Friday, August 23, 2013
Order and Chaos
As we approach the anniversary of the birth of our congregation, I am aware that there are a few other anniversaries around this time of year. Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005 – followed by her sister Rita on September 26, 2005. These were two of the deadliest storms in our nation’s history, and although Lafayette is presently in a state of growth, the region will feel their impact for generations to come. Of course we also remember the tragedy of September 11, 2001, with the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentegon, and UA Flight 93 in Pennsylvania. The ripples of these events continue to ebb and flow around the world.
As some of the military campaigns that have attempted to respond to these tensions come to a close, our society will begin to see more and more displaced veterans with their families.
Perhaps it is something about the change of seasons, but it seems that the world is full of tension these days. Can you feel it? There is a pregnancy of emotion and political rhetoric that seems sure to deliver some radical, fundamental change in the fabric of our society. Yet as we are told in Ecclesiates, “There is nothing new under the sun,” and “all is a vanity, and a chasing after the wind.”
Our Old Testament reading begins in Hebrew with the words, “Tohu Va Vohu” meaning, “formless and void.” In some translations these words represent confusion and chaos. For the ancient Isrealites, there was no argument over whether or not God created everything out of nothing (Creation Ex Nihilo). There was no need to explain how things were made – as though the Bible were some kind of cosmic cook book! The creation myths of Genesis simply tell us that it was all God’s idea, and that includes you and me!
Of course the story continues with our rebellion and a pattern of life that involves God constantly labouring to make order out of chaos. I believe that is why the story starts out that way, because it is the character—the very nature of God – to make order out of chaos.
Of course you can ask the question of who makes the chaos. We can ascribe that activity to a little guy with a pitchfork and horns, but that suggests that there is an agent that not only can but does compete with God. More likely, if God is truly God, is the idea that God created us with the ability to choose good and evil – first exampled by Adam and Eve – and also the reality that God allows there to be chaos, because the world is limited and temporal. It just goes hand in hand. People make choices that are opposed to God’s will. It’s been going on since the fruit, the flood, and the tower of Babel. All the while, the world keeps turning and with it continues a cycle of life and death, of tragedy and triumph, and of “rain falling on the just and the unjust alike.”
And Paul tells us that “all things work for the good for those who love the Lord, and are called according to God’s purposes.” Really, Paul? Really? Katrina, 9/11, and war work for the good? How many times has this passage been quoted to those who suffer – or even worse, the watered down version that says ‘everything happens for a reason’ – simply because we do not want to deal with the difficulty of suffering? What kind of hope is Paul suggesting that we wait for? Is he saying that we should just sing “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” and expect drugs and terrorism to go away, rent to be paid, and food to show up like magic for those who hunger? No. Is he saying that God wants or needs people to suffer? Is he saying that we need to suffer in order to understand things that are beyond our comprehension? No.
These words are certainly given as a measure of hope, but the hope is not based on miracle cures or sudden financial windfalls to dying congregations. The hope is in the presence of God. The hope is found in letting go of even our expectation that God will do what we ask. For “we do not even know how to pray.”
It’s not that we do not know the right words or phrases. Sometimes the problem is that our prayers are so full of sound doctrine and right theology that we really aren’t praying. So Paul reminds us that Jesus opened the way for us to realize that the Spirit, the active presence of God, is here with us. We can receive so much from that gift, if we can silence our own voices long enough to be open to it.
Mother Teresa once said that “The fruit of Silence is prayer. The fruit of Prayer is faith. The fruit of Faith is love. The fruit of Love is service. The fruit of Service is peace.”
In some strange way, her words were reflected in those of Jesus as we read them today. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”
The cross was a political symbol of dominance. It was the Roman’s use of Deuteronomy 21:23, “anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.” Jesus is clearly saying that if we follow him, our sense of order is going to be distrurbed. If we are truly following Christ, we will naturally brush up against the forces and powers that try to create order for themselves without considering God’s vision of things.
As a congregation we are continuing to wrestle with the question of how to pick up our cross as we seek a New Beginning. The Small Group leaders met last week, and soon they will present some ideas for the congregation to consider – not a program, but more of a process to begin redefining our mission. We were discussing the idea of why we do what we do as a congregation and questioning whether we (as a congregation) all share the same assumption about why we do what we do.
We talked about the statement from the Book of Order that says that, “The Church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life.” (F-1.0301) Leigh Rachal was reminded of a friend who is new to the faith who recently said that congregations should follow the example of Jesus so closely that they become uninsurable. It’s true. If we really followed Jesus, our behavior would be so risky that no one would insure us. Yet, the first question asked on any new initiative is – liability!
The reality is that we do have to consider the longevity of our ministry. The truth is that when we do, we place our hope in the things we can do, or touch, or see. The truth is that God not only creates order out of chaos, but God also allows chaos to be there in the first place. God certainly intends for all of creation to be reconciled and at peace, but God is not manipulative. God is influential. God’s will is strong enough to allow things to happen that are not in keeping with God’s will. In the end, what God wants will prevail. So, rather than saying that everything happens for a reason, I will say that faith helps me to find meaning and purpose in all things – even tragedies that make no sense at all.
In times of chaos I expect God to offer comfort, peace, and an understanding of God’s active presence. In times of order, I expect God to offer the opportunity for us to pick up a cross, move toward the grave, and expect resurrection to follow.
I cannot tell you what your cross will be. Jesus said there will be one to pick up every day. He did not say it was the same one. What I can tell you is that God is moving all of creation – and that includes you and me – toward completion.
Thinking of the chaos of this world and the hope we proclaim reminds me of a scene in the movie, Men in Black; Will Smith tells a woman who is being abducted by an alien that everything is OK. She responds with, “What part of this is OK?!” He re-collects himself and says, “It’s gunna be OK!” And again I am reminded of the comforting words of Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well. And All shall be well. And every manor of thing shall be well.” May it be so with you. May it be so with me. And to God be the glory, now and always. Amen.