1 Christmas C, 2018: A Definite Maybe

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This sermon should be entitled,
“What’s wrong with maybe?”

“You wouldn’t believe what once or
twice I have seen,” Mary Oliver writes,
and she tells us the world is wider
than the “rigid house of orderly reason and proofs.”

“What’s wrong with maybe?”

I like to imagine the nexus between
that rigid house
of reason and proofs
and the loose-leaf binder of “maybe.”
I like to walk along the border
between these two regions
and allow them to talk back and forth –
or at least imagine
the words I would hear
if indeed they spoke to one another.
Let’s visit there now.
We start in the house of reason and proofs.

It takes four days
for the impregnated cell to reach the uterus,
and then multiply from one cell,
to eight,
to 100.

In two weeks, those cells will multiply
and become layered in concentric circles
like a tiny internal labyrinth:
the inside layer
will become the respiratory
and digestive systems – breath and nutrients;
the next layer
becomes the thyroid for balancing
the body’s chemicals;
the middle layer
will become the heart and circulatory system
and the skeleton;
finally the outer layer
will form the nervous system, and our lovely skin
with all its luscious accoutrements like hair.

By the end of the third week
the brain and spine
have begun to form,
and the little shape forming within the womb
takes on that curved look.

By day thirty
that little bud of life
will sprout shoots
that eventually become arms and legs,
and now, after a month,
what is only a little hope
is the size of a grain of rice.

Two months
from that fertilized egg
and the embryo has become a fetus
and all the internal organs
are in place.

Three and half months pass
and the fingers form a fist
and everything is ready to grow
into its birth size – and in fact,
the fetus will double in size
in just that one week – week fourteen.

At seven months
the eyes begin to open and close,
and what started out as a single cell
now fills the womb inside,
pushing and flailing to make room for itself.

There is no ‘maybe’
in this course of development of human life
because we’ve measured it, and
photographed it, and videoed it,
and we can trace its journeys and resting places
from a single cell to a human life in full bloom.

But until we see it born,
hold it,
hear it breathe,
and see the heartbeat
rise and fall within its chest,
we don’t believe it.
Until then it remains ‘a maybe.’
Even after,
vulnerable as it is –
vulnerable as we are –
a human life remains ‘a maybe’
until it has come and gone.

But we know a tiny single cell
can become one whole human life.
It is not even a maybe.
We also know that one cell –
sometime, somewhere
in that warm shallow ocean roiling and broiling
over the face of the planet millions of years ago –
became a single-celled life
that eventually,
later more than sooner,
evolved into other life –
bigger life,
more complex life.
It was not a maybe
because we are the result
of that beginning.

In the beginning
was warm water and a single cell.
No maybe –
no maybe in the beginning of the world
nor in the beginning of us,
you and me.

This is what we know.

We know all life,
even all spiritual life,
begins in a darkened quiet
and grows with furious tenacity
even as it is concealed and hidden
in the old body
that spawns and surrounds it.

Even now,
even in you,
even in me –
even in the most hardened
and resistant disbeliever among us –
it grows…and
it is growing.

Few of us ever get to know
when a hapless cell minding its own business,
headed for the normal destruction
which awaits most potential,
is suddenly fertilized.
We never see it coming.

It happens and we never know it.
It begins,
and multiplies
and grows from nothing
into something
and whenever know,
at least not in the beginning.
It is hidden from us.

All life,
even all spiritual life,
begins in the dark,
in the quiet,
concealed from our hasty decisions
and too small vision
that might otherwise end it prematurely.

A blade of grass,
a tiny purple crocus
an oak tree –
each one begins below the surface
in the dark
soil of potential.

A river,
a pond,
a lake –
each begin underneath
in the dark
quiet aquifer
that bleeds against gravity
on the way to the surface.

The dream
forming now inside of you –
God’s dream, God’s best dream for your life
began long ago
with the division of a cell
into concentric circles.

At the very center of your life and mine,
God’s best dream
is rippling outward.

This is ‘a maybe,’
something we cannot prove
and that wiggles restlessly to get free
inside the house of reason and proof.
But it lives,
even though it is ‘a maybe.’
God has a dream for your life
that began in the beginning
way back before anyone knew
your life had begun.

It has been growing,
fighting through resistance
and bringing you back
from wrong turns
all along the way.

God’s best hope,
God’s dream for us,
is there at the center of our lives.
It is our life’s work to discern that dream,
and eventually, if we can,
little by little,
haltingly and off and on,
learn to live in concert with it.
It is the very best “maybe” of our lives.

And with that, I’ll say “Amen”
and invite us into prayer.