANT:

Love is the doctrine of this church,

The quest for truth is its sacrament,

And service is its prayer.

To dwell together in peace,

To seek knowledge in freedom,

To serve humankind in fellowship,

To the end that all souls

Shall grow into harmony with the Divine.

This is our great covenant,

One with another, and with our God.

SONG OF ASPIRATION:

From all that dwell below the skies,

Let songs of hope and faith arise,

Let peace, good-will on earth be sung,

Through every land, by every tongue.

Amen.

THIS I BELIEVE: Donna C.

CHILDREN’S TIME

SINGING CHILDREN TO THEIR CLASSES:

Go now in peace, go now in peace;

may the love of God surround you,

everywhere,

everywhere

you may go.

CANDLES OF JOY AND SORROW

MEDITATION AND PRAYER

MUSICAL MEDITATION

READING: selection from “Evolution Weekend: Now More Than Ever!” By Michael Zimmerman, Huffington Post

For the past 11 years, hundreds of religious congregations…from a wide array of religious persuasions and…all corners of the world, have come together to celebrate the interface between religion and science. From Baptists to Buddhists, United Methodists to Unitarians, Jews to Muslims, and more…almost a million people have celebrated the weekend closest to the birth of Charles Darwin (12 February, 1809) as Evolution Weekend.

…religious leaders and parishioners have raised the quality of the supposed debate between religion and science. They have made it clear that their deeply held religious faith does not preclude accepting, promoting, and yes, celebrating the bet modern science has to offer….

At a time when “alternative facts” are equated with reality, it is important for people of faith to again affirm their trust in a worldview that…prizes the scientific method.

At a time when mosques and temples and…those who worship within their walls are under attack… it is important for people of faith to again come together an affirm their shared humanity.

ANTHEM

READING:The Summer Day” (by Mary Oliver)

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down –
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

OFFERTORY

THOUGHT FOR CONTEMPLATION:

“Believe, when you are most unhappy, that there is something for you to do in the world. So long as you can sweeten another’s pain, life is not in vain.”

(Helen Keller)

“Your One Wild and Precious Life?”

The Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson

Melrose Unitarian Universalist Church

Evolution Sunday, February 12, 2017

Readings: “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver

The summer I turned four years old I was in an accident – one that would have killed most people. I survived. After weeks in the hospital recovering from the surgery and the pneumonia I had consequently contracted, I returned home to my neighborhood, my family, my life. Slowly my family and I tried to make sense of it. On one of those days, during one of those conversations, my mother said to me, “Anita, you must have been saved for something.”

It struck a chord. There was something for me to do in the world. I only needed to figure out what it was and do it. I had my life’s work defined.

The household in which I grew up was a secular household. But I felt grounded, oriented, saved in a way, by this identification of my work in the world. I was saved for something… something which remained to be discovered.

This discovery quest, I was to later find out, was not unique to me. It is an essential human question that takes familiar forms. What are we here for? What are we supposed to be doing? Who are these people and creatures with whom we share our world, and how should we relate to them? The essential human questions.

They are answered in some way by all religions. The Native American Great Law of Peace teaches, Respect for all life, is the foundation.[1] Not surprisingly, the Hebrew and Christian scriptures are attentive to these questions. We hear in Micah, “What does God require of you but to do justly, to love kindness, and walk humbly with your God[2]. Micah asks in essence what Mary Oliver asks: ‘What shall I do with my one wild and precious life?’ And answers:

“…Do justly, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” (In Micah)

When Jesus is asked to distill the essence of what is required of us he says simply, as we reviewed last week, to love God, and love thy neighbor as thyself. No formulas of belief or practice except for the most simple and basic.

What shall I do with my one wild and precious life?

Love the source of life and love, and love all the rest of creation that has sprung from that one common source; love it as fully and deeply as we love ourselves, and treat it with kindness.

A simple, and compelling answer to that deepest of human questions.

What shall I do with my one wild and precious life?

Our tradition explores what right relationship to our earth and to each other might be, and how we might get there. Our fourth and fifth graders are working on just such questions through their exploration of the origins of life on earth.

As human beings we seek to have a meaning and a purpose, and the function of religion is to help us realize it and serve it. With the help of sacred texts and stories, when the faithful ask the questions of meaning, satisfying and healing religions offer help. It is therefore not surprising that the fourth principle of Unitarian Universalism is to affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. That search is central to the religious task and the principle sits there centrally, number four out of seven. The first principle speaks of the inherent worth and dignity of every person. It addresses us directly as we ask the existential question, “Who am I?” Our faith answers, you are a person of incredible, infinite worth and value. And when we ask “Where do I belong,” and “Do I belong here?” We answer with our seventh principle, “You are an essential part of the interdependent web of all existence. You belong here…and all of life belongs with you.”

