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The sermon for week January 29, 2017

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Bumper Sticker Faith

I’ve told the story of my conversion from a creationist to someone who believes in evolution and will retell it again now. Evolution being the fact that things change over time, and let’s be clear: it’s just a theory. A theory like gravity. Gravity is the theory that keeps you from flying off the planet at this present moment. Just a theory.

I was a sophomore in high school when I took my first biology class. We had this new teacher Mrs. Barden. She was funny and brash. Any time she brought up the age of the earth or the fact that we are primates, I would voice my objection. It got so bad that she brought in a local priest. He took me out in the hallway and said, “Lindon, I’ve heard that you’ve been disruptive in class.”

I said something about how I had to defend the Bible. He then said, “Catholics aren’t creationists! That’s a Protestant thing! We invented biology! Gregor Mendel who you will soon learn about, was the priest who first discovered genetics!” I was converted right then and there.

I have always been fond of science. I loved watching Disney Nature and Disney’s True Life Adventures. National Geographic Explorer was a staple every Sunday night. We’d gather around the television in the days before DVR and watch it together as a family, commercials and all. I don’t really know what caused me to think I was a creationist. I chalk it up to my lazy and non-curious theological mind at the time. It was just easier to believe in creationism than to go through the work of being an evolutionist. Having to take a class, study, pass tests, you know… Learn. I liked the ordered world presented by creationism. It’s in an understandable timeline, thousands of years not billions. Things are made, and they don’t change. It’s hard to understand how a mighty timber wolf that can run for miles and kill elk and deer changes over time into a pug who can barely breathe.

The differences of breeds and species, the nuances of genetics, and the unpredictability of mutations are hard to fit into a theology that demands a completely knowable God. Yet that is not the God we have. The God we have is wrapped in mystery and says, “My ways are not your ways.” I believe that God allows free will, our free will to choose our actions, as well as free will at the cellular level. Every cell has a timer in it to say when it will die. We call these normal cells. Yet there are cells that don’t have this feature. Cells who want to be immortal sound like a good idea. But we call those cancer cells. Immortality comes at a great cost and maybe some cells choose that route. God sets natural law I believe, yet God allows us to co-create and play jazz alongside God. A God who is a male, who is a king, who doesn’t allow free will and leaves people to their fate is simpler, more easily understood, might feel safer but way more problematic and frankly unbiblical. It’s not the God we meet in Jesus Christ.

The part of the story I haven’t told is what happens after. Mrs Barden and I became friends. I found that I actually enjoyed learning from someone who is smart, funny, and passionate about their subject. I also found she had a deep and abiding faith that was very complex, compelling and inspiring. Her view of God was not the safe, fatalistic king but the ground and source of our being. The God who allows jazz, God who was the source of all things that set the laws but then coaxed and guided, never demanding that things go a certain way.

I was inspired by that view and started to grow in knowledge and faith. To consider God in a new way. Sometime later, I saw this bumper sticker that I thought summed up my new faith position. It was a bumper sticker that said, “I believe in the big bang theory! God spoke and bang it happened.” I thought this showed my belief in the big bang and the standard model of physics that I had learned about in my freshmen science class and my faith claim that God was behind it.

That bumper sticker was on my car for two days. When Mrs Barden saw it she asked me if she needed to call the priest again. She read it in an entirely different light. She said it was a creationist sticker that was dismissive of science. I never factored in sarcasm into my bumper sticker. With that revelation, I saw she was right and immediately took it off my car.

In college and into seminary, I loved getting complex. To make a statement and then say, “Well what about…” and then tear it apart. Deconstruction was the name of the game. I loved learning how to be critical. Yet I was also an advertising major and had to learn how to write advertising catch phrases and slogans. So I love complexity and yet I love a good slogan. “Where’s the Beef?!” Who’s slogan was that? (Wendy’s). “Just do it” (Nike). “Reach out and touch someone.” (AT&T). “I’m lovin’ it!” (McDonalds). “There are some things in life that money can’t buy, for everything else there’s… Mastercard.”

We have a few phrases here: Nurture Spirituality, Empower life. This service has ended, your service now begins. Or as I said in November before the election…
Dogs bark.
Cows moo.
Ducks quack.
And Christians love.

The question is… would we put these phrases on our car? If not these, than what would you put on your car? What is a phrase that you would stand for? In the Beatitudes, Jesus is a bumper sticker factory, he is just churning these out at a rapid pace. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. It’s not in the text but I have it on good authority that James and John wrote these down and sold them for two shekels and people left the sermon on the mount with these phrases on the back of their carts. Okay… maybe not.

We in the UCC like our theology layered and complex and hate having to explain anything in less than five minutes. And that's OK! The story of the creator of the cosmos does not fit in one religion, story, and definitely not on a bumper sticker. Yet we can be complex and layered and also short. Jesus was. Blessed are the poor in spirit. That’s a tweet! Blessed are those who mourn, they will be comforted. That’s a bumper sticker! And we intuitively understand these statements. Culturally, we tend to think that being poor in material things or in spirit is a bad thing, but not according to Jesus. Jesus is flipping the tables on us. Giving us a new set of values and life goals. The poor… theirs is the kingdom of heaven! In a world of war, peacemakers are called children of God. Amen! We get all of these. Here are slogans that can fit on bumper stickers yet it leaves us wondering. Wondering about the implications…

I urge us to risk stating our faith, hope, and love simply. We who love complexity need to state things simply. God is love. All are welcome. God loves everybody, no exceptions. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love wins. Those are our leading stances that lead our questions. How does love win in a world of hate, fear, and war? How can I love my neighbor, especially THAT neighbor? How can God love everyone? Even fans of that rival sports team? It is our job as the church to figure out how to live out these statements and faith claims in our contexts.

We’re Christians, and we’re in the healing business. We’re called to feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner. If you consider yourself a Christian, you have to do those things. And they fit on a bumper sticker. However, how we do that, we can talk about. We must talk about! We must endeavor to find the language and the small phrases that unlock a bigger conversation. It’s what we see Jesus doing today.

Go and do likewise, church. The world needs your love and your voice of love now more than ever. State it simply, and may the conversation begin.

Up here there are a selection of bumper stickers given to me a long time ago by one of you. Come on up and see if one speaks to you. I’m not going to run out to check your cars, but take a gander. If you don’t find one here, look for one elsewhere. Stand for something. State your faith simply.

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