Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

“No Exceptions”

Sunday, October 4, 2009

 

 

Hebrews 2: 5-18

 

 Dean

Rev. Dean Snyder


Psalm 8 asks the question: “What are human beings that you [God] are mindful of them?”

 

What is man? What is woman? Psalm 8 says that God has made human beings a little lower than God. Some translations say a little lower than the angels. The idea of being almost God seemed too presumptuous for the translators, but the Hebrew word is elohiym, which in the Bible is a name for God. Psalm 8 says we are almost gods. We belong to heaven.

 

Darwin suggested, although he never came out and said it explicitly in The Origin of Species, that we are the result of a process of natural selection… that we belong to the earth.

 

Eugenie Scott, the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, says: “Darwin’s theory challenged the notions of human exceptionalism and brought to light this idea that humans are a result of natural processes, meaning we are not as ‘special’ as we once thought.”[i]

 

James Moore, one of the authors Darwin’s Sacred Cause, says that Darwin believed nature teaches us that there is “no high or low, better or worse. Things [are] just different.”

 

What do we think about this, those of us who read the Bible and believe in a loving God who created us? Are we special or are we just what Desmond Morris called “naked apes?”

 

Well, clearly we human beings are special. It wasn’t raccoons that built this beautiful building we worship in, was it? It wasn’t chipmunks who wrote the music we hear the choir sing. Alfred North Whitehead said that the trend of evolution has clearly been upward.[ii]

 

Of course, we are special. But Darwin reminds us that perhaps we are not as special as we once thought. Whatever else we are, we belong to the earth, too. Whatever else we are, we are part of nature, too. Whatever else we are, we are animals as well.

 

For example, we need to eat.

 

I travelled in Africa some with a bishop I used to work for who had visited Africa many, many times. He used to tell me that when you travel in Africa and someone offers you food you eat it because you can never be sure when you’ll eat again.

 

I asked him once why he thought a certain African nation kept electing an obviously corrupt president. He said that when you have experienced starvation, you will elect anyone you think will feed you. This is different only in degree to US elections, where we say: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

 

We do not have to be enslaved by our appetites but we usually get in trouble if we try to deny they exist. I know eating disorders are a complicated thing and I don’t want to trivialize their causes, but the Jungian therapist Marion Woodman, who was anorexic as a young woman, believes that one of the things that food disorders, and their prevalence in our society, symbolize is a desire not to be bound to the earth, not to be dirty, not to make dirt, not to be human. The prevalence of food disorders symbolizes a desire to be more than human, to be angels, to be gods. She calls it an “addiction to perfection.”[iii] Maybe all addictions are a rebellion against our being bound to the earth.

 

My mother used to say, “You’ve got to eat.” Everybody’s got to eat. No exceptions. I once knew somebody who starved himself to death as a protest against homelessness in America. I never want to see such an exceptional thing happen again.

 

Whatever else we are, we are animals too. And part of it is that we are sexual. We don’t need to be slaves to our sexual drives and feelings but it is generally not very smart to pretend they don’t exist. Some religions have gotten in big trouble doing that.

 

Apparently for some of his life Paul was celibate, and he writes in one of his letters that he wishes all Christians could be like him in this way so that they could concentrate all their energies on ministry. However, he says, “It is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” (I Cor. 7: 6-7). It is not a good idea to pretend that you are not sexual. It is better to find intentional ways of expressing our sexuality.

 

Whatever else we are, we are part of the earth, and we are subject to the vicissitudes of earthly existence. We have not figured out how to do away with disease and death yet.

 

I was the pastor once of a theologian who got cancer and died too soon. She longed for healing, but the scripture she quoted to me the most were the words of Jesus saying that God “makes [God’s] sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45).

 

Disease happens. We can study disease and try to eradicate it and we should, but apparently God or nature does not except us based on our merit from natural disasters, disease, physical anomalies, congenital disorders, or any of the rest of it. Apparently God or nature does not dole out diseases to those who deserve them nor grant good health to those who deserve that. We are not excepted.

 

On the treadmill at the gym, I sometimes listen to a British guitar player and songwriter named Mark Knopler. I like him because his lyrics are often a combination of profundity and fun. He wrote these lyrics:

 

Sometimes you're the windshield

Sometimes you're the bug…

Sometimes you're the Louisville slugger

Sometimes you're the ball

Sometimes it all comes together baby

Sometimes you're going lose it all.[iv]

 

John Richard Newhause said, before he died, that the mortality rate seems to be holding steady at 100 percent.[v] No exceptions.

 

Apparently God doesn’t make the sun shine on the good or grant good people health and wealth and advanced degrees, nor does God make it rain or send trouble and hardship to only the unrighteous. Apparently God doesn’t make an exception for me or you.

