When Chaos Turns to Order

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Trinity Sunday
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 8 and Genesis 1: 1-2, 4a
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters.
Genesis 1: 1-2 (NIV)

TOHU WA-VOHU

God is a God of the turnarounds. God has a way of taking that which is not good and turning it around into something positive and beneficial. We’re going to talking about that over the next four weeks by using some familiar stories from Genesis, the very first book in the Bible. We’re going to examine some of the about faces that God directs in this world and in our lives. Next week, we will look at how God turns complacency into surprise. The following week it will be how God turns despair into hope and on the final week the message will be on how God turns fear into promise. But today we will reflect on how God takes chaos and turns it into order.

To do that, I’m going to be using the first chapter of Genesis which is the first story of creation that we find in the Bible. I’m not going to read the whole thing but we will be looking at selected verses. What we will discover is that the intent of this story is to show that our God is a God of order and that God’s design for creation and for our lives is one of order and not chaos for it is only within the confines of order that we will thrive and fulfill the purposes for which God created us.

We’ll start right at the beginning. Genesis 1:1-2 (NIV) says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters.” “In the beginning.” writes the author. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In the beginning there was nothing. There was no matter. There was no energy. There was nothing accept God. But the interesting part of Genesis 1 and the part that most people overlook even though they’ve read it a dozen times is that this story does not start at the very beginning when there was nothing.

Fast forward in time – we don’t know how long – and we get to where we are in Genesis 1:2. The earth is there except it is formless and empty. The Hebrew words for this are  tohu wa-vohu which, while generally meaning formless and empty, are actually a superlative which means an extreme form of chaos. There is clearly stuff there in the chaos but it’s all over the place. There is matter. There is energy but it’s a mess. That is what verse 2 refers to as the deep. The deep is the primordial sea, an ocean of chaotic movement with no form and no order. It was just a swirling mass of energy and matter. But from this tohu wa-vohu – this incredible chaos – God is about to do something amazing. That’s because even though there is chaos and confusion, God is in the midst of the chaos because his Spirit hovers over all of it. As in all things and at all times, God is there.

What happens after this, in the rest of Genesis 1, is not so much a blow by blow account of creation but rather an affirmation that God is a God of order, who deals with chaos by putting everything in it’s place and providing the environment that will allow his creations to flourish and become all that they were created to be.

THE SIX DAYS OF CREATION

Now we get to the six days of creation. On day one God creates light. The light was called day and the darkness was called night. How long did the day last? We don’t know because to measure the length of days, we need the sun and the moon which God isn’t going to create until day four. So on day one there is no time because there is nothing to mark the passage of time. But now at least we have day and we have night.

Then comes day two when God created the expanse between the waters. Remember that there is the chaotic primordial sea, the tohu wa-vohu. And in the midst of that chaotic swirling water God creates a peaceful place. It resembles an upside down bowl, a dome if you will which in most translations is called either the firmament or the sky. There is still water above the dome and water below but in the midst of the swirling chaos of the primordial sea, there is peace and it is within that peace that God is going to do something amazing.

Now we have light and we have peaceful place. What does God do next? On day three God creates the land. We discover that somewhere in the chaotic sea, the tohu we-vohu, there is land. It just wasn’t obvious because of all of the chaos. But God knows it was there and on day three, God raises up that land to separate the waters into lakes and oceans. Now God has dry ground upon which he can place all kinds of other things. And the first living thing that God creates is the vegetation that covers the land. Grasses, trees, shrubs, flowers, they blossomed all over the dry ground and brought it to life.

On day four, God creates the heavenly bodies, the sun, the moon, the stars and all of the other things that are floating around up there. They go along the surface of the sky, the dome that God created on day two. Something else is created on day four. Since we now have the sun and the moon, we can also now measure days and months and years wehich means that we now have time. Do you see the order coming into being as piece by piece God puts things in their places?

By the end of day four God has ordered the water, the land and the sky. The canvas of creation is complete. It’s not quite the picture that we get when we think of the earth. We think of a globe surrounded by an atmosphere and space. But that’s not the way the ancient Hebrews saw things. They did not have the advantage of modern science and so God gave them an image that they could understand. They understood it because when they looked around themselves at creation, that is exactly what they saw.

