Continuing Education - Faith & Science Series Part 8

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Luke Powery: There's so much more to learn, and it is an expression of grace that we have the capacity to still learn and the opportunity to be taught by others when we don't fully comprehend. Continuing education is a gift as we keep inquiring and listening and being curious and open to new ideas and fresh experiences.

_ Peter Wallace: _ That's Dean Luke Powery...and today he joins us for our 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 conclude our challenging series of special programs, and to introduce our preacher, here's our host Peter Wallace.

Peter Wallace: Thank you, Sherrie. Today we conclude our special Day1 series: "Faith & Science in the 21st Century, made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. Through this series we've been exploring some of the major issues of science today with a goal to facilitate meaningful conversations especially among people of faith. For this final program in the series, we're delighted to have with us the Rev. Dr. Luke A. Powery, dean of Duke University Chapel and associate professor of homiletics at Duke Divinity School in Durham, NC. Prior to his appointment at Duke three years ago, Luke taught homiletics at Princeton Theological Seminary. He received his bachelors in music from Stanford University, his masters of divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and his doctor of theology degree from Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto. Luke was ordained by the Progressive National Baptist Convention. In 2008 the African-American Pulpit named him one of two outstanding black ministers under the age of 40 who are helping to shape the future direction of the church, and last year he was inducted into the Martin Luther King Jr. Collegium of Scholars at Morehouse College. Luke, welcome, and thank you for being part of this series.

Luke Powery: Thank you. It's great to be with you.

Peter Wallace: You've been serving as dean of Duke University Chapel for more than three years now. What in your view is the role of the chapel--on the campus and in the community?

Luke Powery: Duke University Chapel, in many ways, has three roles. In one role, it's a university building, and it functions as such--concerts, convocations. Another role that is really even more prominent--what people know the chapel for--is home to the Christian interdenominational community that has worship services, Christian education, outreach into the community. A third role, in particular being at a university, we serve as the moderator or facilitator for all the religious life groups. It's a multi-faithed chaplaincy. And so those are really the three roles we play, but I think the pulse of the chapel is really thinking about what we do on campus for the life of students, faculty, and staff in terms of nurturing their own spiritual development. But then we have great connections in the community--various non-profits, local congregations, and thinking about how we hold together what I think of as inreach and outreach.

Peter Wallace: How are you seeing students approaching worship and involvement in the chapel these days?

Luke Powery: As many churches and congregations, I would say, that is one of the growing edges. It's a challenge, I think, if we think about the trend of what has been the so-called decline of mainline Protestantism and the increasing religious diversity and cultural diversity of our student body. So people will tell me that over a period of time there has been slowly but surely a decline in terms of student involvement or attendance, particularly on Sunday morning. But what I see is that about half of chapel choir, which is about 80 members--are grad students and undergrads--which is really, to me, exciting. We also run a program that's called Pathways, particularly chapel scholars. There's about 90 students that are involved. And then there's a slew of other students that come periodically, and I meet them at the back door. And so students are very much still connected to the life of the chapel community. We continue to search for ways to connect with them and thinking about even a virtual Duke chapel. What does that mean? How can we--if students don't come necessarily on a Sunday morning--how can we go where they are even in a digital world?

Peter Wallace: You've taught homiletics at Princeton Seminary and now at Duke Divinity School and you've written two books on preaching: Spirit Speech: Lament and Celebration in Preaching, and Dem Dry Bones: Preaching, Death and Hope, and you're co-authoring a new textbook on preaching, Ways of the Word. Essentially, what's your approach to teaching the art of preaching?

Luke Powery: How much time do you have? I think one of the angles-approaches--I take--I mean, first of all, preaching is empowerment by the Holy Spirit, for preaching to be effective. So my theological framework is really pneumatology--for preaching to be effective, God has to be at work. I think that's the sort of theological foundation, that the breath or the life that is possible through preaching, that someone would get anything out of anything we say from the pulpit, is really a gift from God. So I think that's a beginning place, and every sermon is always a prayer. It's an epiclesis, an invocation. We do our best, and then in terms of interacting with students, our helping them come to discover their voice, which is linked to their vocation. Not to be Luke Powery, not to be Peter Wallace or someone else, but to be who God has created them to be. We can give them exegetical tools, theological tools, rhetorical tools; but my hope is that I would create a space where they may come to begin to realize and recognize who God has made them to be as a proclaimer of God's Word.

