Saturday, January 10, 2015

Into the void: chaos, God, life....

A reflection on Genesis 1:1-5, Mark 1:4-11

In 1904 a Swedish mathematician named Helge von Koch created what has become known as the Koch snowflake. Koch was trying to work out some principles in chaos theory called “fractals.” Fractals are self-repeating elements that recreate themselves in a similar manner over and over ad infinitum. Fractals are complex and occur in nature such as trees, rivers, mountains, and so forth.

However, unlike Koch’s snowflake, which created the same pattern in each of his snowflakes, nothing in creation is ever created exactly the same as another. No two trees are exactly the same, no two rivers are exactly the same, no two humans are exactly the same. 

Chaos theory is the science of things that are nonlinear and unpredictable. Most science deals with predictable elements like chemical reactions or gravity. But chaos theory delves into those places that exist between predictability, the space where transition happens. Some of the common descriptions of chaos theory include the butterfly effect - that a butterfly flapping it’s wings in one part of the world will impact the weather on the other side of the world. Chaos theory attempts to describe the transition between order and disorder and a return to order.

For example, we know that weather patterns are unpredictable. Slight changes, on a molecular level in one place, will completely change the weather pattern. Computer projections can only give us approximations of what might happen, but nothing can predict with absolute certainty what will happen. 

Uncertainty is not a state that human beings appreciate. We like to know what the weather is going to be like so we can dress appropriately. We like to set our budget and feel comfortable that we can live within it. We like to rest in assurance. But the truth is, there is no assurance of the future and nothing is predictable, even though we may try to be prepared for any eventuality. 

Thankfully the science of biology teaches us that a little chaos in creation is necessary for life to continue, to prevent stagnation and death. Chaos is generative.

One way of considering the unpredictable nature of life is that it keeps us on our toes. Unpredictability and randomness and chaos force us to rise to the occasion and tap into our most creative juices. Of course we have a choice. We can choose to be creative or we can choose to become stagnant.

This time of year the staff and Vestry are spending time thinking back over the last year in preparation for the Annual Meeting. As we prepare for the meeting we always take a count of the deaths, weddings, and baptisms in this church. We realized that since June of 2011 we have had 37 funerals. 

No doubt the loss of so many beloved parishioners in just three and a half years has impacted us financially, spiritually,  and emotionally. With so much loss, death could easily be the place where we put our emphasis and focus. Certainly taking time to remember those we love and those we have lost, and to grieve is important. But allowing death to define us, any one of us, or all of us, will truly limit our ability to follow God. However, facing into death can open us up to possibility. Facing into death reminds us that we cannot postpone living.

It’s good to remember that in the same time frame, since June of 2011, we have had 16 baptisms, 10 weddings or commitment ceremonies, and 29 new members pledging their support to the mission and ministries of this parish. 

Since June of 2011 we have launched many new ministries. These include the Liberia School Project, the building now 50% complete, and already being used in a variety of ways. The people at our sister church, Good Shepherd in Paynesville, Liberia have inspired us with their faith and trust in God!

We have also launched Blessings in a Backpack, remodeled room 213 to make it a more viable dance classroom and children’s prayer room, and we’ve opened a food pantry that feeds over 23 families each month. We have almost completed the pew project increasing our wheel chair and walker accessibility in the church, and we’re working on the exterior plaza project, opening the front of the church to greater use and offering a gathering place for our neighbors and friends. We increased the size of our community garden and built a gorgeous fence that won us an award from the city of Dearborn. The Holiday Market, which started in Nov. 2011, has become our primary social event of the year as we open our church to artists and the hundreds of shoppers who attend. We continue to be a home for AA, Boy Scouts, Martial Arts, dance classes for adults and kids, yoga classes, voice and music lessons, and Creating Hope International - an organization that aides in educating women in Afghanistan. We offer office space to the League of Women Voters and AAUW, the American Association of University Women. Chapel Day preschool, one of our primary ministries, is still going strong after fifty years. Our Summer Arts Camp merges faith and the arts and feeds the creative sprits of young people every summer. 

We are a community centered church making a difference in the world because we have been willing to be creative and take risks to follow God’s call to us and live into our mission.

One aspect of the pew project that is still under consideration is the baptismal font. When we removed it in October in order to lay the new floor and adapt the pews for wheel chairs, we put the font in the entrance way, where it was originally placed when this church was built. The font itself was constructed sometime between 1920 and 1924 in honor of a member of this parish who was a civil war veteran.

When we first moved the font, we had no baptisms planned for the foreseeable future. But in the nature of unpredictability, since moving it, we have had three baptisms and one more planned for next month. Thankfully we have a small portable font that matches our architecture which can be easily moved into this space for the baptisms.

Our hope is that the big font can be put onto a base that will make it portable. The font is in three pieces, weighing over three hundred pounds each, that sit one on top of the other, held in place only by their weight. It’s a big project, but no doubt, with time, we’ll solve the dilemma of the font, as we always do. 

The point is, just like chaos theory, a little change in one place can have a huge impact elsewhere. The pew project has been both a practical solution to a problem and a source of creative inspiration as we consider how to use our space and our baptismal font.

As the list of all of our ministries reminds us, death is not the dominant fractal of our reality, our story. We have clear evidence of amazing creativity and new life springing forth from us, thanks be to God. 

Each of our readings this morning describe God’s creative and redemptive action in the world.. Through Jesus, God has revealed God’s desire to work with us, with human beings, to transform chaos into new life. With God, we can face into the chaos that will surely come, although we know not when, or how, it will appear. Baptized into the life of Christ we can walk into the waters of life, be they turbulent or calm, and trust that the only predictability in life is that God is with us every step along the way. 


Monica said...

I like how you pull that all together. And I like your title too!

Terri said...

Thanks, Monica. I feel like it's not really a sermon, but is it what I need to say....

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