Surfing the Edge of Chaos
A sermon on Luke 12:49-56 by Anne Wilkinson-Hayes, 19 August 2007
Last month some of you are aware that I attended the BWA Council meetings in Accra. 2 weeks before going I was talking to a Liberian woman – Louise - at the Transformation course @ Whitley – she is a deacon at Reservoir and I told her that I was going to Ghana soon. After the session I was teaching, she came up and asked me whether she could come with me. She told me that she had just discovered that her husband, who she thought had been killed in the war in Liberia, was alive and in a refugee camp in Ghana. They had not seen each other for 17 years.
Through a series of extraordinary events we got her onto our flight and organised her visa in less than 10 days, and I was privileged to witness their re-union, their getting to know each other all over again, and their remarriage all in the space of a week!
When the fighting broke out in Liberia in 1989 Boakai (her husband) had gone north to protect his parents. He got there just as the soldiers arrived in the village and had to watch his father have petrol poured over him and be set alight. He was then forced to sit in a locked room while his mother and three sisters were raped, tortured and killed in the room next to him.  At some stage he escaped and lived in the jungle for many weeks until he finally made it across the border to Sierra Leone. He hoped to wait there until the fighting died down and he could get back to Louise. Instead war broke out in Sierra Leone and he had to continually move around to avoid the violence, eventually being forced into a refugee camp in Guinea Bissau. He had to wait here several years, as he had no money and trying to get through Sierra Leone and Liberia was certain suicide.
Meanwhile Louise (with her three month old baby and younger brother and sister) escaped east to Ivory Coast and was in a refugee camp there for 12 years hoping that Boakai would come and find them. After a while the Ivory Coast could not cope with the volume of refugees and some were forcibly shifted to Ghana. After 3 years in Ghana Louise was suddenly given a UNHCR visa to come to Australia. She had to conclude that Boakai must be dead by now, but she still held out hope.
Boakai did finally make it to Cote d’Ivoire, but just after Louise moved to Ghana. When he got to Ghana, she had gone to Australia, but news began filtering through to Louise that Boakai was alive and last year they talked on the phone for the first time in 16 years!
I spent the weekend in the refugee camp outside Accra– 20, 000 Liberians are still there, separated from their families. Not allowed to work in Ghana; they survive in the informal economy – living on a pittance – many forced into prostitution, petty crime and the oblivion of drugs and alcohol.
This is the reality of life for so many – the stories of the Chin and Karen, the Sudanese and many immigrants in Australia are those of peoples wrenched apart.
And this is the world into which Jesus speaks. The raw messy world of families ripped apart by war and violence.
This is a tough passage, and its not easy for us to hear Jesus speaking like this, and I don’t think it was so easy for the disciples either. If you look at the context in v41 – Peter is asking – um – all this stuff about being ready when the Son of Man comes – is that for us, or just for others –‘them’, the hoi polloi? And in answer Jesus tells another tough story about slacking on the job and getting a beating for it…. And you can imagine the look of horror on the disciples faces….. and I can just sense Jesus tearing his hair out, and losing it with them
“Look you morons, here am I, terrified of the baptism of death that faces me and all you can think about is whether or not you’ll get special privileges and dispensations! This isn’t a picnic you’ve chosen. Following me is hard. Its costly. Its not all sweetness and light and choosing the good bits, and the safe options – its about fire roaring through this world – cleansing and purging. Its about division and the sword. This life with me is a crisis point for you and for the world. It is so significant that it will cause major divisions within families and communities. Read the signs! Get real and stop playing!”
This is not gentle-Jesus-meek-and-mild. This is not the soft focus peace of the Christmas angels. This isn’t the comfort we come to church for. Did we think that Jesus had come to bring peace on the earth ?
– well yes actually, we did! And we don’t like all this other stuff very much, thank you.
It would be lovely to think that peace can be achieved by being nice to each other; that peace comes through sharing and kindness. It would be nice to think that peace comes if we are quiet and still and light a candle; if we pray and wait for God to do something.  But that’s only part of the story – look at the signs of the times. How has peace been achieved even in our lifetime? S Africa, Poland, Liberia – it comes through prayer and solidarity and pain and struggle. Being passive is not the way to peace. Look at our the saints on the icon board at the back – Bonhoeffer, Luther King, Romero – all working for peace yet killed in the struggle.
Jesus brought peace on earth through major confrontation. The Prince of Peace showed us that the path to peace is via serious head-on collision with the authorities, and involves the tearing of flesh and agonising death…… why should it be much different for his followers?