Peter Wallace: How can preachers engage with their congregations more meaningfully regarding vital issues of the day--whether it be Black Lives Matter or climate change or whatever the issue?

Luke Powery: I think fundamentally preaching has to do--and preachers then are called to not only read text but context. So we're not just reading the Bible; we're reading the world. And the gospel happens at the intersection of those two. So I think it begins there, and then if that is the case--if that is what we believe--then the question becomes how do we read the world through the lens of Scripture or read Scripture through the lens of the world? There are many options out there, whether it be Black Lives Matter, whether it be unemployment, homelessness; but [we have] to see the relevance of the gospel for our everyday lives, and I think if we are in touch with the people that we are serving--even if not just on a Sunday morning but throughout the week, the various ministries that we may have--I can almost guarantee that we will then be in touch with the world, we're in touch with where people live day-to-day. And that should somehow inform how we put our sermons together, what we include in our sermons. Because that's where the gospel is at work, and so I think that's a part of the ongoing conversation, as we're in touch with the people we serve and minister to, that somehow they're reflecting back to us what is going on in the world. It's a partnership really.

Peter Wallace: And since we've been focusing on Faith & Science in this series, how might churches and people of faith more meaningfully engage in matters of science? How do we continue the conversation?

Luke Powery: It's a great question. Particularly where I currently am in ministry in a university setting that stresses interdisciplinary conversations, it's almost very natural to be in conversation with scientists, medical doctors, someone who's doing research on brain science. We probably have them at Duke Chapel, but I think in general one approach is to consider it's connected to reading the world, having a sense of the world--whether it's poetry or philosophy or science. How can we facilitate and help our congregants have a sense of curiosity about the world, God's world? And science, in particular, depending on what the sermon might be, I think we can encourage--I'm not an expert in science, but I probably know somebody who is--and how can that person, how can I get into conversation or relationship with them and maybe point others to this person if they have an interest in whatever they might be working on, because they serve as a resource for helping us understand more. So a part of it has to do with, who are our conversation partners? Finding those conversation partners, people who have a deeper understanding and then helping to connect others to those individuals or bringing them to our churches as well to serve as resources, to have conversations around such matters.

Peter Wallace: Luke, your message today as we conclude our series focuses on an account in chapter 19 of the Acts of the Apostles. Would you read it for us?

Luke Powery: My pleasure.

19While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2He said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?" They replied, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." 3Then he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" They answered, "Into John's baptism." 4Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus." 5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied--7altogether there were about twelve of them.

Peter Wallace: A somewhat surprising exchange between the Apostle Paul and the new believers in Ephesus, and we look forward to hearing more about it. Luke, your sermon is entitled "Continuing Education." Thank you for being with us.

Luke Powery: Thank you for having me.




"Continuing Education"


We can learn something new every day. This became crystal clear to me during one academic year at Duke University. A senior Duke student was one of the scripture readers for the Sunday morning service in Duke Chapel. His job was to read the gospel lesson. On that morning, he was assigned to read a portion of the Gospel of Luke. The music played and a hymn was sung as he and others made their way down the center aisle of the sanctuary to go among the people, which is where we read the gospel lesson every Sunday. The music stopped, and it was time for him to announce the reading. He cleared his throat; and instead of saying, "a reading from the gospel of Luke," he said, "a reading from the gospel of Duke." Who would have known? A new book of the Bible discovered right there in Duke Chapel.

You learn something new every day because learning never stops--new information, new ideas, new knowledge, even when one thinks one has finally arrived on the mountaintop of intellectual discovery. The disciples in Ephesus, in the scripture you heard, confess, "We've not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." These disciples had not even heard of the Spirit yet they were still considered disciples.

They were believers, people of faith, followers of Jesus, church folks; but they didn't know everything nor hear everything that there is to hear about God. Their learning was unfinished; they had partial understanding because there was so much more to be learned. They came to know God without knowing everything about God and knowing everything God does because they were not called to be gods. They were called to be disciples, students graced with gradual revelation, enrolled in the classroom of God as lifelong learners. They were not called to have all the answers and know everything there is to know, but to keep asking questions as a practice of holy curiosity and faithful Christian discipleship.

