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Posts Tagged ‘wonder’

A number of years ago, I was a student minister on a pastoral charge in the Eastern Townships. I was invited for a visit with one of the families who came to their cottage in that area every summer. At one point, the children and I had wandered outside. We noticed a number of mushrooms and circles around the mushrooms on the ground around their stems. I explained to the children that the rings were fairy rings. The children looked a little sceptical so I went on to say, “We seldom see fairies because they are so shy. At night, though, when nobody is around, they come out and dance around the mushrooms. They dance so long that they wear the grass down in a circle around the stems. In the morning, you don’t see the fairies but you see the rings. That’s how you know that these are very special toadstools and this is a very special place.”

The father of the children had come up to where we were and listened for a while. Then, he said, “We have told our children that there are no such things as fairies. We believe you shouldn’t teach children things that they will have to unlearn when they get older because those things were not true in the first place.”

As he talked, all the little fairies — who had just begun peeking their heads out from their hiding places — vanished in a second. We were left with quite ordinary mushrooms with rings around their stems for which I am sure there is a quite rational, scientific explanation.

Ever since then I have felt sorry for those children. I have often wondered about them. With their world rendered so flat and one-dimensional at such an early age, how would they ever learn to hear the songs of angels?

We have two mental operations that are meant to work in tandem: Explanation and Imagination.(Thanks to Eugene Peterson, in Subversive Spirituality, for these ideas.) Explanation pins things down so we can control them and use them. Imagination opens things up. Imagination makes connections between the visible and the invisible world. It helps us touch mystery. If you sever one from the other, you end up with a distorted view of reality. Human life and hope suffer.

Over the past hundred or so years, the balance tipped toward explanation. In the Western world, we were enthralled by what we could know and use and control. We were captivated by technology — the capacity to explain and manipulate increasing portions of the universe.

Few people noticed that a casualty of our rush to explain everything was imagination, and with it, our sense of awe and wonder at what we do not know and what is beyond knowing and saying.

I remember reading somewhere about a father who took his eleven year old son out into the backyard to look at the stars — to wonder at the immensity of the universe, at the beauty of the canopy that was spread out overhead. This was in the early years of space travel and communications satellites. The young boy looked up at the stars and only said, “So, which ones did we put up there?”

A theologian once asked some Amish friends, “Why don’t you have televisions?” She had assumed that they would say that they shunned all modern inventions. Their response surprised her. They said, “We used to have televisions. Then we noticed that our children were not singing songs anymore. They were not dancing and playing games. They were just sitting watching other people. So, we got rid of the televisions. Now, our children sing and dance and play again.”

The evidence is mounting that children who spend their days passively watching television end up with crippled imaginations. They have diminished capacity to envision something different from what is before their eyes. So much of the reality they see on television is violent and corrupt and ugly. Because their capacity to imagine a different scenario gets impaired, they believe society cannot change. The trouble is so big. The world is so out of control that nothing they can do will make a difference. They lose hope. They give up, turn inward, and focus on just taking care of themselves. They look for their own comfort or they act out in rage.

Luke’s story of Jesus’ birth tries to get our imaginations going again. That is not to say that what he tells us is just make-believe or made-up fantasies. Luke is saying, “Touch the mystery of God’s coming to earth in a baby born in Bethlehem.” There is something more going on here than what our five sense can account for. There is something happening in the world that cannot be fully explained.

We know he’s trying to touch they mystery because there are so many angels in the story. An angel comes to Zechariah and Elizabeth and tells them that they are going to have a baby — a baby that all the reason in the world says is impossible.

An angel comes to Mary and tells her she’s going to have a baby. Again, it is a pregnancy that defies rational explanation.

An angel tells Joseph that it is all right to take Mary as his wife. What is going on in her life and in his cannot be accounted for by everything he knows but he can trust it anyway because it is a holy work of God.

Angels — a whole host of angels, angel armies — announce to shepherds that God’s Messiah, God’s Saviour of the world, has been born in a little village outside Jerusalem.

All of this is unbelievable. It is unexpected. Yet, it is so true that two thousand years later we still tell the story and sing praises to the One that the shepherds and worshipped that night.

There are angels everywhere in Luke’s story. They are a healing balm for our imaginations. They open us to the possibility that, just beyond what we see and know, God is at work saving the world.