This is an important point in creation because now God has everything he needs to sustain creatures and can create in the living breathing things of the earth. The first ones appear on day five when God fills the seas with sea creatures and fills the air with birds. Life begins to teem in the waters and the sky. Living breath is breathed into these creatures. And what did God say to them? In Genesis 1:22 (NIV) it says, “God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas and let the birds increase on the earth.’” What this tells us is that God created these things for a purpose. They were to spread out and fill the whole earth. And they did. They could do that only because God created the environment in which it was possible.

And finally comes day six, the last day of creation. On that day, God creates the land animals, the wild animals and the domesticated animals. And last of all, God creates us in his image to look after the creation he has made. And God said to our ancestors the very same thing he had said to the fish and the birds. In Genesis 1:28 (NIV) it says, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” Once again, we have a purpose. We can fulfill the purpose only because God has created the environment within which that is possible.

And on every day of creation, God says, “It is good.” But on day six, after everything is done and the vegetation covers that land and the fish swim and the birds fly and the animals roam the land and people are created to look after creation, God says, “It is very good.” And it was. God has taken the chaotic, tohu wa-vohu of the primordial sea and given it order. What was once formless and empty now had purpose and meaning. It doesn’t look like what we might expect the earth to look like but that’s not the point of the story. The purpose of the story is not to tell us about the earth. It is to teach us something about God. What it teaches us is that God brings order out of chaos and gives us a place to thrive.

FINDING ORDER IN THE CHAOS

That’s good news for us because it often feels like we live in a world of chaos. Think about your own lives. Don’t they sometimes feel chaotic. Before you got married, you were out with your friends, going here, going there, going to school, maybe starting a career. Between doing all of those things, you hardly had time to sleep but that’s no problem because, when you’re twenty-five, how much sleep do you really need? Then you got married and it was a bit calmer until the babies started coming: diapers, feedings and you even had a colicky one. Suddenly you discovered that you needed more sleep than you thought. And when they got a bit older there was homework that required some of your help. And let’s not forget about baseball, soccer, piano lessons, dance lessons, swimming lessons and a host of other activities that required you to be a taxi driver for the family. Are you getting tired yet?

And then middle age comes along and you have worked your way up at your job and now have lots of responsibilities to the people above you but also to the people you supervise. You’re connected with three different organizations as well as your local church where you sing in the choir and lead one of the small group Bible studies. And you can’t wait to retire so that you will have more time on your hands to do what you really want to do.

And then you retire, only to discover that you’re busier than ever because everyone else thinks that because you’re retired you can help them with this project or that project. And your son needs help building the deck at his house and the day care that your daughter uses just closed down and you need to look after the grandchildren for a few weeks – which is probably the best deal in town.

And then look you at the world in which we live. It seem like every other week there is another terrorist attack. And the stock market is all over the place and looking very much like it’s getting ready for a serious correction. And would the media please stop talking about Donald Trump!

Life can feel very chaotic, like a stormy sea of tohu wa-vohu but in the midst of the apparent chaos, remember Genesis 1:2 which tells us that, “… the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters.” In the midst of the chaos of life, God is there. That’s the first thing that you need to know. You are not alone in the chaos. There is God who loves you and wants only the very best for you even in the midst of the stormy seas.

But why is God there? God is there in your chaos for the very same reason God was there at the beginning Genesis 1 – to bring order to the chaos so that you can thrive and fulfill the purposes for which he created you. You are not an accident. You are here for a reason. You were created for a purpose.

We have said here a thousand times that God will never ask you to do anything without  first equipping you with the gifts, talents and skills that you need to fulfill that purpose. We’re going to go one step further this morning and say that God will also never ask you to do anything without first creating the environment in which you can do it. That’s the promise of Genesis 1. When life seems chaotic and you don’t know which way to turn. And there are a thousand things calling for your attention. And you don’t have enough time to do what you think you have to do let alone doing anything for God, understand that God creates a place of peace in the midst of the chaos. It is within that place of peace, while the stormy waves crash all around you, that God provides the environment in which you will succeed and even thrive.

“But when is God going to do that?” you cry. Here’s the truth of the Gospel. God has already done it. What brings order out of chaos and what brings peace in the storms of life is one thing. It is faith in Jesus Christ. From that faith, we get inner peace because we have the assurance that we are never alone, that God’s Spirit is still hovering over the raging seas and calming the chaos. And once you understand and experience the inner peace that Jesus gives, the chaos of the world may not go away all at once but it sure becomes more bearable.