Before our particular story in Acts, we hear of Apollos. Apollos, a native of Alexandria, was "an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures," and had been instructed in the spiritual way of God, and his words ignited people's hearts. But even he, we are told, is taken aside by Priscilla and Aquila, and "explained the "Way of God...more accurately" (Acts 18). No glass ceiling could stop Priscilla. Sociologist Cheryl Townsend Gilkes was right when she said, "If it wasn't for the women..." If it wasn't for  women, Apollos wouldn't have fully understood. Apollos was a disciple already and a dynamic preacher, but even he still had more to learn. He had not arrived at the threshold of knowledge but was open to perpetual learning and growth, continuing his education like a professor who understands the more you know the more you come to realize how much you don't know.

As an undergraduate in a university setting, you can't learn everything there is to learn about an academic discipline in four years, but you do learn how to learn. You don't always have the answers, but perhaps you know where to find them. You don't have to know but know who knows. There's something about claiming to know it all that ironically suggests we don't know it all. Remember what the philosopher Socrates said: "The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing."

We have so much more to learn in the Church and especially to learn how to unlearn the idea that your learning has climaxed with a university or seminary degree. No degree can encompass the vastness of divine mysteries even though divinity schools hand out master of divinity degrees. Even disciples declare humbly, "We've not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." You may have attended Sunday School or a small group Bible study for years, but I can guarantee that there will come a time, if it hasn't already, when you will say, "I've not even heard...." There's so much more to learn. Learning is not just book learning but life learning from God. Some of the wisest people I know don't even have a degree.

Life has an inexhaustible curriculum, and the lessons are infinite just like God even when it comes to a conversation about faith and science, God and the cosmos, creation and evolution, quantum physics and eternity, imago dei and science, genetics and morality, and health and healing. We have so much more to learn. And as you continue to learn, what you will discover is that you will be surprised many times at the lessons learned, confirming what Forest Gump once said, "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get." He's right.

There are unexpected intellectual and spiritual twists and turns in God's school of lifelong learning. Your baptism is just a beginning, a Christian commencement, immersing you into an experiential school whose bell never rings to signal the end of classes; there is no recess because God's school of faith, learning, and worship is eternal. Never let your college degrees interfere with your education because in the Spirit your education continues.

Even if you don't know everything there is to know about how faith and science inform one another, there are others whom you will encounter to help you understand, develop and gain deeper insight, if you have a willingness to keep learning and are teachable. The Ephesian disciples were just that--teachable.

They recognized that they didn't have to have all of the answers, every 'i' dotted or 't' crossed. "We've not even heard...." There's a humble acknowledgement that the Christian life is one of faith seeking understanding with an emphasis on the 'seeking.' The journey. The process of gradually learning, continuing education, growing in knowledge such that we discover things we never knew about science or ourselves, others, the world, or God. At the age of 19 or 90, we can always grow and develop because we only see in a glass dimly now (1 Cor 13).

There's so much more to learn, and it is an expression of grace that we have the capacity to still learn and the opportunity to be taught by others when we don't fully comprehend. Continuing education is a gift as we keep inquiring and listening and being curious and open to new ideas and fresh experiences. There's an implicit lesson here--don't be so sure you are always right (!). But this takes intellectual and spiritual humility and a mature faith. To think you are always right is an indication that something is wrong because disciples of Jesus know that at times they will be wrong.

These disciples were not afraid to learn from the apostle Paul. They recognized the importance of community and of having mentors. They were not solely teachers but teachable. Robin had Batman. Jerry had Tom. Garfunkel had Simon. Plato had Socrates. Justin Bieber had Usher. The point is to keep learning and seek understanding, even as we allow ourselves to be molded and guided by others, committed to doing life and learning together in the church.

Yet this doesn't mean that you will learn everything that can be learned during your lifetime. The Ephesians experienced something new through Paul as he laid hands on them--"they spoke in tongues and prophesied"--which means that they didn't understand and they understood; there was mystery and clarity. The blessing, the gift of the Holy Spirit in this story, was both unintelligibility and comprehensibility. Some things in life you just can't explain because you can't exhaust an inexhaustible God. It is a freeing gift not to know everything, and we will always be at a place of understanding and not fully understanding. That's because we're human and not God.