Did you notice that , in the middle of his talk of angles, Luke insert Governor Quirinius and Caesar Augustus and an explanation about Joseph and Mary heading to Bethlehem because of a royal decree and a census of the Jews? These are the folk who are trying to keep everything nailed dow. They keep adding up all the numbers, hoping that that will keep people in all their proper places. They have some power, to be sure. They saw a word and pregnant women have to travel across the country. But, says Luke, do not be so impressed by them. Luke spends 132 verse telling the story of Christ’s birth. Caesar and Quirinius together — history makers that they are supposed to be — get two verses. And, they don’t get any visits from the angels.

An old couple, a young girl, a worried man and a bunch of no-account shepherds get angel visits and songs and stories. The men who are running countries and empires get two verses and no angels. By the time Luke wrote his gospel, Herod was dead in the ground. Quirinius was gone. caesar’s glorious Roman Empire was beginning to crumble and fall. It is the followers of that little baby born in Bethlehem that are making the empire’s foundations shake.

Feed your imagination with Luke’s stories. Learn that you cannot tell what is really going on merely by reading the news. God is at work in unexpected places among the most unlikely of people, bringing new possibilities for which we had not planned. Because God is at work, hope stays alive. Corrupt systems will not last forever. The wicked will not always prevail.

Because God is at work, no situation is irredeemably hopeless. A light shines, even in our darkest nights. There is a force loose in the world that is greater than we are. That force gives hope that is stronger than our despair. It brings peace that is stronger than our conflicts. It gives joy that is stronger than the sadness. There is love that is stronger than all the forces of hate.

On that first Christmas night, we learned that that force is not an impersonal power. That force has a name: Jesus, God saves. Emmanuel, God with us. We know the name because the angels told the shepherds and they were not ashamed to speak of things they could not explain.

Make room for imagination in your life and in the lives of the children you encounter. Help them see that a vast, amazing reality hovers just beyond their sight. Show them a world brimming with glory so that they fall to their knees in wonder and in awe. Encourage them to stay open to the unexpected. Tell them the stories of God’s intrusion into our world. Give them eyes to see and ears to hear the angel’s songs. Tell them, “Unto you is born this night in the City of David, a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” This is good news which shall be for all people. Though many do not see it now, one day, all creation will cry, “Glory!”

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A sermon by Christine Jerrett. The worship service in which was first preached is available at Reformed Worship, week 7.

Scriptures: Proverbs 30: 18-19, 24 -28; John 3: 1-17

Did you know that the turkey used to be a sleek and beautiful bird? It had a rather odd head, but its body was so streamlined that it could fly up to sixty-five miles per hour. Today’s turkeys can barely stand, much less fly. Sixty percent of a turkey’s flesh is in its breast and wings. North Americans, apparently, prefer white meat, so turkeys have been genetically engineered to meet consumer wishes. (Douglas John Hall, The Steward, p. 104)

Most of the tomatoes that you can buy in a Canadian grocery store in January have been picked while they are still green. That way, they will not bruise while they are being transported. When they get to were they are going, they are blasted with ethylene to turn their exteriors red. Tomatoes, too, have been genetically engineered so that they have thicker skins. This, too, helps with transporting them over long distances. They also have approximately thirty percent less vitamin C than tomatoes that were cultivated in the 1960’s did. They have fourteen times more sodium. One third of them come from Florida, where there are regulations about their size and shape and quality. An arsenal of over one hundred chemicals is used to combat insects, bacteria and diseases.

Technology has changed our lives in many amazing and wonderful ways. Tomatoes in January are not among them.

Not that long ago, most people in the modern world had great faith in technology’s power to save us. If we had a problem, we believed that someone could and would develop a technology to fix it. If the technology we used to fix the problem caused other problems, surely we could develop more technology to fix those problems as well.

We are not so sure any more. There is chaos in the Middle East and famine in Africa; there are dead zones in our oceans, and deserts where there were once fertile plains; two hundred species disappear every day; superbugs that are resistant to our best antibiotics are emerging in our hospitals; terrorists elude our most sensitive security devices; our young people drown their increasing sense of despair in binge drinking and hard drugs. All of these events have been resistant to our best, most advanced technological solutions.

Over thirty-five years ago, Douglas John Hall observed, “We are a nation of full shopping carts and empty faces.” Asks Wendell Berry, “How does it happen that we can know so much and do so much and live so badly?” We know a great deal. We can do many things. What we lack is wisdom. we lack the wisdom to use our knowledge well so that humanity flourishes and so that creation is preserved not only for ourselves but also for generations to come. The good garden God gave to us to tend and to keep groans, waiting for us to develop such wisdom.

