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The Abundance of Grace

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How many of you are awake this morning?  I’m looking for a show of hands here…

How many of you were awake while Betsy read the 7 verses from Romans 5: 12-17?  English Standard Version.  It seems amazing that the entire message of the Bible, from Genesis to the end,  is found here, all summed up neatly in seven verses.

If you all understood it, I don’t need to give you this sermon, and we can go straight to the offertory (we’ll skip the prayers) and then head downstairs to the coffee break.  How does that sound?

How many of you think you don’t need to hear this sermon?

 

How many of you think you can stay awake until I finish the sermon?

We’ll see how you all go with that, shall we?  …

 

This morning I’m going to take you on an intellectual (read: scientific journal mumbo jumbo), winding maze through one of the toughest texts that I’ve ever had to prepare for.

 

I am going to try to give you an explanation that you can hopefully understand…  although I am going to rely a bit on my high-school science as it relates to DNA sequencing in the human body and a very basic knowledge of NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming).

 

I want to start with the idea of the “Original Sin” and the effect of that “Original Sin” on mankind and how that is passed down from generation to generation.  Verse 12 of Romans 5 starts with

“just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men”

We’ve all been taught that Adam had everything he needed to live eternally, but that because of his sin in the garden of Eden, life becomes finite instead of infinite – death enters the world.

And I want to add to that mix the verse from Exodus 34:7 (ESV) that says:

Keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

And I’ve wondered to myself how that might be possible on a molecular and physical level – can science explain what the Bible says happened to Adam because of sin and to all mankind, through the passing of the sin from generation to generation?  How does Adam’s bad nature get down to me all these millennia later? Well, some say, it’s like pollution or poison poured into a river. If a company dumps hundreds of liters of mercury into a river, then no matter how far downstream you go, you still get mercury poisoning.

Now – today I’m not going to give you a definition of sin – or even discuss what Adam’s sin was – trying to become like God, transgressing the Commandment God gave him, or whether sin is simply missing the mark of the most perfect version of yourself that God created you to be (like the archer that fails to hit the target).

What I want to look at is the effect that sin has upon us, as a human race, and then briefly touch about the gift of Abundance of Grace that we are promised in Romans 5: 17.

Our bodies have 3 billion genetic building blocks, or base pairs, that make us who we are. And we are somewhere between 99.5 to 99.9% similar to the person next to us.  A printed version of your entire genetic code would occupy some 262,000 pages! Of those pages, only some 500 would be unique to you. So how much of that do you think you inherited from 20 generations back?  How similar does that make you to the person sitting behind you?

And it seems that in 2017, scientists are getting closer to having the answers as they study the effects of stress and life-styles on our DNA codes and sequencing.  And now it seems that there is a reason for this, on 2 levels: epigenetics and the shortening of our telomeres (the protective casing at the end of a strand of DNA).   The field of epigenetics refers to the science that studies how the development, functioning and evolution of biological systems are influenced by forces operating outside the DNA sequence, including intracellular, environmental and energetic influences (and by energetic, I also mean the emotional forces that affect our bodies organs, such as when we get angry, are upset, or stressed and tired, especially for long periods of time).

Since the 1970s, researchers had known that the tightly wound spools of DNA inside each cell’s nucleus require something extra to tell them exactly which genes to transcribe, whether for a heart cell, a liver cell or a brain cell.

One such extra element is the methyl group, a common structural component of organic molecules. The methyl group works like a placeholder in a cookbook, attaching to the DNA within each cell to select only those recipes —  genes — necessary for that particular cell’s proteins. Because methyl groups are attached to the genes, residing beside but separate from the double-helix DNA code.  Originally these changes were believed to occur only during fetal development. But it has already been shown that DNA can be added to in adulthood, setting off a cascade of cellular changes resulting in cancer, diabetes or other illnesses.  Not only that, but epigenetic change could be passed down from parent to child, one generation after the next (hence you find the reference in the Bible that the sins of the fathers are passed down to the son to the third and fourth generations). A study from Randy Jirtle of Duke University showed that when female mice are fed a diet rich in methyl groups, the fur pigment of subsequent offspring is permanently altered. Just by playing with the diet, they could alter the colour of the fur of the mice.  Now, what if emotions, such as guilt, could play a similar role?

