Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Logic of Abundant Life

Psalm 145
Proverbs 8:1-36
John 1:1-17

For the next few months we will be looking at, or for, God through the lens of the Creation; through our world and our experience as human beings. There are many things that have been said about God that have become part of our understanding of theology, our doctrine. Much of what has been said comes directly from scripture, some from interpretations of scripture, and some out of human experience. Scripture itself is an attempt to make meaning out of human experience in and through creation and the human spirit. Our attempts at making meaning are sometimes helpful and sometimes terribly inadequate. For instance, the Western Christian Church has been under the curse of original sin since Augustine interpreted that idea from scripture in the 4th century. A modern theologian, Matthew Fox, read the same scriptures and claimed instead that we are under original blessing in a book with that title.  He was promptly excommunicated for his ideas, but many have found healing and hope in a new understanding of God’s dealing with humans.  Original blessing honestly makes more sense than God having unrealistic expectations and condemning human beings that, according to scripture, God originally deemed good.

Today’s readings are about original blessing—the idea that God wills good for human beings and that the created order is just that—orderly. We know what to expect at this time of year. Fruit will be harvested, leaves will turn color and fall, days will become shorter, the air will have a chill. We know what to expect with a pregnancy, and as a child grows through stages of development. We know what to expect as we age. The order in our lives is sometimes so mundane that we take it for granted. It’s the accidents and surprises in life that make us grope for meaning: a grave diagnosis, a lost job, a natural disaster. They make us question God’s goodness or God’s power. So let’s look at what we can know about God from creation. Creation has a wisdom that is orderly and generative.

About a decade ago, I was introduced to the idea of fractals. I am not a mathematician or a physicist, although our son is and this is where I’m sure I’m going to embarrass myself.

 Here’s a definition of fractals from the Fractal Foundation:
A fractal is a never-ending pattern. Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop. Driven by recursion, fractals are images of dynamic systems – the pictures of Chaos. Geometrically, they exist in between our familiar dimensions. Fractal patterns are extremely familiar, since nature is full of fractals. For instance: trees, rivers, coastlines, mountains, clouds, seashells, hurricanes, etc. Abstract fractals – such as the Mandelbrot Set – can be generated by a computer calculating a simple equation over and over.

The idea of the “picture of Chaos” being part of an order that is bigger than I can see intrigues me.  What we see as chaos or randomness is actually part of a larger order.  My son introduced me to the golden ratio which is a mathematical function related to fractals—I won’t even try to explain it.  But we see the ratio in naturally occurring phenomena along with fractals every day.  It explains the pattern of seeds in the sunflower on the cover of your bulletin and in the objects on the screen.  The recreation of individual parts over and over in a fern frond is just one example.  As is the natural regrowth of a forest after the explosion of Mt. St. Helens. 

The wisdom of God in nature creates abundant life that is logical and ordered. Brian McLaren suggests that humans have developed systems of logic of their own. Being human means that we have the freedom to make decision that are wise or foolish, creative or destructive, thoughtful or rash. There are limits around our freedom: just because I want to fly doesn’t mean I can fly; although human creativity may make that possible in other ways. 

Even though we desire and work for peace, it does not guarantee that others will share our desire. Being human means that we have freedom within limits. Most of us order our own lives around a kind of logic. We may have experienced living a logic of self-interest (you only live once), compliance (you have to go along to get along), or jealous envy (trying to keep up with or emulate a life style), or we know someone who has. We know the destruction of human lives and human creativity that is caused by living a logic of rivalry or revenge. Our forebears in the faith tell us that the wisdom of God, God’s logic, is based on love. If we live within the logic of love, we will have abundant life. Listen again to how creation is described in the gospel of John:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

The author goes on to say that God’s Word became flesh and “from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. . .grace and truth.” What we can know about God through the created world and through Jesus is that the wisdom of God, the logic of God, is life and light and love and grace and truth.

This past week, I went with Cindy Haverkamp as she met with the District Committee on Ministry in her candidacy process. In her interview, Cindy spoke about discovering God’s love and in doing so, she made a common observations among modern Christians that the Old Testament is about rules and law and the New Testament is about love. Most of us would probably agree with that statement. But the chair of the committee, my friend the Rev. Dr. Joanne Carlson Brown, corrected that misconception by quoting from the 43rd chapter of Isaiah in the First Testament, the scriptures that Jesus loved and that shaped his ministry:
1 But now thus says the Lord,
   he who created you, O Jacob,
   he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
   I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
   and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
   and the flame shall not consume you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
   the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. . . .
4 Because you are precious in my sight,
   and honored, and I love you.

She went on to say, “Notice that it does not say if you pass through the waters, but when, because we will experience difficult times in our lives. But we will not be overwhelmed or consumed because we are so loved. The First Testaments is the same as the second.” 

They are about the powerful love of God. No matter what happens in our lives, we are held within the wisdom of abundant life, the wisdom of generative love, whether we know it or not, whether we feel it or not. The God who orders the universe will not let us go. You are as precious as the chambered nautilus, the unfolding rose, the spinning galaxies. You are precious in God’s sight, honored and loved.

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