Jesus of Nazareth was an obscure poor, brown, Jewish rabbi living in an oppressed part of the Roman Empire, whose death continues to impact the world. His death upon the Empire’s instrument of execution, was relatively unremarkable. Thousands upon thousands of unruly inhabitants of the Empire were executed during Jesus’ lifetime by those charged with the task of establishing and maintaining order by force. To the powers that be, Jesus’ execution was little more than the routine death of a homeless, outcast who spent far too much time creating social unrest. Nothing more than the insignificant death of a troublemaker without influence in the halls of power, who would not or could not moderate his own behavior. An insignificant troublemaker dies, under the rule of law, and yet, the impact continues to reverberate all around the world, nearly 2000 years after it should have been long forgotten.
Late last fall, nobody’s really sure exactly when or to whom it happened, but sometime last fall, a person so obscure that history will fail to name them, someone living in an Empire where order is maintained by force, got sick and died. The impact of that death has kept millions of us all around the world, locked up inside our homes avoiding tiny droplets whose impact upon any one of us could be catastrophic. For months now, I have heard various people, including myself, refer to these strange times which we are living in as “chaotic”. The very word chaos summons in me visions of Genesis, when the Ruach, the breath of the CREATOR hovered over what in Hebrew is called the tohu va-bohu, the formless void, or the chaos, the RUACH hovers over the tohu va-bohu and calls forth light out of the chaos of darkness.
I can’t help wondering what it will take to bring forth light out of the chaos which continues to swirl around us. When the impact of apparently insignificant events can create waves which reverberate throughout creation in an endless whirl and swirl capable of sweeping us off our collective feet and setting us adrift on stormy seas, where or how can we find moorings to set us a right? It makes sense to look to science as a way of knowing, so that we might chart a course to solid ground. So, my mind jumps to what little science I have. I must confess that I dropped out of physics before the Christmas exam so as to avoid failing physics altogether. I am but a humble wordsmith. So clutching my visions of chaos, let me cross into unfamiliar scientific territory to explore the contours of what physicists call, chaos theory. I say contours of chaos theory, because I am but a wordsmith and it sounds appealing, but it would be more accurate to say, let me examine a small droplet of chaos theory.
The term “chaos theory” was coined back in the 1960s by a mathematician named Edward Lorenz who worked at MIT as a meteorologist. Lorenz was trying to use complicated mathematical formulas to develop models to predict the weather patterns and systems. During the course of his research, what seemed like an insignificant computer input decision, revealed the impact of unintended consequences. Lorenz had rounded off the number 0.506127 to 0.506, assuming that the difference of 0.000127 was so insignificant that its impact would be inconsequential. Lorenz turned out to be wrong. What appeared to be a tiny inconsequential number, turned out to have a significant impact.
That tiny number, somewhere in the mere millionths of a difference in barometric pressure, capable of only an infinitesimal impact on wind speed, no bigger than a baby’s sneeze or the beat of a butterfly’s wings, that tiny change, at the beginning of a weather system turned out to be the difference between a blue sky and a monsoon. Lorenz coined the phrase: “Butterfly Effect” to describe this phenomenon.
Today, quantum physicists use the butterfly effect to describe what happens when a small change in one place in a system can result in a ginormous difference in a later state. The mere flapping of a butterfly wing has a ripple effect which multiplies over time and changes weather patterns thousands of miles away.
The unintended consequences of our actions are almost unfathomable. When George Floyd lay dying beneath the knee of a police officer steeped in the supremacy myths of Western Empires, Floyd called out for his Mamma and a world in lockdown rose up and risked the dangers of marching in the streets during a global pandemic. Mothers and nurturers in cities and towns all over the planet responded to one more death in a long line of forgettable deaths of obscure people who just happened to be Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. Suddenly, collective chants of “Black lives matter,” and “Indigenous lives matter,” ring out across this planet and once again the forces of Empire resort to calls for “law and order.”
Somehow the randomness of events coming together makes life seem just that, random, and we are left hovering over the tohu va bohu, the formless void, longing for a creative power stronger than our puny empires to call forth light from the darkness. Fortunately, not all darkness is terrifying. After all, we humans gestate in darkness. New life begins in darkness. Whether life is cocooned in in the waters of the womb, or planted in the darkness of the Earth, the seeds of life require darkness to thrive.
Ah ha, you were wondering when I’d get to the Sower in our gospel reading. Well, let’s look at this Sower. For most of my life I have read this parable and said, “Ah ha! Finally, a parable without hidden meaning; a parable which I can understand.” But that was back when I believed that God, you know the grand-puppeteer in the sky, the god who is in charge of everything, the one who is up there manipulating everything; that god who I have long since retired in favour of the DIVINE MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of reality; the MYSTERY which is the LOVE we call “God”. Believing that we live and move and have our being in the MYSTERY who lives and breathes in with through and beyond us, means that I must dig a little deeper to find the hidden seeds sowed by a SOWER who lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us.