Science asks different questions – important ones, but different none the less. Science wants to know how things work, what makes them what they are, how does it all fit and work together?

Science wants to know about the concrete world, wants to understand the very real and incontrovertible physical context in which we are embedded. Science provides information, answers the basic and essential human questions about the nature of our environment. When science is doing its work, it provides tools to help us in the quest to answer our deeply religious question – What shall I do with my one wild and precious life? It does not try to answer the question; only give us as much information as it can so that we can engage in the quest to better find our answers.

The fundamentalists make the simple but dangerous error of applying basic human questions to the wrong fields of inquiry. To look to the bible for scientific answers to the questions about the physical universe and how it works is to not understand why the book was written, what our ancestors meant to be helping us to understand. The writers of the bible were not concerned about how the physical world works. They were concerned with what it was that we should do with our one wild and precious life. We however, whole human beings that we are, are concerned with both.

The Creationists have struggled mightily to hold together things that seem not to hold together. They have fashioned something called the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky which is, from the pictures I have seen, beautiful and state of the art. This is their description:

The Creation Museum presents a “walk through history.” Designed by a former Universal Studios exhibit director, this state-of-the-art 65,000 square foot museum brings the pages of the Bible to life.

A fully engaging, sensory experience for guests. Murals and realistic scenery, computer-generated visual effects, over fifty exotic animals, life-sized people and dinosaur animatronics, and a special-effects theater complete with misty sea breezes and rumbling seats. These are just some of the impressive exhibits that everyone in your family will enjoy.[3]

It looks like other good museums I have visited. Except… except that in its life-like representations of human history you encounter dioramas with representations that would shock most of us.

Jason Byassee reports on his visit to the Creation Museum:

The makers of the Creation Museum have cleverly integrated staples of evolutionary theory into their own narrative. Dinosaurs are not only acknowledged but shown frolicking with Adam and Eve and the other animals in the Garden of Eden. … You may have heard that dinosaurs died out some 65 million years ago, but really they were created with the rest of the animals in 404 BC.[4]

Unsettling, to say the least. Listen on. At the museum one would “learn” that:

The ice age…happened because of the enormous evaporation after the Flood (of Noah and the Flood). …[5]

The Creationists have appropriated presentation and packaging that we are accustomed to equating with credible, authentic science and used that familiar well respected package to present material as science and truth, which is neither. Visitors approach museums as learners, listening to their narratives, absorbing the information shared, and integrating it into their store of knowledge. There are thousands, maybe over time millions of people who will take their children to this attractive, entertaining and pseudo-educational environment who will be mis-educated, mis-informed, and armed with defenses against the very real challenges that today’s science is placing before us.

We are facing the real dangers of global warming, destruction of eco-systems, loss of species varieties, world-wide disease epidemics, challenges of food production and distribution. We need to be consulting with our scientists, engaging in exploration and problem solving with them, making their resources our resources, so that together we can overcome these threats and move ourselves closer to a just, sustainable and equitable way of life.

Ironically, while we ask the questions about our right relationship with the earth and its creatures out of our spiritual quest, scientists, starting from a different point, arrive at the same answer as have we in our liberal religious tradition – that we are part of an interdependent web of life, connected irrevocably to one another. What injures one, injures the whole. What sustains one, serves to sustain and strengthen the whole. Amazingly, in a spiritual sleight of hand, the questions that were once so separate are coming together. The scientists asking the how questions, begin to approach answers of meaning, our place in the universe…religious questions.

Still, we are left with the most profound and inescapable religious and existential question:

What shall I do with my one wild and precious life?

The message of the age is that whatever it is, it ought not to be about denial. It ought not to be about separation. It ought not to be only about me. What we are called to be and do in the world is to sustain the connections, honor all that lives, do justly, love kindness, walk humbly.

What shall you do with your one wild and precious life?

Honor it as something of great worth, one life among many, all of great worth. Cherish and protect these lives.

With the tools of science and the eyes of compassion we look at the trajectory of the world, down to the seventh generation, and we begin to sense that there is indeed something for us to do in the world…something about truth, something about love, something about compassion, something about reconciliation. When we do it, the meaning will come. It will come.

May it be so.

Amen.

CLOSING HYMN:These Things Shall Be” (# 138)

EXTINGUISHING THE CHALICE (read by the congregation):

We extinguish the flame but not the light of truth,

the warmth of community,

or the fire of commitment.

These we carry in our hearts until we are together again.

BENEDICTION

CONGREGATIONAL RESPONSE:

May the long time sun shine upon you,

all love surround you,

and the pure light within you

guide you all the way home.

POSTLUDE

[1] http://goldenruleproject.org/native-america/

[2] Micah 6:8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

[3] Creation Museum website, home page

[4] Jason Byassee, “Dinosaurs in the Garden, a Visit to the Creation Museum” Christian Century, February 12, 2008, p/ 22.

[5] Op cit.