A Sermon on Readings for the First Sunday after Epiphany
January 12, 2018
When babies are born, they seem to be a blank slate, with little form or shape to how they live. As it was described to me when our first child was born, a newborn's life is "eat, sleep, poop." Although research indicates there's more going on in their little heads than we realize, from the outside it's pretty much just chaos.
Of course, when things go right there's also a parent or caregiver there in the midst of the chaos. There's someone to whisper "I love you," talk baby talk, and do more than just feed the baby, put it down for a nap, and change its diapers. And under that influence, the unformed chaos slowly changes. The baby learns to smile, to communicate, and to make others laugh. It learns to receive and give love. Eventually, the chaos is pushed back, and a little person develops.
It's not unlike what we read in the first chapter of Genesis. "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" – a wild and roiling ocean. It was chaos, the cosmic version of "Eat, sleep, poop."
"While a wind from God swept over the face of the waters." The word for wind here is the Hebrew word ruach, which means "breath" or "spirit." A commentary I read this week notes that the word we read as "swept" is merahepet. It is evidently a piel feminine participle, which I could not explain to you if I tried. But it could be translated "fluttered" or even "shimmied." Translating it that way gives it a sense of wonder, joy, and delight. Imagine that breath of God fluttering in anticipation over the unformed potential that could be our world.
On that first day God makes light and darkness. Then on the second day God makes a dome in the midst of the waters, pushing back the water on all sides to make room for the world. (Remember, this is a flat earth culture.)
Under the influence of that loving, dancing, fluttering breath, the world emerges.
And it didn't stop there. That wind is still blowing, that whisper of breath is still there, making room for new things. It is blowing on you, fluttering in anticipation, waiting to see what you will become. When it blew before, the whole world emerged from the waters of chaos. What will emerge from your life? What new world will you create?
When I ask that question, I'm not asking what you will do to make the world a better place. I know each of you is going to do that already. I'm asking what you will do to make the world new.
You may not know the answer to that question. That's okay. When it's time for the senior creedal statement, the final project in the religion class, my students often hesitate at the idea of saying what they believe is the most important thing in life. They're not sure what they believe. And I tell them that's fine, but that they have to take a swing at it. They have to ask the question, wrestle with it, and see what comes up.
It's the same with the question of how you will make the world new. You may not have a five-year plan to alter the lives 7.6 billion people. But you can do it, and you have to take a swing at it. The potential is there. The breath of God is moving over you, fluttering, shimmying, calling something new out of you. It made order out of chaos, life out of no life, it made you out of "eat, sleep, poop." If it could do that, who knows what else it could do with you? Who knows how the world could be made new all over again as a result of your life? There's only one way to find out: take a swing. Give it a shot, see what happens. The potential is there, the wind is blowing, all that's needed is for you to try.