Every Creature - Faith & Science Series Part 1

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We're very excited about the new Day1 "Faith and Science in the 21st Century"  formation resource from Church Publishing, Inc.!

Faith and Science in the 21st Century presents a way to start this important conversation. Built on existing audio files and videos produced by Day1 with assistance from a John Templeton Foundation grant, this series features notable faith leaders across the denominational spectrum in brief video presentations and longer audio excerpts on scientific topics in which they are experts.  Intended for use in a variety of settings, including congregations, schools, and campus ministries, it can be presented as an 8- or 16-session series of studies, but each session can also stand on its own for a one-time formation offering. Media files are available for download at a modest additional charge. This guide enables facilitators to foster fruitful discussions of each session topic. It includes an introduction about the program and how it can be used, and eight detailed session plans to utilize with a downloadable video sold separately on the Day1 website.



Scott Hoezee** :** Does the universe that science is uncovering in evermore wondrous detail have no purpose and no meaningful place for humans? Listen to some people these days, including some vocal scientists, and you will hear the answer loud and clear: "No, not really. We don't matter. The universe is pretty much pointless."

Peter Wallace: That's the Rev. Scott Hoezee...and today we begin a special series on "Faith & Science in the 21st Century." I'm Peter Wallace...this is Day 1.

Sherrie Miller: Welcome to Day1, the weekly program that brings you outstanding preachers from America's mainline Protestant churches, sharing insight and inspiration from God's Word for your life.

Today we launch an exciting series of special programs. To introduce this week's preacher, here's our host, Peter Wallace.

Peter Wallace: Thank you, Sherrie. Today we begin a special eight-part series of Day1 programs: "Faith & Science in the 21st Century," made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. Over the next eight weeks we'll explore together some of the major issues of science today with a goal to facilitate meaningful conversation around these issues, particularly among people of faith. To get us started on our quest to engage the big questions that have riddled humanity since the dawn of civilization, we're honored to have with us the Rev. Scott Hoezee, an ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church of North America, who has served two congregations in Michigan as pastor. Since 2005 Scott has been a member of the faculty of Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he serves as the director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching. Scott is a graduate of Calvin College and earned his master of divinity at Calvin Seminary. He is the author of several books, including his latest, "Actuality: Real Life Stories for Sermons That Matter." Scott, thanks for helping us get this series started!

Scott Hoezee** :** It's a pleasure to be with you, Peter.

Peter Wallace: Introduce us to the Seminary where you serve on the faculty.

Scott Hoezee: Sure. Truett Calvin Theological Seminary is the official seminary of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, but we have students from all over the world. We have students from about 30 countries, about 20% of our student body is from Korea. We have a number of degree programs, including an M.Div. for those going into preaching and parish ministry, but also some M.A. and M.T.S. degrees and a Ph.D. program in two areas as well. We've got about 300 students, about 200 full-time equivalent students in various degree programs, faculty of about two dozen faculty members, and we've been around since 1876.

Peter Wallace: You are the director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching. How are you working to improve the art and science of preaching?

Scott Hoezee: We wanted to, with our former president Neal Plantinga, we wanted to do something at the seminary to kind of put Calvin Seminary on the map as supporting good preaching. It's always been a big part of the reformed tradition. And so we founded this center with the goal of trying to give high quality resources to preachers to help them in that very important, but very difficult weekly task of producing fresh and vibrant sermons. So we have a website that is updated every week where we put four sermon starter articles for the upcoming Sunday's four lectionary texts, so those are all archived. We have a number of audio sermons that you can download and listen to by very well-known preachers as well as by people you haven't heard of perhaps, but who have excellent sermons to offer. We have standing lists of recommended commentaries, books about preaching, sermon collections. So in all these ways on the website, we try to resource preachers who are looking for good resources. Then we also do a number of continuing education seminars; we'll do one and two-week seminars in the summer bringing together 15 to 20 pastors at a time and just kind of having an intensive week of looking at various aspects of preaching. Again, with a goal to help them do their vital tasks better. 

Peter Wallace: At Calvin Theological Seminary you teach often on the intersections of theology and science. What is your goal for your students in helping them grasp those intersections?

