Posted by: dacalu | 8 April 2013

Faith and Reason

Yesterday, I had the joy and privilege of worshiping with the Episcopalian college students of Province VIII (the Western US portion of the Episcopal Church) and with the people of St. Stephen’s, San Luis Obispo, CA.  It was the second Sunday in Easter or Doubting Thomas Sunday.  Here is the sermon I shared.

Collect:  Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Readings:

Acts 5:27-32 (“We must obey God rather than any human authority.”)

Psalm 118:14-29 (“The same stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”)

Revelation 1:4-8 (“I am the Alpha and the Omega”)

John 20:19-31 (Doubting Thomas)

Hymns:

#212 – Awake, arise, lift up your voice

#209 – We walk by faith and not by sight

#204 – Now the green blade riseth

#307 – Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendor

Sermon:

Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe.

I fear more damage has been done by this one Bible verse, than just about any other,

and yet I also think it holds one of the fullest, deepest truths of Christianity.

It has something very important to do with what we think,

and what we know, and yes what we believe.

It has to do with how we come to understand the world around us,

both the physical and the spiritual.

Many of you are old friends,

but many others I am meeting for the first time,

so I think introductions are in order.

My name is Lucas Mix and I am the chaplain at the University of Arizona

In addition to being a priest and chaplain,

I am an adjunct professor in the biology department,

specializing in evolutionary theory and the search for life in space.

Needless to say, this brings up all sorts of questions.

I, like you, am deeply interested in this question of how we relate faith and reason.

We live in an age of skepticism,

when people don’t know whom to trust.

We live in a time when it seems people are more interested

in imposing their idea of truth on you

than they are in discovering it for themselves.

Those of us that live and work at the university are, I hope,

shielded from the worst of this,

but even there, we find that ideology and partisanship affect us daily.

And sadly, Christians have become associated with the worst abuses of truth.

Very visibly on campuses and in the media,

people promoting Christianity are also promoting ignorance,

in a very literal sense.

They cite this passage about Thomas and explain it thus:

“Blessed are those who have seen contrary evidence

and refuse to let it change them.

Blessed are those who hold so firmly to what they believe

that they can never be shaken.”

They want us to ignore some aspect of science or politics or history,

so that we can better focus on one particular aspect of the truth,

on Jesus Christ.

And the tough part is that I agree with the goal,

but, as today’s reading from Revelation reminds us,

Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

To ignore anyone, even to ignore anything,

is to ignore some aspect of God’s revelation to us.

God does not ask us to ignore, but to keep our eyes open,

to change what needs changing

and to hold fast to what is true.

And so we come to Thomas.

Jesus does not condemn Thomas or even directly criticize him.

Jesus invites the apostle to see for himself.

If the Ignorers are to believed,

if faith really must be had in place of experience, in place of testing,

I think Jesus would have said to Thomas,

“No.  You did not believe when you did not see,

so you’re no longer one of mine.

You lost your chance.”

For that matter,

if we are to believe the Ignorers,

all of the disciples should have lost out on salvation

because they did not continue to believe Jesus would live

in spite of seeing Jesus laid in the tomb.

No, there is a time for doubt and a time for certainty.

There is a time for darkness and a time for light.

There is a time when we, like the planted see,

must strive on, though deep underground,

but we must never pretend the darkness is really light,

nor bury ourselves again, having broken the surface.

There is a place for doubt and uncertainty.

What we really want to know is when, and how much?

What we need to know is when do we trust our revelation,

and when do we trust our experience?

How do we weigh the wisdom of scientists,

when it conflicts with the wisdom of Bible scholars?

For the true via media of Anglicanism is not a straight shot down the middle,

but a careful weighing of all the factors.

So we have a question of balance.

I’d like to propose four things to think about

when thinking about knowledge –

all kinds of knowledge, but today especially,

I’m thinking of faith, reason, and experience.

Number One: Humility.

Earlier in John’s gospel, Jesus says:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth”

There is more truth.

There is always more truth.

There is always more growth.

I refuse to believe that God made seven billion people,

countless galaxies, stars, and planets,

in some massive attempt at compulsive redundancy.

The world is vast, and God is working in every single inch.

Every act, every sparrow, every lily, every grain of sand,

presents an opportunity to learn something.

What massive arrogance it would take to close one’s mind,

to ward off experience and knowledge.

For me, both science and faith must come with a fundamental humility,

that says we can know only provisionally.

“We see now as through a mirror darkly, but then we will see face to face.”

