FROM CHAOS TO COMMUNITY: Creation
Peace with Justice Sunday
Even though I usually advise against speaking about an old movie, I’m going to break my own rule here and confess that when I starting thinking about God turning a light on in the middle of the chaos of the yet-to-be-created world, all I could picture was a scene from the film Heaven Can Wait.
Heaven Can Wait is one of my all-time favorite movies. Released in 1978, the film stars Warren Beatty as Joe Pendleton, a quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams football team. At the beginning of the movie, Joe receives the news that in spite of some setbacks in his career that he suffered as the result a long recovery from an injury, he has been selected as the starting quarterback for the season’s opening game.
Joe is so excited that he decides to go on a bike ride. His path takes him along a winding mountain road. Just as he is heading into a tunnel on his bicycle, the scene cuts to the other side of the tunnel where a sports car begins passing a semi-tractor trailer on the left side of the narrow, two-lane road.
So Joe Pendleton enters the tunnel on his bike on one end, and two vehicles riding side-by-side enter on the other.
Viewers hear a terrible crash. The screen goes totally black.
Then there is silence.
After a few moments of total darkness and silence, a tiny light appears. We hear the sound of a saxophone playing a tune. The light slowly grows larger and larger until it illuminates the next scene. And the movie continues. (I won’t give any spoilers here just in case you who are reading these words have never seen this movie. Go rent it immediately!)
It is this scene of chaos and destruction—the crash and the silence and the total darkness—into which a tiny light suddenly appears and then begins to grow and illuminate an entirely different situation—that I am reminded of as we begin our five-week series, “From Chaos to Community.”
“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” (Genesis 1:1-3 NRSV).
I love my colleague Taylor Burton-Edwards’ poetic story-version of today’s reading. I especially love the description of the jumbled chaotic mess of pre-creation darkness into which God speaks light and life and order and hope. It is a great metaphor not only for the story itself, but for the journey into which we are embarking through this series.
Life is a jumbled, chaotic mess. Every human being faces times in which everything seems to be coming apart at the seams. Some of our times of trial seem to come out of nowhere. Tragedy simply strikes. A person is fired from his or her job. An accident happens. A disease takes hold in a body. A child disappears. A tornado hits. A war breaks out. A person becomes the victim in an act of violence.
Other periods of uncertainty and strife can be predicted. The human life cycle takes each of us on a journey of growth and transition. We leave the dark, watery security of our mother’s womb by violently passing through the birth canal and out into the bright, noisy, frightening world. We start out as completely dependent, helpless infants feeding on the milk of our mother’s breast, but in a short time, we are introduced to solid food. We change from being swaddled babies into crawlers, walkers, skippers. and dancers. We learn to take care of ourselves.
As we develop into teenagers, we hear the world speaking an urgent message to us: it beckons us to become more and more independent, to break away from our parents, to rebel against our dependence on them, and make our own way in the world. Until finally, one day, we begin making decisions for ourselves. We choose to be confirmed in the faith. Our families celebrate our newfound adulthood with a bar mitzvah or a quinceañera. We get a driver's license. We graduate from high school. We leave the nest to launch out on our own.
Eventually some of us fall in love, find a person to share life with, and start a family of our own. Others among us decide to enjoy a life of independence and fulfillment in singleness. As adults, we begin building our own networks of support. We choose our own friends and groups with whom we want to affiliate. And many of us find a community in which to practice our faith.
Each one of these life transitions requires us to renegotiate our relationships and our place in the world. The changes we face as we grow and develop and transition through the human lifespan throw us into periods of jumbled, chaotic mess.
We are fortunate if we emerge into the next stage unscathed.
Just like each one of us, the people of our faith tradition faced those same life transitions. Some of their struggles—their moments of jumbled, chaotic mess—are recorded in our sacred texts.
Over the next few weeks, we will be following some of the pillars of the Judeo-Christian tradition as they find themselves wrestling deeply with the reality of their humanity and the challenges it brings. We will listen with them as they hear astonishing news from God: news that brings immense joy, even as it precipitates painful separation. We will watch as a father makes a heart-wrenching decision about his son. We will bear witness to the stories of two mothers who must face the process of leave-taking by their children. And we will journey with a teenage girl and her female servants as she makes a life-changing decision about not just her future, but the future of God’s beloved community.
Into each of these stories of jumbled, chaotic mess we will hear the voice of God speaking light and life and love and hope.
Sometimes God’s words will bring comfort—God brings order to the chaos. Other times, God speaks demands that make us uncomfortable and raise difficult questions about the nature of our faith–questions for which we do not have easy answers.
But the presence of God will be a constant in the lives of our forebears in the faith, just as the presence of God is a constant in our own lives, through the good times and the bad.
Today in the Christian Year, we are celebrating Trinity Sunday. My favorite definition of the Trinity—which I read in seminary so long ago that I cannot find the source or recall the name of the theologian who gifted me with this insight—is that God is, in God’s fundamental essence, a community of persons. God’s very identity is communal. And the church that is living out God’s mission in the world does so in God’s image: as a community of persons.
Part of the work of the church is to equip and support individuals as they live into God’s unique call and purpose for their lives. The community of faith promises to love people from the womb to the tomb and through all points in between, including during all those pesky transitions. In the vows we make at our baptisms, we commit to nurture one another in Christ’s holy church, and by our teaching and example guide one another toward accepting God’s grace, professing faith, and leading Christian lives.
Sometimes this work is challenging. It is hard for us, flawed humans that we are, to live in the image of God’s identity as a community of loving, interdependent people.
Sometimes God blesses individuals with identities or calls them to actions that other people of faith find difficult to nurture. Sometimes church members commit heinous acts against other church members or against people in the world around us. Sometimes the transitions that individuals make through the life cycle are not made easily or willingly. Sometimes transition comes as the result of violence or abuse, war-making, problematic cultural practices, or natural disaster.
- How does the church support individuals at points of transition?
- How do transitions break relationships?
- How do those get re-formed?
- What gets lost along the way? What is gained?
The good news is God-in-Three-Persons is with us, speaking light and live, love and hope, into the murky, jumbled, chaotic mess of the world. In fact, it is often in the chaos itself where the work of God happens most profoundly. When life feels messy, look for signs of God hard at work!
As we walk this journey with our forebears in the faith, may we look for the light of God shining brightly on the path ahead. May we listen for God’s voice speaking creation into being and forming community out of chaos. And may our unjumbled jumble begin to dance, even as we sing, “It is well! It is well with my soul!”