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Friday, June 16, 2017

Chaos and Mess: Fertile Ground for the Holy Spirit


Goodness me ... if we look at the world around us, we can be tempted to say: “What chaos, what a mess!”


I don’t even know where to start. Just in the last few weeks since I last preached at our evening service and spoke about fear, we’ve seen the chaos, the mess of ... Fire ... Terrorism ... Hung parliament. On the international front: the so called leader of the so called Free World embroiled in controversy; a crazy dictator testing ballistic missiles as he pleases; On the religious front: Christian persecution gaining momentum at such a pace that it hardly makes headlines anymore ... more than 20 Coptic Christians slaughtered at the end of May ... dozens in April at a Palm Sunday service ... at least 25 at a service just before Christmas. On the individual front: chaos and mess in personal relationships ... in personal health ... in personal finances ... in personal life, in workplace, in church .... in all these and many more chaos and mess so often seem to be just waiting to break through.
Where does one begin to try and understand all this? Perhaps “at the beginning.” Now I’ve been spending a great deal of time in Genesis 1 as I’ve been preparing for our Creation walk. I’m almost sure you all know what the first thing was to be created ... but remember, don’t shout out because you might embarrass yourself. Let’s look at Gen 1:1-2

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

What exists before God speaks His first creation word?

The words “without form, and void” ... tohu and bohu, are words which signify wasteness and emptiness. The word “the deep” ... tĕhôm, comes from a word signifying confusion or disturbance. Biblical scholars point out that all this is an ancient way of describing chaos. Later in the OT this word “the deep ... tĕhôm” will be called the abyss, the dwelling place of the angels who were cast out of Heaven with Lucifer ... so we can understand the chaotic, writhing mass of this “deep.” And we are told that the Spirit of God hovered over these waters.

Remember all this comes before the first creation word. And then, over this chaos ... God speaks and says “Let there be light.” Then, on the second day we have these words:

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

And so in modern language we see that on this day God creates space (show with hands) ... and the rest of creation takes place in this space, which has “waters below” and “waters above.” Now, the ancient Jews, even up to Jesus time, were very afraid of the waters of the seas. They didn’t go swimming or playing in the water for fun, because their understanding was that these waters contained elements of the chaos, of the abyss. A few weeks ago we looked at the story of the demons in the man called Legion, and they beg Jesus (Luke 8:31):

And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss

Even demons that have escaped the abyss don’t want to go back into it. And they beg to rather go into the pigs, which Jesus allows ... but what do the pigs do, they immediately run over a cliff into the abyss ... the waters of the sea of Galilee. To the Jews, because of their understanding of creation, the waters of the seas were to be avoided at all costs. You only went onto these waters for fishing ... never for playing. You see, these waters could erupt into chaos at a moment’s notice, as they often did. We have some stories in the Gospels of the Sea of Galilee doing just that, turning from calm to storm just like that.

Perhaps you can now understand why they are so amazed when Jesus calms storms and walks on water ... it is as though He is stronger than the evil that lurks in the waters waiting to erupt. It is as though He can walk over evil, trample the devil underfoot .... and so they ask “Who is this man?” We read these miracles and say “Jesus has power over nature” ... the original witnesses realised: “This man has power over evil and the chaos it gives rise to, which so often erupts from nowhere.”

This man could trample on the chaos of stormy upheaval, the chaos of 1000’s of hungry people or the chaos of a few hungry fishermen after a night of no catch. This man could speak a word of healing into the chaos of disease, even into the chaos of death. He brought order into lives made chaotic by being labelled “outcast”, or “sinner” or “prostitute” or “widow” or “orphan” or “foreigner” or “prisoner”.

I said earlier that we’ve seen the chaos, the mess of ... Fire ... Terrorism ... Hung parliament; the so called leader of the so called Free World embroiled in controversy; of a crazy dictator testing ballistic missiles as he pleases; of Christian persecution gaining momentum; and of chaos and mess in personal relationships ... in personal health ... in personal finances ... in personal life, in workplace, in church .... in all these and many more chaos and mess so often seem to be just waiting to break through and flood us. But remember this:

the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters


You may sometimes feel like the depressed Psalmist in Psalm 42 who uses the creation language we have been looking at when he cries out:
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
...
My soul is downcast within me;
    ...
Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

When it feels that way, remember this:

the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters

It’s as if the Spirit is attracted to chaos and hopelessness like iron filings to a magnet ... only He hovers and then raises something good from the mess. He hovers over the waters of a world He has destroyed by flood ...  he hovers over the chaotic family of a man called Jacob ... He hovers over a nation living in slavery in Egypt ... He hovers over the mess of the life of a prostitute called Rahab ... over the hopeless situation of a boy with a sling standing before a giant ... must I go on ... over a den of hungry lions into which a man is thrown ... over a nation living in exile in Babylon ... over a young unmarried girl with an unbelievable story of how she has fallen pregnant ... the Spirit hovers over the grave of that girls Son after His crucifixion ... He hovers over murderous Saul ... and so on we can go ... He hovers still ... He hovered over a wall that sprang up overnight in Berlin ... over a nation destroying itself with a policy of apartheid.

We have to believe, we have to believe, He hovers over the ruins of Grenfell Towers; over a hung parliament and confused nation; and over your personal and perhaps our shared chaos ... hovering over the chaos, waiting to speak a re-creative word. And that word can only come from God. The difference that needs to come to our nation, to our cities, to ourselves ... can only come from God and from the Spirit of God. How do we pray at a time like this ...? I can think of no better prayer than the ancient prayer of the church: “Come Holy Spirit”

We need order from chaos. We need the Holy Spirit, because we can do nothing with our own strength, our own love and our own ideas, to change the things we know need to change. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to make the difference Jesus makes, to be the difference.  There is nothing more involving, more life-changing, more life-giving, more freeing than to receive the Spirit of God ... because the Spirit doesn’t simply change us, the Spirit changes the world and gives hope to the world.


I started with these words: Goodness me ... if we look at the world around us, we can be tempted to say: “What chaos, what a mess!”

I close with these words: Come Holy Spirit.

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