Tohu Va Vohu

Written by Pastor Dan Wilfrid. Posted in Sermons

Epiphany 1B    Genesis 1:1-5

On this very first Sunday of twenty-eighteen,
as bitter and cold as any we’ve seen;
I offer the warmth of some light, simple rhyming,
to my sermonic duties, and I hope it’s good timing,

for you deeply chilled Lutherans, so cold & quite frozen;
who this venture to church have so faithfully chosen.
You could have stayed home, snug and warm by the fire,
but you’re here in the pews and up there in the choir.
I knew that you’d come. Not once did I doubt you.
I don’t take it for granted. I can’t do it without you.
So let us begin, in this whimsical way,
to ponder what God might be up to today;

to look for some hints in our biblical readings,
a word for today, and a call to be heeding.
Lets start back in Genesis, and even in Hebrew,
where before God began, things were “Tohu va vohu!”

“Tohu va vohu” - in itself a great rhyme,
“Tohu va vohu” the Hebrew meaning so sublime.
In our English Bible, we say “formless void,”
but those words just lack punch, and are simply devoid

of the mystery and threat and the chaos and gloom
that “Tohu va vohu” brings into a room.
“Tohu va vohu” is not easily defined.
Emptiness, confusion, desolation combined

with watery chaos lacking structure and order;
all existence unhinged with no boundary or border.
No direction or purpose, no meaning or goal.
No past and no future, no heart and no soul.

It’s what Genesis tells us God faced at the start,
when the wind of God’s Spirit first blew from God’s heart.
“Tohu va vohu:” with no exaggeration
can be well defined as the why of creation.

It’s what so stirred up God that God started creating,
bringing light to the dark and then fabricating
land, sky, sea and mountains, creatures great and small,
turning waste into wonder, and perhaps best of all,

bringing order out of chaos, from confusion, a clear goal:
human beings in God’s image, human life with a soul,
in a world of peace and justice, closely tied to God’s own heart:
No more “tohu,” no more “vohu” was God’s purpose from the start.

God’s work is to end chaos, desolation and despair,
God’s work is to redeem, reunite, restore, repair.
Even more than just explaining how creation came to be,
this great creation story speaks a truth that even we

in the new and special chaos of this “Tohu va vohu” time,

this formless void of 2018, with all its sleeze and slime.
This story stirs the hope that as it stirred our God back then,
the “Tohu va vohu” of our days, will stir our God again.  

Like it did as Mark reminds us, when Jesus first appeared
beside the River Jordan where John (who dressed so weird)
was calling people deeply stuck in “Tohu va vohu,”
that John cried out “Repent, and prepare now for one who

God will soon be stirring up, who’ll baptize with God’s Spirit,
And bring God’s peace and mercy to those with ears to hear it.”
“Greater than I,” said baptizer John, “and much more determined and focused.”
“His sandals too holy for this guy to touch,” said John, as he munched on a locust.

And then Jesus emerges from the watery deep,
the “Tohu va vohu” that just couldn’t keep
him submerged in it’s empty and desolate mire.
Jesus rose from the water, and unless Mark’s a liar

we can trust that God spoke from the sky torn apart
calling Jesus “My son, my beloved, my heart!”
Once again, God was stirred, God got busy and came
to heal and forgive, and not counting the shame,

of rejection and pain all the way to a cross,  
turning waste into wonder, making gain out of loss,
bringing life out of death, and beginnings from ends:
still God’s holy way and the world God intends:

that world of justice and peace, closely tied to God’s will:
No more “tohu,” no more “vohu” is God’s purpose still.
God’s work is to end all chaos, desolation and despair,
God’s work is to redeem, reunite, restore, repair.

This is good news for us of a God who’s still stirring
Christ’s new life instilling, forgiveness conferring.
“Tohu va vohu,” we’ve got more than our fill,
adrift in confusion describes our world still.

We need light in our darkness, and form to our void,
real purpose to our living, talents meaningfully deployed.
We need truth in our politics, integrity in our news.
We need leaders for the church, ….and more people in the pews.

We need neighbors who care, and cities that function.
We need institutions that thrive led by volunteers with compunction.
We need peace between nations and peoples and races.
We need resources sped to all desolate places.

We need gender equality and women respected,
an end to abuse and to children neglected.
“Tohu va vohu:” that desolate waste.
We need God to stir, and to do it with haste.

We need Holy Spirit, baptized into us,

energizing this church with it’s strong impetus.
We need things that keep us aligned with God’s light.
We need Christ’s light in us, to shine clear and bright.

With loyalties conflicted and values unclear,
We need some more Jesus in this troubled New Year.
We need what was needed on creation’s first day: 
for the “Tohu va vohu” to be driven away.

So that’s what we’re doing today in this room.
We’re driving away the desolation and gloom.
Or God is, I suppose that it’s better we say,
for this is God’s house and where God has God’s way.

God speaks “Let there be” and there is, just like that.
God speaks light and forgiveness and new life is begat.
God feeds us Christ’s life in the bread and the wine.
God sends us to go and now let our light shine.

So whether it’s day one or twenty-eighteen,
God’s work is consistent, and God’s will clearly seen.
The “tohu va vohu” that causes such fear,
will still meet its match in this troubled New Year.

It might cause some havoc, and yes, grief and pain,
but even in losses, we’ll claim holy gain.
Together we’ll face the confusing and dark,
this place still our refuge, our safety, our ark.

So come now to supper, and start the year right.
Come taste and see Jesus, our life and our light.
Come despite doubts and confusion and fear,
Come for the gifts that are offered free here.

“Tohu va vohu,” we know how this ends:
with a tomb standing open as an angel descends;
with Christ risen and reigning at the holy right hand,
and justice and peace spread throughout the land.

It’s a vision and purpose and mission and goal.
It’s a life filled with meaning. A life with a soul.
It’s the life I’ve spent forty years trying to teach,
and rhyming or not, still feel called to preach.

And despite the annoyance of doubt and regret,
the “tohu va vohu” hasn’t discouraged me yet. 
It’s the life that still brings me both joy and delight.
A gift from the God who said “Let there be light.”

So enough of this rhyming, it’s your turn to sing,
about creation’s water: crashing and cleansing,
parting and living,  and ordering and more;
until these words are sung when we get to verse 4:

“Living water, never ending,
quench the thirst and flood the soul.
Well-spring, source of life eternal,
Drench our dryness, make us whole.”