Way back, before the beginning was the beginning, darkness covered the face of the deep. Now whenever you hear the Bible talk about the deep, the first thing it means is water and the next thing it means is chaos. In the Bible, the water is the realm of chaos. It’s teeming with trouble and monsters!
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, darkness covered the chaos, and the Holy Spirit poured over it, that’s when God began to sing: Let there be light and there was light. And in this first story, God began bringing life back to life like this. First she sang, (some versions say spoke), next she separated, finally she took one look at what happened, and oh my goodness! Who would have guessed!
Now when God was making us, when he was knitting our inward parts together while we were still in utero, I’m pretty sure God was singing while he was working. What happened was that some of his singing spilled into each of us, so now we can’t even help it. God sings to the earth, and the earth sings back; it’s how we are made. All through the story of creation, the LORD sings: Let there be! And then there is.
Next God separates this from that. Darkness turns into light; oceans turn into dry land. Alongside the turning of this into that, there’s the activity of evoking. The sea gives rise to fish; the earth gives rise to plants; people make more people. In all this, what becomes clear is that God is different from the other gods.
Other gods are out there battling monsters, and vanquishing chaos, and rising to power through victory, but not our God. Even though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea, our God goes and gathers up the chaos in their own two hands, and God blesses it. Then he says out loud in front of everybody: I know. What do you say we take this and make it into something beautiful…
First the Holy Spirit sang, next she separated, then she took one look at what she had made, and who would have guessed! I know there are people who will tell you God had it all planned from the beginning, and look, okay; they might know something I don’t. But I’m telling you, in the first story of our faith, the LORD our God looks around at what he made, and he is shocked. It is really good. Who knew it could be this amazing!
My friend Emma is a poet. A while back, she did that thing on Facebook where you ask people to leave a comment naming one thing that gives them hope. Well, her comment knocked me down. What gives me hope, she wrote, is that human beings have the ability to make something so beautiful it makes other human beings cry.
And Emma’s right. And as long as this is our condition, there’s a holy impulse in your soul and in mine that makes us need to go see for ourselves because who knew it could be this amazing! Who would have guessed that seeing this would move us to tears…
This past Wednesday marked the One Hundred and Twenty-Sixth Anniversary of Church of Peace. One hundred and twenty-six years ago, the Iowa District of Evangelical Churches stood in Davenport and looked across the Mississippi River and noticed: there was no German Evangelical church in Rock Island.
They deployed Reverend PC Off to head into the West End and begin knocking on doors. He tried to hold the first worship service on July Seventh, but you know what happened. Nobody showed up! After more knocking on doors, one week later, ten people showed up for church.
Mary Kae Waytenick wrote a history of Church of Peace which was further developed by Judy Patsch. In describing these early days of the church, Mary Kae crafted an extraordinary sentence about Reverend Off.
It starts: “He had a difficult time…” and if you pause for a minute at the comma, you can imagine how the sentence ends. He had a difficult time —because the neighborhood already had enough churches, because life was too demanding in these days of colonizing the frontier. He had a difficult time —so he went back and explained that he gave it his best shot, but it wasn’t going to work. All those sentences would make sense, but that’s not how the story goes.
Mary Kae writes: “He had a difficult time, but on September Eighth, Eighteen Ninety-Five, twenty-six men became charter members of… the Deutsche Evangelische Friedens Gemeinde, [the German Evangelical Church of Peace].” Thanks to research from Judy, we know their names:
I would add Elise Timm, Judy’s great-grandmother whom she thought was a charter member. The official list of twenty-six is only men, but of course women like Elise Timm played a crucial role in founding Church of Peace.
Now we know the names of these twenty-six men. What we don’t know is why they did it. There’s every reason in the world why these men and women would take one look at the challenge of starting a church and say No Thank You. They didn’t have a building. They didn’t have a settled pastor. What made them decide to sign their names and start up a church? And I don’t know.
But I have one guess.
What if there was something in their souls that allowed a dream to rise up —because of course this whole church thing might be a disaster, it’s just… What if it’s not? What if it turns out to be amazing? Who would have guessed!
Imagine these men and women sitting around somebody’s kitchen table in Eighteen Ninety-Five, sipping aggressive coffee, establishing the first charter, coming up with the name. You know there was some grumbling and table-pounding. You know there was some laughter.
What if they somehow managed to lift their eyes to the LORD and see the possibility of what Church of Peace might become one day, and it was beautiful! What if imagining our church brought them to tears…
These days, you and I didn’t mean to be starting up a church, or re-starting a church, yet here we are. These days, every one of us is feeling the chaos of the season. Have you noticed how it’s nearly impossible to plan anything! Maybe more things will begin to re-open? Maybe things will close down again and we’ll go back to staying home? Seriously, who has any idea anymore! Who has any guess how long this is going to go on!
The Psalmist sings: “Even though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea…” and don’t you feel that in your own bones! I know the day will come when we arrive on the other side, but here we’re still in the middle of the storm.
Here with the chaos shaking our little boat, giving in to dreaming might seem like the last thing we could do. We are so tired. We’re just trying to hold on! And I’m right there with you. It’s just… I think we might have this in common with our ancestors.
There’s a holy impulse in your soul and in mine that brought us here this morning, that makes us lift our eyes to the LORD because we know God is not finished creating. The Holy Spirit has a dream for Church of Peace! And what if we have gone and put ourselves in exactly the position to see it.
We are just as susceptible as those twenty-six men and uncounted women and children crammed around the kitchen table. And who would have even guessed… What if you begin to see your dream for your life and God’s dream for the future begin to rise up together, and oh Hallelujah! Who knew it would be so beautiful…
In just a moment, we’ll hear ourselves sing back to the Holy Spirit. The footnote in the Bible says that Psalm Forty-Six is a congregational song of confidence in the LORD. And that’s fine, it’s just… It seems like if a congregation is celebrating their confidence in God, they would burst into a song of praise, and that’s not what this is.
I’m pretty sure Psalm Forty-Six is what the people sing when they need confidence in God, when they’re trying to summon their faith, when we’re trying to help each other hold on like we are right now. This is the Psalm to sing from the middle of the storm, when the monsters are circling and the darkness is gushing… But for just a minute, if you could lift your eyes, then you’ll see…
It’s not just that things are going to be okay one day. It’s that God is still creating the world out of chaos, still bringing life back to life, and it’s so beautiful, and who would have guessed that our hearts could be so moved.
May God hear the prayer of our singing…