You see there is more to chaos theory than the randomness of the butterfly effect. The god of my past, let’s call him, and I do mean, him, let’s call him the sky-god, withers into absurdity when cast in the role of first and final cause, a supreme universal agent, first imagining and then designing all outcomes in the universe. As theologian Robin Meyers insists in his book, “Saving God From Religion:”
“It is comforting to believe that we exist because God intended that we should exist. It means we are here in our present form because, as the poetry of Genesis asserts, humans are the final, consummate project of a creator who had us in mind all along. Chaos theory, on the other hand, suggests that we are a onetime, non-repeatable, fantastic but essentially meaningless occurrence. Go back and introduce even the smallest variable—say, a primate virus at just the right moment…and your aunt Martha would not exist, nor would you, nor would anyone else you love. .. …..Except that isn’t exactly what chaos theory says. It is paradoxically named, because Lorenz believed that results that appear chaotic may, in fact, be “ordered” at the outer limits by some mysterious “boundary.” You never get the same results twice, but there is also a kind of phenomenological “edge” beyond which those final results never go. Lorenz mapped this boundary and called it a “strange attractor.” When he looked at his graphs, he realized that although the weather patterns never repeated themselves, they all traced a pattern that was undeniable, a self-imposed elegance that kept what appeared to be chaotic from flying off the page. Some people have compared this boundary, this strange attractor,” to God.”
The MYSTERY which is the LOVE which some of us call God is a strange attractor indeed, living and breathing in, with, through, and beyond us, sowing seeds of new life into the blessed darkness, ever-creating more and more glorious ways of being in the world. Even the tiniest of seeds are capable of giving birth to the most awesome creations. An obscure poor, brown, Jewish rabbi living in an oppressed part of a totalitarian Empire, his life and death continue to impact the world.
Your life, my life, our lives together, there are all sorts of possibilities. Random, perhaps, unintended consequences almost certainly. But also, splendid opportunities. You see, you are all wonderfully made, endowed with the capacity to choose. Which means that in addition to circumstances beyond our control, there are also circumstances within our control. Each and every one of us can choose to perpetrate random acts of kindness, outrageous outpours of generosity, ridiculously displays of hospitality, dangerous demonstrations of courage, along with extravagant acts of LOVE.
What does LOVE look like in these strange and chaotic times? LOVE looks like you: you speaking out when you hear of injustice, you listening with a fierce passion to someone who desperately needs to be heard, you standing in solidarity with the poor or the oppressed, you marching in the streets for change, or you tenderly touching the shoulder of someone who is lost, or you feeding the hungry, giving a cold glass of water, or welcoming a stranger, you daring to move beyond your comfort zone, you laughing out loud in the face of ignorance, you wearing a mask, you holding your lover, or you knelling in prayer, or you refusing to give up, or you daring to hope, or dreaming new dreams.
LOVE is you and I working together with all the many embodiments of LOVE to live into the dream of the kin-dom. It may appear to all the world that your one precious life is insignificant, hardly worth mentioning in the grand scheme of things. Then suddenly, like the flapping of a butterfly’s wings, your random action begins a journey, we know not where. Meyers insists that, “To choose. Is life’s most powerful, most spiritual, most God-like activity.”
Friends we are indeed, living in strange and chaotic times. There are forces out there who would have us restore order so that we can return to what is familiar. We could simply just choose to plant the same old seeds. There’s something appealing about the powers of empire, better the evil we know than the evils we don’t know. Or we could put our faith in the STRANGE ATTRACTOR and trust in the elegance of Creation to ensure that we don’t fly off into oblivion. For this STRANGE ATTRACTOR holds our existence in a miraculous web of tiny occurrences which have power beyond our wildest imaginations.
So, let us choose to plant seeds of kindness, generosity, hospitality, and courage so that the LOVE which is the MYSTERY we call God can live, and move, and have being, in, with, through, and beyond us. Let us be the CREATORS you were created to be.
For we were created out of the tohu va bohu, out of the chaos and we are held in LOVE by THIS STRANGE ATTRACTOR, which is the MYSTERY that gives us the audacity so that we can choose what seeds we shall plant. Let us be random, outrageous, ridiculous, dangerous, extravagant sowers of the seeds of kindness, generosity, hospitality, and courage. Let us be LOVE in the world! LOVE which is BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also!
View the full Worship Video below. Download the Order of Service here