The book of Proverbs is part of the wisdom literature of the Bible. Proverbs 30 says that wisdom is knowing that there are things we do not know:

There are three things too wonderful for me;

four I do not understand:

the way of an eagle in the sky,

the way of a snake on a rock,

the way of a ship on the high seas,

the way of a man with a woman.

Proverbs is not trying to examine, explain or measure such things. it is drawing us in to wonder, awe and reverence before the mysteries of creation. The eagle, the snake, the ship, the couple in love are in motion with an energy from beyond themselves. There is more going on here than we can account for.

In each instance, we come up against the limits of our knowing. Our relationship with them is not so much a matter of comprehending them as realizing that the only way to know them is to delight in the wonder of them. It is a way of knowing that comes from the heart. It is a way of knowing that comes from living in reverence toward that which we cannot use and manipulate and control. Instead, we learn to love and cherish and protect them as part of God’s precious creation. It is a way of knowing that the weary creation desperately needs.

Leonard Sweet says that what we need more of in the church is ‘kangaroo theology’. There is an urban myth that ‘kangaroo’ is an Australian aboriginal word for ‘I don’t know’. When the Europeans first came to Australia, they asked the people who were already there, “What are those things hopping around the countryside?” The people would shrug and say, “Kangaroo.”

That is what we need in the church — kangaroo theology: the capacity to say, “I don’t know”.

We deal with deep mysteries: the mysteries of a marvellously complex creation; the mysteries of being human in relationship with each other; the mysteries of being invited into relationship with the Triune God.

Nicodemus was a religious leader and yet, when he encountered Jesus, he knew he was faced with someone who defied the usual categories. Jesus spoke truth that mystified and surprised. In his presence, people felt the very presence of God. One night, he approached Jesus, saying, “We know you a teacher from God. But there is more. I am trying to get my mind around who you are and what you are doing. Explain it to me.”
Jesus said to him, “You don’t know. God is making a new creation before your very eyes. The only way to get in on it is to let go of what you know and what you think you know and what you think you have grasped. The only way to get in on the new life God is bringing to birth is to take a risk beyond what you know. You have to enter into it . . . not with all your adult know-how but like a new-born baby. God is at work in your life and mine, but it is the invisible moving the visible. The new creation that is taking shape is being formed by something we cannot see and touch — by the Spirit. You know how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it is coming from or where it is going next. That is the way it is with everyone born of the Spirit of God. You don’t know.”

We do not know. We do not know how the Spirit is at work among us, moving this weary, aching creation toward new possibilities. We get in on it only as we learn to live in this complex and beautiful creation with humility and reverence. When we lose wonder and awe, it gets easy to act out of greed or carelessness or self-concern. Then, all creation suffers. More than that, when we act out of greed or carelessness, or self-concern, the very survival of human life is threatened.

To confess that Jesus Christ is Lord is to say that we are not. We are not Lords but servants of the one who is Lord. We are answerable to another. We are creatures of a good, gracious, creative God who loves us and who calls us into a life of loving: loving God; loving others; loving the beloved creation. The wisdom to love as Christ commands begins with the humility that stands in reverence before that which we do not know.

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Where We Live

 A sermon by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett.  The worship service in which this sermon was originally preached can be found at Reformed Worship, week 4.

Scripture: Genesis 2:4b -15

“Where shall I look for enlightenment?” the disciple asked the elder.
“Here,” the elder replied.
“When will it happen?” the disciple wanted to know.

“It is happening right now,” the elder said.
“Then why do I not experience it?”

“Because you do not look.”

“But what should I look for?”
The elder smiled and answered, “Nothing. Just look.”

“But at what?” the disciple insisted.

“Anything your eyes alight upon.”

“Well, then, must I look in a special kind of way?”
“No.”

“Why ever not?”

The elder said quietly, “Because to look, you must be here. The problem is that you are mostly somewhere else.”

Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, once said, “The hardest thing in the world is to be where we are.” It is hard to be where we are because life is hard and we want it to be easier than it is. It is hard to be where we are because the three thousand advertisements we see per day tell us that life — our life— can be better than it is. We deserve more. We deserve the best. All we have to do is to buy the products they are selling: beer, soap, drugs, shampoo, lottery tickets. We can drive a better car. We can impress better people. We can travel to a better place.