Scott Hoezee** :** There's really--in the course I teach--a couple of goals. One is to bring students up to speed a little bit on sort of the state of science right now. What is science teaching? One thing we've discovered through surveys and the like is that most seminarians comes to seminary with less undergraduate science education than their peers who were in other tracks and other degree programs, and so a lot of them just don't know about quantum physics or they've never really heard about various developments in astronomy. So we try to bring them up to speed a little bit on what science is saying, but then equally importantly is to expose them to the sort of the broad waterfront of where science and theology, science and faith, conversations are. They are going to confront this in their ministries in one way or another, so we hope to give them at least some of the vocabulary, some of the concepts and categories of thought that they'll need to talk thoughtfully about this to young people who have lots of questions but also to weave it into preaching and teaching in their congregations.

Peter Wallace: You've written several books not only on preaching but on creation and other scientific topics. One of your books is entitled Proclaim the Wonder: Engaging Science on Sunday. Why is it so important to consider the lens of science when preaching or teaching about the faith?

Scott Hoezee: Well, science, of course, is increasingly big on our cultural landscape. It looms ever larger, and this isn't something a preacher has to do every week, but there may be any number of times in the course of preaching where topics related to things that science teaches about crop up. Maybe it's about the nature of humanity or sometimes it could be vital medical ethical questions, things people in the congregation are dealing with, with in vitro fertilization and other things. So it's good for preachers to be aware of this and to be able to apply scripture where they're able to the various relevant topics that are out there in science today. So preachers need to have a little confidence in doing that, so in that particular book, I suggested ways to keep themselves somewhat fresh and knowledgeable so they don't say things in a sermon that any middle-schooler with an iPhone in the fourth pew can discredit with a quick Google search. You want to be accurate; but also, I wanted to lay some of the biblical foundations and hermeneutical foundations to say we can engage this without compromising scripture. You don't have to get rid of scripture to engage science. Science is not impugning or disproving scripture. So those are some of the goals I had in that book. Help preachers relax into the subject and see it as a natural thing to bring into preaching, same as they bring into politics or media, or contemporary culture and events and like that.

Peter Wallace** :** Well, Scott, since the dawn of time humankind has wrestled with the big questions of life--why are we here, does the universe make any sense. Religion has played a major role in answering those questions...but some religious beliefs seems to conflict with scientific theories or even fact. How should people of faith approach these deep and important questions of life, the universe, and everything?

Scott Hoezee: Sure. Well, we are always--particularly, in my reformed tradition--we've long had this theology of revelation of two books. There's the book of nature, the creation of God and of course scripture; and of course we believe that due to our sinfulness we can't read the book of nature correctly without--as John Calvin said--putting on the spectacles or the eyeglasses of scripture. But we're always interpreting both books and we can make mistakes on both sides. If we could interpret scripture absolutely accurately and if we could interpret the data of creation absolutely accurately, I suppose there would be no conflict between the two. But there are sometimes conflicts, apparent conflicts, and the question becomes where does the mistake lie. Is it in the interpretation of what we're seeing through science, or is the mistake what we thought the Bible was saying all along, so we're always kind of in dialogue on those two fronts and just trying as best we can to see what the truth is, what is the Bible saying, what is creation saying as God has enabled us to investigate also the creation, what are both saying and how can we come as close as we can. We're never going to achieve perfect harmony and shouldn't expect to, I suppose, but come as close as we can to getting both right and then seeing where are the convergences and where are the questions we still have to work out.

Peter Wallace: Scott, your message today, which serves as an introduction to our series, focuses on how science and faith can inform each other. It's based on a powerful passage from chapter one of Paul's letter to the Colossians. Would you read it for us?

Scott Hoezee:

Colossians chapter 1, verses 15-23

15He (Paul referring to Jesus here) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16For in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers; all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

21And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind doing evil deeds, 22he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, 23provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.

Peter Wallace: What drew you to this passage for this sermon?

