Archive for January, 2021

Order out of Chaos

January 10, 2021

I don’t think that any of us would have believed that we would live to see the day when our nation’s Capitol building would be breached and invaded by an angry mob, that those hallowed halls would be desecrated, and that people would actually be killed — all because an American president refused to accept the results of a free and fair national election.

Oh, the seeds of discontent long predated the election. They predated the four year term of this president. And the seeds are ones of white supremacy and racism which have been in the DNA of this beloved, but deeply flawed, nation since its inception. The almost-unbelievable narcissism and questionable mental stability of Donald J. Trump has simply, as so many have observed, lit the match to an inferno just waiting to be kindled.

I don’t think I have had the feeling of such chaos in the land since the awful events of 9/11, 2001 when I lived in New York City. Both were attacks on our country — the one an attack on our military/industrial complex from without, the other an attack on the very democracy itself from within. We have been living in a time of political and social chaos. And I do not believe we are out of that particular woods yet!

So it is time to remind ourselves that we have a God, we serve and worship a God who has been bringing order out of chaos long before these United States were a gleam in anyone’s eye or mind or heart. In the timeless words of Genesis, we are told that:

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light. And God saw that the light was good…” (Genesis 1)

Quite apart from the earth-centered view of the universe which would have been the only possible understanding for the biblical writers, this author names a truth which is beyond dispute — at some point, billions of years ago in our time, order began to emerge out of the chaos which must have been the initial result of the so-called “Big Bang.”

At some point, after the expanding universe burst forth from a singularity in which time and space have no meaning, our planet (which had been molten because of constant collisions with other bodies) began to cool, eventually forming a solid crust and liquid water on the surface.

Surely at first it must have been a “formless void” suspended in the darkness, until the solar wind (“a wind from God?”) began its work of forming what we know as Planet Earth. In the final analysis, is one set of words and concepts more fantastical and wondrous than the other? The point is, order came out of the chaos. And it always will.

The Psalmist lends even more poetry to the process, “The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders; the Lord is upon the mighty waters.” (Psalm 29) It’s almost like the Psalmist is giving us a mental picture of the wind or spirit of God moving over the face of the primal waters — to bring order out of chaos.

Moving from cosmic to societal chaos, the Gospel reading for the 1st Sunday After Epiphany (Mark 1:4-11) tells us the story of Jesus’ baptism. It occurred at a time of chaos for the Jewish people. They were oppressed members of a subjected society.

Their own religious tradition seemed to be of little help, divided as it was between those who had sold out to the Romans (Herodians), those who wanted to escape their problems with religious rituals and pietism (the Essenes and, to a lesser extent, the Sadducees), and those who wanted to blow the whole thing up (the Zealots).

So they flocked to the Judean countryside to hear a fiery preacher named John who told them they had to start fixing society by fixing their own lives and counseling a “baptism of repentance” as a way to start over again. Perhaps to bring some order into the chaos of their situation. But they also heard the surprising message that this was not going to be enough, that John’s baptism was only a beginning. He told them to get ready for one even more powerful than he who was on the horizon. “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

And then one Jesus of Nazareth stepped into those muddy waters and submitted to this new ritual cleansing at least in part to show his solidarity with John and his message. But the important thing happened right after the washing: “…just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.'” (Mark 1:11)

Jesus experienced that same spirit which swept over the face of the primal waters, the spirit which brought order out of chaos, come to rest upon him! He too was destined to bring order out of the chaos of the world. It was to be an order, not of violence and force so well represented by the Romans and hoped for by the Zealots. The order he came to proclaim was an order based on love, on self-giving love, on what Dante called “the love that moves the sun and the other stars.”

Jesus did a lot to birth that kind of order during his life and even his death in the first century. The love that he exemplified even allowed him to forgive those who were driving the nails into his hands. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” But he knew that even his amazing life was only the beginning. So he left behind a rag tag, but spirit-inspired band of women and men who were to carry that message “to the ends of the earth.”

Those followers had to remember that they were always to be guided by the same spirit, the same order-out-of-chaos” spirit that had animated him. So much so that when St. Paul discovered that some new disciples of Jesus in Corinth (Acts 19:1-7) had only been baptized with the water-washing of John the Baptist, he made sure that they were to be motivated by the same spirit as Jesus. So “…they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (and) when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them…”

Christians today have been anointed with that same spirit, dear friends. However much we may fall short in our mission, make no mistake about it: our task is to be same as theirs — to bring an order of self-giving love into the chaos of this self-serving society.

Donald Trump will not deter us from that task. Thugs and brigands will not deter us from that task.

Because…we have been baptized in the name of Jesus.

And love always wins!