“The hardest thing is to be where we are.” Where we are, says Genesis, is the garden in Eden. “The Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east. And there he put the human he had made.” Genesis 2 tells us that twice in seven verses. “The Lord God took the human and put the human in the garden of Eden.” Perhaps the storyteller was afraid that our minds might be elsewhere. We might be distracted and not know where we live our lives.

When many of us think of the Garden of Eden, we think of a perfect place, of paradise. Since we don’t live in a perfect world, we miss what the storyteller is saying about our lives. The place where humans “are” is Eden. Eden is bounded by four rivers — Pishon, Gihon, the Tigris and the Euphrates. We know where the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers are. Use a search engine and they show up on a map. However, nobody knows where Pishon River is. Nobody knows where the Gihon runs. You cannot find them on any maps. Not on the internet. Not in an atlas.

God places us in Eden. Our lives are bounded by the known and the unknown. We live in the midst of visible realities like rivers and maps and trees and buildings and different kinds of soap and beer and shampoo. We also live in the midst of invisible realities like love and forgiveness, truth and humility, hope and mystery. You cannot touch them but they influence our lives in powerful ways.

Generally, we are more comfortable with the visible, concrete, material realities of our lives. They are easier to control and manage. I do not know if it is peculiar to Western culture, or whether it is just human nature, but we tend to like things we can control. At least, we like things that feed our illusion that we are in control. One phone call, one appointment with the doctor, and that illusion dissipates in a flash, but still we cling to the illusion that we can control our lives.

The largest part of our lives — the love, mystery, hope, truth — they are not things we control as much as we experience them. We enter into them. Generally, we do not attend to them as much; however, they influence our lives in deep, profound ways. If we are to live well, we need to drink deeply from the rivers of Pishon and Gihon.

The names of the rivers are plays on words. “Pishon” means “that which spreads out far in the distance”. It is a river that overflows. It floods its banks and destroys home and farms and roads. It is a wild, destructive river.

“Gihon” is also a river that grows. However, it grows in a positive sense. The harmony is large and growing larger. It leads to life and fruitfulness and vitality.

Tigris and Euphrates hold a similar tension. hideqel means sharp, violent, hard, piercing.

pherat means being fruitful, productive. This garden in which God places us includes both positive and negative possibilities.

We live in a wonderful world. We are especially conscious of this as we live in Canada. It is a land of enormous beauty. It has bountiful, productive land. It abounds in amazing diversity. However, this is also a world where one out of three children in Sub-Saharan Africa is dying of hunger. This is a world where earthquakes and tsunamis wipe out whole villages; where refugees crowd into boats that capsize before reaching freedom; where greed and exploitation put whole ecosystems at risk so that the coral reefs around the world are all dying. Eden is a good place but it is not perfect. Bad things can and do happen here. Good and evil are part of the realities of our lives. So are birth and death, harmonious growth and violent destruction.

Any faith worth having is a faith that helps us deal with both realities truthfully and with hope. Said Craig Barnes, “Christians always live carrying in one hand God’s promises of how it will be and, in the other hand, the hard reality of how it is”.  We carry God’s good and holy purposes for us in one hand. We carry the hurts and losses and pain and grief that contradict the goodness and joy and peace that God intends in the other. That’s where we are. “Life isn’t logical or sensible or orderly Life is a mess most of the time. Faith must be lived in the midst of that mess.” (Charles Colson)

That is where we wrestle for faith: which is why it is crucial that the garden is in Eden. Eden, says Genesis, is in the east. The east is where the Messiah, the Saviour, comes from. The word Eden is qedem, which also means “the glory of God”. We live in “the glory of God”. Most of the time we miss it, but that is where we are.

Eden can also mean, “where new beginnings come from”. It can mean “the place where grace comes from”. We live our lives in the midst of God’s glory, in the midst of the new beginnings God is making possible, in the midst of God’s amazing grace. Said C. S. Lewis, “God walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labour is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.”

Genesis 2 spends a lot of time telling us the lay of the land where we live. It is getting us oriented in the presence of good and evil, of life and death, of fruitfulness and destruction. Much of life consists of negotiating our way among those realities with courage and hope and faith when courage and hope and faith are not easy to come by.

Genesis 2’s most decisive orientation is the one that keeps us awake and alert to God’s gracious presence: we live in Eden, a holy place filled with the glory of God.

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Pay Attention

“Pay Attention”

A sermon by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett. The worship service in which this sermon was originally preached can be found at Reformed Worship, week 2.