Scott Hoezee: I was thinking about this text for quite a while actually, and a few years ago, I also preached at a worship service for the American Scientific Affiliation, which is perhaps one of the largest gatherings of Christians who are in the sciences in the world. And they had a worship service. And there was just something about the scope of this passage. It's a remarkable passage anyway in so very many ways. But the scope of the passage and that hammering phrase of all things, all things, every creature, everything, this is Paul, sort of at his cosmic best in seeing that the gospel is not a local phenomenon. It's not even a people-only phenomenon. It does involve the whole of creation, and so this is one of those passages--John 1 being another one--in the New Testament that really clamps together creation and redemption. Brings you right back to Genesis 1--all the delight God took in creating the universe gets reflected in all the delight God has in now redeeming the universe; and just in terms of sheer power and enthusiasm and scope, Colossians 1 does as good a job as any passage in scripture at showing us the big cosmic picture of God's plans and designs.

Peter Wallace: Scott, your sermon is entitled "Every Creature." Thank you for being with us.

Scott Hoezee: Thank you .



SERMON: "Every Creature" by the Rev. Scott Hoezee

Does the universe make any sense? Does the cosmos have purpose? And what about us human beings? Do we matter? Is there any way to know? Listen to some people these days, including some vocal scientists, and you will hear the answer loud and clear: "No, not really. We don't matter. We're too small. The universe is pretty much pointless."

Oh, once upon a time before we knew anything much about how big the universe is, how many billions of stars there are, how many billions of whole galaxies there are--once upon a time we human beings fancied that we mattered, that we were the center of the universe, that the whole thing was finally about little old us. But only the religiously deluded still think that. We now know we are tiny specks of life living on a tiny dust mote of a planet orbiting a tiny pin prick of light we call the sun, but that is just one star among a billion in the Milky Way galaxy alone. So, no, we don't matter.

But is that so? Does the universe that science is uncovering in ever-more wondrous detail have no purpose and no meaningful place for humans? And does the Bible that in ever-more wondrous detail reveals God have any way to speak into what science reveals? Paul's soaring words in Colossians 1 tell us that what we now call science and faith do inform each other and reinforce each other in wonderful ways if we have the eyes of faith to see. Even the Colossians 2,000 years ago needed to know this.

They wondered, too, if anyone was in charge of the universe, if anything mattered. They wondered if there was any future for the earth or if, as their surrounding Greek culture assured them, if we really were destined to exist only as vapors and spirits, set free after death from this tawdry and dirty world of earthworms and bird feathers. So-- the Colossian Christians were tempted to buy into any number of competing spiritual and religious ideas.

And that is when the Apostle Paul decided to send them a letter. And his first chapter in that letter is remarkable in most every way. In most translations you will find somewhere in the neighborhood of eleven sentences between verses 9 and 23. But near as we can tell, in the original Greek Paul wrote exactly two sentences in those fifteen verses! The first whopper of a sentence has 218 words in it, running from verses 9-20. Verses 21-23 are one more long sentence.

Paul is all but tripping over his own words, piling on one subordinating clause after the next. Even as his thoughts spiral higher and higher, so does his rhetoric. Paul's quill just can't keep up with all the places to which his heart is racing as he realizes anew the truth of Jesus. And what a truth it is! But keep in mind Paul is talking about Jesus of Nazareth here. Keep in mind that Paul wrote this letter probably sometime between the years 55-63 AD, a scant thirty or fewer years after Jesus died. Any non-Christian in Paul's day who read Colossians would surely find these words absurd.

This Jesus was someone who had died a quarter-century earlier! What's more, even before he died, he was just a carpenter's son, a peasant from the redneck backwaters of the empire. Even had Jesus still been alive, claims to his being significant would have seem far-fetched. Today it would be like claiming that some guy named Franky Carwinkle from Whippervale, Kansas, was the most important man alive. If you said that, folks would say, "Franky who? From where? Kansas? Never heard of him." Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth, was a nobody from nowhere. And anyway, in this case he was also known to have been killed some years back.

And yet Paul says this Jesus is the creator of every blessed thing that exists, that this same Jesus rules the cosmos now, and finally that this erstwhile itinerant rabbi is the one in whom and through whom all of reality hangs together!

