Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sunday Sermon

June 12, 2011


If we want transformation, we must risk chaos much like that of a butterfly. The word “risk” makes some people feel uncomfortable, but for us risk is simply another word for “faith”.
Remember your first science project? Often, one of the first science projects children undertake is to watch a plain little caterpillar spin a cocoon about itself until it is completely shrouded within a chrysalis. The wonder of transformation is made real to the children when, days later, an entirely different creature -- a beautiful butterfly -- emerges from the apparently lifeless shell.

As children, we immediately focus on the delicate creature that emerges so mysteriously from the cocoon. With the actual process inside the cocoon unseen, there is a lot of mystery about the cocoon. A creepy, crawly caterpillar is magically transformed into a radiant, soaring butterfly. Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? However, for the caterpillar, there was nothing "wonderful" about it.

A caterpillar doesn't just grow into a butterfly. A caterpillar must undergo molting and metamorphosis -- the dramatic silence of the larva in which the insect's metamorphosis is entirely rearranged. How ironic that in today's English language, that word "cocoon" has come to mean exactly the opposite of what it means to a caterpillar. Modern English defines a cocoon as a safe place or state of being. When someone is shielding themselves from different aspects or beliefs in life, we say they are in a cocoon. However, a cocoon isn't safe. A cocoon is where a caterpillar risks it all -- where it enters total chaos, where it undergoes total rebuilding, where it dies to one way of life and is born to a new way of living. A cocoon is where a caterpillar allows itself to disintegrate into a blob of gelatinous liquid without structure or identity so that it can emerge with sharpened sensory perceptions and breathtaking beauty.

Only in taking the risk of entering that inert larva can the caterpillar go from dormancy to potency, from ugliness to beauty. This is the reason why the butterfly is an authentic symbol of resurrection! Not because it's cute. But because it risks dying to be born to new life.

On Pentecost morning, the miracle of the Holy Spirit was not that of multilinguistic languages spoken by everyone and understood by everyone ( although that is certainly a miracle, just not the one of greatest importance). The miracle of Pentecost was and is this: Pentecost power proclaims a fundamental transformation. The presence of Christ's Spirit burst out of accepted, established parameters. Holiness became accessible to all, even the fearful disciples, and was preached forth to all who would listen. Human attempts to keep the Holy Spirit contained in one holy language or one holy place failed. Christ's sacrifice split open the chrysalis and sent the Holy Spirit soaring out into the world.

Who gave the church of Christ a safety-first, risk-free commission? Who authorized the church of Christ to be a church of wimps? Why are we looking to God more for day care than for
dare care?

There is no such thing as a risk-free life. Nothing is safe. According to the insurance industry's publication Risk Watch, "'Safety' is a word of primitive simplicity that has lost its utility in the face, of expanded technology, but of growing knowledge about the sometimes malignant complexities of nature." "Safety first" was not the motto of Jesus, nor St. Paul, nor of John Wesley. Safety first is fatal to holiness.

Cocoons are self-contained packets of risk. If that frumpy, dumpy little caterpillar didn't take the ultimate risk of re-creation, something which can be experienced only in the cocoon, he would never be able to break out as a butterfly. The way to the safety of a transformed life is found in risk.

Too many of us are lured only by "the safety of the chair," instead of being enticed by "the challenge of the dare." The danger is in the chair; the safety is in the dare. Even the U.S. Supreme Court declared in 1980, "Safe does not mean risk-free."

A 6-year-old gets nervous about taking that first step onto a moving escalator. He hesitates, halts, hovers on the edge, reluctant to step off that edge. It entices him for sure, but that first step is difficult. But once you take it, the movement of the escalator carries you along effortlessly. When he plays stop and go at that first step, there is the greatest danger. We all topple over him, or he panics and bolts forward, dragging others with him. He is safer taking the risk of getting onto something beyond his control than he is holding back. The hardest part is that first step of faith; but from then on, it's easy. You cannot NOT be a risk-taker.

You probably didn't think about it, but you took considerable risks getting here to church this morning. Risks such as:

-- One in 18,585 people will die in a car accident today.

-- A one in two million chance of dying by falling out of bed.

-- A one in 350,000 chance of being electrocuted by your alarm clock.

-- While brushing your teeth, you flirted with the 20 percent chance that your local water supply has infectious bacteria in it.

-- Men endured a one in 7,000 chance of a serious shaving injury.

-- Men and women endured the danger of a one in 2,600 chance of being zippered, snapped or buttoned into some sort of injury.

-- If you avoided the stairs, you still took a one in six million risk of an elevator injury.

-- A one in 11,000 risk of dying in your car while traveling, as either a passenger or a driver.

-- A risk of one in 145 of your car's being stolen still waits for you.

I could not begin to determine where they come up with these statistics; however they help with my analogy today. The danger today lies with safety; the benefits lie with risk and speed. We must give up the church's "safety-first," risk-free approach to ministry and mission. We need to embrace a more entrepreneurial, risk-taking, failure-embracing strategy. Can we support the more imaginative and energetic self-starters in our midst?

Social systems are not unlike biological systems; they work not so much by trial and error, but by trial and success. The disciples risked ridicule and retribution by proclaiming the gospel message out to that crowd in words they could all easily understand. They took a chance and believed that the authority and power of the Holy Spirit would work through their words. It was a profound risk. But that moment of proclamation brought into being the church as the new creation of God. The followers had the Holy Spirit descend upon them in the form of tongues of fire and they all spoke languages they never knew before, all the while others understood them as never before.

There is no safety in safety; there is only safety in the risk and dare of a life of faith. Faith is but another word for "risk."

God is the biggest risk-taker of them all. Albert Einstein could not come to terms with his own theories because he said that God couldn't have built this kind of risk into the universe. God couldn't have created a universe with this kind of indeterminacy and unpredictability and chaos. "God does not throw dice," Einstein said.

Well, Einstein was wrong. And late in life he came to see how wrong he was. God does take chances. God created you and me with the right of refusal, called free will. God built risk into the very heart of the universe: at an atomic level, at a cosmic level. God is big enough and bold enough to put the very being of Himself at risk by creating you and me. God gave us free will and risked us choosing to not follow Him.

That doesn't mean that God is endangered by our right of refusal. But it does mean that God suffers because of our right of refusal. God created a cosmos where the creation can participate in God's own creativity.

That also means that, while you and I don't get safety, we do get joy and delight and the experience of the divine. We get the privilege of participating in the creativity of God, because of the Holy Spirit working through us. Take that risk today and ask God to help that case of unbelief or lackluster belief and wait to see what the Holy Spirit will do for you as he did some 2,000 + years ago!

God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.