Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The Chaos

 The Chaos

The Bible begins with these words (I’m quoting from the New Revised Standard Version): “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” (Genesis 1:1-2). In other words, at its beginning, the world was chaotic. Then God went to work on the chaos, step by step bringing order to it. When God had finished God’s creative work, the Bible says that God judged everything that God had created as being “very good” (Genesis 1:31).

And indeed, at the conclusion of the seven days of creation as outlined in Genesis 1:1-2:4a, one gets the sense that everything is in its place. The world is sound and orderly. There seems to be no chaos.

But one might well wonder if the chaos is still lurking beneath the surface. And in fact, in the story of Noah’s ark, the storm that causes the flood is more than just a big rainstorm—it is the return of the chaos: “all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened” (Genesis 7:11).

God promises never again to destroy the world by a flood (Genesis 9:11). But that doesn’t mean that some chaos can’t burst forth here and there from time to time.

All too often in our nation, the chaos bursts forth in a hail of bullets.

According to a National Public Radio story, the independent data collection organization the Gun Violence Archive reports that there have been 198 mass shootings—defined as an incident in which four or more people are shot or killed, excluding the shooter—in the United States so far in 2022. There were 693 mass shootings in our nation in 2021.

It is a sad fact that we have become accustomed to hearing news reports about such incidents of mass violence. It is a further sad fact that most of us will give such incidents little thought after the news cycle moves on to some other story. It is an even sadder fact that most of us will not feel compelled to try to do something—and to try to get our leaders to do something—about the epidemic of mass shootings in our society until one results in the death or injury of someone we love. I hope that none of us ever have experienced or ever will experience such a tragedy. But I also hope and pray that we will come to care more about those who have experienced such a terrible loss.

The Bible teaches that one of these days, God will permanently eliminate the chaos. When that day comes, there will be no more sickness, sorrow, sadness, or grief. There will be no more mass shootings. Until that day comes, we have to deal with the eruptions of chaos. It is natural for humans to do what they can to try to keep the chaos at bay.

One way that people respond to the chaos of gun violence is to advocate for putting more guns into the system. I’m not sure they would put it that way, but that seems to me to be the practical effect of opposing any and all efforts to place any kinds of limitations on gun ownership rights. The irony is that having guns available to just about anyone at just about any time increases rather than decreases the possibility of gun violence and of mass shootings. (That at least seems logical to me, although I guess it is impossible to prove.) Anyway, advocating for more guns as the solution to gun violence seems to me to be illogical and counterproductive.

There is a sense in which, when it comes to guns in America, the toothpaste is out of the tube. According to the Pew Research Center, four out of ten Americans live in a household with a gun, and three out of ten Americans personally own a gun. According to that same research, sixty percent of gun owners cite personal protection as the main reason they own a gun. To put it in the terms I’ve been using, they own a gun in an effort to protect themselves against the chaos.

By now, some of you are thinking that any new or additional gun regulation will not address the real problem. The real problem, you would say, is a mental, emotional, or even a spiritual one. Until people’s hearts change, you would suggest, we will have tragedies such as mass shootings. Until people’s minds change, the chaos will continue to burst forth. And some of us would add, only God can bring about such a change.

I’ve already said that God will one of these days bring an end to the chaos. I agree that people need to have their hearts, minds, and spirits changed by God here and now if we are going to see any meaningful reduction in the chaos. I would like to suggest one way that we can be open to the change that God wants to bring about in our hearts.

Racist and white supremacist beliefs don’t motivate all mass shootings, but they clearly motivated the one that recently occurred in Buffalo, New York. Racism and white supremacy are wrong and sinful ideologies. If we want to be open to the changes that God wants to bring about in our hearts, minds, and spirits, we should avoid racism and white supremacy, but we should do more than that. We should also disavow and repudiate them and anyone that practices, promotes, or advocates for them. Perhaps in so doing we can contribute to a world in which racially motivated mass shootings are less likely to occur.

It would at least be a step toward lessening the chaos.


This article first appeared in the Barnesville Herald Gazette and the Pike County Journal-Reporter. It was written and published before the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas occurred.


