The Gift of Connectedness

May 25, 2014

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

6th Sunday of Easter – RCL Year A
Acts 17:22-31; 1 Peter 3:13-22 ; John 14:15-21

A few months ago, TJ, a member of the J2A Youth group, approached me after Sunday school to ask if I could help her with a school paper. She had to write her perspective on the Creation stories found in Genesis in light of the scientific evidence of Evolution. She assured me that outside resources were allowed, including priests, so I was happy to help.

When she called later that day, I shared with TJ how I have reconciled these two ways of seeing God’s Creation of the world and humanity. As a life-long Episcopalian, my formation has been under-girded by what is sometimes called the “three-legged stool” of Anglican Theology: Scripture, Tradition and Reason. So, as new knowledge is revealed, reason is used alongside Scripture, and plays a part in our understanding of God and God’s relationship to the world.

After sharing my perspective, TJ asked if I had any outside resources that might be helpful for additional evaluation. At first I couldn’t think of anything, but then, I remembered a Newsweek article I read in the late 80’s that intrigued me – it was called “The Search for Adam and Eve.” What’s more amazing is that I was pretty sure I had a copy of it, and after a few minutes digging through boxes in the garage, though a Google search would’ve been faster, I found it for her to use. 

The article talked about a study conducted by microbiologists at Berkeley and Emory who were exploring the origin of the modern human race. The authors acknowledge the risk of using the biblical names of Adam and Eve in the title – but how else are you going to sell magazines, right? The opening paragraph says in part:

nwswk8Scientists are calling her Eve, but reluctantly. The name evokes too many wrong images — the weak-willed figure in Genesis, the milk-skinned beauty in Renaissance art…’softness’ and ‘meek surrender’… The scientists’ Eve… was more likely a dark-haired, black-skinned woman, roaming a hot savanna in search of food. She was muscular… she might have torn animals apart with her hands, although she probably preferred to use stone tools. She was not the only woman on earth… She was simply the most fruitful, if that is measured by success in propagating a certain set of genes. Hers seem to be in all humans living today: 5 billion blood relatives. She was, by one rough estimate, your 10,000th-great-grandmother. 

Considering that this article is almost 30 years old, make that 10,000th and 1.

Now, most of us are familiar with Darwin’s theory of evolution, commonly called “Survival of the Fittest.” It shows that species have developed over millions of years, and that, over time, it’s the strongest genes that survive. So, after testing the DNA from the birth-placenta of 147 women from around the globe, in a highly complicated process, these scientists concluded that ALL of them were traced back to a single maternal line.

They explained that the male line would be studied next, but it was much harder to track… I won’t speculate further.

Although the article divulges various challenges and controversies around the study, the study asserts that contrary to earlier thought – which was that humans evolved in different places around the world – this study concludes that:

The evolution from archaic to modern Homo sapiens seems to have occurred in only one place, Eve’s family [most likely in Africa]. Then, sometime between 90,000 and 180,000 years ago, a group of her progeny left their homeland endowed apparently with some special advantage over every tribe of early humans they encountered. As they fanned out, Eve’s descendants replaced the locals, eventually settling the entire world.

They also found that the variation between the DNA samples, in this pure form, had very small differences, even between races. They explained that skin color is simply a means of adapting to climate, “black in Africa for protection from the sun, white in Europe to absorb ultraviolet radiation that helps produce vitamin D.” And skin color changes fairly quickly by evolutionary standards, in just a few thousand years, while important changes, such as brain size, can take hundreds of thousands of years.

Now, we know there’s a lot more to racial differences than just skin color – but that’s a quick identifier. You can’t turn on the television these days without being bombarded by racial tensions that persist, in many forms, not only in bigoted rants, but in systemic and subtle ways, too.

74673709_chrisbrownAnd it’s not just race that’s a lightening rod of division – religion, especially on the global scale, is highly volatile, seen most recently in the abduction of almost three hundred school girls in Nigeria. And through the centuries, religion, including Christianity, has been used to justify countless acts of persecution, segregation and even genocide.

When we think of this in our current context, there are so many things that are difficult for us to wrap our brains around, and yet, at the same time, in some ways, not so difficult. Otherness makes many of us uncomfortable. We tend to gravitate toward people that are like us. Our communities are often compartmentalized that way. It’s what we’re used to. One of the things I love about Atlanta is not just the diversity, but the visible integration in many neighborhoods, yet even in that, there’s still a long way to go.