Scriptures: Psalm 19

Chaim Potok was a Jewish rabbi and novelist. Even as a young boy, he knew he wanted to be a writer. His mother would tell him, “Be a brain surgeon. You’ll keep a lot of people from dying; you’ll make a lot of money.” Chaim would always reply, “No, mama, I want to be a writer.” He went away to college but, whenever he came home, his mother would try to persuade him again. “I know you want to be a writer, but listen to me. Be a brain surgeon. You’ll keep a lot of people from dying. You’ll make a lot of money.”  He would reply, “No, mama. I want to be a writer.”

This conversation went on this way over and over again. Then, one day Chaim’s mother exploded, “You’re wasting your time. If you were a brain surgeon, you could keep a lot of people from dying.” Chaim replied, “Mama, I don’t want to keep a lot of people from dying; I want to show them how to live!” (Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant, 47.)

St. Irenaeus once said, “The glory of God is seen in men and women who are fully alive”, and yet, said St. Paul, “All have sinned and fall short of the divine splendour.” (Romans 3:23) Part of the moral and spiritual poverty of our day stems from too many people who are settling for “not dying”, when we are created to be “full alive”. People settle for comfort and ease when what God intends for us is glory.

Someone wrote a book about running in which he began by saying that he reached the peak of his vitality, creativity and accomplishment when he was five years old. Do you remember what you felt like when you were five? He said that, when he was five he was a runner and an adventurer. He was an actor and a dancer and a singer of songs. At five, he could give and receive love freely. He laughed easily and took delight in many things. Then, the hurt and heartache of life began to drain all that away.

That’s what happens, isn’t it? Broken dreams, the loss of innocence, love betrayed or lost. Sometime just selfishness or complacency. They all chip away at that zest for living that we have in childhood. Sometimes those experiences lead us to doubt ourselves. Or, they consume all our energy so that we do not have space in our minds or spirits for something creative or adventurous. We live on auto-pilot, by default, doing what we are simply used to doing.

The Bible often contrasts things that are coming alive with things that are crumbling into dust. It distinguishes between ‘really living’ and ‘not really living’, between true life and life-gone-wrong. The difference between the two, it claims, is whether or not God is present. When God enters the scene, things that are crumbling into dust are given new life. God breathes and people come alive. God acts and new possibilities open up.

When the Bible speaks of God as Creator, it is never merely saying that a divine being made the world. God is Creator because the God revealed in the Bible is creative now, not just back at the origins of the cosmos. God is actively working in our lives and in our world, bringing new life.

Bill Brown, professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, points out that there are seven creation stories in the Old Testament (The Seven Pillars of Creation). Those creation stories are not trying to explain how the world got started. They were told and put together by the people of Israel when they were facing a dead end. Their society was full of troubles. It look as if there was no way to move into a livable future. Everything important to them was disappearing. It was being destroyed or it was crumbling into dust. They could not see any way to stop what was happening. It was in that context that they told the creation stories. They told stories about new beginnings and starting over. They told stories about God who offers new possibilities that they were not able to imagine on their own.

The Bible’s creation stories direct us to places were hope and courage and the capacity to persevere are found. They remind us that we are not alone in a world that is descending into chaos. We worship a God who speaks into chaos and makes a new creation. We live in covenant relationship with a God who put the stars in the heavens and who guides the blazing sun across the sky day after day.

It is as if the sun arises each day, joyfully anticipating new life, making a fresh beginning, eagerly running towards God’s glorious creation and God’s restoration of all things. “The heavens are telling the glory of God; the earth proclaims God’s handiwork,” shouts Psalm 19.

Wake up! Pay attention! Lift your eyes higher than the troubles that are wearing you down. Your life is set in the large, expansive context of God’s ongoing creativity. There is more going on here than just you and me trying to make all things work out right. There is God and God is at work in our world. God is at work in Christ, reconciling the world to Godself. God is at work, calling people to live well, to be human, to live up to our creation and into our salvation.

Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) He invites us on an adventure that requires of us courage and sacrifice as we join in his work of renewing human society. That adventure includes conflict and struggle as we resist those forces that would diminish human dignity and freedom. That adventure takes us both to the heights and to the depths of loving and being loved.

There will be times when you cannot see a way forward. There will be times when you will be so weary that you cannot see how you can possibly keep going. There will be times when you will be tripped up by your own selfishness or foolishness or fear. There will be times when you will be blind-sided by someone else. You will stumble and fall and lose your way. That, too, is part of the journey.

