Monday Matters (March 27, 2023)


The Collect for the fifth Sunday in Lent

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

These days, Monday Matters offers reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.

Tohu wa-bohu

Order out of chaos. That’s the business God has been in since the beginning of time, when Genesis tells us that the universe was formless and void. In Hebrew, the phrase that describes this chaos is tohu wa-bohu. Over six days of creative work, order was fashioned out of unruliness. No wonder a day of rest was needed.

Later in the Hebrew Scriptures, Jeremiah uses the same phrase to describe judgment that will come on the people of Israel. Chapter 4 of that prophetic book describes the reversal of creation, moving from order to chaos. Tohu wa-bohu.

I’m wondering if you ever feel tohu wa-bohu. The phrase in Hebrew has a certain ring to it. When I’m feeling like a mess, I say to myself that I’m tohu wa-bohu. A dose of daily news may be enough to trigger that feeling.

What to do about it? If order is to be discovered, our faith tells us that it will be God’s work. It will be holy work. We acknowledged yesterday in church, in the collect included above, that God can bring into order unruly wills and affections. We also recognized that if and when that happens, it will be as gift. It will be a grace that allows us to love what God commands and to desire what God promises. On our own, our hearts can devolve into chaos. The consistent message of Lent: we need help.

Yesterday’s collect recognizes that we navigate life amidst swift and varied changes. That certainly can be seen in our political system. That can surface in our congregations, often marked by transition. That can happen in the face of an unexpected health crisis or a sudden change in employment status. It can happen in relationships with family and friends. Who knows what a day might bring? Chaos can be right around the corner.

Again, what to do about it? The prayer we heard yesterday invites us to keep our hearts fixed where joys can be found. So here’s the question that keeps coming up for me this Lent: Where is the heart fixed? Maybe in the chaos, you’d say it’s not fixed anywhere, thank you very much. Maybe you feel like you’re playing whackamole with the chaos of life, contending with unruly wills and affections. Maybe you’ve given your heart to that which will not satisfy your heart. That can make us feel totally tohu wa-bohu.

Let me suggest a favorite story from the gospels that may help. The disciples were in a boat in the middle of a threatening storm, which is a biblical image of chaos. Right in the thick of it, Jesus comes walking on the water. Peter got the idea that he could walk on the water, too. He put one foot over the gunwale. Then the next. He discovered that he actually could walk on water. He could weather the chaos. As long as his gaze was fixed on Jesus. When he lost that gaze, he sank.

Take some time this Monday morning to think about where your gaze is fixed, where you are giving your heart. As we prepare for Holy Week, set gaze on the one who stretches out arms of love on the cross to draw us into his saving embrace.

-Jay Sidebotham

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