"Decently and in Order"
June 15, 2014
St. Augustine's Episcopal Church, Wedgefield
II Corinthians 13:11-13
As St. Paul concludes his Second Letter to the Corinthians, he writes a command which puts a smile on the faces of good Episcopalians everywhere. He directs the Corinthians to “Put things in order” (13:11). This verse actually recalls a more complete one from his First Letter to the Corinthians. In that earlier letter, he wrote, “All things should be done decently and in order” (14:40).
In this sermon, I want us to consider how appropriate such directions are for us to hear on Trinity Sunday. And, I think we also need to recognize how far we have strayed from these instructions in our day.
If you surveyed preachers about their least-favorite sermon topic, the Trinity would surely be at or near the top of most lists. This doctrine which is so fundamental and basic to our theology also is very difficult to explain. “One substance, three persons”; “three in one, and one in three”; St. Patrick’s shamrock clover – all these are descriptions of a doctrine that ultimately remains a mystery. However, it should not really surprise us that the Trinity continues to be mysterious and incomprehensible to us. After all, the doctrine of the Trinity deals with the nature of God. And that, ultimately, is something that we cannot understand.
One lens through which we may look at part of this mysterious doctrine includes the view of orderliness. That is, one way to understand the nature of God is to realize that God brings order out of chaos and disorder. For instance, in the creation story we read this morning, God acted to bring order into the “formless void and darkness” (Gen 1:1) which had come to be. This creation story may seem long and tiresome as we read it in church…but it is important for us not to miss a primary point of this account. God acts to bring about order. Think about the painting that is depicted here. All the various parts of creation are included in this passage. They are dealt with in an orderly fashion – and all within a week’s time! The story concludes, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created” (2:4). Thus, according to this account, the whole matter of creation is completed – from land and water to human beings – decently and in order, in the span of a single week.
We read this account on Trinity Sunday so that we may understand and appreciate that God’s nature involves order. God has set up the world in such a way that various parts of creation interact with each other in orderly ways. And – to let you in on a secret – we can make the case that human beings have tended to descend into chaos ever since. But let me get to that in a couple of minutes.
Both of St. Paul’s letters to the Christians in Corinth intend to provide pastoral encouragement to people attempting to be faithful within a challenging culture. In those letters, sometimes St. Paul is direct and, even, harsh in his language. But he always attempts to encourage the Corinthian Christians as their pastor. Our reading today comes at the conclusion of his second letter. As we have seen, Paul’s pastoral encouragement is to “Put things in order” (13:11). Therefore, he encourages his readers to remember God’s order in creation and to reclaim that ordered creation, as followers of Christ.
Interestingly, today’s Gospel reading from St. Matthew comes at the conclusion of that book also. As Jesus prepared to leave his disciples behind on earth, he gave them some final directions – to make other disciples, to baptize, and to teach. But the context in which he gave those directions is very important. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (28:18). Thus, Jesus sets the order of things. He is the One who has “all authority”, and within that context, it is his responsibility to provide direction.
Now, think about the location of each of these readings in the Bible. I want to suggest that as we consider where the readings are, we also may grasp an understanding of the idea of the order of creation … and what has happened to that order. That is, the creation story we read comes at the beginning of the first book of the Bible. Then, the other two readings come at the end of one of the Gospels and at the end of one of St. Paul’s letters. With that perspective, we might draw the conclusion that what God has set up, we have managed to mess up! And, I have to agree that seems to be one of the messages this morning.
We could name many examples of our failures in terms of keeping order – the order of creation that God entrusted to human beings. Among those examples, we might include Adam and Eve leaving the Garden of Eden and, more recently, the previous diocesan leadership here leaving The Episcopal Church. Confusion and chaos result, for good order has not been served in these and in many other situations. And, always – always – confusion and chaos become distractions from our worship of the One who is God and who is known as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In conclusion, then, my plea joins that of Jesus and of St. Paul. May we remember the order that God has given to the universe which He created. May we seek that orderliness which comes from God, for indeed, that order describes what we know about the nature of God. As we seek Godly order, may we personally discover pastoral encouragement from the saints and direction from the One who has been given “all authority in heaven and on earth.” Finally, may we pray fervently for unity among God’s people, for that ordered unity reflects the prayer of Jesus and the very nature of God Almighty. Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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