The medical field has already shown that stress has this particular effect.  Telomeres are a protective casing at the end of a strand of DNA. Each time a cell divides, it loses a bit of its telomeres. An enzyme called telomerase can replenish it, but chronic stress and cortisol exposure decrease your supply. When the telomere is too diminished, the cell often dies or becomes pro-inflammatory. This sets the aging process in motion, along with associated health risks.

Now we all know that old wives tale that tells a young pregnant woman not to cry during the pregnancy because her child will bear the effects of it through their entire life – but now science is beginning to understand that the negative effects of stress begin before conception.  A baby’s intrauterine environment is shaped by a mom’s pre-existing physical health. There have also been several studies looking at maternal health and telomeres in offspring: the higher a mom’s prenatal anxiety, the shorter the baby’s telomere length (i.e. the shorter the life span).

According to the new insights of behavioral epigenetics, traumatic experiences in our past, or in our recent ancestors’ past, leave molecular scars adhering to our DNA. Jews whose great-grandparents were chased from their Russian shtetls; a child whose grandparents lived through the ravages of a Revolution; young immigrants whose parents survived massacres; anyone who grew up with alcoholic or abusive parents — all carry with them more than just memories.

So what on earth does any of all this scientific mumbo jumbo have to do with the “Original Sin”, and Paul’s discussion of the original Adam and the posterior Adam (Jesus)?

Well, for starters – it explains how our genetic make up is affected by our habits, our environment, our diet, our stress, and even the stress and anxiety of being ashamed, berating ourselves, or failing to accept God’s forgiveness of our sins.  It explains how any resentment, bitterness or anger that we carry towards another person, when we fail to forgive, affects us to the most innermost of our being as David describes in the Psalms.

1. Your beliefs influence your behavior.  

One of the most basic ways that beliefs can shape reality is through their influence on behavior—no quantum physics or molecular genetics knowledge required.  Beliefs about your basic character—who you are as a person on a fundamental level—can be especially powerful. Research suggests that while guilt (feeling that you did a bad thing) can motivate self-improvement, shame (such as that felt by Adam & Eve in the garden), tends to create a self-fulfilling prophecy, reducing hope and undermining efforts to change, leaving you stuck in the rut of the very behavior you are ashamed of.

And your behavior will directly impact you with respect to your habits, whether they are good habits, or bad habits.

2. Your feelings directly affect your DNA:   

“When we have negative emotions such as anger, anxiety and dislike or hate, or think negative thoughts such as ‘I hate my job,’ ‘I don’t like so and so’ or ‘Who does he think he is?’, we experience stress and our energy reserves are redirected,” and I’m not talking about a positive redirecting. Part of our energy reserves, which otherwise would be put to work maintaining, repairing and regenerating our complex biological systems, which you probably know as your “body”, are used to confront the stresses these negative thoughts and feelings create, leaving your body unattended.

On another level, science is now beginning to understand that humans have multiple brains: the one you know in your head, your heart brain (which generates much of your energy field), and your gut brain.  So, when you are feeling heavy-hearted, what effect is this physically having on your DNA and body – how is it affecting the helix structure of your DNA strands?  When you are in a gut-wrenching panic or suffering constant anxiety, what effect is this having on the nutrients that are getting to your cells and DNA on a molecular level?

3. You may choose, or not, to accept the abundance of God’s grace:   

The entire Bible is about the transformation of man… having been made perfect, having become imperfect, and having reached perfection once more in the person of Jesus Christ.  Having loved perfectly: God and others – fulfilling the 2 greatest laws of the Bible:  To Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself.  And how Jesus came to make the way for us to become perfect also in Him, breaking the curses so that they are no longer passed down to future generations, allowing us to re-write the code and become truly transformed, by the renewing of our mind (which will, of course, affect our bodies and even down to our DNA).

There is only one question:  are you willing to allow God’s grace to truly sweep through your life and transform you: To practice abiding in His presence on a daily basis until you reach a level of peace that transcends all human understanding, guarding your heart and mind in His love? 

Let’s pray.

 

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