Jesus was the one who, when the Big Bang flashed, blew out the match with which he had lit the fire. He's the One who, as that galactic soup expanded, cooled, and slowly gelled into stars and planets, he was cruising over top of that spectacle, shaping and molding it according to his and his Father's and his Holy Spirit's designs. And so although he was born one night and laid in a manger, he is also the one who, a few billion or so years before that night, created the atoms that made up the wood of that manger. And now through his resurrection, he is preserving every creature in whose creation he took such delight at the dawn of time.

He's the One. He's the Only One. And if he is who Paul says he is, then Jesus is the Key to reality: it all makes sense in him. Again and again in these verses, Paul throws in the Greek words ta panta which means "all things." He says it over and over: all things, all things, all things. Colloquially, you could translate it "the whole kit-n-kaboodle!" Paul was talking about people here, yes, but his thoughts also range over the entire creation.

Paul does not want to leave anyone or anything out. And just in case we still have not gotten the point by the time we reach verse 23, Paul goes so far as to say that the gospel has been proclaimed "to every creature under heaven." Clearly, this is an example of hyperbole. Paul is exaggerating. Even in 55 A.D. it was not the case that every person had heard the gospel much less every creature. It is not literally true that even every person had heard the gospel, much less the trillions of other creatures on the planet.

But it is literally true that the gospel has something to do with every creature, and that is Paul's point. Paul is willing to exaggerate a bit if that's what it takes to convey the message that Jesus has scooped up all things and everything. Paul makes a similar move in Romans 8 when he says that even the non-human creation bears within it somehow the seed of gospel hope. So strong is this hope in the breast of chickadees and sunflowers that Paul imaginatively declares in Romans 8 that the whole creation is groaning for Jesus' return.

Paul even uses a word in Romans 8 that occurs nowhere else in the entire Bible: it's the word apokaradokia, which literally means "to crane your neck." The image is of the creation collectively craning its neck like a child at a parade eager to see the next spectacle coming down the street. The whole creation is waiting on tippee-toes, Paul says, because the whole creation, ta panta, the whole kit-n-kaboodle, is exactly the scope of what Jesus made and is even now in the process of salvaging.

Too often we picture salvation as a ticket out of this world. Some popular songs even talk about how this world is not our home and we're just a'passin' through. Some of you may also recall the millions of books that were sold a decade or so ago in a series titled Left Behind, but of course being left behind was what no one wanted. The goal was to be raptured and rescued out of this world. But as Hope College Professor Steve Bouma-Prediger once wrote, we should actually want to be "left behind" because the Bible tells us that it is this creation that will become the dwelling of our God and of his Christ! And you can see hints and whispers of this truth already now. The creation itself tells us that the God who took care to make every intricate flower petal, who painted the scales on every iridescent tropical fish, this is the same God who delights in that creation always.

Do science and faith inform each other, have anything meaningful to do with each other? Paul thought so. Paul found it impossible to praise Jesus for his glory without connecting it to the glory of creation. So the more we learn about creation through science, the more reasons we have to praise God, not just for making the whole kit-n-kaboodle but for redeeming it too. Yes, this is all about faith and not everyone shares our faith. But the point is faith makes us more interested--not less interested--in the world God made. And the reason is clearly on display in Colossians 1: it all comes together and hangs together in a final glorious purpose in Christ Jesus the Lord of ta panta, of all things.

The movie Grand Canyon is probably not widely known anymore these days; it came out over 25 years ago. But it's a great film, and it chronicles the lives of a number of people who all live in Los Angeles, California. Through a series of incidents, people who otherwise might not know each other find their lives intertwining. Mack is a white guy who is a rich investment banker; and Mack gets to know Simon, an African-American guy who drives a tow truck for a living. And then their families get to know each other a bit, including Simon's nephew who is a gang-banger caught up in all the terrible violence that such gangs bring to places like South-Central Los Angeles. But in many ways, the life of just about every character in the movie is fragmented and is at loose ends. Life seems brutal or random or both.

But then comes the final scene of the film when everyone takes a road trip to visit the Grand Canyon in Arizona. And in the last image of the film, everyone--the banker and his wife, the tow truck driver and his cynical, hardened nephew--everyone comes up to the lip of the Canyon and looks out on all that vastness. It is silent. But a look of calm soon washes over every face, even the teenaged gang-banger suddenly looks young and hopeful and full of the very promise that a young person should exude. "Well," Simon finally says, "what do you think?" And Mack replies, "I think...I think it's all right." Something about the awesome beauty of God's creation restored order and hope, purpose and meaning, to the lives of people who were not finding any meaning in their money or their guns or anything else.

