March 31, 2013
Beauty and new life emerge out of the chaos of the cross. Beauty and new life emerge from the challenges and chaos of creation itself – same thing. But how are we to live into that possibility? How are we to live with hope as we develop and evolve? The entire Gospel of Mark was written to answer that question. At then end, after the cross, the women come to the tomb. They are stunned. How will they and the other disciples live into the challenge before them? How will they live after the cross? Jesus has one answer: Meet me in Galilee. But what does that mean?
First Presbyterian Church of San Rafael
When the Sabbath was over, [that is to say when the time out of time was over], Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint Jesus. Very early on the first day of the week when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another who would roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb. When they looked up, they saw that the stone which was very large had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side. They were alarmed. The young man said to them, so not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He has been raised. He is not here. Look, there’s the place where they laid him. Go now, tell his disciples, tell Peter, that he is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him exactly as he told you. So, the women went out, fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.
The dance of creation is an extraordinary thing, don’t you think? From the far reaches of the cosmos, to the tiniest little microbes, this dance plays out. You know, the year my father was born we didn’t know there was more than one galaxy. 1917 was the year when we figured out that Andromeda, that little fuzzy spot, was actually a whole other galaxy. Think of how much we have learned about this incredible creation since then.
The beauty – extraordinary – sometimes even when we get our hands on it. Elizabeth says in Pride and Prejudice that in managing the great estate of Pemberly, Darcy did nothing that would “counteract nature with an awkward taste.” It’s what I think of when I look at that photograph.
You know there are whole worlds and creatures that go on about their lives, go on their journeys, without our having any conscious awareness at all. It’s an extraordinary beautiful world.
Understand though that the process of life and death, the process that makes up this creation, makes this creation somewhat dangerous. These little fish seem to know that. It is a brutal world, don’t mean to shock you with this next photograph, but it can be brutal. It’s a dangerous and brutal world, this world that moves from death into new life, this world that moves through cross to resurrection, this world that evolves and unfolds into a glorious future, and it is astonishingly beautiful.
Consider the length and breadth of human travail, the sorrow that we feel, the number of things going on in the world that simply don’t live up to the unity and hope, don’t live up to the gorgeousness of creation. Millions of people do not have enough food to eat, and it’s not because there isn’t enough food in the world, either. It’s because human society has failed to find ways to distribute that food. Human society has failed to find ways for every human being to work productively in such a way that they can provide for their needs. Or consider the clash of world views on this earth. The world’s become small at a time when there isn’t a world big enough for radical Islam and fundamentalist Christianity to co-exist. When they run up against modern sensibilities self-righteous rage fills the cultural space between us, anger and violence erupt because of it.
There’s not much we can do about that. The internet has made the space between us so small. Everybody hears what everybody else says. Somebody wrote a comment on my blog about a month ago. Whoever it was, he was pretty angry about what I’d said – something about my being a heretic, I ought to not call myself a Christian and so on. Okay, that’s the way that is. But all I could think was that I wish they hadn’t read it. I even wrote that up in the next couple of posts. “If you don’t like what I’m saying, then stop reading. I’m not writing this to make you angry.” Clash of worldviews.
I think of Pope Francis. First of all, what a great name! But I think of Pope Francis. What an incredibly difficult job he has. He’s supposed to be leading a church where some adherents believe in magic and some don’t really believe there’s any God but go through religious motions anyway. An enormously difficult task, at a time when starvation of the human spirit is endemic to our society. Choked off because a flourishing spirit requires silence, the kind of silence that allows you to live into emptiness, for “if one is able to stay perfectly in that Emptiness, there is a quality that begins to manifest right above the surface. It has something to do with the source of all life, with Love, and with the evolutionary impulse.” But the noise of society, the “entertainment,” the frenetic pace, the fake pleasures drown out that creative silence.
But let’s not focus only on the difficult, on human finitude for there are moments of redemption, right? There are those moments when someone can come back from horrible injury inflicted by the desperate violence of guns and find the embrace of colleagues, the joy that people feel when you get well again. But it doesn’t always happen. There are these cross moments, moments of destruction in creation and that fact provides the anxiety and the fear that plague us.
This is what it’s like for us in the world right at the edge, always at the edge of creation’s next step. That’s where it happens, that’s where evolution happens, always at the edge – the edge of life and death, the edge of our emotions, the edge of our oceans – that’s where it takes place.
We’ve been talking about evolution these last six weeks or so, talking about how it operates, how it responds to stress and chaos as it unfolds, each moment transcending and including the moment that went before, each step more complex, more unified, than before, always moving towards Shalom, towards wholeness, towards a just peace where each person plays their unique and vital role. This evolving creation cannot be complete without you. God cant’ get it done without you.
Everything evolves – internally and externally – individually and as a group – everything evolves. The structure of human economies evolve, and those structures affect the evolution of internal cultural values, which in turn affects the way individuals develop morally and spiritually, which in turn affects how we develop physically. Around and around it goes; step by step, always at that moment of chaos we await that creative Word, that creative moment from God. And that moment brings something surprising into being – new life, a life we can’t conceive of in the midst of the chaos.
Do you have those moments? We all do and when they come we often confront a moment of choice. We human beings, self-conscious of our own development, have some choice. In that chaotic moment we can repeat the deadly cycle that’s brought us to this moment of history, or we can move ahead and let the new emerge.
