Sermon for Pentecost +22 A, November 9, 2014 on Proverbs 30:18-19 & Matthew 6:25-34
Proverbs 30:1a; 18-19
The words of Agur…
Three things are 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,
and the way of a man with a girl.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
A Time to Wonder
Recently we read this same text from Matthew, a selection from Jesus’ famous “Sermon on the Mount.” Don’t worry, this is not a re-run. But I wanted to start with two interesting lines Jesus said, and then look at the text from Proverbs.
Matthew sets the stage with Jesus on a mountain, surrounded by crowds, teaching. It is an outdoor setting. I imagine a warm sunny day in Palestine. The mountain is probably not much more than what we would call a hill. If we were there, down below we would have a lovely view of the big lake known as he Sea of Galilee.
The subject on Jesus’ mind are the two most important questions ever asked: who are we as people, and who is God? Those two questions always lead to the third: how do we relate to each other – people with God?
Jesus, the master teacher, simply has people look around at what they see.
“Look at the birds of the air,”
— he tells them. Take a lesson from what you observe.
“Consider the lilies of the field”
— they too can be our teachers.
I love the word he uses: “consider.” It means to contemplate, mull over, wonder about.
Agur’s Wonder Poem
This is exactly what Agur, the writer of the poetry in Proverbs 30 does. He considers, he mulls over, he allows himself to experience the wonder of the world; to be awestruck and amazed at the seemingly commonplace.
Agur likes the poetic device of naming a number, then adding one, so he says,
He finds wonder in considering the way, the manner in which these four mysteries operate:
“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,
and the way of a man with a girl (i.e. maiden, not child).
It is simply a wonder to watch an eagle or hawk or pelican or seagull float, seemingly effortlessly, on invisible currents and updrafts of air.
Like Icarus, we have all longed to experience what that feels like, to fly, to float in the sky.
And though thinking about snakes makes a lot of us queasy, nevertheless, moving as they do, without legs, is amazing.
The way of a ship on the high seas is also a wonder. Supported by the water instead of sinking into it, it carries cargos – even back then – of produce and commodities for trade, moved forward by the unseen force of wind.
No matter how much science we understand, who has not been moved by watching nature? People pay good money just to take a boat out to watch dolphins swim. Imagine – nothing is more common place – and few things are as joy-producing.
Wonders of Science
I recently heard Krista Tippett, on her podcast called “On Being,” interview S. James Gates. He is a professor of physics and director of the Center for String and Particle Theory at the University of Maryland. Dr. Gates and a team of physicists and mathematicians were looking into some unsolved puzzles.
They were studying what he calls “mathematical objects which sit inside of the equations with the property of supersymmetry.” – most of us have no idea what that means, but listen to what he found amazing (I don’t usually use quotes this long, but you need to hear him say it in his own words):
“…even more shocking for us, when we analyzed these [mathematical] objects very carefully, we found out that they have attributes of ones and zeros in precisely the same way that computers use ones and zeros to send digital information. And in particular, the kinds of codes we found, which was the most shocking thing for us, is that there’s a class of codes that allow your browsers to work in an accurate way. They’re called error-correcting codes. We found a role for error correcting codes in the equations of supersymmetry, and this was just stunning for us.”
He uses words like “shocking” and “stunning” – these are words for wonder. The wonder of a scientist, discovering the supersymmetry in the deep structures of the world.
Agur’s Climactic Wonder
Agur, the poet, has one more cause for his wonder, and as the last in the series, it is, for him, the most wonder-making:
The way love happens is a wonder; the way strangers meet and fall in love, the way they long to be together, the way they bond and become families;
“love is as strong as death”
— another biblical poet said.
But Agur does not simply find courtship a wonder – he seems to be thinking broader about the whole experience. The way of a man with a maiden is open -ended. Perhaps he means to include all of it, not just the romance.
Perhaps he finds wonder in a couple’s capacity to look past each others imperfections and faults, each other’s bad habits and bad days.
Perhaps he has known enough successful couples to find wonder in the power of forgiveness and reconciliation after hurt and betrayal. The willingness to move beyond selfish interests and to risk, even to sacrifice for the other.
Maybe he even finds wonder in long relationships that have weathered years. The couples who have stayed together and stayed in love, even though life has been filled with the kinds of things you say at the wedding ceremony, but at least half of which don’t really expect to happen when you promised “to love, honor and cherish, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.…”
What would you list as the four things that most make you feel wonder? Maybe you too would start with nature – like the way sea turtles hatch from buried nests and instinctively seek out the moonlight, guiding them to the water.
Maybe you would think of the wonder of music – how a single chord – sometimes a single note can send chills down your spine and give you goose bumps – or tears, depending.
I find wonder in considering the the 90 year old man in Fort Lauderdale who will not stop feeding homeless people, even after the police there threaten to arrest him for it.
I find wonder in the courage and commitment of people here in the States who go as volunteers to Africa to treat complete strangers suffering from ebola – risking their lives to do good in the world and to make a difference.
I find wonder in the people who are so committed to the common good that they vote in favor of school levies even after their children have graduated.
If I had to list only four things that cause me amazement and wonder, that fill me with hope and renewed confidence in God’s goodness and love – I do not know how I would narrow down the list.
I find every morning a wonder. Not just because I wake up easily – that’s not what I mean. But rather the way each new day can be a fresh start, a new beginning. That no matter how the day before ended, with the rising sun, a new opportunity is given to us to live in brand new moments.
I find it a wonder that God has built into us such enormous capacities for healing. That people who have suffered terrible experiences of pain, even trauma, and grief that once they believed were more than they could bear, find new reasons for hope. That even after tragedies, people can move on and accept the things that cannot be changed.
I find it a wonder that people can live in recovery from addiction. That in recovery groups, they will sacrifice hours and hours, year in and year out, to be help to other people find similar healing and hope.
It is a wonder to me that people will part with their hard earned cash to support causes they believe in; in fact I am amazed that giving is actually higher among poor people than the well-off. That without any obligation or expectation of being noticed or even thanked in person, people sponsor children in other countries, they fund missions of all kinds around the world, they donate to organizations that try to protect the environment and groups that fight for the rights of people being discriminated against – even if they have no personal connection to any of them.
The God Wonder
I could not fail to leave off my list the wonder that absolutely nothing in all the world can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. The amazing knowledge that God can be trusted to be for us, not against us. That there is no condemnation, but rather forgiveness, redemption, and even transformation given to us by a God who is Good, and who is best defined, simply by the word Love.
It is a wonder that we are able to connect to God in simplicity and in the immediacy of silent meditation. That it is not a matter of achieving anything or becoming expert or perfect performance of a ritual, but that God is there for us when we call, all the time, everywhere, and listens, and cares.
“Three things are too wonderful for me;
four I do not understand”
— as the poet says.
And after that there are three and four more. And more after that. And the longer I consider the wonders in my life, the more I see that this list is infinite.
“Look at the birds of the air…consider the lilies of the field”
— and know that God has given us the capacity to experience wonder, so that we can trust him with everything in life and in death.