From Chaos to Confidence

November 30, 2008

 

The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor

Montgomery United Methodist Church

 

Isaiah 64:1-9

Mark 13:24-37

 

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! Our title and our topic for today is “From Chaos to Confidence.” This morning I’d like to begin a series of two sermons on this topic – From Chaos to Confidence.

 

My dear friends in Christ, happy New Year! Welcome to church on this first Sunday in Advent. Advent is one of my favorite times of year. It is the shortest season of the church year and, I think, the sweetest. It goes by all too quickly, this time of preparation for Christmas. It is a beautiful time, and I am so happy that we are here enjoying this time together.

 

The scripture readings for the first Sunday in Advent are always very unusual. Did it strike you so? Let’s look together. The scriptures for the first Sunday in Advent are filled with images of chaos. Can you imagine? In the words of Isaiah, the prophet is reaching up to heaven and saying, “Dear God, where are you? I need you!” The prophet says, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” Why don’t You do something spectacular, God? Why don’t You make the mountains shake? Why don’t You make water boil at an unusual time? You did it before, at the Passover and the parting of the Red Sea. Lord, I miss You. Why don’t You come down and do something really unusual, says the prophet. Why don’t You take the stars and rearrange them to spell out ‘I really am up here’? Lord, where are You? I miss You. We sin, but maybe it was because You hid Yourself that we transgress. We have become broken. We are fading, “and our inequities, like the wind, take us away.” Chaos in the soul.

 

Turn to the gospel reading, Mark 13, starting at verse 24, won’t you? “But there will be days of suffering. It is as though the sun will be darkened. The moon will not give light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the very powers in heaven will be shaken.” Chaos! Chaos everywhere. The scripture is filled with images of things falling apart. And I’m wondering if there’s something like that going on in our souls. Do we cry out in our souls, “Lord, if You would only tear the heavens open! There are so many cynics in this world. We can hardly wish each other a merry Christmas in public. If only You would tear the heavens open.” There seems to be so much chaos in our world and maybe in our souls.

 

And what do we do about it? Where do we find an answer for the chaos around us and the chaos with us?

 

We find the answer right here in scripture. Take a look at the next verse, the next words in the gospel: “Then you shall see the Son of Man [that is, Jesus Christ] coming in clouds with great power and glory.” That’s the answer, my friends! Have you felt chaos? Have you felt frustration?  Have you felt unrest inside you? The answer is Jesus Christ. The good news is that if you have invited Jesus Christ to be in your heart, if you have invited Him to be your friend, you have Jesus. You have the straightening power of the universe. You have the solid rock that can bring order to your chaos. You have the One who sees beyond all and can give you confidence where chaos used to be.

 

It goes on. Take a look at verse 28. The rest of this gospel is talking about watching and being ready. But look at this image that Jesus gives. “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.” Summer, the good time of harvest and blossom. Notice that Jesus does not say, “when the leaves fall off the trees you know that winter is coming.” No, He says when you see the sprouts and the blossoms and the greenness, you know that summer is coming, that good news is on the way. And that’s how it is with Jesus. He goes on to say, in that last verse, “And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” Keep awake for what? Keep awake for Christ. Keep awake for the One who wants to come into your life and straighten out the chaos, the One that wants to come into your life and give you hope in the midst of your most scary frustration. That’s what to keep awake for! Don’t fall asleep, says Jesus. Don’t miss the Savior. Don’t miss the One who wants to bring order into the chaos of the world.

 

What have you got that Isaiah didn’t have? You have Jesus. Isaiah was a great prophet who looked forth to the coming of our Lord, and you have Him. Oh, dear friend, as you go through your life this week, if you are confronted by chaos, if you are confronted by hopelessness, if you are confronted by the darkness of despair, if you are frustrated with confusion, remember that you have Jesus, and that He can help you straighten it out. His Holy Spirit is the great guiding light of the universe. And He is yours for the asking.

 

One of my great heroes is the Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. Perhaps you recognize the name. Dr. Peale wrote The Power of Positive Thinking, and he was for 50 years the pastor of Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. I fondly call him ‘my father in the faith.’ Dr. Peale talked about a day when he was sitting in his living room in Pauling, New York, in front of a wonderful fire in his fireplace. A storm brewed up; the thunder crashed, the lightning flashed, and a torrential rain began to fall.

