Blessing Out of Chaos
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – OKC
22 May 2005
As many of you know, during this time of transition, while I am waiting for my house in Dallas to sell, I am living with my Mom and Step-dad. Many of you have met them when they have visited here. I thank you for the kind welcome you have shown them. Mom has really enjoyed the visits. That first time she visited, you gave her the floral arrangement, which she loved. Last week she told me she wanted to bring some food to Afterglow sometime when she comes, because she feels bad eating and not contributing. My step-father, Revis, also really enjoys when they come to worship. I’ll tell you a little secret. He prefers worship here to worship where they are members. Again, thank you for your hospitality toward them.
Last weekend they celebrated their one year anniversary. And what a year it has been for them. They have clearly been newlyweds. At family gatherings they sit side-by-side and hold hands, or you might look over and find Mom gently and subtly caressing Revis arm, or vice versa. When Mom gets home from work, which is usually around 8:30 p.m., Revis has dinner ready – often with a glass of wine poured and candles lit. And they really enjoy each other. They travel and go on fishing trips, which is what they are doing this weekend. They are blissfully happy with one another.
They got married last year in the garden in the backyard. It was a beautiful event with all of the family and a few close friends in attendance. They were radiant; their joy was evident.
But this had not always been the case for the two of them. Revis had spent many years in an unhappy marriage and had just concluded a very messy, very ugly divorce. Revis was a broken and damaged human being, who thought that he would never find happiness again. He left Colorado and moved to Oklahoma City in an effort to begin a new life, but he didn’t have much hope that his efforts would be realized.
My father died in 1990 when he and Mom were forty-one. I was sixteen and my sister turned thirteen two days after Dad died. Dad died one week before he and Mom were set to celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary. My Mom rarely dated in the fourteen years that followed. And through most of them she was lonely and worried that she would never find anyone again with whom she could spend her life. These were difficult years for my family, especially difficult to watch my mother hurting and be incapable of helping.
Revis and Mom found each other. At church, in fact. And their love has saved both of them from the despair they had been in. Their relationship stands as a wonderful sign for the transformative power of relationships. I think it stands as a sign for the creative power of God to bring blessing out of chaos. This was most clearly evidenced for me the evening I told them that I was gay. I had purposefully waited until after the wedding, because I didn’t want to bring disturbance to my mother’s happiness that she had found after all these years. The night I told them, they both responded better than I ever dreamed. My mother held my hand the whole time as I cried and told her the whole story of all these years. At one point in the conversation Revis reached over and grasped my arm and looked me in the eye and said, “Scott, I respect, admire, and love you. I don’t understand why anyone thinks this would change anything.”
Blessing. That’s what I received from Mom and Revis. That’s what I continue to receive from them. They bless me with their love, with their concern and support, with their desire to be a part of my life. They bless me by allowing me to live with them during this time of transition. They even keep asking me if I need money, which I don’t.
Who are the people who bless you? Where do you find blessing in your life? What sort of blessing do you desire? Maybe you are lacking blessing and searching for it? Clearly, we all desire blessing. We need to be loved, to be valued, to be told that we are worthy. The pursuit of blessing is central to human existence. It is the search for the good life.
Want evidence for our pursuit of blessing? Just go into any bookstore and look in the self-help section or at the cover of the magazines. We spend millions every year trying to achieve the good life. We want to be more effective people and more effective parents. We want to eat better and look better. We want to find the ten ways to please our woman or man. We think that if we can decorate and cook like Martha Stewart then our life will be better.
I’m not denigrating this pursuit; I think it is central to our humanity. There are even more serious ways we pursue it. We go to therapy to become healthy. We address our physical needs through medicine. We study and become more educated people. These are the endeavours of human civilization. This pursuit of the good life, of the better life, of happiness, of blessing is what characterizes our humanity.