And although we may think that it’s human nature to gravitate to those who are like us, if we expand our way of understanding “like us,” based on the science I enumerated earlier, our human-ness actually seems to give us reason to find connection with one another. We are from a common source – God – and all from the same family at our genetic core.

We see this kind of understanding in Paul’s words found in the writings of the Acts of the Apostles (long before Darwin). Paul is talking to the people of Athens – these are Greeks, not Jews. He speaks of God as being the source of all things to all people, saying: “The God who made the world and everything in it… gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.” Paul goes on to say:

From one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and [God] allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him– though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For `In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, `For we too are his offspring.’

I believe that Paul was so successful in cultivating early Christian communities because he focused on the connectedness of people more strongly than their differences. He encountered, even sought out, people that were different than him in order to spread the Good News of Jesus. He begins by affirming the Athenians as being “extremely religious,” then goes on to share his experience of the resurrected Christ and what he knows of God’s love and connection with all people.

In 1 Corinthians Paul writes:
To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. … To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some.” (1 Cor 9:19-23)

This passage isn’t saying to go around and be fake with people. It’s saying, go and find common ground. Don’t be limited by cultural biases which are learned. God makes us all. God is in each of us, and we all, in every race, grope to find God.

In the gospel lesson from John, Jesus provides words of assurance to his disciples, promising them that although he is going away, he is sending another Advocate, to be with them, the Holy Spirit which will continue to reveal God’s truth. Jesus goes on to say “I will not leave you orphaned.” And when you think about it, how can any of us be orphaned if we are all from one source?

Jesus asks us to follow his commandments and to love one another as he has loved us. So, in following this commandment, we are compelled to see each person as part of God’s one-family. When we do this, as Paul did, we are more likely to look for places of common ground when approaching someone who seems different than us. Not just in other countries, races, cultures or religions, but even within the diverse views of the Christian faith itself – most likely, even within these pews.

In our Episcopal tradition, we take it further. In our Baptismal liturgy we affirm that we will support one another on their Christian journey. Each time we baptize new members into this Body of Christ, the congregation is asked, “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?” and the people respond “We will.”

If we take this vow seriously, then we have a commitment to one another – the same commitment that the parents and godparents have, for the nurturing and stewardship of these children as they come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ. I’m asking you today to think about how you live out that “We will” in this Christian family that is Christ Church.

As you think about this, I remind you that although our schools close for the summer, the doors of this church remain open. Parents are rearranging their schedules to keep the energy and exuberance of children engaged, and we are offering ways to be a source of Christian learning and inspiration for children during this time.

group 3 - jumpingWe also hope to provide time on Wednesday nights in June and July, to give parents a little break one evening a week – well deserved, no doubt! But for this to work, the whole family of Christ Church must claim their commitment to be stewards of the spiritual lives of these children – to offer what others may have provided to you when you were growing up.

In “This Week at Christ Church” you’ll find information about other programs, like Sandwich Sundays when we will prepare food for those who are hungry. There are also times when we will share God’s word and love with children at the Norcross Co-op and Rainbow Village. These are meant to be family-oriented activities, and when I say that, by now you know I mean the CHRIST CHURCH FAMILY, not just parents and their own children.

As such, I hope all of you will come and be part of these offerings. To participate as fully as you possibly can in this time of fellowship and ministry. I believe you will be enriched by it, and I’m sure the community will be.

You see, everything we have is GIFT, and the gift of your time and talent in these summer programs is vital! Through it, you create a connection with these young people which assures them, like Jesus assured his disciples, that they will not be left alone on their journey – they are loved, and they have an Advocate, in the Holy Spirit, yes, but also in YOU.

The fruit it will bear is GOOD fruit, and through it, Jesus’ message of God’s love and relationship will continue for generations and generations to come, with God’s Help – and with YOURS!

Kids around game 1 Kids around game 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Article Source: John Tierney, “The Search for Adam and Eve,” Newsweek 111 (Jan. 11, 1988): 46-52. Online source accessed 05/23/2014: http://www.virginia.edu/woodson/courses/aas102%20(spring%2001)/articles/tierney.html.

One Response to “The Gift of Connectedness”

  1. Jim said

    Terrific! You are a true blessing. Nice handling of Darwin and “Eve.” Yosemite is spectacular! Love, Dad

    Jim Greenwood

    >

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