My son Matthew was home from college this week. We’re very proud of him. One of the things we’re proud of is that he earned his black belt. Each time he went through a belt test – and believe me I don’t have them memorized – white to yellow to orange to green to maybe purple with a green stripe, I’m not sure. But what I do know is that each belt test meant another step forward. There was always a ceremony, a time to celebrate what had happened. He’d kneel with his eyes closed; his Sensei would ask him to remember or reflect upon everything that had gone on since the last belt test – all the things he’d learned, all the disappointments he’d felt, all that sense of accomplishment when he learned a new form, a new move. As he did that his new belt would be placed in front of him. Then, at the right moment, when he was ready, he took off his old belt, put it behind him, and put on the new one. A new step of evolution was about to take place.
That’s the way it is. Evolution steps forward, human beings step forward. That is exactly what the story of the cross and the resurrection is about. Not only are evolution and faith not at odds, they are two sides of the same coin. When Christ died the old passed. When Christ was raised something fresh and new emerged, emerged out of the chaos of death. The old is left behind and the new comes forth. That’s the good news, you know. The good news of the gospel, is that no matter how low you feel you’ve gone, no matter flaw, no matter what burden you carry, no matter what the dream left unfulfilled, there is a next. There is a next because the Spirit of God that hovers right above that Emptiness drives creation forward.
The women came to the tomb that day; they had to be wondering what was next. Had to be wondering how they’re going to emerge past this crisis, this horror. Their dear friend and teacher, the one that had given them solidity and identity, had been crucified, was dead and buried. They didn’t know whether anything could emerge from this moment so they came mourning.
The interesting thing is that the Gospel of Mark, the whole thing, was written for to tell you and to tell me how to go about growing into that next step, how to go about evolving into that new resurrection moment instead of remaining stuck in the cycle that brought us to this place. It’s what the whole book is about.
We’re going to go through it in some detail coming this fall but for now listen to the broad outline, the broad map offered for our journey. It begins with Jesus being baptized; the Spirit of God fills Jesus the Christ and drives him into the wilderness to be spiritually formed – spiritually formed. And it continued throughout his life. There was a cadence in the Gospel of Mark, a cadence between Jesus moving out into the world and moving back into the emptiness where his Spirit could be renewed.
Spiritual formation is key to growing up and growing through chaos into new hope. There are any number of ways to do it. Some people meditate every day. My spiritual director has recently challenged me to twenty minutes a day for one hundred straight days. But there are other ways. I have a pastor friend who carries seven smooth stones in her left pocket. Whenever she feels one, she stops and thinks to say a quick prayer of thanks, then transfers it into the right pocket. It’s her goal to make sure all seven stones make it into the right pocket by the end of the day.
There are many things that you can do to stop, remove the fake pleasure that fills our world and instead be in that place where the Spirit can be nourished. I know there are a lot of people in the room who love to study and read about science. Study is one of the classic spiritual disciplines. It’s been part of our faith tradition from the start. But study is more than just learning. At the end of learning comes a moment’s reflection about the power of God that makes creation unfold, about the power that nourishes the Spirit within.
The Gospel of Mark shows us a Jesus who wrestled with a living tradition. He wrestled with the Jewish traditions, the Jewish God and was trying to describe this God to an entirely different society than had known it before. He’d faced the greco-Roman world, as did the disciples following him, and looked for a way to talk about the same God, using different words, words that would communicate to them.
Isn’t that what we need today? To talk about the same God, but to find ways to talk about that God that make sense to the world around us. I’m convinced that the reason the church is failing is because we have not found those words. We’re looking for words that are as different from classic Christianity as Christianity was from Judaism; we’re looking for words that are every bit the same as Christianity was to Judaism. Same God, one God, gracious, unfolding, loving.
In Mark’s Gospel Jesus served the people on the edge of society and sought to change the systems and structures that created injustice in the world. That is what got him in trouble. He went in and cleared out the money changers in the temple because he was interested in changing the structures of that society, so that both the poor and the rich could be met by the strength and the power of God.
Mark shows us a Jesus who formed a group of people that could work together – each playing a unique and vital role. The reign of God could only become a reality when all are woven together in unity.
The whole Gospel of Mark is there is to tell us how Jesus moved from Galilee, all the way to Jerusalem, through the chaos of the cross and through to that moment of resurrection. What did he have to say to the women? What message did he leave at this moment when they longed to find their way through to what is next? Meet me in Galilee when you’re ready, he said. Meet me in Galilee; the Spirit of God will drive you into the wilderness and your spiritual formation will begin. Meet me in Galilee; you and I can wrestle with a living tradition that points towards the God of love; you and I can find the words that communicate clearly in this time and place. Meet me in Galilee he said, and we will serve those at the edge of society. Meet me in Galilee where you, and you, and me, and he, and she, and she can be woven together into a perfect whole. Spirit can’t get it done without you. Meet me in Galilee; but be prepared because it is in Galilee, on the edge of chaos, hovering in emptiness, that I will ask you to take up your cross and follow me.
But know this: when you take up that cross, when you are willing to take that step into the chaos and trust God’s power to bring about the next, you will see beauty emerge. The new life will surprise you and Easter morning will finally make sense. Meet me in Galilee, when you’re ready, and put on your next belt.