It’s not that I doubt everything,

but that I am always open to a new and better truth.

We must always be prepared to be wrong about something,

indeed to be wrong about everything,

except that we love God in Christ and one another.

We must always be open to chasing the Truth,

who is a person to be followed,

and not a fact to be possessed or a doctrine to be obeyed.

At the beginning of John’s gospel, Jesus meets Nathanael,

who challenges him – just as Thomas challenges him

after the resurrection.

Do you remember what Jesus says?

He tells him he saw him under the fig tree

and this causes Nathan to believe,

but more importantly, Jesus follows up with this statement:

“Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?

You will see greater things than these.”

It’s not a rebuke, but an invitation.

“Come and see.”

We must start with a willingness not only to be wrong,

but to be less wrong tomorrow than today.

Number Two:  Curiosity

I have come to think of curiosity as a virtue.

It means active hope.

Not only are we certain of things unseen,

but we are certain that there is more to see.

We have faith that what is coming,

can be better than what has come before.

The bible is full of active hope.

“Come and see.”

“Knock and the door will be opened.”

“Seek and you will find.”

And better still,

“Glory to God, whose power, working in us,

can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”

We are asked to do more than passively accept a changing worldview,

we are asked to be part of the process.

It’s not just God working within us, but God working through us,

seeking, persuading, even demanding to know more

about the world God has made.

We treasure what we do know,

precisely because through it, we may come to know more.

We say that Jesus is the light of the world,

because by that light we know all other things.

Who wants a flashlight so that they can stare at the beam?

A light shining in the darkness serves a purpose

by illuminating the world.

And so we love one another as we love God,

seeing our neighbor in the light of Christ.

God acts through Christ,

and we act with Christ in opening our eyes to the world.

And we turn our heart, mind, soul, and strength to this purpose.

We strive to break out of the darkness.

We use every power at our disposal to know fully,

to understand, to process, and appreciate

the beauty of creation.

Number Three: Paradox.

We must be open to seeing the world in strange,

different, even paradoxical ways.

This doesn’t mean embracing unreasonable or illogical beliefs,

and it doesn’t mean being blind to contradictions.

What it does mean is that we can be open to the possibility

that the truth is bigger than we can imagine.

The Lord revealed in Trinity,

who could be three persons and yet one God,

who could be fully human and fully divine,

who could be described as the Way, the Truth, and the Light

all at once;

this Lord should not be shy of ambiguity.

We must start, as Christian theologians have always started,

with an understanding that we are piecing together

our understanding of God and the universe

one little fragment at a time.

And all the pieces probably will not fit with each other,

until we complete the puzzle.

So we can affirm that God is both personal and infinite,

that humans are in some way determined by our environment

and also free to choose,

that we are both animals in a very real sense,

and profoundly spiritual creatures.

We must always ask what we want to accomplish

with our knowledge, instead of what we wish to exclude.

We say that God is personal, because we talk with God.

We say that God is infinite, because God caused all things to come into being.

Each statement has something important to offer,

and we need to look at them individually,

before we can look at them together.

Likewise, I think biology and theology both have interesting,

and not unrelated truths to offer

about what it means to be human.

But we need to appreciate each on it’s own merits.

Always ask, why is this knowledge useful?

What does it do for me and for creation?

Finally, Number Four: Love.

Knowledge does something important.

It allows us to interact with the world.

It allows us to predict how the world will affect us,

and how we will effect it.

It gives us power and comfort and context.

All of those can be wonderful things,

but they can also be abused.

Good knowledge is knowledge for the sake of love,

for the sake of relationship and compassion.

Good knowledge brings us closer to the thing we know,

and seeks that knowledge for the sake of both

the one who seeks and the one who is found.

Good knowledge always asks:

“what do you want?”

“Where are you going?”

“Who are you?” and

“What are we to one another?”

Good knowledge recognizes that,

in a very profound way,

to know is to be known.

To define and to understand,

is to align yourself with something else,

and it will change you both.

To name a thing is to name it in relationship with you,

just as you name yourself in relationship to it.

To call God Lord, is to name yourself vassal;

to call God friend is, likewise, to name yourself a friend of God.

When you are confronted with questions of reason and faith,

competing worldviews or just competing people,

I hope you will give some thought to these four things:

Humility, Curiosity, Paradox, Love.

They are for me part and parcel with the Good News of Christ.

They are the message of John’s gospel,

our Christian heritage,

and our Easter hope.

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Responses

  1. […] Recommended Article FROM https://dacalu.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/faith-and-reason/ […]


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