There are so many affirmations of this in the Bible. Psalm 62:2 (NIV) says, “He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” What powerful words of assurance those are for us. And then in Acts 2:25 (NIV) we read these words that Peter spoke to the crowds on that first Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the Church: “I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” It is that assurance that brings us peace. It is that faith that provides the anchor that holds us fast and enables us to be the people of God no matter what storms are blowing around us and not matter what chaos may try to lead us away from our God given purposes in life. When the tohu wa-vohu threatens to swamp you and turn your word upside down, remember that God takes the chaos and gives it order and purpose and provides the environment in which you can thrive and fulfill your God given purpose.

I just want to close by reminding us of an old gospel hymn. You may or may not know it but it’s one of my old time favourites. It goes like this:

Jesus calls us, o’re the tumult

of our life’s wild restless seas,

day by day his sweet voice soundeth,

saying, “Christian, follow me.”

Jesus calls us from the worship

of the fain world’s golden store,

from each idol that would keep us,

saying, “Christian, love me more.”

In our joys and in our sorrow,

days of toil and hours of ease,

still he calls, in cares and pleasures,

“Christian, love me more than these.”

Jesus calls us: by thy mercies,

Saviour, may we hear thy call,

give our hearts to thine obedience,

serve and love thee best of all.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Blessed are you, O God, whose river of hope washes over us with refreshment and healing. We thank you for your presence in our lives. When we call you come to us with love and compassion. When we are blinded, you enable us to see. When we are deaf, you unstop our ears. By your love, you invite us to enter into life fully and freely in Jesus’ name.

We offer our thanks for the gifts of creation. Thank you for the warmth of the days and for cooling evening breezes. Thank you for walking, cycling and swinging on swings. Thank you for the songs of birds and the smell of fish flies.

We thank you, also, for police officers who enforce the laws of the land and remind us of the need to follow the rules. Thank you for their dedication even in the face of great danger to making our cities and towns safer places to be.

We lift up in prayer those who hold public office at the municipal, provincial or federal levels. Their jobs are not easy ones and we often don’t appreciate the sacrifices they make. It is up to us, O God, to do our part and to hold the government accountable but we also need to be fair. We pray for our leaders, whatever party they belong to, that you would give them clarity of thought and strength of purpose.

We lift up our concerns for the world. We pray for peace in the Middle East, Latvia and the Sudan. Enable nations and peoples to put aside their pride for the cause of peace. Give us the courage to resist the temptation to make beasts out of those with whom we disagree.

We also ask your blessing upon the family and friends of Bruce Sanger whose funeral will be tomorrow. May they find the peace and the healing that only you can bring.

We pray, finally, for those who are sick at home or in hospital. Bless all who are sick with your healing touch, filling them with your Holy and Healing Spirit. All of these prayers, we lift to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.

WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE

June 11, 2017 / Trinity Sunday

SCRIPTURE

Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; Matthew 28:16-20; 1 Corinthians 13:11-13

CALL TO WORSHIP

ONE:   The glory of your name, O God, reaches to the heavens;

ALL:   All creation praises your name.

ONE:   We come to worship your majesty;

ALL:   And sing with joy of your love.

            Come, Lord Jesus, come.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

The pressure is on, O God. The time has come to stand and declare our faith in you. Enable us to stand strong and firm for the Gospel, always ready to share your Good News with anyone who may challenge our trust in you. We come in worship seeking your presence and your grace in every moment of our lives. Remind us that, as you promised, you will show us your love and compassion in our journeys through life. We call upon your name for you are our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Merciful God, we know that you have compassion on us when we sin. You have made the wonderful provision for us to confess our sins and be forgiven without continuing condemnation or guilt. Help us never to take that promise for granted, or harden our hearts to your love. Keep us from the wrongs that we do, either intentionally or by accident. May we always be tender toward you and be willing to quickly confess our sins and receive your forgiveness, which is freely given without condition or limit. Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

When we fall from God’s way, when we slip from the holy path that is set before us, there is one who calls us back to faithfulness. His name is Jesus. Repent and believe the Good News. In Christ Jesus our Lord we have forgiveness of our sins through the shedding of his blood.

DEDICATION OF OFFERING

The gifts that you have given to us, O God, we now offer back to you. These are not all that is yours. They are but token and representations of the greater abundance with which you have blessed us. Receive these gifts and bless each giver in Jesus’ name. Amen.

COMMISSIONING

As people of God, as inheritors of the promise, go forth as ambassadors of Christ to share the Good News as you love and serve the Lord.

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