When we look at the world God made and learn more about it through science and discovery, we connect this to the death and resurrection of the Jesus who also created it all and who has redeemed it all. And then we too can say, "It's all right. The whole thing, ta panta, it's all right." Amen.

Let us pray. Dear God of such splendid created wonders, we give you thanks and praise for the gift of the creation and for the further gift we get through Jesus who has restored that creation and will preserve it for all eternity. We give you thanks for all the opportunities we have even now to see hints and whispers of the world that is to come. And we are so very grateful, O God, for your gift of life, for your love and care for every creature, for all things. We give you thanks and praise, through Jesus Christ our Creator and Redeemer. Amen.



Sherrie Miller: Now Scott Hoezee offers some final thoughts on his message with our host, Peter Wallace.

Peter Wallace: You started your sermon asking some big questions we all ask--does the universe make any sense? Does the cosmos have purpose? And what about us human beings, do we matter? Is there any way to know? And you gave us some real help in addressing and exploring those questions. But say something about our need to ask these questions: Some of us may be so caught up in our little lives that we never even question the bigger picture. What do you think?

Scott Hoezee: I think deep down we do wrestle with those questions in our own lives, particularly when we're kind of at the extremes of life, when a loved one dies or is dying, or when something very, very difficult happens, I think we wonder if life means anything, if it adds up to anything. And, of course, these are big philosophical, theological, spiritual questions, which technically go beyond science's ability to answer. And one of the things I think that we have seen in recent years is that not only can science and theology talk to each other, they need to because they complement each other. The one kind of picks up where the other one leaves off. There are plenty of scientists today who say science proves there is no meaning because we can't find any. But that's answering a question beyond their ken. That really is the realm of theology and revelation, and that's kind of where faith comes in.

Peter Wallace: You said Paul's soaring words in Colossians 1 tell us that what we now call science and faith do inform each other and reinforce each other in wonderful ways, if we have the eyes of faith to see. How do we develop and exercise those eyes of faith to discern this lively relationship between science and faith?

Scott Hoezee: I think it helps to start with where Paul starts, which is he didn't ever really sequester faith to just me and Jesus and just to a personal relationship with Jesus. We do have a personal relationship with Jesus as believers, but that's just part of a much, much bigger picture, which Paul seems consistently in his writings to have before him. So I think one thing that helps us as Christians is to steer away from me only, my only spirituality kind of talk to also see that indeed God is a very big God who is superintending a very big universe; and I think the more we weave that into our consciousness the more naturally we're going to want to know more about that world, and that would be therefore the more natural way to become interested in what science is revealing about that cosmos. It's sort of a habit of mind. When I think of my faith, is it just about me, or is it about jaguars and mountains and pulsars in space? Well, if it's the latter, then that becomes a habit of mind; and that's just part of how you frame your faith all the time.

Peter Wallace: Paul tells us that Jesus is the key to reality--it all makes sense in him. And you said that the more we learn about creation through science, the more reasons we have to praise God not just for making "all things," the whole kit-n-kaboodle, but for redeeming it too. That can really put things into clear perspective for us, can't it?

Scott Hoezee: It can and, again, what kind of capacity, what kind of capaciousness, do you have to your faith? What kind of things do you want to think about when you're also in worship? John Calvin actually has a part in his Institute somewhere where he suggests that it's absolutely right in worship to give thanks to God for well-functioning kidneys and spleens, and the things that we don't often associate--the physical things we don't often associate with our worship. And again, it's just the idea of seeing that bigger picture and incorporating it into your prayer life, incorporating into worship, into what we think about when we sing, into what we hear in sermons. That's the challenge for preachers. Once that again becomes a habit of mind, it becomes a very natural part of how you frame up your faith all the time.

Peter Wallace: Scott Hoezee, thank you for being with us!

Scott Hoezee: It was my pleasure. Thank you, Peter.


The Day1 Faith & Science Series project was made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in these documents are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.




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