As my church wouldn't be delivering such a sermon, I looked in the Madison area for a suitable church. There were two churches, and one Universalist group, so I went with the Presbyterians, being closest to my beliefs. I called up Westminster Pres to confirm, and in the process had a very excellent conversation with the pastor. He was trying to decide what to speak on when I called him, with the assigned passage being the story of the leper being healed, from Mark 1.40-45, and was finding it difficult to see how evolution fit into that passage. Using my Gift of Evolutionary Discernment, I shared with him some thoughts on how I saw evolution fitting in. Truly, it immediately jumped to mind, as if inspired by God, with a good deal from John Haught's God After Darwin. And I was humbled to hear him say that I had helped him write the sermon, and he was planning to use these ideas in his sermon.
The pastor began by sharing of his visits to AIDS patients, back when the disease was first being discovered, and still called "Gay Pneumonia". At that point, even doctors and nurses wore surgical gloves, goggles, and masks when visiting these patients- everyone was afraid of them. So the pastor followed the lead of everyone else. Gay Pneumonia was just something too scary, and unknown. He confessed that he wasn't sure how helpful he was to these patients- but he learned more about compassion in this time than at any point in his life.
Then he spoke of the leper healed by Jesus in the beginning of Mark. This man asked to be cleansed- meaning to be able to return to society. A leper was ostracised and excluded, not allowed to touch anyone and having to wear bells and call out to warn travelers outside the town who might get too close. Jesus was moved by splagchnizomai, compassion from the gut. He reached out and touched the leper, causing himself to become unclean, by the standards of the day. Jesus identified with the man wholly, and truly cared for him. He not only healed the man physically, but relationally as well, as he helped return the man to society by visiting the priest for a certificate of healing. Jesus fully cleansed him.
The pastor then moved to some of the writings of Haught. Haught brings in two key elements. Firstly, that all of creation is God's children. He is intimately connected with all of his creation, and loves all of his creatures. Secondly, there is the kenosis, wherein God, just as he did on the cross, suffers with the suffering of his creation. This unity of life that we find in evolution provides the impetus for God, and should provide the impetus for us all, to express the same compassion for those in trouble, and for those suffering. They are our brother and sister because of the tree of life. Just as God suffers with the least of these creatures, so he suffers with the least of these humans, and so we ought to suffer with.
The pastor ended with returning to the AIDS patient, so long ago. He was covered with sores, and in great suffering. And one woman, an AIDS advocate, came in. Of all the visitors, she alone did not wear a mask, gloves, or goggles. She touched the man. She gave him human contact, and bathed his sores. She alone showed him the compassion of Jesus Christ.
I'm posting this not just because of my involvement in the sermon. It was joyous, because I do so love the rare opportunity to give or write sermons. But more so, this was an excellent sermon, and very moving. I'd encourage you to listen to it when it's posted shortly on the church blog. Click on "Worship Notes and Sermons" in the lower left of the screen.