Religion is central to that pursuit. Religious scholar Karen Armstrong writes,
. . . the religious spirit is chiefly characterized by a yearning for blessing. . . . in almost all cultures, people originally turned to religion because they wanted to live as intensely and efficaciously as possible. They knew that the world was a dangerous place and that their hold on life and health was fragile. . . . Religion helped them to overcome the limitations that flesh is heir to, to experience life fully, and to put themselves in touch with the deeper currents of existence that alone could give meaning and value to the whole.
This summer I will be preaching a series of sermons under the theme The Pursuit of Blessing. Our scriptural texts each week are taken from the Revised Common Lectionary. The lectionary has a three year cycle with four texts designated for each week of the church year. We are currently in year A, when most of the Gospel texts come from the Gospel of Matthew. During year A the Old Testament texts for this time of year come from the Book of Genesis.
This will be a series of sermons based on the foundational stories of our religious faith and even of our Western civilization. For those of you who grew up in church, these may be stories that you learned as a kid. Have you ever returned to look at them again as adults? If so you were probably surprised that they didn’t quite fit the standard “Sunday school” telling of them you heard as a kid. These are powerful stories about sex, betrayal, catastrophe, rivalry, and promise. They are stories about family struggles and the battles of the sexes. These are not simple, easy stories. They challenge us and confront us.
I believe that they are also about the pursuit of blessing, an interpretation that I take from Karen Armstrong. At the creation God pronounced that the newly created world was “very good.” God blessed the creation. And this was a blessed creation. It was orderly and full of meaning. But then Genesis tells us that something happened and the goodness and orderliness of creation were brought into question. Goodness and blessing weren’t obvious. Maybe they weren’t even assured. So humanity begins its age-old struggle to find the good life. What we will find in Genesis is the various ways that women and men of faith pursued blessing, often falling far short. In the end, they seem to learn an important lesson.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the start.
In the beginning God created.
Look at this first chapter of Genesis. Really look at it. What do you see? Can you find any structure to it?
It is a beautifully structured account of creation. Let’s just take some time to really acquaint ourselves with this text. First, we notice that there are seven days. Day seven is a day of rest, during the other six days God acts to create. Look at those six days of creation. Imagine putting the first three days in a column and the days four through six in a column next to that one. In fact, if you have a pen or pencil, I invite you to do that. Write down day 1, day 2, day 3 on the left side and day 4, day 5, and day 6 on the right. Then write down what was created on each day. Notice that the days parallel each other. In day one light and darkness are created. In day four the sun, moon, and stars are created. See that’s a parallel.
In day two the waters are divided forming the sky and the seas. Now look at day five. What is created then? On day five God creates fish and sea creatures. God also creates birds. See the parallel? On day two the waters and the sky are brought to order. On day five the creatures to inhabit water and sky are created.
Look at days three and six. On day three the dry ground is brought forth out of the waters and plants are made to grow on the dry ground. On day six, God creates the creatures that will inhabit the dry ground – all the animals, including human beings.
Why walk through this? Because I think it is important that we realize the structure of this story. For one thing, when we look at it this way, we realize that it is not a scientific or historical account of the beginning of time, but it is a literary, a poetic way of telling a story to make a theological point. The author has clearly structured his story. There is an order to it. And the structure of the story itself makes a theological point. What is that point?
The point is that creation is orderly. That creation has structure. It reaffirms that God is in control. The author is refuting the claim that the world is random and arbitrary. The author says in this grand poem that creation has a purpose, a structure. Creation is in God’s control. And creation is good.
There is something else to see here. In verse two we are told that creation is formless and void. The Spirit of God moves over this formless void, and then God begins to speak the creation. God first gives form to the formless. God gives structure where there isn’t any. That’s what happens in the first three days. Creating light and dark, separating the waters, bringing forth the dry ground, each of these is part of the effort to give form to the formless.
Next God begins to fill the void. Once the form is created, there is still emptiness. During days four, five, and six, God creates the heavenly bodies, the creatures of the water and sky, and finally the creatures of the dry ground. These three days are God’s effort at filling the void.
