Sermons That Work

Imagine Being Married…, Easter 3 (B) – 1997

April 13, 1997

Imagine being married for 13, 14, 15, maybe even 20 years or more…and thinking that things were generally pretty good between you and your spouse. There were occasional ups and downs, like every marriage. And then, out of the blue one day your spouse comes to you and says, “I’ve filed for divorce.” After the shock wears off, you try marriage counseling for a time, to try and patch things up, to understand what the problem is…but nothing works and a year later, you are divorced.

Some of you may not have to imagine it. For some of you, this may be your reality.

Or, imagine working for a large, multi-national corporation for many years, giving your time, your effort, your ingenuity, thinking that this large, secure, wealthy corporation will always have need of such fine employees as yourself. But then, when you are in your mid-50’s, the corporation alters its organizational structure so that one Friday afternoon, without any warning, you receive a letter informing you that in less than a month your services will no longer be needed. The news leaves you contemplating unemployment for the first time in your life. You feel unwanted, rejected, bitter, and without any hope. Just when you were preparing to put the icing on a productive career, and coast into a leisurely and much deserved retirement, you find yourself out on the street, over-skilled in a sluggish economy.

Some of you may not have to imagine it. For some of you, this may be your reality.

Or, imagine you and your spouse retired, living quietly between trips to various vacation spots and visits to the grandchildren. One day your spouse returns home from an annual physical exam with the news that he or she has cancer. You both swing into action — researching the disease, selecting a course of treatment, asking for prayers and support. But, despite your best efforts, within a few months, your beloved spouse of 40 some years is dead, leaving you lost, alone, and forsaken. Both the fun and the meaning seems drained from your life. Whereas, time on planet Earth used to seem blissful and eternal, it now seems like incarceration.

Some of you may not have to imagine it. For some of you, this may be your reality.

One last example, imagine that for one reason or another you have just moved from one part of the country to another. You have left behind friends, neighbors, maybe family, but also routines, schools, churches, favorite restaurants, and the cleaners who know just how you like your shirts pressed. In your new “home” you have no friends and only a handful of acquaintances. Your neighborhood seems cold and distant. The grocery stores don’t carry a favorite brand, or the particular kind of French bread you used to savor. People talk funny all around you. You spend your time in the new location grieving for the simple moments over coffee at a neighbor’s kitchen table. You can’t find anything good to say about your new “home,” in fact, it hardly feels like home at all. It feels like someone else’s home, and that you do not belong there.

Some of you may not have to imagine it. For some of you, this may be your reality.

I could go on like this for a long time with illustration after illustration. It is such a common human experience. Things seem to be purring along just fine, and then without warning, disaster strikes.

One of the most overlooked details in the biblical story of Creation is that the world begins in chaos. “Disaster” and “disorder” are the “given” of creation. “In the beginning…the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…”(NRSV). We often assume that “order” can be found at the very beginning, but “order” is part of the process of creation. During the six days of creation, not only are the things of creation made, but they are also brought into an ordered system. A greater light shines in the daytime, and a lesser light shines at night. The dry land is separated from the water. Living things all have a distinct and appropriate place to be: water for fishes, etc., land for plants, animals, and humans, and the air for birds. It all makes sense. It works so nicely, but it is not original. “Order” comes out of the work of creation.

All of us spend considerable parts of our weeks bringing order into the lives we have been given. We protect ourselves and buffer ourselves from the darkness of chaos which always seems to lie just beneath the surface of God’s created order. By a variety of methods: family, work, recreation, money, to name a few, we attempt to keep chaos at predictable and safe. We work on family relationships believing that they will bring emotional fulfillment. We throw ourselves into work hoping to be rewarded with money and respect. We pursue hobbies and avocations thinking they will makes us better people or that they will fill a void in our lives. We gather as much wealth as we can, fooled into believing that life can be care-free.

However we choose to order our lives, that order will at some point break apart. No family is loving enough, no job secure enough, no amount of money is great enough to distance us from the given of chaos. Family relationships often disappoint. We may find ourselves in a dead-end job, or be laid off, or “down-sized.” Money solves nothing; each income bracket produces its own problems and challenges. I believe the increase in the participation of state- supported lottery schemes is fueled by an assumption that financial security is all-important. But “chaos” happens. Whether we are rich or poor, young or old, living in the city, suburb, or country, our carefully ordered existence will, at some point, disintegrate, resulting in disorder. This moment of chaos which follows the collapse of order is an experience of crucifixion. Like Jesus who did not seek the cross (“…if it is possible, let this cup pass from me…”) Matthew 26: 39 (NRSV) neither do we seek the chaos. It is painful. We suffer in it. It feels like we have died. But, the fact that Jesus endured the cross tells us that God is not only in the “order” but is also in the “chaos.”

When our lives are being built up, God is with us. When they fall apart, and we crash, God is with us as well. Out of the death, a new creation is born. But only if a true death occurs. The old must die, be gone, buried, dead, no more, ended, finished. The Christian community is not a self-improvement society where we work to get just a little bit better each day of our lives. We are prepared for things to get ugly. We are prepared for things to get nasty. We are no strangers to death.

Neither do we fear it, for out of death emerges new life. As slowly and quietly as dawn emerges on a still, spring morning, so the new life, a new order, a new creation emerges out of the second chaos. John writes in Revelation, “And then I saw a new heaven and a new Earth (a new creation,) for the first heaven and the first Earth had passed away…” Revelation 21: 1 (NRSV). Out of every chaos, God creates an order. The first creation, constructed out of a given chaos, was seriously flawed. The second creation, born out of the experience of taking up a cross, gives us hope.

No wonder Jesus tells his disciples in this morning’s gospel to spread the word, to take the message to all people and every nation. He stands among them that day as resurrected, on the other side of the chaos. He stands as a new creation and by his living presence declares — no, proclaims, “There is life, and there is hope.” Amen.

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Christopher Sikkema


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