There is Chaos under Heaven and the Situation is Excellent.

(Someone suggested that my last posting,The Plague in our houses, was related to today's lessons. I think there is a relation, and something of that became part of my sermon this morning at St. Peter's, Lewes. So, for those few of you interested, here is what I preached.)

Its been an odd summer: Everything has been going quite well here in Lewes – families are visiting, people are coming to the beach, the weather (in spite of our Rector’s desire for the cooler clime of Vermont) has been great, the 4th got well celebrated, life has gone on more or less on schedule. We got through Trinity Sunday and into the Pentecost season with a minimum of heresy (unavoidable if you think about it). We are in the midst of, you know…the good ol’ summertime.

But somewhere back there in our brains each of us I think has little bits and pieces of disturbing thoughts: bits of news that buzz about and pull at us, pulling us away from the lazy hazy days of summer and to a sense of dis-ease, a sense of anxiety in the making. The media, of course, are having a field day building on that anxiety.

There are too many of us unemployed or underemployed, there are continuing wars and only slow crawls towards ending them, we seem to have difficulty getting government to govern and legislators to legislate, there is a resounding sense of non-cooperation in dealing with fiscal matters and an itching sense that this national debt business is making it clear that as a nation we are a dysfunctional family.

What then shall we say about these anxious times? I am reminded of Gary Trudeau’s comic strip character, Uncle Duke, who quoted or perhaps misquoted Chairman Mao, saying, “There is great chaos under heaven, and the situation is excellent.” A minor translation for those of us in the province of Summer: “Things are quite messy, but the beach is excellent.”

What are we to do with the dual realities: that God had given us all we need (the situation is excellent), and that life is very messy (there is chaos under heaven)?

Behold: today’s scripture readings!

Two things strike me about what we have read:
(i) Apparently it has been true for our spiritual ancestors as for us, that LIFE IS MESSY. And
(ii) Apparently their spiritual rule still holds: STICK AROUND - GOD IS ALWAYS DOING SOMETHING NEW.

Look at the lessons:

Jacob has left his mother and father and sets out for Haran to get a wife. But his family life is a mess: his Mother hates the Hittite women who were wives for her children Jacob and Esau, and that Esau, Jacob’s brother, wants to kill Jacob. So the journey to Haran was part of a messy story. Jacob’s dream at Bethel takes place then against that backdrop – a messy family worthy of the best sit-com.

Paul is painfully aware of the messiness of living – the internal tearing apart that takes place in each of us and aware too of its effect on the common life of the faithful community – the church. We find ourselves enslaved to our own worse selves, even while knowing that the whole creation is also groaning for revealing of the Children of God – that is the very same people, the people of the Church!

Jesus speaks in a parable about the messiness of the field in which the good and the bad, the wheat and the weeds, are comingled, a parable which says a lot about the messiness of the church and why efforts to weed out the unrighteous from the righteous doesn’t work out very well. His conclusion is, better to invite everyone in and weed out the bad stuff later.

So: Life is messy, and likely to stay that way. Got it?

But then in the readings we have more: we are reminded we ought to stick around for God is doing (as always) unexpected things.

Jacob discovers that God is in his dreams and in the dream there is a really big promise- that out of all the chaos of his family will come a people who will struggle with God and find hope in spite of hopelessness. Paul knows that the suffering of the saints is nothing compared to the glory to come. And Jesus advises patience, that there will be justice and a working out in the end.

Now, how might these readings be helpful in our current state? At first they don’t seem helpful at all. These lessons call us to stay the course – Jacob, Paul and Jesus all stay the course. But that seems, well, passive.

Stay the course - that advice is hard for us. We Americans want to fix things, now, immediately. We want the promise and the dream and the reality of the moment to be one. We long for action now. We want the mess cleaned up, and fast. Patience is not particularly an American virtue.

So is there any word in the readings today that speaks to the messy situation we find ourselves in in America?

I think so.

The readings suggest that we need to get over our desire for the quick fix.

Of course we need to raise the debt limit so we don’t default. (I will be really really ticked off if my Social Security check doesn’t come or our military doesn’t get paid or dependent children get cut for a while.) Of course we need to balance the books. Of course we want our men and women in uniform to come home. And some of that can happen if we steel ourselves to the effort.

But there is no quick fix to the real issue: namely, the matter of our vision of our selves and our nation as part of God’s promised land. That requires staying to course and
giving our best effort with patience and over time.

Are we willing to work with patience in the unruly family that is America and to see ourselves through to the fulfillment of the promise of the United States as a place with liberty and justice, including economic justice, for all?

That requires that we stay the course, or perhaps for the first time really work at making this a republic worth standing for.

These are anxious times, both in the Country and in the Church. I know the situations are complex. But it seems to me that the goals are not so complex:

What we seek is The Land of Promise, a place where as Micah the prophet (may peace be upon him and all the prophets) said, justice is done and mercy is loved, where we and our children and our children’s children are not mortgaged to pay for our excesses now, where we live with the messiness of life and hope for glory.

Jacob kept his eye on the prize, as did Paul, as does Jesus. We seek to join God in doing justice and loving mercy, and we believe that we are ready to live into the new Creation even if it costs dearly, and that we are patient and hold back on judgment, giving that over to God.

Down deep inside of us I believe we Christians understand that we do indeed wait patiently for the adoption and redemption of our bodies, and indeed the body politic of this nation and of the whole world. Yet we are impatient for the coming of mercy and justice both.

So what is to be done? I believe we are to practice what we might call active patience. Yes, like Jacob we are patiently awaiting the love that will be ours, but we work for it; with Paul we await the glory that is to come but deal with the realities of the time; with Jesus’ farmer who wants the good crop and thus plants, ready for the harvest, but is willing to wait.

And yes we need to act to those ends. We work for our love, we suffer for our faith, we plant the good seed, we are active.

Love and faith and good are not there by accident. We are active agents in the working out of the promise. But we must also be patient.

So I believe the lessons today tell us something about the anxieties of the day: We must be active and patient, knowing that life is messy and God will surprise us.

Take heart, says Jesus, for I have overcome the world. (John 16:33).

Keep your eye on the prize, says Martin Luther King, Jr.

and keep your shoulder to the wheel, says Allan Ginsberg.

And let the people say AMEN.


  1. Most Excellent! Wish I'd been there, but the air in Vermont was calling! Peace my friend, in the midst of all chaos and anxiety! I hope it is a quiet week for you too!

  2. From the last day of my vacation (Part I) this is an excellent sermon, Mark. Thank you.

  3. Rob Morgan21/7/11 9:28 PM

    Mark, thanks for the link. It was as rewarding to read at leisure as it was to hear.


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