This...or that

Jul. 13, 2014

Gen. 25:19-34. Rm. 8.1-11; Mt. 13.1-9, 18-23

Francis Collins, who led the scientific effort to map the human genome and is the director of the National Institute of Health, wrote in his book The Language of God that we share 98% of your DNA with chimpanzees and gorillas. I know that probably doesn't surprise some of you who may have thought it may be a much higher percentage than that! Apparently, we share more than history with our primate friends! Our DNA is a map that can be traced back millions of years to the working of a God who has been both patient and purposeful in creating us. Collins said, "Nearly all of the atoms in (our bodies) were cooked in the nuclear furnace of an ancient supernova (called the Big Bang)--(and so we) are truly made of stardust." And another well-known scientist Stephen Hawking in his book A Brief History of Time added, "It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just the way it did, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us."

The best that science can guess, from looking through the Hubble telescope is that our universe is probably about 14 billion years old. And scientists estimate that after our planet cooled off about 10 billion years later, that's the point that life blossomed here on planet Earth. So, life in it's most primitive forms began mere 4 billion years ago. Although some have speculated about the possibility of life on other worlds, most scientists have real doubts that life exists anywhere in all of the vastness of space outside our Earth. And some even have serious doubts about the existence of intelligent life here on Earth! But that's another story.

We could especially wonder about human intelligence when we look at the scriptures today. Perhaps Francis Collins' genetic research could help explain why and how two fraternal twin brothers like Esau and Jacob...could be twins, and yet be so completely different from each other. They were at war with each other from their birth on. Their stories stretch out across the book of Genesis in a tale of deception, deceit, and disappointment as they try to dominate each other. How could a brother be so mean to another brother? Jacob and Esau's conflict divided their parents, their property, and their lives. Their mother Rebekah asked the Lord, "If it is to be this way, why do I live?" It's a question as relevant and current as today's newspaper. When we think about the things that shape us, we hope God's grace can find a little opening in the midst of all the conflict we endure. When we refuse God's grace, we know bad things happen.

There seems to be no depth to which we are unable to sink. There is an old rabbinic story about two mortal enemies. One was visited by the Lord who said, 'I want to bless you by giving you anything you ask of me. Only ask, and whatever you ask, I will give...but you should know, I will give the man you call your enemy twice as much as I give to you." The man winced in pain at the thought of giving anything to his enemy. Then, the evil in his heart hatched a plan. He asked the Lord to make him blind in one eye. It's that same spirit that divided these two brothers.

We are shaped by conflict ourselves, if we let it define us. A best-case scenario would be that the conflict knocks off our rough edges and brings us closer to what God wants us to be. I'm reminded of Michelangelo's well-known statue of the young shepherd boy David. We all seen pictures of his beautiful rendering of the human form. At 13 feet in height, it's breathtaking in both size and beauty. Looking at it, one wants to stand up straight and suck the gut! As the story goes, the block of stone had been cut for another artist from which a statue was to be made. It was a piece of white marble that had been left aside some 40 years earlier after the unsuccessful sculptor had started to chisel, but left off in his efforts. The block represented a failed work. But when Michelangelo's eyes fell upon it, he could see within it, the David that one sees today. Michelangelo said the statue was inside the marble; it was his job simply to remove the excess. With every stroke of his chisel the image emerged from the marble.

Maybe one of the ways we should think of ourselves is as a work in progress...that even in the midst of conflict, if only we could be centered in God, believing, trusting God to shape us into new people. The blows that fall on us, could be used by God to shape us, and despite their intensity or the ways they shake us, God willing, God can and will shape us.

We may wonder, "How could that work?" Well, the process is not as difficult as we might imagine. The objective is pretty straightforward. It's about focusing on God...and as St Paul said in today's Epistle, "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he...will give life to you...through his Spirit that dwells in you." We are then shaped into the saintly persons God wants us to be. I know that sounds like astrophysics: How can I be a saintly person? It's like the man told his priest, "Father, you're more complicated than Einstein, cause at least 10 people in the world understood Einstein!"

Before you reject your sanctity, let me explain. As the Trappist monk Thomas Merton said, "For me to be a saint means to be myself... therefore, the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and discovering my true self." Your true self is the person that God sees you becoming. I know, you may say, "Right! Sure! Isn't it silly to think of me as another St Thomas or St Francis of Assisi?" The answer to that question is, "Yes, it's silly!" But God doesn't want you to be another Thomas or Francis; God wants you to be you. CS Lewis said God's saints are like snowflakes...each one is different, each one is unique, and each one is God's creation. All of us need God to shape us into what God wants us to be. If you think that sounds crazy, then consider this: if we live outside God's will for us, then our life and logic becomes more and more about self-justification, self-centeredness, and self-magnification. Is that not the overriding theme in the conflict between Jacob and Esau? If we live in and let conflict define us, then we become like that block of stone that Michelangelo found...just a flawed and failed work. But if we let God shape us, then even our flaws can be conformed to God's image for us. And believe me, that works, even if your chromosome count makes you a monkey's uncle...God is still working on you. So, be patient, because God certainly being patient with you. Amen.

The Reverend WA Ray St Thomas Church Diamondhead, MS 07/13/14