Propers: The Second Sunday after Epiphany, A.D. 2018 B
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Fate is the notion that everything is set in stone, that your last day has been written before your first has yet begun. If you believe in fate, then whatever happens is what was meant to happen, and we must make our peace with that.
Chance, on the other hand, is all about possibility—or at least probability. It’s all in the roll of the dice. Chance is very open-ended; anything’s possible. But at the same time it is inherently meaningless. If something really is pure chance, utterly random, then there is no purpose to it at all. It just is, and could just as well not be. There is no sense making sense out of chance.
Throughout history, these have been the dominant worldviews: fate or chance, order or chaos, rock-ribbed reality or random happenstance. Yet both options are deeply unsettling and ultimately unsatisfying. Who wants to choose between a universe either fatalistic or finicky? Neither one quite rings true.
Some have tried to chart a middle course. The Romans, for example, spoke of fortune as the fuzzy intermixture of fate and chance, a leaky borderland between the absolute and the unknown. Others preferred to focus on raw human will: our ability to choose, to chart our own course, to shape our own destinies. Alas, both notions are pagan. The former winds up worshipping a universe capricious and cruel, while the latter deifies humanity as something far worse—building our utopias on the bones of everyone who gets in the way.
The Bible, however, presents us with a world governed neither by fate nor by chance, nor indeed by unfettered human will. Rather, the world we meet in the Bible is a world of story. It is that of an artist painting his masterpiece. Throughout the Bible, God is described as an architect, as a weaver, as a warrior and a woman. And in all of these stories, God is teasing out, God is developing, God is coaxing His Creation along with the co-operation of the artistic medium itself.
God chooses to work with, to work through, rather than just work upon. He works through angels and galaxies, sun, moon, and stars. He coaxes the earth to put forth the trees. He draws forth the snows to blanket the fields. He pours out the waters of chaos—complete with sea monsters to frolic in the waves!—then gives limits to the chaos, saying this far and no farther. Every bit of Creation is an element in a symphony, born and grown in relationship to all the others.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the creation of human beings. We were not the strongest nor the greatest of the animals. We were not the loftiest nor the holiest of spirits. Yet we were placed right at the center of the world, the capstone of creation, the bridge between the physical and the spiritual, the material and the ethereal. And we were tasked to be caretakers, to be gardeners, to steward and explore and sub-create this world that God has made. He appointed us to be the storytellers within the story, to share in the Image of God by sharing in the love poured forth between the ever-creating Creator and His ever-created Creation.
Thus we are given a world that’s not all about fate, that’s not all set in stone. Mind you, there is an end to the story, a goal to which God is leading and drawing the whole of Creation. But there is chance as well, the workings of reason along with the roll of the dice. There are certainties and then there are probabilities. And then there is will—the raw human will that rejected the love of God, that disrupted the great symphony of Creation—but also the will redeemed in Christ that allows for true love, for true and reciprocal relationship, between God and Man. Nature has free process, humans have free will, and God, it seems, delights in both.
The proper word for this is Providence, which describes the interaction of a loving God with the world He will neither enslave to fate nor abandon to chance. Love cannot be forced, and so God will not force His love upon Creation; we are free to sin, much to our own horror and shame. Yet neither will love permit God to give up on us, to flee from us. It is God’s own love unbounded that compels Him to come down in Christ as one of us, to step body and soul into His own Creation, to love us all the way to hell and back!
Providence offers us a worldview that is dynamic, relational, and interactive, a world that only makes sense when we understand it in love—love, expressed not in sentiment, but in selfless self-giving for the good of another. It is a world in which we have a hand, in which we have innate dignity and value, because it is precisely in and through this world that God chooses to meet us, to steward us, to draw us ever and ultimately home in Him.
Today’s Scripture readings are all about calling: the calling of Samuel, the calling of Nathanael, the calling of Christians to live as the Body of the Lord. But we won’t understand the nature of our calling until we understand the nature of our world. Our calling is not fate. It’s not as if God has given each of us one specific job, and our destiny is to fulfill it during our brief span upon this globe. Nor is it simply will, doing whatever we feel like doing while chalking up any consequences to the inscrutable purposes of God.
God calls us by giving to us spiritual gifts, strengths and weaknesses unique to who we are. We all have talents that come naturally to us, or passions that drive us, which other people do not necessarily share or understand. It is our calling, as Christians, to use these gifts for the glory of God and the benefit of mankind. In other words, we are to love God by loving our neighbor. That’s it.
And that will look different for everyone. For some of us it will be painting or writing or sculpting. For some it will be teaching or building or cleaning. For some it could be running for office or raising a family or fighting to defend your country. Or it could be something very quiet—a grateful prayer, a humble life, a peaceful home.
But whatever your calling, whatever your gifts, when offered up for love of God and neighbor, they will enhance the whole of Creation; they will contribute to the sublime symphony that is this wondrous world, this continuing work of God’s own art in which each of us has a hand.
We have been freed, my brothers and sisters, in Christ; freed from sin and self and death; freed, so that we may live free to free others! We all have a calling in Christ. We all have spiritual gifts. And to discern them we need only ask what it is that we love.
That doesn’t mean that our fate is fixed or that our future is entirely open-ended; it certainly doesn’t mean that we should just do whatever feels good at the time. But when we live in faith and love—when we discern our deepest, truest selves and open them unto the service of God, His world, and His people—it is then that Christ shines forth through us out into the world, and brings us all home in Him.
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.