Saturday, December 8, 2007

Worshiping God in chaos

A few weeks ago at Franklin Street, pastor Joe Brown from WEPC took his turn in the preaching rotation. (Being a newly-planted church of some forty-odd people, we don’t yet have a full-time pastor, but we’re on the search.) The two texts he chose were Revelation 21:1-5 and Psalm 24.

Apparently in the Hebrew frame of mind, there were two enemies to true life: emptiness and chaos. Yet from the beginning of the Scriptures, we see a Jehovah who is actively filling a void and subduing its disorder. “In the beginning . . . the earth was without form [chaotic, disordered, uncontrolled] and void [empty], and darkness was over the face of the deep. [But!] the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-3). The universe was an uncontrolled sea, stormy and black, lacking blessing and unfit for man to dwell in. Indeed, the seas have always been the enemy of mankind, a representation of all that we cannot subdue or control, all that threatens to drown us choke the life out of us.*

“The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof . . . for he has founded it upon the sea and established it upon the rivers.”

This phrase “the earth’s fullness” refers to more than just all that’s in the earth; it means that the earth is itself supposed to be “full”—full of God’s goodness, his life, his riches, his abundance. The psalter employs language of fullness, overflow, and abundance to show forth life (e.g., Psalm 65:9-12). Yet our lives often feel empty, lacking in meaning, in hope, in vigor. We run from one pleasure and pursuit to another, yet we feel . . . empty. Where is this plenitude of life?

At the same time, despite our best efforts, our lives are also out of control. We have chaos and disorder. The baby is crying; the casserole burns; your check bounces; you fall (read: step) into the same sins yet again; a loved one dies. When it rains, it pours. “Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me” (Psalm 42:7). Who will come to still our seas and calm their waves?

“Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?”

The creation account of Genesis 1 may begin with chaos and void. But the story that follows—the story that introduces Yahweh and sets the tone for the rest of history—is, if nothing else, a hopeful story: for three “days” God gives shape and order to the universe, and for three days he works to fill the universe with bodies to give us time, light, and energy, plants for food, animals to help us, and—best of all—woman. (I’m sure some of you might instead be cursing God for that right now!)

The miracle of Christianity is not only that God has made the world, giving it order and fullness, but that he has personally entered it to save it from the death-curse brought on by the devil and by Adam’s sin, in which all humans share. God has come on the scene as the man Jesus of Nazareth, calming raging waters (Mark 4:35-41) and filling up our emptiness with “life to the full” (John 10:10 NIV).

Who is this King of glory? This King of glory is Jesus Christ: God incarnate and saving, “the LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle” (Psalm 24:8). This Rescuer has come to give us “life to the full,” a life lived in fellowship with our Maker and in his blessing as adopted and beloved children. He has broken the neck of the terrors of the deep and all that threatens our well-being, all that we cannot control and strips us of our life and hope, all that “comes only to kill, steal, and destroy” (John 10:10). He speaks peace into our chaotic lives, a peace he has sealed to us by his sacrificial death. He comes as the One “who fills all in all” and who himself fills us with God’s life and presence (Ephesians 1:23; Colossians 2:9-10). And though only those who have clean hands and a pure heart may ascend to the hill of Zion, enter her gates, and approach God in worship, Christ gives us his very own purity and righteousness to wear as festal garments—“blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of [our] salvation” (Psalm 24:5; cf. Isaiah 61:10)—and gives us his Spirit’s power to overcome the sins that we can’t subdue on our own. So we can confidently storm the gates of Zion and stride into the temple, seeking God’s face and fellowship. “They beheld God, and ate and drank” (Exodus 24:11).


* What stands in the way of the fleeing Israelites at their exodus from Egypt? The Red Sea, or whatever the Yam Suph really was. What threatens David and Jonah? Seas (see Psalm 69 and Jonah 2). From where does the evil beast come in Revelation 13? The sea. What does God finally eradicate in the new earth? The sea (Revelation 21:1). The salvation story is not only of making rivers to flow in a death-barren and –dry land; it is the story of wiping out the disorder, evil, and chaos that stand in the way of a life of peace and wholeness.


Ted M. Gossard said...

How very true. God can bring order into our lives and existence in Christ, and indeed will do that in the new creation, already beginning in Christ. And even restoring the shipwreck of many lives from the sea.

Thanks for sharing that. Good thoughts to remember. (and the woman part is, in a true sense, the best) (:

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

I love the notion of God hovering over my confusion and drawing the seemingly meaningless parts of my life, the chaos inside, into light and dark, rhythm and rhyme, shape, order and form...

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

less than one week?!

what should santa bring you for Christmas? have you been naughty or nice?

Andrew said...

I'm not exactly sure how to answer that question. The Calvinist in me would surely say that I've been naughty; and certainly I've had my moments. But if St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (SW Turkey!!!), is willing to cram himself down my chimney with something other than coal, then I guess here are a few suggestions:

(1) the latest CDs from MuteMath (self-titled) or Eisley (Combinations) -- or iTunes money for them;

(2) a bound drawing journal that I can use for a nature journal I'd like to start, such as Moleskine's larger-sized notebook (unlined).

Umm . . . I think that's it, because I already have too many books and too little time to read them.

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

I guess I'd better take that stack of books back to the store....

Ted M. Gossard said...

Have you read Bonhoeffer's "Life Together"? A most excellent read, and not long either. I know this is off your postings; I do get a kick out of people like Halfmom Susan, who would have someone read a dozen books they recommend, though actually I think we would be better off to listen and so learn....

Though when I finally got to visit Michael Card, I was reading (probably again) "Life Together" and he was then listening to it on ipod. Interesting.

I think you'd find this download: Ethics and the Will of God: the Life and Legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer worthwhile.

Have a blessed Christmas and new year.

Andrew said...

In fact, I do own Life Together and have read it several times; it's one of my favorite books.

What exactly do you mean by, "I know this is off your postings; I do get a kick out of people like Halfmom Susan, who would have someone read a dozen books they recommend, though actually I think we would be better off to listen and so learn...."? I'm unclear.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I certainly don't mean to make light of Halfmom Susan, because I respect her insights and listen to all her advice. And she recommended a book to me, and I'm glad I took her up on that. She is a good sister. I certainly mean no disrespect at all, and actually think the opposite.

I was referring I think to her statement that she would have to take all the books back she bought for you for Christmans! I just had to laugh at that statement.

So good to hear you're working on wearing out "Life Together". Me too! In fact I just began rereading it again; not sure how many times so far.