Septuagesima – Order out of Chaos

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
[Genesis 1:2-4]

What a glorious couple of days we’ve been having with the weather.  When we walk around outside, we have a sense of the immense potential of Creation that is on the verge of bursting forth in blossoms and in leaves.  It is as though it is all waking up together.  And the readings in the Church year mirror this experience of Spring, of Lengthening of Days, of the return of the songbirds to cheer us, and of the warmth of the sun bringing into being that which was only in potential.  From ancient times, at this time of year the Church has begun reading the stories of Genesis and leading us in Lent to read the Exodus.  We will be recalling our origins, our fall from grace, and God’s plan of redemption – manifested most fully on the Cross and in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This morning we are looking at the creation of order out of chaos – in the whole of Creation (our first reading); in the outward working of our lives (the Gospel); and in the inner life of our soul (our Epistle reading).

Do you know some area of chaos in your life?  Some area needing transformation?  Let’s see what God has to say to us about this through his Word.

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Creation of the light (the angels). Mosaic at Monreale Cathedral in Sicily, c 1080 AD

The first realm where chaos is turned into order is in the Creation itself by God [Genesis 1].  We heard this morning…

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.

In this account of the Creation in Genesis, God first makes the stuff of life and then orders it. First there is the Creation of matter itself – the heavens and the earth– and then God creates order within it, the distinctions – light from darkness, separating the waters above from the waters beneath, separating the dry land from the waters beneath.  And then there is an increasing complexity in all these realms – first plant life in all its varieties, then bird and animal life in all its varieties, and finally human beings, the summit of the created order, because they are made in the image and likeness of God.  This is a very affirming account of the goodness of Creation (we are not Manichaeans, who declared that matter is bad and spirit is good).  And it speaks about God bringing form to what was formless, order out of chaos.

How does this ordering of Creation happen?  In each case the Bible account says it is by the Word being spoken – And God said, “Let there be… [divisions, distinctions, differences of kinds]… and it was so.”  This speaking forth of God has been understood as the Eternal Word or Wisdom of God, the divine Son, through whom all things were made [see John 1:3, Col 1:16, Heb 1:2-3].  God creates habitable order out of the chaos by speaking the Word.  [see Jordan Peterson’s lecture on Genesis 1]

God loves being, existence, matter, and he brings form out of that which is formless, order out of chaos.

And somehow he wants us to be involved in that.  In this Creation account, human beings, being made in the image and likeness of God, are given a place, like God, to turn towards the Creation and to care for it – to tend and keep the garden – that is, to order it.  Some animals can interact in small ways to shape their environment, but no other creature has such potential to bring form out of the formless, order out of chaos.

(Next week we’ll look at the Fall, and how humanity can also bring chaos out of order, but for today, we’re looking at the other way.)

We have now looked at the first way in which chaos is turned into order, namely by God speaking the Word.

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The second realm where chaos is brought into order is in our outward lives.  In today’s Gospel [St Matthew 20:1-16] Jesus reminds us of this primordial calling of humanity by God to bring order out of chaos.

The kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house
who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.

It is as if the original call in Genesis that we tend and keep the garden has been forgotten and we are being recalled by Jesus to that work.

In the parable it is a vineyard, that God calls us to tend to.  You may know the special properties of vines, that left to their own they don’t bear so much fruit, and when the branches run along the ground, the fruit is more easily spoiled.  But when the vines are cut back, when they are held up on trellises, they bear fruit much more abundantly and it is not spoiled.  But it takes human effort.

The vineyard is a figure of whatever work we are called to in our daily life – whether it be in the home or work outside the home, the church community that we are building, the society in which we live – wherever it is, in involves our interactions with one another – our friends, coworkers, a spouse, our family, the church community, and in the wider society.

How are we to be engaged in this work?

Remember in the Creation God made all things through His Word – he spoke the Word and things came into being; from chaos and formlessness they were ordered by the Word which is the Truth.

Likewise we have this creative power through our speech to bring things into being. A father or mother speaks a word of truth to their child and if followed something happens – health, growth, flourishing; a boss speaks to an employee of some action to be taken and if obeyed things come into being – societies infrastructures, or new products, new markets, the exchange of goods; a ruler speaks a wise word about justice to a nation and that justice can become a reality.  There is power through a word to create order out of chaos.

