Sunday October 6, 2019

World Communion Sunday - 2019c

Old Testament – Jeremiah 31:7-14

New Testament – Ephesians 3:1-12

The Butterfly Effect

INTRODUCTION: Well, as the summer continues to slooooowly give way to fall, one of the great mysteries and wonders of life is also beginning its own annual occurrence.


Yep, as the days give way to longer nights, and the mornings start to take on a nice coolness, thousands and thousands of birds are now also migrating. At least 4,000 different kinds of birds migrate, which is about 40% of all birds in the world.  


And while some birds will make short trips on their annual journey to nesting grounds and warmer climes, others will make amazing treks. The Arctic tern, for example, covers about 50,000 miles every year as it flies a convoluted route from the Arctic to the Antarctic. And so over its typical life span of thirty years, the Arctic tern will actually make three round trips to the moon and back! Truly amazing.


And then there is a bird known as the bar-tailed godwit. While its 7,000 mile journey isn’t nearly as impressive as the 50,000 miles covered by the Arctic tern, the fact that the godwit does all 7,000 miles without stopping...well, that is impressive. Over roughly eight days, the bird doesn’t land once. It just keeps flying and flying and flying. Now that is pretty amazing.


And last but not least, there are Bar-headed geese, which actually fly over the Himalayas every year during their migration. That’s right at 5 and ½ miles above sea level! Again, an amazing, wondrous, and baffling feat.


And so it goes year after year. All kinds of birds set out on some pretty amazing journeys. Some of which are so astounding it can be mystifying and baffling to ponder them. 


But life is like that, isn’t it? It’s full of all sorts of mysterious and baffling events that can, well, just sort of leave us speechless with wonder.


Why, mysterious events are even a part of faith. For proof, just take a look at the Apostle Paul, whose main job, according to Ephesians, was to spread and share a great mystery of God’s that had gone untold until the coming of Jesus Christ.


You see, Paul’s job, it turns out, was to proclaim the Good News that Gentiles, along with Jews, were now also part of the covenant relationship because of Jesus Christ.


Or in the words of Ephesians, “In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind…that is, [in Jesus Christ] the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Jesus Christ through the gospel.”


Now admittedly, such a claim doesn’t sound all that mysterious or even earth shattering to us. But back then such a statement would have been both revolutionary and even shocking. You see, for those early followers of Jesus, the big question wasn’t what was going to happen to all the Jews when they died. But rather, what was going to happen to all the Gentiles!


After all, Christianity just didn’t fall out of the sky one day. Instead, it was a religion born within and nurtured by Judaism. While Jesus may have had issues with some of his Jewish brothers and sisters, he was still, nonetheless, a good Jew. So Jesus’ first followers rarely worried about the future state of Jewish souls. As far as they were concerned, Jews were still the first inheritors of God’s covenant agreement. Instead, those early followers worried about the Gentiles and what would happen to them.


Needless to say, Paul’s claim in Ephesians was both shocking and mysterious stuff. Because according to Paul, in Jesus Christ God had freely chosen to also make Gentiles fellow heirs of the covenant just like the Jews. Through the sheer grace of God, the entire world was now included in God’s covenant relationship.


Amazingly, in Jesus Christ there was no longer Jew or Greek. There was only one body and one Spirit. In Christ, God had united the world.


One fall, about 20 years ago, the Oweekeno Indians in British Columbia, Canada developed a major bear problem.


For as long as anyone could remember, bears preparing for hibernation would peacefully saunter through the Oweekeno Village on their way to feast on spawning salmon at a nearby river. After fattening up on the salmon, the bears would then move on to hibernate only to repeat the ritual the next year.


But one fall, the bears, for some reason, refused to leave the village after arriving. Even odder, they eventually became aggressive with the villagers. Some of the bears even tried to enter several homes. Not knowing what else to do, the Oweekeno Indians eventually shot and killed fourteen bears, several of them mothers with young cubs. It was a shocking and disturbing experience for village.


Later, after things had settled down, people began trying to figure out what had gone wrong. And what investigators discovered during their research was an amazing web of connections and relationships that highlighted the interrelatedness and unity of life. 


