category: Musings, Sermon Starter

Chaos, Church, and Butterfly Wings

By Rachael Keefe

My favorite seminary professor, Dr. James Loder, often referenced physics when discussing theology. Every time I went to his office I was fascinated by the equations and notes that covered the white boards on his walls. Very little of it made sense to me. However, when Dr. Loder spoke, and …

Chaos, Church, and Butterfly Wings

My favorite seminary professor, Dr. James Loder, often referenced physics when discussing theology. Every time I went to his office I was fascinated by the equations and notes that covered the white boards on his walls. Very little of it made sense to me. However, when Dr. Loder spoke, and shared his views on how string theory and chaos theory made profound theological sense, I could almost feel new understanding opening up in my brain. I’d never had a physics class and yet, it was clear to me in those long conversations how closely related science and theology really were. There were remarkable things that physics explained that could be metaphors for some theological concepts and, sometimes the reverse was also true.

I am reminded of this as I read Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel, “…you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” At first these words are nearly impossible to comprehend in any way. Then I thought of the “butterfly effect” in chaos theory. The popularization of of this is the idea that a butterfly flaps its wings in Japan which sets off a series of meteorological events that results in an earthquake in California. My take away is that everything in the universe is more deeply connected than we can even begin to understand. Jesus’ words say this on a more personal level. We are more deeply connected to God and to one another than we can even begin to understand.

With over 300,000 COVID-19 deaths around the world and nearly 90,000 in the US, we are connected by grief, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. What we do impacts our neighbors near and far, whether we admit it or not. Those of us who are rushing back out into the world because we are desperate to “get back to normal,” may be risking their lives or the lives of their neighbors. What we do in the world effects others. We can’t get away from this truth. The more we refuse to look at the truth of this pandemic, the more lives we put at risk. The more we put our individual needs ahead of the greater good, the more lives we put at risk. Who knows how many lives can be changed by one unmasked cough or sneeze or the runner or cyclist who refuses to mask and doesn’t maintain physical distance as they hurry on by.

When Jesus spoke of the indwelling nature of God, he was trying to assure his disciples that they would not be abandoned or forgotten after his death. In fact, the more love they shared, the more deeply they would be connected to each other, to him, and to the One who sent him. That was supposed to be good news. Perhaps it was for those first disciples. Perhaps it’s just us later disciples who have forgotten that we are not alone and that God dwells within us and is made known in our relationships – our words and our actions.

It’s not that I don’t want to resume the activities I enjoyed before the pandemic. I do just as much as anyone else does. I want to be able to gather with friends and family, and resume traveling for vacation and conferences. I want to be able to go to a grocery story or whatever. And, yes, I want to gather for worship with my congregation again. Yet, I will not do these things and I ask you not to do them, either, if you do not have to. No one is immune to COVID-19. Any of us could be asymptomatic carriers. I will not knowingly risk my life or anyone else’s. We know that the activities that are at the core of our worship services would be risky. Singing, passing the peace, communion, all have serious risks.

Remember Jesus’s words about how intimately connected we are? Who among us wants to be the butterfly that causes the earthquake, the vector that spreads disease? In the U.S. we can’t even seem to own our collective grief, let alone acknowledge our responsibility one to another. If we think of the indwelling nature of God and how Love unifies us, could this prompt the church to lead the world in maintaining safety for the vulnerable among us? Could it be that the most Loving thing we can do right now is to continue to worship online, continue to stay at home as much as humanly possible, continue to love our neighbors by keeping our germs to ourselves?

If I understand Jesus words at all, it is Divine Love which dwells within us and connects us with our neighbors because Divine Love dwells in them as well. When one of us disregards this Love, then we put all of us at risk. When one of us forgets this Love, all of us are in jeopardy. If one of us is vulnerable, all of us are vulnerable. My friends, the Body of Christ has COVID-19. It is up to us to see that life-sustaining resources are shared until healing comes for all. Let’s not be so hasty to resume old habits. Let’s be patient and see what new life is emerging in the midst of sickness, death, and grief.

We are not orphaned. We are loved by an indwelling God. May Love guide us to new ways of living and being so that our actions may lead to healing, health, and wholeness rather than sickness, death, and grief. When we as the Body of Christ flap our metaphoric wings, may the resulting winds open up new possibilities for life and Love.

RCL – Year A – Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 17, 2020
Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:8-20
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

Photo: CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

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About Rachael Keefe

Rachael is an author, a pastor, a teacher, and a poet. Her latest book (The Lifesaving Church - Chalice Press) is on faith and suicide prevention. She is currently the pastor of Living Table UCC in Minneapolis, and has launched a spiritual direction practice.

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