Then, the great grace and mercy and forgiveness of God will pick you up and set you on your feet again and enable you to begin again. Your life is significant and important because you are part of God’s great and holy work to renew the earth. You have a part to play, a part you need to play or you will miss out on the glory.

How do you get in on it? How do you join the adventure? How do you know how to play your part? God has given God’s Word to guide us, says the Psalmist. God’s Word reveals to us what God is up to in the world and pulls our lives toward where the action is. God’s Word acts as a signpost, pointing out the right road. God’s Word is a life-map, showing the way to joy. God’s Word leads to wonder and awe and reverence at the persistent, mysterious ways that God is overcoming the power of death that makes things crumble into dust. God’s Word leads to wonder and awe and reverence at the surprising, unexpected ways God is opening up new possibilities. God’s Word steers us away from death valleys and directs us to the paths that lead to life.

God’s Word is a great treasure, more precious than gold, sweeter than honey. When we set ourselves under the Word of God— when we wrestle with it and let it form our lives — we come alive to all that God is doing in our life and in the world.

It is said that the rabbis would place a drop of honey on the Torah scroll. Then, they would invite their very young students to lick the scroll. They wanted them to experience, even before they could read, that the Way of Life revealed in the scroll was sweet.

Today, we are invited to be reminded of that as well. As Psalm 19 is read again, you are invited to come forward and share the fruit that is on the communion table. Enjoy its sweetness. “Taste and see that the Lord is God” (Psalm 34). Then, take a few minutes to reflect on words of scripture that have been precious in your life. And pray, “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord my Redeemer.”

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“In the Spotlight of God’s Love”

A sermon by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett. The worship service in which this sermon was originally preached can be found at Reformed Worship

Scriptures: Psalm 8John 1: 1-5

The climate of this planet is changing. The top three warmest years in recorded history have happened since 1998. The top ten warmest years have happened since 1990. Some of the world’s top scientists have warned that the world’s oceans are suffering severe troubles partially because of climate change. Overfishing and pollution have put the ocean’s populations under unprecedented stress. Increasingly, weather is in the news, reporting the damage caused by severe weather patterns.

We face a great challenge: How do we live in creation without destroying it? At its heart, that is a spiritual question. It has to do with what we believe about God and about human beings and about our relationship with this world that God has entrusted to our care. We set ourselves under the stories and prayers in the scriptures that tell us about God’s creation, our place within it, and our role in its care, and we discover that the answer coes with wonder and awe.

We live in a culture that, in many ways, does not encourage wonder. It comes naturally, spontaneously, in childhood. If you watch little children, you see them discovering this amazing world for the first time. You see their delight in the smallest of things. However, over time and in many little ways, that sense of wonder can get squeezed out. You can get pre-occupied with mastering and controlling the world. You can get busy becoming competent in manipulating its elements. You can become pre-occupied with ‘getting ahead’.

Wonder takes time. It is about mystery. It requires that you loosen your tight grip on life so you can be surprised, allowing the unknown and the unexpected come to you. You can get so busy that you lose the wonder that feeds your soul. You can lose the wonder that is at the root of living well and reverently in creation.

The awe of God is the beginning point of cultivating the capacity for wonder within our lives. It is the beginning point for living lives that are adequate to the great gift of this marvellous and precious creation. That is where Psalm 8 begins: “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” The Psalm begins and ends praising God.

That is what frames our lives, it claims: the majesty, the glory of the Lord, the Sovereign of all the earth. In Hebrew, the word is actually YHWH. YHWH is the personal name God gave to Moses when God showed up in a bush that burned but did not burn up. YHWH is the name of the God who enters into covenant with a group of newly liberated slaves and leads them through the wilderness.

It is an amazing claim. What frames our lives is not just a generic deity, a vague energy force. Our lives take place within a creation ruled by a named God who keeps showing up in our lives and in our world. We are not orphans, lost in an indifferent cosmos. We are met. We are claimed by a God who sets God’s glory above the heavens. This God puts moons and stars in their places, lifting nothing more than the fingers of God’s hands. This powerful, cosmic God is, nevertheless, mindful of us human beings. This God attends to us mere mortals.

“Why do you bother with us?” asks the psalmist. “Why take a second look our way?” And yet, YHWH does bother. YHWH does take a second look. This God does even more than that. John’s gospel begins by quoting an early Christian hymn. It sings the wonder of the God who created the cosmos by the power of God’s Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life” (John 1: 1-3)    Then, This God became flesh and blood, “moved into the neighbourhood” (The Message) as Jesus of Nazareth.

