Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; Luke 15:1-10
Key words and phrases: loss, chaos, creativity, hope
If you have lived in the United States for at least a dozen years, you ‘ve likely been affected—then and now—by the 2008 financial crisis. A complex web of factors brought it about, but many observers agree that a significant cause was the practice of many banks creating and selling trillions of dollars in mortgage-related securities. Some of these contained uncollectable debt. Timothy Geithner, who served as the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury from 2009-2013, commented, “Most financial crises are caused by a mix of stupidity and greed and recklessness and risk-taking and hope” (“Financial Crises Caused by ‘Stupidity and Greed’: Geithner,” Reuters, April 25, 2012, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-economy-geithner/financial-crises-caused-by-stupidity-and-greed-geithner-idUSBRE83P01P20120426).
Greed, recklessness, and selfishness drew the Judeans in Jeremiah’s time to leave God and God’s ways and pursue false gods instead. Abandoning the covenant to love God and care for neighbors, the people engaged in practices that broke down rather than built up the whole community.
Some chaos followed the bank failures of 2008, which affected many people. Defaults on mortgages increased, and the price of housing sank, leaving many people owing more on their property that they could recover if they sold it. Unemployment and underemployment rose. The recession prompted employment cutbacks at many companies. “Even if you didn’t lose your job, there’s a possibility that your hours were cut, or that you lost some benefits. Underemployment is, perhaps, a lesser problem than unemployment, but it’s still a problem,” said Ryan Guina on his website “Cash Money Life” (“The Great Recession—Causes and Effects of the 2008-2009 Financial Crisis,” April 4, 2019, https://cashmoneylife.com/economic-financial-crisis-2008-causes/). Clearly, those who already lived on the edges of solvency were most affected.
Further, if you are United Methodist, you know that our denomination is in a time of uncertainty, which some have described as chaos. Many are searching for ways to return order to our church.
This month’s journey through Jeremiah has crept gradually toward chaos, and this week, we’ve arrived. God, through the prophet, says: “I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and all the birds of the air had fled. I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the Lord, before his fierce anger” (vv. 4:23-26). Humans have been treating the natural world as if it were disposable rather than something good that only God can make. Without much trouble, we can discover how the earth is starting to look like the picture described here.
On September 1, we recalled how out of chaos came the creation of a fruitful garden. Now, as foretold, chaos returns. The land will become a desert; living water was given up for dry cisterns.
The life of the world, the church, and even individuals seems to move in a cycle of chaos to order to chaos to order. As we learned from the story of the potter last week, that can be a cycle of creation. What do we gain from chaos? What do we lose? What might it give us to help establish a new and more fruitful order?
Writer and teacher Parker Palmer offers wisdom on the personal experience of chaos that can apply to the communal experience. “The insight we receive on the inner journey is that chaos is the precondition to creativity: as every creation myth has it, life itself emerged from the void. Even what has been created needs to be returned to chaos from time to time so that it can be regenerated in more vital form” (Let Your Life Speak, Jossey-Bass, 2000, 89).
After the harsh rhetoric from Jesus that confronted us in last week’s Luke passage, we hear more hopeful assurances this week. Here, Jesus tells a number of parables, including one about a lost coin. The woman in the story has 10 silver coins, but she loses one. She does not shrug it off, but searches the house thoroughly until she finds it. Jesus explains the parable: “Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (v. 10).
We must admit, we often neglect our baptismal promises to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin; to accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves, and to confess Jesus Christ as our Savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as our Lord, in union with the Church that Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.
It can be frightening and feel humiliating to confess that we’ve broken our vows to God and God’s people. Yet the ensuing chaos need not be the end of the world, so to speak. Despite loss, fear, and chaos that results from our selfishness, greed, and breaking of covenant, God is still looking for us. God still longs for our return.
Questions for reflection:
- What forms of upheaval are your church, its neighborhood, or its worshipers facing?
- In what ways have you observed your church, and yourself, reacting to turmoil?
- Where have you seen creativity emerge from the ashes of chaos?
Rev. Victoria Rebeck is a deacon and member of the Minnesota Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. She has combined her theology and journalism background in appointments to The Christian Century magazine, United Methodist Publishing House, Minnesota Annual Conference, and the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. Her ministry has focused on pointing the church to the world's needs for compassion and justice. She is a board member of Tennessee Justice for Our Neighbors, which provides quality legal assistance to immigrants, particularly those receiving lower incomes.