January 31, 2021
Psalm 111: 7-8
The works of his hands are faithful and just;
all his precepts are trustworthy.
They are established forever and ever,
to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
Mark 1: 22-28
They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
Today’s sermon is titled On What Wonder Allows. I have never understood why science and religion are found to be incompatible. It seems to come down to Darwin’s theory of evolution and the creation accounts found in Genesis 1 and 2. Anyone who cares enough to study both models will find that they are not all that different. According to Genesis 1 there first was darkness, then the light, then water on the second day and land on the third. Then came the seed-bearing plants on the land just as life in the waters began to stir and grow. Birds came next and then mammals and on the seventh day, humankind. There is not one thing in this progression that runs contrary to Darwin’s theory.
In my late teens and twenties, as my tolerance for how fundamental Christianity was misusing Jesus as a cover for anti-semetism, homophobia, racism and a host of others social diseases, I was exposed to scientific theories and science filled the vacuum that organized religion had created. I can still remember nearly every detail of the classroom in the Geology building where I first learned about continental drift theory. I stared in amazement at the images the overhead projector threw onto the wall as the professor placed, in rapid succession, reconstructed maps beginning with the ancient and unfamiliar shape of the supercontinent of Pangea. With each new image, the professor named the era of time: Paleozoic, Mesozoic, Cenozoic. He was speaking a different language and the world was changing and shifting before my eyes. Some of the shapes became recognizable and I can still remember, thirty years later, that in those moments something deep within me shifted, too, and I was hooked. I became a real student that day.
What allowed that shift within was the state of absolute wonderment I experienced in seeing right before my eyes the passage of 500 million years and the drift of continents (continents!) moving across the surface of the earth. That professor offered me a new way of seeing the world and a new way of being in the world.
Rev. Anthony Robinson is one of my favorite writers in the UCC writers’ group that crafts the daily devotionals; he writes, “Only wonder comprehends anything.” Only wonder comprehends anything. I think that is true and I wonder if you think so, too? Comprehension is different than knowledge. Comprehension is understanding. Understanding is such an interesting word; if we literally stand under some thing or some idea, we develop an awareness that is unparalleled. We consider the thing or the idea as over us. For example, consider of how one’s appreciation of an elephant would be different if seen from a Range Rover at 20 feet away, or seen from lying on the ground looking up at an elephant from 20 feet away. The same holds true with ideas and events. We can read about death and fascism but that will not give us a comprehension of either one.
Wonder opens us to comprehend what would otherwise overwhelm us. With that, I usher us into the beginning of the ministry of our teacher, Jesus of Nazareth. Five weeks ago we were celebrating the birth of Jesus and by now in our study of the scriptures Jesus is already thirty years old. Let’s recap the major events we covered in the past few weeks. Jesus has been baptized by his cousin John and afterwards fled to the wilderness for 40 days. John has been arrested and now resides in the Roman prison. Jesus invited 5 who have agreed to follow him, and today we meet Jesus for the first time in the synagogue in Capernaum.
The writer of the oldest Gospel, the Gospel of Mark, describes a scene for us. Capernaum is on the northern shore of the sea of Galilee, which is really a very large lake, 13 miles along and 8 miles across. Capernaum is 80 miles from Jerusalem and it is a place that Jesus will come back to again and again, probably because it is the center of the Pharisaic movement. The Pharisees sought to decentralize Jewish power away from Jerusalem and instead build synagogues in the villages and educate priests to serve in their local synagogues. Jesus was part of the Pharisaic movement. An interesting side note is that this particular synagogue was built as a gift to the Jewish people by a Non-Jewish, or Gentile, Centurion who was part of the Roman army stationed there. This same Centurion would later ask Jesus to heal his beloved servant. How apropos it is that a Jewish prophet who would begin to bridge the divide between Jew and Gentile would begin his teaching in a Jewish Synagogue built by a Gentile Roman warrior.
On this particular Sabbath, and for the first time in the historical record, Jesus enters that same synagogue at Capernaum and begins to teach with such authority that the people were “astounded at his teaching.” It was not the teaching they were used to from the scribes. It was teaching from one who had a comprehension of the scriptures like they had never witnessed before. It was too much for one man. The scriptures say “he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’”
What a scene! Can you imagine this? Right as Jesus is speaking he is challenged by a man speaking words that appear to be not from his own mind but words of another. “Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’” If the people were “astounded” before, I can not even imagine what they were feeling after all of that.
Right here is the moment when they are full of wonder! Those good people in the synagogue can not believe what they have seen. It is the same way I felt watching those continents in freshman Geology. We have all been there. This is the moment when wonder takes our breath away, when time is suspended, our doubts and fears fall away and we are more open than ever before; we are changed in that moment.
This is what wonder allows. Wonder allows for change that we would otherwise dismiss, otherwise avoid, otherwise resist with our rational minds and our preconceived perceptions about things are “supposed” to be. Children can be our greatest guides in remembering the power of wonderment. Children are easily swept away in their wonder. They are receptive, impressionable and eager to believe. Jesus says, “Welcome the kingdom of God like a little child.” I read in those words “Be open to God like a little child, full of wonder.”
Jesus needed those people in the synagogue to be opened to the changes that would be coming and in order for the Holy Spirit of God to live and move and have its being in and through us we must be open, too. Jesus called the Hebrew people (as he calls us) to live the law, to love goodness and righteousness, to love one another and, if loving our enemies seems out of reach, at least try to understand them; try to stand under them for a few moments and imagine why they think and act the way they do. And then, it just might be possible to extend a gesture of goodwill. Jesus healed the man who was suffering; we, too, can heal with our words, with our lovingkindness.
In closing, we enter a time in the next few weeks where we will consider the miracles that Jesus was able to accomplish, through the grace of God, I pray that these familiar stories will present something new and undiscovered for us. I pray that as we move through our lives in the next few days and weeks we will be open to the miracles that surround us. They may be subtle or seismic, tenuous or tectonic, but if we allow ourselves to wonder, wonder allows us to comprehend what was, before, unknown. I wonder what we will find?
God of the stillness, we thank you for the quiet spaces in between. Help us to push back the world and create a safe harbor for ourselves where we can reflect and rest. When problems and concerns are looming large in our minds and hearts, Lord, remind us to begin within, to seek your calm and your peace. From this centered place, we can see the world, and all our brothers and sisters in a new light…a light that comes from you. From this centered place within, we find a depth of understanding and a clarity of purpose that reshapes us in your divine image. From this centered place, we can lay down our expectations and learn to trust that through your grace, we will have all the love we need, even in grave adversity. Help us, Lord, to feel deserving of such grace, so that we may fully receive what you intend for us. Bless us, Lord, as we pray this prayer that Jesus gave us…Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
I leave you with these words from Psalm 91
“To his angels he has given command about you, that they guard you in all your ways; upon their hands they shall bear you up.”