As Dan said when he read the scripture, many of the 10 commandments were pretty basic. Don’t kill your neighbour. That’s not exactly radical stuff. But it’s a good rule. Let’s not kill each other. And I’m all for setting boundaries as part of community formation. Rules help us navigate the differing relationships that make up a community. But we must be careful. When the Christian faith has been expressed as a rules based religion it has caused harm to the world. It has made life harder for indigenous peoples, for people of colour, for newcomers, for queer and trans folk for people with disabilities, for women. Christianity’s best practices cannot include a requirement to follow a set of rules as a path to the salvation of the world. You can’t become a Christian through adhering to a set of rules.
Now, Judaism as is hinted at today pays much more attention to a set of laws in their practice of their religion. And though our tradition is based in the Jewish tradition the teachings of both Jesus and Paul tell us that becoming Christian should be based in expressions of love and compassion as to following rules. Please not that I am not saying that any past or current expression of Judaism is not as good as Christianity. As a Christian I am not qualified to make judgments on other religions. All I am doing is lifting up one of the aspects of becoming Christian.
That’s why it is important to remember that Israelites upheld the law of the Torah not out of obligation but out of a joy of being in relationship with God. In following the Mosaic Law they were joyously reminded of God’s presence. They felt God’s love and care for them and viewed the Law as response which would deepen the intimacy of their relationship with God. Their practice of the law brought them joy.
Furthermore, many of the laws were good laws such as do not kill, do not steal, give everyone a day off each week. The Sabbath day was actually one way in which the Mosaic law was innovative. The Israelites were one of the first peoples to embrace a Sabbath and especially at such a high frequency. And we can see the Sabbath day as an expression of joy and love and compassion ion the world.
The Sabbath was a day of rest not only for Israelites, but anyone who worked for them including the animals they owned. In proclaiming the Sabbath God names all of creation including animals and non-Israelites. The Sabbath is for everyone and all of creation. God relates God’s own participation in creation and how after creating the universe and all the creatures in six days God took the seventh day and just basked in the wonder and joy of creation. We are reminded of God’s love for all creation and that all of creation, all of it, is very good. We are reminded of all that is good, all that is beautiful and all that brings us joy. And this joy brings us back to beginning, to the joy of creation.
Because, in the beginning when God created the heaven and the earth and the earth was tohu vabohu, and darkness was upon the face of deep and the ruach Elohim, the breath of God, was vibrating upon the face of the waters. And God said let there be light and there was light. Over the next six days God created everything, the earth, the plants and the animals. And after creating it all, on the seventh day rested. And while resting surveyed all of creation and rejoiced that it is good!
But there’s another creation story and it goes like this: In the beginning, 13.8 billion years ago, all matter in the universe was contained in a single point. It was unimaginably dense and hot. No one really knows what it was like. It’s a mystery. All we do know is that at some point in time the universe was expanding tohu vabohu and still the universe is expanding to this day! Some say that there was a big bang and the universe exploded spilling scads of subatomic swirls of protons and neutrons and electrons and in a few moments molecules formed and thousands of years later stable molecules formed. All the time the universe was tohu vabohu and expanding, ever expanding. Each and every moment the universe is different from the way it was the previous moment because in that moment the universe has expanded further. It is different than it was before. It is not a replication or a rearrangement. If something becomes, it is not what it was before. It is something different, an unfinished narrative.
In fact, 13.8 billion years the universe exploded sending subatomic swirls swarming into stardust, the stardust that forms the stars that we see on a clear prairie night. That stardust has formed our galaxy and the Sun and the earth and indeed us; for we are stardust. We are a part of the ever expanding universe. We are part of the stardust that exploded 13.8 billion years ago. And who knows where the ruach Elohim, the breath of God, was at that moment of creation?
But we know where the ever-present tohu vabohu is. The tohu vabohu is commonly translated as a formless void. However I am inspired by Catherine Keller to understand it in a new way. Keller suggests that that this so-called formless void was not a void in the sense of nothingness but was formless in the sense that it was a hodgepodge. It was a pile of possibilities. Keller suggests that the tohu vabohu is a source of chaos bringing new life. You know how I am always referring to the Chaosmos – a made up word from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake – I use chaosmos instead of cosmos because cosmos refers to an orderly system where I want to embrace the novelty of chaos. In fact, a perfectly orderly system is definition would be a stagnant system a system doomed to remaining as it is, growth is ended, the story is written.
However, in the chaosmos, in the tohu vabohu in chaos there is new life. Chaos offers us new possibilities. Keller says that the chaosmos is “a chaos-in-cosmos, an ordered disorder, where the tension between the order and chaos is set in a delicate balance that allows the system to generate new and unforeseen effects”. In fact “certain optimal state of chaos must be an ingredient in a system if the system is to be productive.”
This celebration of chaos is not inconsistent with scientific understandings. In fact Keller draws on chaos theory to inform her theology. Furthermore, the expanding universe almost insists on this kind of thinking. In its expansion the universe is become new each and every moment. Change is part of reality. If something becomes, it is not what it was before. In becoming the universe, an unfinished narrative of new possibilities abound.
And this is how we participate in the becoming of the universe. Each and every moment as the universe is expanding, becoming different, becoming something new, presenting us with new possibilities. And we can participate in the new creation of the expanded universe these possibilities, this novelty in the choices we make on a moment by moment basis. When presented with a new possibility we can choose the one that is most loving, most beautiful, that brings the most joy to the most people.
Each and every moment we are presented with new possibilities and I believe that God is in the presentation of possibilities or perhaps God is the possibilities. I also believe that in the novel possibilities with which we are presented God is inviting us into what is most joyous. God is luring us to make the decisions that are the most loving, the most just, that bring the most joy to the most people in the world. God does not and indeed cannot force us into these choices. God is persuasive but never coercive.
And so, as God invites us to take a Sabbath day, perhaps God is inviting to take the time to celebrate our lives and the lives of our friends and family and indeed all of creation in this ever expanding universe. And whether we do this in company or in solitude perhaps we can become in greater tune with the ever-expanding universe so that we might be able to participate in the creation of a more loving, more beautiful, more just, more joyous universe. Let us take the time to step away from our busy lives and take part in the love and joy that is creation. Amen.
Catherine Keller, Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming, (New York: Routledge), 2003.