Hancock Church Sermon – Rev. Dana Allen Walsh – September 8, 2013 – Genesis 1:20-25


“Out of Chaos”

There’s a story about a woman brings a very limp duck into the veterinarian’s office. As she lays her pet on the table, the vet pulls out his stethoscope and listens to the bird’s chest.

After a moment or two, the vet shakes his head and sadly says, “I’m sorry, your duck, Cuddles has passed away.”

The woman asks,” Are you sure?”

“Yes, I am sure. Your duck is dead.”

“How can you be so sure?” she protests. “I mean you haven’t done any testing on him or anything. He might be in a coma or something.”

The vet rolls his eyes and he turns around and exits the room. He returns a few minutes later with a black Labrador retriever. The dog stands on his hind legs, puts his front paws on the examination table and sniffs the duck from top to bottom. He then looks up at the vet with sad eyes and shakes his head. After leaving with the dog, the vet returns with a cat. The woman looks on as the cat jumps on the table and also sniffs the bird from head to foot. The cat too shakes his head and meows softly.

The vet turns to the woman and says, “I’m sorry, but as I said, this most definitely, 100% certifiably, a dead duck.” The vet turns to his computer, hits a few keys and produces a bill.

The duck’s owner, still in shock, examines the bill. “$820 just to tell me my duck is dead!”

“I’m sorry. If you had taken my word for it, the bill would have been $20, but it’s now $820. After all, we had to do a Lab Report and a Cat Scan.”

Tonight at Worship @ The Well, we are hosting our first-ever Blessing of the Animals service.  Animals of all assortments and sizes are welcome – from ducks to cats to dogs.

Chaos will surely lurk just beneath the surface. The staff here and you all are probably wondering, will the dogs chase the cats, the cats chase the hamsters, and will the sermon be heard over incessant barking and meowing? Or more accurately, when will all that happen?  You’ll have to come tonight and enjoy the chaos.

Enjoying chaos is something we rarely do.

We are constantly seeking ways, both individually as well as communally, to avoid, manage, contain, fight, or escape chaos. We tend to think of chaos as a problem in need of a solution: We have to keep it away, run away from it, or impose order and structure.

We see in our creation story – God creating order from the chaos.  The swirling chaos becomes land and sea, animals and plants, man and woman, light and darkness.  God saw all of it and declared it good.

But our world isn’t orderly and tidy. Most days, it might feel like more chaos than order.

When I think about my own life and that of my family, I’ve begun to realize that chaos, confusion, and craziness abound.. Some of the chaos is purely self-imposed just to make life more interesting.  Our dog, Bono, was staying with my parents for a few weeks in CT, and our house was quieter and cleaner, but much more boring.  But Bono’s back! And, now we have him obsessively licking the baby, and the baby pulling his hair and our household has the correct amount of craziness and chaos.

But on the overall, I, like many of you, love order.  I have lots of ideas about how the world “should” be.  I want to be able to predict what tomorrow and the next day will look like.   I could easily put all my energy towards protecting and insulating my family from the unknowable and uncontrollable.


But as a child of God, though, is this what I am called to do? Fight chaos with every fiber of my being? I’m beginning to think that our work is bigger than this! I wonder what might happen if we were to begin to think of life and chaos in a more symbiotic relationship, part of the same fabric of creation.

Most of the ancient societies have a story about creation and how the world came into being.  Many of them grapple with the notion of chaos and how creation is brought forth from the uncontrollable and uncontainable.  In our creation story in Genesis, chaos is reflected in the swirling water, in what is referred to as the “deep”.  In the Babylonian creation narrative, chaos is personified as a monster, one that needs to be destroyed in order for creation to continue.  Chaos is the enemy of life.

But in our creation story, chaos is not something that needs to be eliminated, destroyed, or contained.  Instead, chaos is the raw material of creation.  Chaos isn’t removed from our world and in fact, after creation, we see chaos quickly resurface in the story of the Flood that sweeps over the land.

When we tune into the TV, radio, or web, we are quickly aware of the chaos that surrounds us.  In Syria, hundreds are dying from civil unrest while the international community debates the best way to move forward. We don’t know if our country will soon be engaging in an act of war as response to alleged chemical weapons use.  This is frightening, this is scary, and this is chaotic.

But can God create something good from the chaos that swirls around us?

What if God creates a space in the midst of chaos in which we can learn to live in relationship with what we cannot control, as opposed to constantly fighting against it?

The answer is purely a theological one.

The Israelites told the story of God’s creation of the land and sea, of light and darkness, of human beings and creatures, not as a scientific explanation for the origin of human life.  Instead, they told the story because it says something about who we believe God to be.

God did not create a perfect world in six days and on the seventh day, pull out a beach chair and wait for us to mess it all up.  But rather, our God is a Creator who acted then and continues to act now, working to bring good into this world. Creation is not an event but a process.  God is working for good, trying to bring order out of chaos.  Therefore, creation is never finished, it is always unfolding.

Here at Hancock, there can feel like more chaos than order.  For the first time in more than twenty years, our building is undergoing a major renovation, as we strive to become fully accessible.  This means that there are now temporary walls where we once used to walk, it means only have 49 people in the balcony so we don’t violate fire code, it means dust and dirt and things aren’t as they always have been.

Sure, it’s chaos.  But it’s a chaos we’ve chosen.  It’s something we know we need to endure so that new life can emerge.  The building looks different and messy, but this is what allows for transformation to take place.  In the end, we will have a building that will more accurately reflect who we are – a welcoming community who strives to be open to and serve all people.

So, here at church, we can begin to practice in a palpable way how we look at the chaos in our lives, and wonder and pray and imagine how God’s transforming power will take hold.

For long-distance swimmer, Diana Nyaad, the swirling waters of the deep, were not so metaphorical. Last weekend, Diana swam the 110-miles from Cuba to the coast of FL.  She spent more than 52 hours in the salt water with jellyfish and sharks.  When she emerged on the other side, she was swollen and breathless, but she declared, that although swimming appears to be a solitary sport, it takes a team. This was her 50th attempt and she finally persevered at the age of 64.

But like Diana said, she did not go alone.  She knew what direction to head, because a boat pulled a line in the water in front her, keeping her on track.  There was another boat beside her that sent electro-magnetic rays through the water to deter sharks.  There was a team of people that designed her wetsuit and facemask and goggles to keep her safe from the jellyfish that surface at night.  There were people to hand her food and water to keep her fueled and nourished during her swim.

At times, our life can often feel like a long-distance swim in shark-filled waters.  We don’t know when the next wave of illness or loss will crash upon us.  We don’t know if the busy demands of our day will leave us parched or the conflict with friends will sting us.

But God is there.   Like when a spectator off the coast of FL saw Diana, it was not because he spotted a solitary woman in the water, but instead he saw a team of people and boats that surrounded Diana as she swam to shore.

We can trust that our Creator God who brought life from the swirling waters of deep, can also bring goodness from the chaos of our lives. God will not let anything go to waste; God will use it and work to transform it for good. When danger and fear threaten to overwhelm us, let’s remember the words of the Psalmist:

“Deep calls out to deep; all your waves and breakers have swept over me, but by day the Lord directs his love, by night his song is with me.”

In the rough waters of life, God surrounds us, drops us a line,  and shows us a way forward.