 

So what are we? De we belong to heaven or to the earth? Are we almost gods or are we naked apes?

 

Here’s what I want to try to argue. I think it is at the heart of our Christian belief, but it is counter-intuitive so we keep losing it. I think that what Christianity teaches is that we are almost gods when we are most engaged in the nitty-gritty, messy life here on earth – eating, mating, being healthy, getting sick, working, playing, living, dying.

 

The Book of Hebrews says “Now God did not subject the coming world about which we are speaking to angels” (Hebrews 2:5). Then later, talking about Jesus, Hebrews says; “It is clear he did not come to help angels but the descendants of Abraham” (Hebrews 2: 16-17).

 

We are what God created us to be not when we act like angels or gods full of elevated and lofty sentiments and nobility in the rarified purity of heavenly places. God created us to live in the world where whatever else we are we are animals and we are sexual, and where we are healthy and full of life sometimes and where we get sick and die other times. No exceptions. This world. The world of windshields and bugs and Louisville sluggers and balls.

 

I think God created Darwin’s world. I think God created Darwin’s very natural world. I think God put us here in this world where we need to eat and where we are sexual and where we are healthy sometimes and get sick other times. This messy world.

 

An illustration: Every four years Methodists elect delegates to national and regional conferences, and they pass the rules of the church and elect bishops. Our conference will vote next year on a very funny resolution that some people are proposing. It says that Methodist clergy shall not campaign to be elected as delegates to General or Jurisdictional conferences nor shall they campaign to be elected as bishops. This is a very funny resolution.

 

Passing a law that Methodist clergy should not jockey for position and power and prestige within the church is like passing a law that hound dogs should not sniff nor monkeys scratch.

 

See, I think God loves church politics. I’m not saying God approves of everything political that happens in the process. I’m just saying that God likes us in the thick of it.

 

God loves the wheeling and dealing in the halls of Congress. God loves the struggles on Wall Street and the organizing day-labors do Thursday evenings in our Sunday school rooms. Whatever God is doing in our world, God isn’t doing it in the realm of the lofty and angelic. God is doing it in the world where we eat and mate and practice politics and do business and organize.

 

The real world is God’s world. Not some perfect place somewhere else. This world, here and now. That’s what I want to argue. That God is in the bread and the wine – the real stuff of real life in this world. To be human means to plunge into life, not to escape it for a loftier ideal.

 

I also want to argue that God is somewhere in the rules to which we are subjected. What Hebrews calls “subjection.” Be very clear – I am not talking about the rules we make to subject people, but the rules we can’t do anything about … the rules with no exceptions. This is counter-intuitive as well. God is in the rules of the universe.

 

God is somewhere in the rule that when the humidity in the air reaches a certain point at a certain temperature, it is going to rain on us whether we are righteous or unrighteous.

 

God is somewhere in the rule that determines the sun is going to set at 6:46 p.m. tonight in Washington, DC, whether we are good or bad the rest of the day today. Test it if you want. Be as good or as bad as you can be today, and the sun will still set at 6:46 p.m. tonight. Check it out.

 

No matter whether we are righteous or unrighteous during the night tonight, the sun is going to rise at 7:08 a.m. tomorrow morning. No exceptions.

 

 God is somewhere within the rules to which we are subjected. The rule that the mortality rate holds steady at 100 percent. The rule that a sperm and an egg will meet and seed new life. The rule that the sun rises on the just and unjust. The rule that we more or less reap what we sow…the rule that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time…Malcolm X’s rule that chickens come home to roost…Dr. King’s rule that truth crushed to the earth will rise again.

 

God is somewhere in the rules to which we are subjected.

 

Eight years before he completed The Origin of Species 1851, Charles Darwin’s 10-year-old daughter, Annie, the light of his life, died. It was a massive grief. After her death, Darwin concentrated even more on his work. He plunged into it almost to the exclusion of everything else. Maybe he was just compensating for his pain.

 

But something else may have been at work in him. It may be that when our world has fallen apart the rules of the universe can feel to us like everlasting arms.

 

God is in the midst of life—in the bread and the wine—and somewhere in the rules that we can neither make nor change. No exceptions.  

 

 

 

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[i] Azedah Ansan, “Darwin still making waves 200 years later,” at http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/science/02/12/darwin.birthday/index.html.

[ii] Alfred North Whitehead, The Function of Reason (Boston: Beacon Press,  1925), 4-9.

[iii]Marion Woodman, Addiction to Perfection: The Still Unravished Bride (Inner City Books), 47-52.

[iv] http://www.markknopfler.com/

[v] Richard John Neuhaus,  As I Lay Dying: Meditations Upon Returning (Basic Books), 4.