The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Baptism of our Lord
January 7, 2018
Last Sunday, Deacon Bob gave us the gloomy statistic that only 8% of people keep their New Year’s Resolution. So, here we are, one week in to 2018. Chances are that by now, if we made a resolution, we are all complete failures. I mean, I’ve already failed miserably at my resolution. So let’s be honest - the New Year’s Resolution is a terrible way to start a new year. You begin with high expectations, high hopes - you’re going to lose weight, go to the gym, eat right - only to have your hopes crushed when you wake up one week in to realize that the holiday pounds are still there, you haven’t made it to the gym, and the fried chicken last night for dinner was not in the plan. New Year’s Resolutions don’t work and they make us miserable.
Maybe it’s because our New Year’s resolutions are about the small things. We fritter around the edges, we tinker with our lives. I’ll eat a piece of fruit of every day. I’ll walk on the treadmill for another twenty minutes. But that stuff, that is not the stuff that makes us who we are. What the gospel of Jesus Christ asks of us is not a resolution, but a revolution. God is not into doing little things. God doesn’t fritter around the edges by encouraging us to start a new diet or to shed a few pounds. It’s not as much about the waistline as it the size of your heart. God doesn’t do the small thing, God does the big thing.
Think about it, God begins by doing the biggest thing. “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” This is the description of chaos. A formless void, darkness, water everywhere.
God does not come upon the chaos of the formless void and the darkness covering the face of the waters and fritter away at the edges. It’s not like God makes the waves a little less wild. Or that God makes the darkness a little less dark. God did not make a resolution to make the chaos just a little less chaotic. No, God begins a revolution. “Let there by light!”
This is the biggest thing imaginable. That God would dare, would dare to create something new. God is not content with the way things are. No, God wants things to be better. This is big. And the first thing that God creates is the very thing that all life needs. God creates light. Light makes food grow, light gives warmth, light is everything. Then, God separates the light from the darkness. God calls one Night, the other is called Day. God takes the chaos, the unruly brew of light and dark to create something new. There is evening, there is morning, the first day. God does big things.
Imagine, imagine what it would be like if we started every year by asking God to do the big thing in our life, to create our hearts anew. Rather than asking God to help us with a resolution, ask God to make your life a revolution. Allow God to take the formless void, the darkness, the light, the waters sloshing around in your own life.
Allow God to take your chaos and shape something new. Not a new gym routine or a new diet, but a new person. A new way of life. A new creation. That’s precisely what is going on here in the story from Genesis. This is not a science textbook describing how life came to be - no, this story is more profound than that. This is a story about a god who can take our unruly and chaotic lives and make something beautiful out of it. This is the good news of Jesus Christ. That God loves us so much that God is not willing to let the chaos win. That God is willing to pull apart our lives, to separate the light and the darkness, so that we can have order and peace. The good news of Jesus Christ is that God is always willing to make us new again.
But every bit of good news comes with some hard news. When God pulls apart our lives and makes something new, we do not know what it will look like. We do not know what God will do with us. We can imagine how our life will look if we achieve our New Year’s Resolutions. Our pants will fit better. Great. But imagine if God took the chaos and the darkness and formless void in your life and made something new. Would you be ready for it? Would you be ready for a life in which your only purpose is to love God and love your neighbor? Would you be ready for a life in which every waking minute is devoted to Jesus? Would you be ready to quit your job and become a deacon, a priest, a monk, a nun? Would you be ready for a life that is not controlled by your addiction? Would you be ready for a life in which you are called to give up your chaos, and to embrace the peace of God? Would you be ready for a new life?
See, more often than not, we’re afraid of the newness. Even if the chaos and the darkness and the formless void that stews around in our hearts and our minds is unhealthy, we want to keep it that way. Because the new creation is scary. We would rather hold on to what we know even if it is bad, than open ourselves up to something new, simply because we do not know what it will look like. And that’s the reason our resolutions fail, and it’s the reason we struggle so mightily in our spiritual lives. Because no matter how beautiful that new creation might be, the inertia of our old ways is too strong for us to overcome it.
Here’s where the New Year’s resolution and the God-given revolution are different. When it’s a resolution, it’s all up to you. You are the one who has to give up red meat, you are the one who has to set the alarm clock to go the gym. It’s all on you. But in the revolution, when God is going to make something new out of your life, it’s not up to you alone. In fact, the harder we try, the more elusive it becomes. So, as backwards as it may sound, here’s what I ask you to do for the revolution. Just give up. Surrender. Let go. Allow God to do whatever it is that God wants to do and allow God to do it. The light and the darkness did not separate themselves. The formless void and the chaos did not bring themselves into order. No, God did that. When I think about how I made it through my own stuff to become a priest, I know that must have been God. When I think back on this church, and how it has changed and grown so much, I know that must have been God. God takes the formless void, the chaos around us, and makes something new, something beautiful.
As we begin 2018, I pray that the Lord God takes us and makes us new again. That God takes that swirl of emotions we have - doubt, faith, stress, joy, hope, despair - and makes something new out of it. And not just for you, but for us as a church. There surely has been a swirl, a chaos. As we continue to wrangle with the MUD and the county, it surely seems like the dark formless void. But through that, I pray that our collective heart is opened to the Holy Spirit. I pray that we have the courage, not to just fritter away at the edges of our common life, but to allow God to do something bold. Something new. And that out of this present chaos, God creates something beautiful.
And that’s the hope to hang on to. Whatever God makes will be beautiful. We can get bent out of shape by all the judgments that God makes in the Old testament. But look at the first judgment that God makes in the entire bible - God sees the light, God sees what God has created and calls it good. Whatever God does, whatever God creates, will be good. When God is making you new again and it seems scary and you don’t know what’s happening - remember that it will be good. 92% of us will fail at keeping our resolutions, but God will not fail. With an open heart, and an open mind, God will make us new again.