So, there is this beautiful symmetry to the creation account in Genesis chapter one. It is a symmetry that gives evidence to order, structure, and completion, which remind us that God is in control and that the creation is blessed.
There is another way that the story reminds us that God is in control. In the ancient Near East there were many creation myths in the various cultures. Though the different cultures had different stories, they all had features in common. In these stories the creator god usually battles chaos in order to create order. Chaos is often personified as a sea monster or sea dragon. Water represented chaos and primeval disorder. If you think about the power of floods to destroy and create chaos, then you understand why people who lived along rivers and seacoasts would picture water as a source of potential terror and disorder. In fact, the idea isn’t alien to us. Movies like Jaws or The Abyss remind us that the waters can bring chaos.
But the story in Genesis is very different from the other creation stories of the ancient Near East. God does not do battle. God doesn’t have to subdue chaos or kill a dragon in order to create the world. The Hebrews gave us an image of God as sovereign and in control. God brings the world into being through speaking, not fighting. The waters do not challenge God’s authority, but are subject to it.
Why all this emphasis on God controlling the forces of chaos? Why all this focus on God bringing order and blessing? Scholars believe that Genesis chapter one was probably written down late in Israelite history, probably during the time of the Exile when the children of Israel found themselves living in Babylon. They had been cut off from home and tradition. The temple had been destroyed. They had been taken in chains to a foreign land. Their lives had been full of chaos. For those living in exile, with chaotic lives, how wonderful it must have been to hear the message of Genesis chapter one. God is in control. God can bring order and blessing where chaos now exists.
What scares you? What causes you anxiety? What oppresses you? What are the forces of chaos in your life? What threatens your pursuit of the good life? What keeps you from finding blessing?
For many of us there are monsters that challenge us. I think that this is the power of horror films. They personify our fears. The movie Jaws isn’t simply about a dangerous great white shark haunting the New England coast and killing swimmers. Jaws is about a man, Roy Scheider’s character, who has moved out of the big city and to this small town [the name of the town in Jaws] in order to find a better, simpler life. He is looking for meaning and happiness. The shark represents all those forces of chaos that would stop us in our pursuit of the good life.
The message of Genesis is that ultimately we are not threatened by the monsters. The forces of chaos are no threat to the power of the Creator God. God is in control.
Do you sometimes fill scattered or empty? At times is there a void in your life? Have you had an experience of struggling for meaning? Genesis one addresses those anxieties. God took something formless and void, and God gave it form and filled the void. The message to us is that God can do the same in our lives. God’s blessing will help us to order our scattered lives. God’s blessing will help us to discover meaning. We can be full where we were once empty.
You see, this is the power of Creation.
I’ve seen creation first hand in the life of my mother and my step-father. They were lonely, broken, hurting people. They found each other and something new was created. Their relationship has brought meaning, wholeness, and order where once there was none. With each other they have found happiness; their lives are better. If you asked them, they would both tell you that they feel blessed. I believe that they stand as a sign of God’s creative power.
Last week we observed Pentecost. What does Pentecost share in common with the Creation? I think that Pentecost stands as a sign for God’s continuing creative work. At Pentecost the Spirit moves just as it moved at Creation. And at Pentecost something is created. It is not the world. What is created is a new community, the church. By the power of the Spirit a group of normal, average people is formed into a radical community of love and hope.
Friends, we are that group of people. We are a sign of the power of God’s creation. We are, in fact, God’s continuing work of creation. In our individual lives and in our life as a community God continues to bring blessing.
We proclaim ourselves to be a people of hope. In what does our hope rest? Our hope rests in the power of God who creates the world, who brings blessing where once there was chaos. Our hope rests in the Resurrection of Christ that announced to the world that the forces of death, suffering, and oppression are defeated and that new life is possible. Our hope rests in the coming of the Holy Spirit that proclaims that God’s power to create and raise from the dead is poured out on all of us – women and men, rich and poor, gay and straight, young and old.
In the beginning God created heaven and earth. Today God’s creative power continues in and through us. Chaos has no power. Blessing is yours.