We know that we don't know but can have an open heart and mind, a teachable spirit, to learn something new every day. And we have so much more to learn, and God has so much more to teach us. But do you possess a humble, holy curiosity? Are you teachable?

There's a story about a young man who went to Socrates asking for knowledge. He walked up to the philosopher and said, "O great Socrates, I come to you for knowledge."

Socrates led the young man through the streets, to the sea, and ultimately chest deep into the water. Then he asked the young man, "What do you want?"

"Knowledge, O wise Socrates," said the young man with a smile.

Socrates put his strong hands on the man's shoulders and pushed him under the water. Thirty seconds later Socrates let him up. "What do you want?" he asked again.

"Knowledge," the young man sputtered, "O great and wise Socrates."

Socrates pushed him under again. Thirty seconds passed. Thirty-five. Forty. Socrates let him up and the man was gasping. "What do you want, young man?"

Between heavy breaths the young man screamed, "Knowledge, O wise and wonderful...."

Socrates pushed him under again. Forty seconds passed. Fifty. One minute. He felt the young man struggling and he pulled him up and asked again, "What do you want?"

"Air!" the young man screamed. "I need air!" Socrates looked at the young man, smiled, and said, "When you want knowledge as you have just wanted air, then you will have knowledge."

Are you hungry and thirsty to learn more? That's the only entry requirement for God's school of continuing education. May you be ready, like the disciples, for lessons you've never heard.




Peter Wallace: Luke, you reminded us that we can learn something every day because learning never stops--there's new information, new ideas, new knowledge, even when one thinks one has finally arrived on the mountaintop of intellectual discovery. This was true of the disciples in Ephesus. Their learning about the faith was unfinished. It seems as we get older, though, many of us find it easier to assume we really do know enough to get by--so why stretch ourselves? Why is that attitude spiritually unhealthy?

Luke Powery: Well, I think, as I said in the sermon, that we cannot exhaust an inexhaustible God. And I think if we are on the path of faith-seeking understanding and if we have a desire to continue to spiritually grow to learn more about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the church, then it's a way of us coming to not only know God in a deeper way but to love God in a greater way than what we have done before, because that learning is a form of loving. And I think to help people understand that, it's not just head knowledge but also heart knowledge. Holistic.

Peter Wallace : But if we're open to learning new things, what if that challenges some of our long-held beliefs?

Luke Powery: I think that's a great thing--to be challenged and not always comforted. You know, there's that old saying that sometimes a preacher may pray before a sermon, you know, asking God to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. And I think change comes through being challenged, and I think that's why it's significant--to be changed and transformed, coming more and more transformed into the likeness of Christ.

Peter Wallace: And the Spirit has something to do with that.

Luke Powery: Always.

Peter Wallace:"Continuing education is a gift as we keep inquiring and listening and being curious and open to new ideas and fresh experiences," you said. How would you apply this encouragement to keep learning to the realms of science, especially for people of faith?

Luke Powery: I think one of the things that we could do and which we see in the passage is that the disciples had Paul as an example. They had a mentor. They had a teacher, and the learning happened in community. I think if we can help people in our churches--maybe they are in our churches already--from different fields, scientists, doctors, help them come to know one another and to have conversations about their disciplines and their work as a way of informing one's own faith. I think we have to create spaces for mutual learning. And if they're not in our churches, we go outside of our own congregations and find where they are and define places where we can have these pockets of learning, which for me are pockets of hope as well.

Peter Wallace: Luke, what's one thing from your message today that you hope our listeners will keep in mind this week?

Luke Powery: One thing is--which struck me actually in developing this sermon--and coming out of a Pentecostal tradition, upbringing, and the emphasis on the Holy Spirit there, that in this case, their reception, their gift of the Spirit, is one of tongues and prophecy, which in my mind is the gift of unintelligentability and comprehensibility. And so the gift of the Spirit is not just knowing in knowledge, it's actually also not knowing and not understanding because we aren't God. We will never know everything there is to know about God, and for me it's liberating. It's freeing. By embracing the Holy Spirit and receiving the gift of the Spirit does not mean that all of your questions will be answered, but that there will still be more questions perhaps. Because perhaps you'll find God in the question.

Peter Wallace: Luke Powery, thank you for being with us!

Luke Powery: Thank you for having me.



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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