By the end of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, we know that this God cares for us and for this world so much that God is willing to go to hell and back to rescue us and to restore our broken relationships with God and with each other.

Julian of Norwich, one of the great mystical saints of the Church, said, “Human beings are clothed in divine love.” God’s love wraps around us. God’s love enfold us every moment of our lives. We are not always loveable. We are certainly not always aware of that love, but that love is the bedrock of our lives. The sovereign ruler of the cosmos loves us and cares for us with an infinite, attentive, creative love.

So many people whom we encounter day by day do not know that. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine being loved that deeply and not knowing it? Our culture mostly gives us two messages. We are told either, “You are the centre of everything and you deserve to get everything you want or desire”, or “You are nothing more than a bundle of appetites. You are nothing more than the chance product of the survival of the fittest.” We live in the tension between these two messages.

Both of them lead us away from wonder. Both of them destroy community and compassion and care. They lead us, in the first case, to reach too high for our own good, trampling over others in careless arrogance. In the second case, we settle for too little, figuring that there is nothing we can to do make a difference so we might just pursue our own private happiness and comfort.

Then, we come to worship and we pray Psalm 8. We remember that we are not gods and goddesses. We cannot arrogantly use and abuse this planet. We are accountable to a sovereign Creator who bestows upon us great dignity and a holy purpose: to love and care for this fragile creation.

We come to worship and we pray Psalm 8 as a protest against every force that tries to demean us, to make us think less of ourselves than we should.

We hold these two truth together: You have made us a little less than gods; yet, You have given us charge over Your handcrafted world.”

It is said that a rabbi said that every person should carry two stones in her pockets. During the day, she should touch the one stone and remember, “I am but dust and ashes.” She should touch the other stone and remember, “For my sake, the whole universe was created.” The rabbi said that each person should use each stone as she needs it.

We face large problems for which there are no easy, large-scale solutions. The way forward will consist of many small actions. The way forward begins with framing our lives in the loving care of a sovereign God who bestows upon each of you great dignity and responsibility. This morning, you are invited to take two stones from the basket at the front. Take them remembering, “I am but dust and ashes” and “For my sake, the whole universe was created. Take two stones for yourself and two stones for someone else. Invite that person to live this week, each day, with wonder. “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”

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A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett at Central United Church, Sarnia on June 26, 2011.

 Scriptures:            Psalm 8;  John 1; Isaiah 43: 1-7

In the summer of 2011, our congregation installed air conditioning in the chapel. The advantage of doing so is that it enables us to provide a more hospitable atmosphere for people who might come to worship with us in the summer. Also, it will enable us to concentrate more on worshipping God and less on how hot and uncomfortable we are. There is also a disadvantage of doing so, however. An air-conditioned worship space becomes one more place where we are out of touch with the reality of what is happening around us.

The top 3 warmest years in recorded history have happened since 1998. The top 10 warmest years have happened since 1990. Some of the world’s top scientists are warning us that the world’s oceans are suffering severely partially because of climate change. Over-fishing and pollution have left the oceans’ population under unprecedented stress. Others tell us that all the ocean reefs in the world are dying and nothing we do now will change that. The news this spring was filled with reports of the damage caused by severe weather patterns. The climate of this planet is changing.

Most of us seldom feel those effects. We go from our temperature-controlled homes into temperature-controlled cars to work in temperature-controlled work places or recreational facilities. Nevertheless, all of us are becoming more aware that our planet is facing great challenges.

How do we live in creation without destroying it? At its heart, this is a spiritual question. It has to do with what we believe about God and about human beings and about our relationship with this world that God has given to us.

Our culture often does not encourage a sense of wonder. Wonder comes naturally and spontaneously in childhood. Watch little children and you will see their delight in the smallest things. You will see them discovering this amazing world for the first time. However, over time, in many little ways, the wonder gets squeezed out of us. We get pre-occupied with mastering our world. We focus on controlling it in more ways. We get busy gaining competence and getting ahead.

Wonder, on the other hand, is about mystery. It requires us to loosen our tight grip on life so that we can be surprised, allowing the unknown and the unexpected to come to us. Wonder takes time. We can get so busy that we lose the wonder that feeds our souls; the wonder that enables us to live; the wonder that is at the root of living well and reverently in creation.

