CLAIMING THE CHAOS Genesis 1:1-5, Mark 1:4-11 Stephen Hamilton Wright First Presbyterian Church, Wausau, Wisconsin January 11, 2009
Think with me about what's real. Think about winter. Winter is real. Pain is real. Love is for real. This pulpit is a real thing, an actual piece of wood, although molecular scientists and certain philosophers are ready to challenge the connection between this knocking and our definition of reality. Other things are just as real. This church is a real phenomenon, although it is a little hard to give an exact description of it-not a building first of all, but also not only the people or programs or music-it is vague, with indistinct boundaries, but quite real despite its ambiguities. Stories are real, whether they are historically accurate or not. Countries are real, and they are as hard to define as churches are. Then, there is the reality of symbols. In 1986, after the space shuttle Challenger exploded, there was a cartoon that showed the head of a bald eagle, looking off toward the stars with one giant tear dripping down its cheek. Of course there was no such eagle, really, but everyone who saw that image knew what it meant and felt its raw truth. In a happier way, any Wisconsin resident in recent years who saw a giant yellow number 4 with a crown or even a halo draped around it would understand the symbolism immediately. Even people who hate football can't help knowing that one. Number 4 is neither an angel nor a king, in the strictest sense, but that image still says something very real.
We exist in controlled chaos. Our being depends on a balance of forces tipped more in favor of order than disorder. It's a fine balance sometimes. In Wisconsin, for example, we often have cause to wonder about the balance between sanity and snow removal. On a much larger scale, we do well to pay attention to the words of Genesis, which does not say that the whole creation was called forth out of nothing, but rather, that in the beginning, there was a watery chaos, empty and without form; some people translate it as waste and wild. Then, over this chaos, the balancing Spirit of All Existence brought order, dividing water from land and darkness from light. Instead of a Bb blend of glowing foggy darkness, there was color. There were shapes and solids and real objects that made noise when they crashed into each other, waiting for sensate beings to evolve to hear them. The laws of thermodynamics, promulgated for the first time within the last few of centuries, hold that eventually, without other forces acting, everything in a system even as big as the universe will move back to maximum uniformity or maximum randomness, which are two ways of describing an undifferentiated reality. This story from Genesis, which has its roots at least twenty-five or thirty centuries earlier, insists that such differentiating force exists. God claims the chaos and calms it, and will not let it slip back to waste and wild. There's a line in that old poem, "Desiderata," by Max Ehrmann, that says, "No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should." You can believe that means that it will eventually drift back to complete randomness, but Christians believe it means something better. We believe in a Reality that balances all being in favor of order over disorder. We believe that chaos is under control.
Jesus came to claim our chaos. Jesus shares our journey near the edge of order. He offers His life to the rest of humanity so that we can stay balanced on the side of purpose and meaning instead of sliding off into random pointlessness. Near the end of the creation myth in Genesis 1, the voice of God says, "Let us create humankind in our image, according to our likeness;" and it becomes so. Therefore, we teach that to be human, either male or female, is to be in the image of God. God is all about relationship, establishing and maintaining connections between people and everything else that exists, but we wander away from the order of relationship, and when we do, we blur that divine image. Jesus immersed Himself completely in our human context in order to lead us back to our purpose of connectedness. We say that He was the most perfect human being ever, the holiest human ever, so that in looking at Him we understand what it means to be truly in the image of God. Let's be clear about that image: the Gospel stories show that Jesus was sometimes angry, to the point of causing a scene with the money changers in the Temple; often he was tired and frustrated; and in a few cases He was unable to help people. This is not goody-two-sandals kind of perfection that makes every day run smoothly and satisfies all requests. See it this way instead: the fatigue and frustration and anger that Jesus shows are always related to failure to maintain true community. That is why Jesus is always relevant: although He knew nothing of nuclear weapons or NASCAR, the fundamental importance of relationship never changes. So, Jesus made our problems His own, in order to lead us ever back into community. Like that crying eagle cartoon, the dove image representing the Spirit may well have had tears welling up even as a great Voice announced, "You are my Son, the Beloved." The coming of Jesus ripped through the separation between human randomness and our higher purpose, as He started on a path that thrust Him into the most painful truths about human tendencies. Jesus made our pain His own.
We respond by tending our connections. Jesus wants to keep us in community, so we try to shape our lives to nurture all those relationships. Remember that to be human is to be in relation. God was not satisfied with having just one person, or one of any other living thing. There had to be at least two, so that then there could be more; and there had to be more than one kind of being, to satisfy all kinds of needs and desires, not only for the humans, but at all levels of the created order. For example, there is evidence that male mosquitoes are among the principle pollinators of wild blueberry bushes. It's not something we like to remember when we're out picking and swatting, but the mosquitoes were there first. So, not only do we need to nurture our relationships with those closest to us, and then with people in ever-widening circles; it is very important and very much a Christian concern how our human activity affects the planet that produces food and provides other resources. Presbyterians are fond of quoting our doctrine that "God alone is Lord of the conscience," but we are sometimes too quick to decide that we can do whatever we choose. Even apparently private actions can have unknown effects beyond our sight, including the way they affect our attitudes toward others. Viewing pornography relates to the way we think about spouses as well as people in general. Your exercise habits, or lack of them, can affect your ability to work productively, or even to work at all. Even at the simplest, most basic level of our activities, we want concern for others and for our environment to be an active concern. Our purpose is community. Our plan is connections and relationships. Jesus showed us how to do it. We want to respond.
Jesus is with us. Jesus is in front of us, showing us where to put our attention. We respond to His truth not by doing what He did, but by caring about what He cared about, which is the community and connection of the whole Creation. Did that Creation get shaped in six orderly seasons, with a Sabbath season at the end the way Genesis chapter one says? Not likely, since Genesis chapter two tells the story pretty much in the opposite order. Did a visible Spirit like a dove actually drop out of the sky twenty centuries ago while a great Voice proclaimed Jesus to the crowds? Maybe not, but never mind, in either case. The stories point us to the conviction that there is order and purpose for our existence, and they show us that Jesus is the Leader we need.
Let us pray.
Life of All Life: let our minds be clear, and our thoughts be ordered, that not only with our hearts but with all our reason and energy, we may reach out in love to embrace all that is, in the way of Jesus, the Holy Human One. Amen.