Into a situation of people unreconciled, words spoken truthfully, can reconcile and create a lasting peace.  As we take care to speak a word of truth with one another we can be involved in tending those gardens – the home, the workplace, the church, the wider society – to bring forth fruit more abundantly.  And we have God’s Word, the Word made flesh, through which we begin to recognize more and more for ourselves what is truth, to help us in the bringing of order out of chaos through truthful speech.

In the parable, Jesus calls us to enter the vineyard at any time in our lives – it may be when we are young, middle aged or at the end of our lives.  When we are called – it may be that it is to do some new kind of work or it may be to do the same things we’ve always been doing, but from a new perspective – not building up our own kingdoms but from the perspective of consciously building up the kingdom of God.

Jesus reminds us that there is one reward we will all share in for acting in accordance with this new perspective, this conversion of heart towards God, towards Truth – and that one reward is eternal life.  We’re not to be confused thinking the longer we work the better the reward – eternal life cannot be bettered.  But what could be better than the opportunity of building on something meaningful, building up something that has eternal significance?

In James [the tongue is a fire! (see 3:3-12)] and in Proverbs [the tongue has the power of life and death (see 12:13-22)] we are reminded how careless we can be with our words, and what power there is in our mouths by our speech – what would happen if we only spoke the truth in love to build up, and restrained our tongues from every useless or destructive or lying word?

We have now looked at the second way in which chaos is turned into order, namely in our outward lives by speaking truth.

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The third realm where chaos can be turned into order is inwardly in our souls.

In Isaiah [58:11] and Jeremiah [31:12], God speaks through the prophets about our own souls as becoming like a watered garden – watered by God’s grace springing up in us continually.  And the coming season of Lent will be an opportunity to be more conscious about tending to that garden that is our soul.

We bring order out of the chaos in our souls following God’s way – by testing our thoughts and desires and listening only to those that are in accord with the truth, or we will speak the truth into the various thoughts and desires that arise in us. Not everything is helpful, we are not to act impulsively, but to test those thoughts and desires by the truth. And God helps us to recognize the truth by coming to us in the Word made flesh to show us outwardly by the Word what ways of living bring forth flourishing.  God also comes to us inwardly by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, to bring order inwardly out of the chaos, if we are listening to that voice. [Jn 14:15-27]

St Paul uses a different metaphor than the garden in this morning’s Epistle reading [1 Corinthians 9:24-27] to speak of the soul, he speaks about runners running a race and preparing for that by discipline.

I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.
But I discipline my body and keep it under control,
lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

The virtue that St Paul commends here is temperance – I exercise self-control– he says – I discipline my body– he says, he tempers it.  To be temperate is to speak truth to oneself inwardly, to bring order out of chaos.  Our bodies and souls demand more than they need, or they can demand less than they need, and we need to discern what are excessive demands and what are insufficient demands for the health of our body and soul.  Sometimes it means listening to the truth from others since we can be inwardly confused – it definitely means listening to the Word of God, to Christ.  The Word of God shapes our desires, our love, to bring out of darkness, light, out of confusion, clarity, out of what is unformed, something beautiful.  [Augustine’s Confessions Book XIII]

So we have looked at 3 ways to turn chaos into order, God in Creation, we in the vineyard that is our outward lives, and in the inner life of our soul.  And the summary of it is ‘to speak truth’.

With that summary in mind, let’s think again about a realm of chaos in our life that we would like to see more ordered than it is now.  Has God given you a word to speak into it?  Perhaps we already know what we should say, but don’t have the courage or we’re afraid to speak, or we can’t seem to will it to speak with our mouths.

This morning we come before Christ not completely formed – a mixture of chaos and order in our outward lives and inwardly.  He shares with us His Body and Blood given for us to assure us of his forgiveness for the chaos we’re responsible for, if we ask him, and to strengthen us to speak the truth and to be co-creators in these realms that we can affect.  Let us prepare ourselves now to receive him and to speak words of truth and bring order out of chaos.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

Amen +