Peace is not the absence of war but the creation of an alternative reality, and this doesn’t come without challenging the established order.
Simon Moyle leads one of our new churches in Brunswick. His group are all largely unchurched students and in reading the gospels for the first time they have discovered that Jesus is all about peace. Its fascinating that they have come to this conclusion, because that was a core value of the first three centuries of the Christian faith, but was quickly lost in Christendom – and we don’t see it anymore. Convinced of this focus on peace, the group have undertaken training in non-violence and are learning how to apply this to all of life. Recently Simon and a few others, after much prayer and preparation purposely went to Shoalwater Bay in Q’land to register their disquiet at the environmental damage the US army were doing to the reef there, and in war zones such as Iraq. They deliberately trespassed and started playing peace games (Frisbee) on the base rather than war games. They forced the base to close down for the morning and had tea with the soldiers and were able to explain why they were there. It was all very amicable, but they were arrested and charged with trespassing without lawful reason. They are contesting this and will debate in court that they did have lawful reason. They face a $1000 fine each. It could be argued that it is a waste of time, but at least they are making people stop and think. This is taking the risks of peace.
We can think of many others who have done the same – some have lived to tell their story – others have lost their lives in the struggle, but they have lived the Jesus life.
My worry as I go around the churches is that we have lost this perspective on our lives. Church people want all the trappings of a consumerist society – we are little different to others. We want to feel safe and loved in church and have our ruffled feathers smoothed by the thought of a God who loves us, but don’t ask us to move house, change job, stop buying my favourite brands of food or drink. Don’t ask me to visit the local politician or demonstrate. Don’t ask me to do anything that might threaten my sense of being in control. I’ve worked hard to create this oasis of comfort – don’t go spoiling it.
And Jesus stands in unbelief, with blood running from his hands.
There was a popular book in business circles a few years back called “Surfing the Edge of Chaos”. It was written by a group of business people who observed nature as a way of understanding how best we can learn to organise ourselves. One of the key things they saw was that in nature – equilibrium – ie a stable state, is the precursor of death.
Only a system that maintains significant internal variety can withstand the threat of external variety. So the inter-tidal zone is the most fertile context for spontaneous mutation. This is a region swept by extremes – inundation and flood followed by drought and desiccation, and this amazing variety forces the system to the edge of chaos, and  demands that organisms adapt or die.  It is here that fish grew legs, and roots learnt to breathe. It is in the place of extremes that life comes forth.
Businesses and churches have to learn that equilibrium is life–threatening.  If we do not embrace risk and change, if we do not encourage extremes of experience and ideas, we will die. The birthing of peace, and all good things, is forged in the crucible of life lived on the edge of chaos; life that is open to risk and to new possibilities.  
And I think that this is what Jesus is talking about in this passage.
No wonder that churches are struggling to survive. We do not welcome change. We don’t like hearing people we disagree with. We don’t move much beyond our comfort zones, so we don’t nurture much internal variety, and then we are surprised that we are threatened by changes all around us!
And at the core of this issue is Jesus, and how we respond to this man who demands our commitment without reservation.  Jesus has shown us that the path to peace is through confrontation and self-sacrifice. The cross is both once-for-all and on-going metaphor. At the point of laying down our life with Christ there is resurrection and hope for the world. At the edge of chaos, there is new life. But there is no halfway house. We cannot ‘sort of’ follow Jesus and expect to see life change – that’s why he talks about fire and division – we are faced with a choice, a crisis, each time we hear the Word, which slices through our souls, our families, our values.
Its tough stuff, but can’t you feel your spirit yearn for that place of boundless possibility? Isn’t it the adventure of faith that first called to us? The invitation is still there to surf the edge of chaos, held in the embrace of God and surrounded by God’s people for support on the way.
I started by telling you about Louise – she has lived at the edge of chaos nearly all her life. She has seen and experienced much suffering and loss. She and Boakai gave up 17 years of their life together to protect their wider family – the fire has divided her family, and still they wait to be in the same hemisphere, but Louise knows God. Her faith has been forged in that crucible of chaos, and strange and wonderful things happen around her. She has learnt to live life in trust at the edge.
We can probably all think of other examples of people who have inspired us with their ability to take risks and live whole heartedly.
I wish I could make it easier.
I wish I could model the right response for you…
But I know in my innermost being that its worth it and that together we can be what we are called to be.
In the silence, lets reflect on the things we might be avoiding facing. What confrontation should be taking place? Which compromise needs naming and addressing?
What signs of the times are we closing our eyes and ears to?
What is God’s invitation to you this evening?