A sermon by the Rev. Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
It’s late one summer afternoon and there is a storm building in the distance, There is nothing like an afternoon thunderstorm while at the beach. All our senses are alive: You taste the salt in the air; you can smell the storm as it approaches; you hear the wind pick up and thunder beginning to rumble in the distance; you see the miles high clouds begin to collapse into a wall of dark grayish blue; and you can begin to feel the wind and rain once the storm begins. Can you experience this moment?
Now, imagine you have two friends with you during all this. One is a scientist, a meteorologist in fact. The other friend is a poet. How would each describe the storm to you? The scientist will describe what she sees and explain in great details how two convergent fronts have slammed together which causes this or that to happen and would give rational explanations to why you are experiencing all those sensations with your senses. Contrast with how a poet like Billy Collins might describe the experience. The poet’s description may not be as scientifically factual as the meteorologist’s but it’s no less beautiful or true. They are both looking at the same, singular event through two different lenses. Both see the same thing but how they describe it is based upon their point of view.
This morning’s text is from the very opening scene in the Bible in Genesis. There are two different creation stories in the first two chapters of the Bible. People’s tendency to read these stories as science overshadows the power of the Creation’s deeper meaning and purpose; I propose we return to reading the Creation accounts as they were first meant to be read; not as science per se but rather as poetry. When we do so, we move beyond ‘just the facts’ and we begin to experience the deeper questions and issues that arise from scripture with all our faculties.
This morning’s reading is the very first paragraph from the first creation account. Its beauty and power come from its simplicity. Listen to the Word of the Lord!
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 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. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
A scientist will talk about the sequence of events – could this have happened in this particular order? Who or what is “God” in this story? Was there an inky darkness before there was light? Is this describing the BIG BANG?
A poet, however, revels in the story simply for what it describes. A poet doesn’t try to define God’s reality but simply accepts that in the story there is a Divine Other who is a cause and is a part of our cosmic order; he or she ponders on a God who is intentional in its participation with this new creation. The poet notes that this Divine Other, or God, is giving attention to the details in the creation itself. The poet sees God as not some un-phased unmoved Mover but rather sees a God who is an artist who cannot help but create and the more It creates, invitations are given for other things, and eventually people, to enter into the artistry of Creation.
In the beginning, God created. Ponder on the beauty and the wonder of those words! Presbyterian pastor and biblical linguist, the late Eugene Peterson, has a beautiful paraphrase of these opening lines that really capture what the Hebrew says. He describes it:
1 1-2 First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.
The older versions of the text used to use the word ‘brood’ instead of the NRSV’s ‘swept over.’ I think brood is a better option because to brood over means you hover over, flutter over in an unhurried way and manor. It’s a though God flitted and slowly fluttered about looking at all aspects of the chaotic void like a humming bird and began to piece together a loving tapestry of order and life from the inky blackness. From the swirling primordial ooze of nothingness and chaos God creates life and beauty. And as we read the entire creation account in chapter 1, we see that God took God’s time in doing it. Creation takes an intentional process and careful attention, and though it does take time, all that process and work is heading somewhere to fulfillment.
Today throughout the worldwide Church, we celebrate the baptism of Jesus on this first Sunday after Epiphany. It’s a Sunday where once again we remind ourselves that the Spirit of God enters into our realm of time and claims that Jesus is the One. For the people in the first century, God was Creating a new order of relating with His beloved. God anoints Jesus and declares him His Son. So both of our Stories today are how God intentionally sets order in the midst of the cosmic chaos as well as in the midst of cultural, religious, economic and political chaos through Jesus.
The Good News of our faith reminds us that God is still creating now. The Good News of our faith is that God is still brooding over our lives and our swirly, chaotic world and is still intentionally bringing order, life from the midst of the void and chaos. God did this at Creation and we believe God is still involved with us through the Spirit of Jesus today.
Why do I bring all this up? Because we need a reminder that God baptizes and claims his creation and our world. God is a very present help in moments of trouble. God indeed is that rock and refuge, that fortress of strength and protection we can retreat into. But we also know that God will lead us out from behind our protective walls into a chaotic, seemingly void-less world where God empowers us through Spirit to create beauty and form. But here’s the deal: We are to be just as strategic and intentional about it as God was, is, and will be!
Friends, let’s all stop and take a breath. With high hopes that COVID, racial strife, economic hardship and Karen-induced entitlement would be in the rearview mirror by now, 2021 has proven to be an ongoing of 2020. Like my brother told me yesterday, he refuses to call this a new year and proclaims that we are still living in the 41st day of December 2020!
This week, our nation and the world gasped and watched chaos unfold before our eyes at our nation’s Capital. Conspiracies abound with the events that took place leading up to this week and how what should be one of the most secured buildings in the world become violated. Our nation is tired. We are scratching our heads wondering why and how. Friends, our text today speaks words of comfort and challenge to us.
Our Story reminds us that God is present with us, brooding over this mess of a world of ours and is thoughtfully, patiently, painstakingly creating form and purpose from the chaos. The Baptism of Jesus reminds us for both our national and personal need to repent; it reminds us to shed the ways of chaos and enter into the work of creating new realities with God. Our texts today are demanding that you and I cease being idle bystanders in the bleachers beside the chaos and dive into it with the Spirit’s wings and brood over, flutter over, hover over the chaos waters and see what we can do nationally, as a church community and as a personal follower of Jesus to bring order out of disorder.
You can try to say, “I can’t do anything about the pandemic or Washington politics!” God says, “Nuts! Brood over, contemplate over your part of the world and be a part of weaving order from disorder; you can wear a mask and keep your distance from folks; you can enter into dialogue instead of diatribe with those of different political leanings than you; you can control what you post on social media and assess if you are a problem in fanning the flames of chaos or not.”
Beloved, for the next minute of silence, I want each of us to enter into a time of contemplation asking the Spirit to reveal to each of us how we can be a part of weaving our chaos into a tapestry of grace. I want the Spirit to haunt each of us as we reflect on how we are passively part of the problem or are we actively hovering over the chaos trying to bring it form and beauty. Church, it’s time we quit blaming “those other people” and take responsibility ourself. Pray with me.
© 2021, January 10, 2021. Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 The Message.
 Joel B Green. Connections: Year B, Volume 1 (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship) (p. 325). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.