 

Dr. and Mrs. Peale sat in their living room watching as the rain streamed down the window in colorful streaks. A lightning bolt hit a nearby power pole. The electricity in the house went out, and they lit some candles. And as they sat in the living room, weathering the storm with the candles and the fire, Dr. Peale noticed something. The mantel clock, a wind-up clock, was ticking steadily and surely through the storm. And though the lightning crackled and the rains poured down on the roof, the clock kept ticking. And, Dr. Peale said, such is a Christian’s heart. When we have Jesus in our lives, we are like that clock ticking in the storm. No matter what the chaos around us, there can be a steadiness within us when we have the Lord, Jesus Christ. Doesn’t it make you glad to be a Christian?

 

The insight that Jesus can bring us confidence even in the midst of our chaos also brings us the idea that we must never give up hope. Where there is life there is hope. God has surprises for us, good surprises that we may never have expected. So don’t give up on yourself and don’t give up on others, because miracles can still happen.

 

I’d like to tell you a story about something that happened to me this Thanksgiving that falls into two categories – ‘things I never thought I’d live to see’, and ‘the age of miracles is not over’.  I had many happy occasions this Thanksgiving, and I’m grateful for them all. But there’s one in particular that I’d like to share with you. It was around the Thanksgiving table with my extended family. My sister and brother-in-law and their children and children’s children, twenty of us, were gathered around the Thanksgiving table. And there was a tense moment – I don’t know if you’ve experienced this kind of thing with your family – right before the meal when there comes that time when you’re supposed to say grace.

 

Now, my family is made up of some practicing Roman Catholics, some non-practicing Roman Catholics, some no-whereians (that is, some people who don’t go to any church), some cynics, and some practicing Jewish people. We were all gathered around the table. So, there comes an awkward moment of grace. Why is it awkward? Well, not only because there are different religious expressions, but also because my brother-in-law, Big Richie, who is in his 70s now and is one of my patchwork dads, has been quite a cynic. Big Richie has been known to make comments like “Why should we say grace? I’m the one who earns the money to pay for the food!” How do you deal with that?

 

As the token minister, I’m usually asked to do the grace. So the tense moment comes. I’m ready. I’m going to start with the Trinitarian formula, with motions for the Catholics, then I’m going to do the Hebrew blessing, in Hebrew, and then I’m going to slide into the open prayer for the Protestants (two of us in the family), and close it up with an “amen.” So I’m set; I’m ready to go; I’m at the table. People are drifting in, and it’s taking a long time for everyone to get seated. People are going back and forth to the kitchen. “Do you want ice in the cider?” “Do you want soup and the shrimp cocktail or just the shrimp cocktail?” There are all these last minute things and I’m getting more anxious. A little boy has already begun to nibble on one of the shrimp, and he’s getting a disdainful look from a relative. I’m looking to my niece for a cue. I’m ready to go. I’m prepared.

 

Big Richie comes in from the kitchen; he does all the cooking. He sits down at the head of the table, and I take a deep breath. I figure this is going to be taken care of soon, one way or the other. I look at my niece, waiting for my cue. I think, “JoAnnie, I’m ready to go.” Everyone is sitting down. And JoAnne says, “Daddy (that would be Big Richie), would you offer the blessing?”

 

Without missing a beat, Big Richie says, “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

 

Big Richie? Big Richie, who hasn’t darkened the door of a church except for a wedding, maybe a funeral, in sixty years? He just offered the Catholic formula grace! I didn’t even know he knew the Catholic formula grace! But he did it! Praise God! Amen!

 

Somebody asked me after the meal if I was upset that I didn’t get to offer the grace. And I said, “Oh praise God, no! Oh, thank heaven; I never thought I’d live to see the day.”

 

So, the point is, the age of miracles is not over. Don’t give up on yourself and don’t give up on other people, because God can do amazing things. Amen? Amen! Jesus Christ is the one who can bring confidence out of your chaos and mine, because He loves you. I do, too. Have a wonderful week. Amen.

 

© 2008 Anthony J. Godlefski