Tuesday, May 24, 2022

God With Us


God With Us

Revelation 21:22-22:5; John 14:23-29

(A sermon preached on May 22, 2022)

I have been growing lately in my understanding that to grow in the Christian life is to grow in our knowledge of God.

In saying that, I don’t mean that the goal of the Christian life is to grow in our knowledge about God. I mean rather that the goal of the Christian life is to grow in our knowledge of God in the sense of growing in our relationship with God. We want to know God better and better. We want to draw closer and closer to God. When we come to the moment of our death, we want to know that we have as intimate a relationship with God as we can possibly have. In every moment of our lives, we want to know that we have as intimate a relationship with God as we can possibly have.

Make no mistake about it—God wants us to know God. God wants to be known by us. Think of all the ways that God has revealed God’s self to us. God has revealed God’s self through creation and nature. God has revealed God’s self to us through God’s dealings with the people of ancient Israel. And in God’s fullest revelation of God’s self to us, God has revealed God’s self to us through God’s Son Jesus Christ. At Christmastime we celebrate the fact that the Christ child was God with us. Jesus was God with us throughout his life, his ministry, his death, and his resurrection.

Yes, God has gone to much effort, culminating with what he did through his Son Jesus Christ, to make God’s self known to us.

We can be sure that God knows us. We can be sure that God wants to be known by us.

I want you to be sure that we can know God!

We may doubt that because we are so aware of our limitations. And to be sure, for now we have no option other than to experience God as the limited, earth-bound, pulled in every direction  creatures that we are.

That will no longer be the case one of these days. The day will come when Jesus will return, when the New Jerusalem will come, and when God will make all things as they will forever be. When that time comes, John tells us in Revelation, there will be no temple in the New Jerusalem, because there will be no need for one. The temple functioned as a “go-between” that gave people a kind of indirect but vital access to the presence of God. Our church buildings have a similar function and play a similar role.

But the New Jerusalem will have no temple because no intermediary between God and people will be needed. God’s people will forever have direct access to God and to God’s Son Jesus Christ.

John also tells us that no sun or moon will be needed, because God and Jesus will give us all the light we need. We will see clearly because we will see everything in the light of God. There will be no darkness, no dimness, no shadows, no doubts, and no uncertainties. Everything will be absolutely clear. We will know God fully. We will relate to God with no limitations.

Yes, the time will come when God will be fully with us and we will be fully with God.

What a day that will be!

But right now, we live in this day. And there is a very real sense in which God is with us and in which we are with God here and now. When everything is fulfilled according to God’s purpose, we will dwell in God’s light forever. But we already have access to God’s light right here and right now, even as we struggle along with what we acknowledge to be our limited spiritual insight.

That is the case because Jesus promised his disciples—among whom we are included—that God in God’s trinitarian fulness would come to make God’s home with us. Jesus promised us that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit would come to be with us right here and right now.

Jesus told his original disciples that God in God’s fulness would come to them after he was crucified and resurrected. We live on the other side of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, so we know that Jesus has kept his promise.

We know that God comes to make God’s home with those who love Jesus. God is with us as we are committed to Jesus and as we join our lives to him. We demonstrate our love for Jesus by our commitment to him. We demonstrate our commitment by doing what Jesus tells us to do. We do what Jesus tells to do as we lay down our lives for Jesus and for each other.

We want to know how we are to follow and serve Jesus. We want to know how God wants us to live. One of these days, when all things are fulfilled and God fulfills all of God’s purposes, we will be fully who we are meant to be and will do fully all we are supposed to do. One of these days, we will live in the full and unfiltered light of God. One day we will be with God and God will be with us.

But God is also with us right now, and we are already with God right now. Jesus said what the Father wanted him to say, and the Holy Spirit reminds us of what Jesus said. The Spirit helps us know how we are to obey Jesus by loving God and loving each other.

I said at the beginning of this sermon that to grow in the Christian life is to grow in our knowledge of God. The time will come when we will know God fully. But God in God’s grace makes it possible for us to know God more fully here and now than we might think possible. Even with all of our limitations, God comes to us and makes God’s home with us. Through the Holy Spirit, God shows us how we are to follow Jesus through practicing love.

