What has happened to Wonder?
As I began this week to write this sermon, all I could think of was the old Learner and Loewe’s song from Camelot:
I wonder what the king is doing tonight?
What merriment is the king pursuing tonight?
The candles at the court, they never burned as bright.
I wonder what the king is up to tonight?
It’s a delightful little song sung by a fully human king who is afraid of marriage; especially to a woman he does not know. And as he begins a new chapter in his life with a new relationship on the horizon, it seems to be somewhat of a good place to begin our look at the 8th Psalm, for at the core of this psalm is the foundation of the relationship between the people of Israel and their God. And that particular recollection made me ponder or “wonder” about the true meaning of that word “Wonder”.
There really are some complexities to this word for the three meanings take us in slightly different directions. Wonder is defined as “to speculate or be curious about something”; “to doubt something”, or “to be filled with admiration, amazement or awe”. All three definitions, though pulling us sometimes in different directions, are part of what the psalmist is struggling with as he or she recites this psalm of great praise.
Let me take you back to a time long ago when humanity had far less information to comprehend, and what was packed into their brains was necessary for survival. There really wasn’t much time to ponder or wonder. It was a time long before cell phone and computer, before quantum physics or higher mathematics. It was a time before missiles flew in the sky, before most people knew more than was right at their next door. It was a time before Galileo, or Archimedes. It was an ancient time when the ancestors of our faith and the faith of our forebears set out to craft the primary relationship with the God who they worshipped. And they did it in the creation story that comes to us in the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis. In fact, one story wasn’t enough. They really crafted two.
However in their first account, they described a God that was so holy and mysterious that He was above and beyond time and space and at the same time present in it. It was a world of chaos and a murky mess. But somehow God brought order out of that and caused there to be an earth and the heavens. And the heavens, at least during the day were blue, because when God created the earth he caused a void to exist in the mess and separated it. And what was above the transparent murky mess was water. And to them, that is why the sky was blue. Who can help but marvel at that description? Who can help but wonder about how things transpired in the beginning. Who can cease to ponder on the wonder of the divine who acts in such kindness? Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson decide to go on a camping trip. After dinner and a bottle of wine, they lay down for the night, and went to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his faithful friend. “Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”
Watson replied, “I see millions of stars.”
“What does that tell you?” asked Holmes
Watson pondered for a minute. “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, I can see that God is all-powerful and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.” “What does it tell you, Holmes?”
Holmes was silent for a minute, then spoke: “Watson, you idiot. Someone has stolen our tent!”
In two of the churches that I served after retirement I have had the privilege of knowing two different members who were instrumental in the life of the church. One was a professor in the department of Physics and Astronomy at Ball State in Muncie. The other was a nuclear physicist who had worked for years with the government. Both people were in church every Sunday, rain or shine unless they were out of town. The astronomer ran the audio visual team for that church. The nuclear physicist was the head of the Christian Education Team. He was a very faithful man who taught an adult education class twice every year. He could make the background reading for his courses look like an article in the best known theological journals. Compared to them, my knowledge of their field would have fit on the head of a pin. And yet with all that they knew there was a wonder in each of them about the God we worship. I asked one of them on Sunday once what it was like to have so much knowledge about the formation of our world and be such a person of faith.
The answer I received will always stay with me. “I can tell you how many things came to be, but I cannot tell you why”.
Albert Einstein once said, “He who can no longer pause to wonder, is as good as dead. “ And the American novelist Madeleine L’Engle took it even farther saying, I share Einstein’s affirmation that anyone who is not lost on the rapturous awe at the power and glory of the mind behind the universe “is as good as a burnt out candle.”
Nor sure if that is where the psalmist was or not, but that is the wonder of the psalmist words who begins and ends this great psalm with the same words. O Lord our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all of the earth.” For without wonder our relationship with God will falter and weaken.
And the other thing that the psalmist wondered about is whether he or she is significant enough to be loved by this God. I am not sure if the ancient folks struggled with this as much as we do at times, but the reality is that as Christians we are so often taught to love one another that we forget that the love that God has for us is love enough to make us loveable.
When this psalmist looks to the heavens and contemplates the wonder of God, the thought comes to their mind that they are so small and so miniscule in stature compared to their God, how could it possibly be that they are loved. “When I look at your heavens, the work of your finger, the moon and the stars that you have established, what are human beings that you are mindful of the mortals that you care for them?” Yet all humanity has a need to be loved. And God says it quite clearly. “You have crowned them with glory and honor and given them dominion over the words of your head, and put all things under their feet.” In other words, this great God of creation is willing to love humanity enough and trust them enough that God is allowing to share the power used in creation with those who were created. And if that doesn’t scare us in a time when we are pulling out of the Paris Climate Treaty, it well should. Because to have dominion over creation means to care for it as God would care for it, but we are doing it on God’s behalf.
Father Gregory Boyle, a Roman Catholic priest who founded ˆhometown boys” the largest gang rehabilitation and reentry program in the world in Los Angeles California, tells the story of a 15-year-old gang member named Rigo. Rigo was getting ready for a special worship service for incarcerated youth when Boyle casually asked if Rigo’s father would be coming.
“No,” he said, “He’s a heroin addict and never been in my life. Used to always beat me.”
Then something snapped inside Rigo as he recalled an image from his childhood.
“I think I was in fourth grade,” he began, “I came home. Sent home in the middle of the day. When I got home my dad says, ‘Why did they send you home?’ And cuz my dad always beat me, I said, ‘If I tell you, promise you won’t hit me?’ He just said, ‘I’m your father. Course I’m not gonna hit you.’ So I told him.”
Rigo began to cry, and in a moment he started wailing and rocking back and forth. Boyle put his arm around him until he slowly calmed down. When Rigo could finally speak again, he spoke quietly, still in a state of shock: “He beat me with a pipe … with … a pipe.”
After Rigo composed himself, Boyle asked about his mom. Rigo pointed to a small woman and said, “That’s her over there …. There’s no one like her.” Then Rigo paused and said, “I’ve been locked up for a year and half. She comes to see me every Sunday. You know how many buses she takes every Sunday to see me?”
Rigo started sobbing with the same ferocity as before. After catching his breath, he gasped through the sobs, “Seven buses. She takes … seven … buses. Imagine.”
You see, because God loves us, as small as we may seem at times, that makes us loveable.
Dick Simms was the pastor of Good Shepherd Faith Presbyterian Church in in Manhattan, New York back in the early 70’s. It is still today squeezed between to large office buildings right around the corner form the Julliard School of Music. It is the area that was the nexus for Leonard Bernstein‘s West Side Story and right across the street from the Chinese consulate when our two countries reestablished diplomatic relations back in the 70’s. He once preached a sermon called, “The Christian’s Right to Love themselves.” It wasn’t a very popular subject back then and it may not be still today. But one line from that sermon I have never forgotten. It goes like this: Have you ever looked into the eyes of the person who loves you and said, “I am sorry I am so unlovable?” If we are honest, it just can’t be done.
And that it what the psalmist saw when he gazed at the marvel of God’s creation. It was the wonder of a love that not only provided for us in the beauty of creation but also told us all that surrounds and all that we have is a gift to be managed and shared in union with God. And because God chose to share it, it is enough to know that as small as we may feel at times, that is large enough to be loved by God.
So don’t forget about the wonder, and learn to enjoy it. Amen