As we seek to live lives that are adequate to this great gift of creation, we begin in worship. Worship provides an opportunity to find our way back into living lives that are open to wonder. Awe of God is the beginning point of cultivating the capacity to live well.

Within worship, we set ourselves under the stories and prayers in the scriptures that tell us about God’s creation, our place in it, and our role in it. They invite us to enter into the wonder and awe that are the primary emotions in these scriptures. They lead us deeper into worshipping the Creator who gave us this marvelous, precious creation to sustain and to delight us.

That is where Psalm 8 begins. It orients us, first of all, toward God:

“O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”

Psalm 8 ends with the same words, praising God. This is what frames our life: the majesty and the glory of the Lord, the sovereign of all the earth. (Eugene Peterson, Answering God, p. 110)

In Hebrew, the word translated as “Lord” is actually YHWH. It is the personal name God gave to Moses when God showed up in the burning bush. YHWH is the name of the God who enters into covenant with a group of newly liberated slaves. What frames our lives is not just a generic deity, a vague energy force got the world started but now just ‘is’. Our lives take place within a creation ruled by a named God who keeps showing up in our time and place. We are met and claimed by God who set God’s glory above the heavens. This God put the moons and the stars in their places by lifting nothing more than the fingers of God’s hands. This powerful, cosmic God is, nevertheless, mindful of us human beings. God attends to us mere mortals.

“Why do you bother with us?” asks the psalmist. “Why take a second look our way?” Yet, YHWH does bother. YHWH does take a second look. In fact, YHWH does infinitely more than that.

John’s gospel begins by quoting an early Christian hymn: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. It sings the wonder of the God who created the cosmos by the power of God’s Word. Then, the wonder deepens at the news that this God became flesh and blood. This God “moved into the neighbourhood” (John 1: 14, The Message). By the end of Jesus’ life and death, we know that this God cares for us and for our world so much that God is willing to go to hell and back to rescue us and to restore our broken relationships with God and with each other.

Julian of Norwich, one of the great mystical saints of the Church, once wrote, “Human beings are clothed in divine love.” God’s love wraps around us. God’s love enfolds us every moment of our lives.  We are not always loveable. We are certainly not always aware of God’s love. However, that love is the bedrock truth of our lives. The sovereign ruler of the cosmos loves us and cares for us with an infinite, attentive and creative love.  So many people whom we encounter day by day do not know that. Imagine being that deeply loved and not knowing it!

Our culture mostly gives us two messages. We’re told either, “You are the centre of everything and you deserve to get everything you want or desire,” or “You are nothing more than a bundle of appetites. You are nothing more than the chance product of the survival of the fittest.”  (Douglas John Hall, The Steward, p. 52)

We live in the tension between those two messages. Both of them lead us away from wonder. Both of them destroy community and compassion and care. The one leads us to reach too high for our own good. We end up trampling others and treating creation with careless arrogance on our way to get all we ‘deserve’. Alternatively, we settle for too little. We figure that there is nothing we can do to make a difference so we might as well just pursue our own private happiness and comfort.

Then, we come to worship and we pray Psalm 8. We remember that we are not gods and goddesses. We cannot arrogantly use and abuse this planet. We are accountable, answerable, to a sovereign Creator who bestows upon us great dignity and holy purpose. We are to love and to care for this fragile creation.

At the same time, we come to worship and we pray Psalm 8 as a protest against every force that tries to demean us. We protest against every power that tries to make us think less of ourselves than we should. We are beloved children of an attentive God.

We come to worship and we pray Psalm 8 as a way of holding these two truths together:   “You have made us a little less than gods; yet you have given us charge over your handcrafted world.”

A rabbi once said that each of us should carry two stones in our pockets. One stone was to remind us, “I am but dust and ashes.”  We are not immortal. We are creatures and we live within limits. The other stone was to remind us, “For my sake, the whole universe was created.” He suggested that each of us should use each stone as we need it.

We face large problems for which there are no large-scale solutions. The way forward will consist of many small actions. The way forward begins with framing our lives within the loving care of the sovereign God who bestows upon each person great dignity and great responsibility.

At the front of the sanctuary, there are baskets with stones in them. You are invited to come forward and take two of them. Put them in your pockets. This week, as you touch them, remember: “I am but dust and ashes,”   and  “For my sake, the whole universe was created.” Use each one as you need it.

Take two for yourself. Take another two for someone else who needs to know the great love God has for him or her. And live each day with wonder: “O Lord, our sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”

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