God is with us. Let’s pay attention. Let’s listen. Let’s live in light of what we hear God saying to us. Let’s live as those who are known by God and who know God.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Then and Now


Then and Now

Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

(A sermon preached on May 15, 2022)


I enjoy watching mystery series on television. Such series have recurring characters that provide continuity. Different series have differing approaches to how they present their stories. Some present a different mystery in each episode. Some deal with one main mystery over the course of  a season. Some combine the two approaches—they have one over-arching story, but they present a new mystery in each episode. Whichever approach a series takes, we can be confident that the mystery will eventually be solved, because that is the way the genre works. If the mystery is never solved and if some resolution is never reached, we become frustrated and will find another show to watch.

There is a sense in which we live in a mystery. We woke up this morning with some expectations of how our day would go. But if we stop to think about it, we realize that we don’t know what is going to happen. Life can take unexpected turns. That is true in our personal lives. It is also true in the world at large. Something unexpected can happen that will change everything. We just don’t know what the future holds. Life is a mystery.

When we watch a mystery series, we do so with confidence that the mystery will be solved and that the various strands of the story will be tied up.

I am here to tell you that the mystery of life will ultimately be solved and that the strands of the story will ultimately be tied up. God will resolve everything. God will bring everything to its appropriate conclusion. God will fulfill all of God’s purposes.

And what a day that will be when God accomplishes all that God intends to accomplish! When that time comes, God will make everything as it should be. Everything that threatens us will be eliminated. Everything that brings pain and suffering to our lives will be defeated. Every obstacle that comes between God and us will be removed. Every limitation that prevents us from living our full lives will be done away with.

We can count on God accomplishing everything that God has promised to accomplish. Yes indeed, what a day that will be! When that day comes, there will be no more sickness, no more sadness, no more grief, and no more pain. There will be only blessing and wonder and joy forevermore.

Oh, and let’s not forget love. There will also be love.

As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13, we need faith, hope, and love as we live in this world and as we face all its mysteries. We need faith as we deal with the mysteries of life and with all the struggles they bring with them. Faith is trust that God is with us and for us in and through everything we encounter. We also need hope as we deal with the mysteries of life and all the struggles they bring with them. Hope is trust that God is working God’s purposes out in and through everything we encounter. For as long as we live in this world, we need to have faith in God and we need to hope in God.

But we won’t need faith and hope once God fulfills God’s purposes and once God makes all things as God intends for them to be. We won’t need to trust and to be assured that God is working God’s purposes out once God has worked God’s purposes out. Faith and hope will pass away because we won’t need them anymore.

Love, on the other hand, will endure and continue after God completes and fulfills all things, because love is eternal.

We anticipate how things will be then. We look forward to how things will be when God makes all things as they will forever be.

But then is not here yet. And until that day comes, we must live in the now. How can we best live in the now? How can we best live now in light of the then that God will surely bring about?

We best live in anticipation of then—of what God will ultimately bring about for all eternity—by practicing now the one way of life that will continue for all eternity—the way of love.

That is, after all, the way Jesus told his disciples to live. And we are Jesus’ disciples as surely as were those individuals who were with him on the night he was betrayed and arrested.

On that night, Jesus told his disciples that the time had come for him to be glorified. All of Jesus’ life glorified God, but his crucifixion and resurrection were the crowning events of his glorification. Jesus told his disciples that they could not go where he was going—they could not yet follow him in death and resurrection.

But Jesus’ disciples could follow him in practicing love. So can we. We can practice the same love that Jesus practiced—we can lay down our lives for one another as Jesus laid down his life for us. Only Jesus could die on the cross for our sins, but all of us who follow him can give up our lives for each other. We can think of others before we think of ourselves. We can look to give ourselves away rather than looking to protect ourselves or to keep our lives to ourselves.

Practicing love is how we live as Jesus’ disciples. Practicing love is how we show others that we are in fact followers of Jesus.

I started out talking about watching mystery series on television. As we do so, we become familiar with the main characters and come to expect them to behave in certain ways. We can be disappointed and become frustrated when a character behaves in a way that seems out of character.

We are people who know that God is working God’s purposes out. We know that the day will come when we enter God’s eternal kingdom of love. We know that until then, we are to practice love now.

Let’s live as who we are.

Let’s stay in character.

Let’s live in love.