First, investigators discovered that the river where the bears fed was drastically low on salmon. In previous decades, close to 3 million salmon would travel upstream to their spawning grounds, but by 1999 the number had become drastically low - only about 4,000 salmon made the spawning run that year.  So the bears, it turns out, were starving.


But after discovering that the bears were starving, investigators then moved to explore why the salmon count was so low. And their research, once again, revealed a system of deep ties.


Turns out increased logging in the area had led to the trees being removed from the river’s edge reducing shade along the shore which in turn caused the river’s temperature to rise. So salmon, which love cold water, were no longer entering the river on their spawning runs. But in a catch-22, the Oweekeno Indians, who primarily made their living on salmon, were forced to double their logging work in an attempt to offset their losses because of the lack of salmon.


Adding even more complexity to the problem was the fact that the trees and other vegetation along the river’s shore were now going without a major source of nitrogen. In previous years, the feasting bears would leave the shoreline littered with salmon remains. As those remains decayed, they provided up to 75% of the nitrogen needed by the trees and plants.


So an investigation that began with wanting to know why 14 bears had to be shot ended up revealing a huge network of connections and links. Turns out a change in one small part of the larger system had the power to dramatically affect and alter everything else. 


Well, a helpful reminder, don’t you think? While we tend to believe that we live as isolated, independent selves, the truth is we actually always live in a web of greater and greater connections and interdependence.


That’s not to say, of course, that we aren’t all somehow independent people with specific identities and traits unique to each of us. No doubt about it, we are all independent selves.


But because of that very fact, it can be easy sometimes to forget that we are also members of a greater body - a body created and inaugurated in Jesus Christ consisting of us all. And like any other body with its varying parts and traditions, we too have the power, each one of us, to dramatically affect the greater whole in either positive or negative ways.

And while there are Christian traditions that can get all hyped-up on ideas of purity and not fraternizing with other Christians for fear of watering down the faith, they are, it seems to me, ignoring a basic truth of the faith - that in Jesus Christ we are one.


For the earliest confession of faith among Jesus’ disciples was the simple phrase, “Jesus is Lord!” It wasn’t, “Jesus is Lord, as long as you are Catholic, or Baptist, or Eastern Orthodox, or Church of Christ, or even Presbyterian.” Nope. It was just “Jesus is Lord!”    


There is that old bit about a very uptight, older religious woman who was unhappy with all existing religions, so she started her own.


During an interview, a reporter asked, “Do you really believe, as people say you do, that no one will go to heaven except you and your housemaid Mary?”


Pondering the question for a moment, the old woman finally replied, “Well, to tell you the truth, I’m not so sure about Mary.” And yet, according to Paul, in Christ we have been made one. For Jesus isn’t Lord of just the Baptists, or Methodists, or the Catholics, or the Presbyterians, right? Nope, he is Lord of all.

Years ago the mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz noticed that experimental runs of his weather model had very different outcomes based on minuscule changes in the initial data.


After mistakenly entering a number into his weather model that differed only a fraction of a bit from a previous number, Lorenz was surprised to learn such an infinitesimal mistake led to very different outcomes in his weather model. 


Lorenz’s mistake would eventually become known as chaos theory, which is often popularly discussed today as the butterfly effect.


It’s the idea that very small alterations in a system can actually have dramatic long term effects later on down the road. A butterfly flaps its wings and two weeks later the path of a tornado is affected all because of the minuscule changes in wind patterns made by a fluttering insect.     


Well, as those who are now one in Jesus Christ we get it. For no one person, or even version of Christianity, is an island unto itself. In Christ, we’re all one big interconnected giant family, each with the power to create our own butterfly effect.        


CONCLUSION: Of course, at the Communion Table, we see yet one more example of our inter-relatedness, don’t we?

For as far as we’re concerned, as good Presbyterians, that Table is for all of God’s people. We don’t care if you’re Catholic, or Baptist, or Pentecostal, or Missouri Synod Lutheran, everyone is welcome and everyone is invited.


For when breaking that bread and filling that cup, Jesus never said, “This is my body, given for you Presbyterians, do this in remembrance of me.”


Nope. All he said was, “This is my body, given for you. This is my body, given for you.”   


To Jesus Christ, who loves us and freed us from our sins and made us to be a kingdom, priests of his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.