Psalm 46 (VU 770) & Luke 5:17-26
“Self-Discovery in the Wilderness: (Part One) Awe & Wonder”

 “Self-Discovery in the Wilderness: Awe & Wonder

Psalm 46 (VU 770) & Luke 5:17-26 ~ Northwood UC ~ March 6, 2022 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook  

This morning we start a journey…the journey of Lent. And as we move through our personal Lenten journey over the coming 40 days, we will be mirroring Jesus’ 40-day wilderness journey. We imagine Jesus going out into the wilderness and being touched by an array of emotions. What might it have been like for him to be alone? We now begin to wander in our wilderness…the wild of our soul… to consider the temptations that lurk in your darkness… To consider the hungers that demand to be satiated…To experience the range of emotions in the wild of your life.  

Our journey, of course, will require a depth of curiosity.  The more curious you become in the weeks ahead…the more imaginative you are…the more open and vulnerable you are in these coming 40 days, the deeper and richer the journey will be. As we take a ‘journey in our mind’, it will be your deep curiosity that allows this journey to become very real. And curiosity, psychologists are increasingly teaching us, is one of those states and traits necessary for living the human condition to its fullest. The use of our curiosity to delve into our emotions through Lent will require us to be vulnerable, to ask questions of where our heart is, to risk discomfort and more fully discover our humanity. Einstein is remembered as speaking on the value of curiosity, saying: “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence”.  And our curiosity over these 40 days will allow us to explore the range of emotions that Jesus likely touched on as he prepared for his earthly ministry.    

We begin on this first Sunday with the wonderful emotions of ‘awe and wonder’. And as a person of faith, I suspect that you don’t need to search your memory banks very far in order to recall those moments of awe and wonder when you have felt the presence of the holy: The grandeur of a mountain’s peak, the flowing of the sea, the serenity of a sunlit sky, the first sound of a newborn, (somehow) hearing the calming voice of God, (somehow) feeling God’s presence comforting you…what were those experiences of awe and wonder when you sensed the presence of the Holy? We have all felt them, haven’t we?  

Psychologists Ulrich Weger and Johannes Wagemann in the journal “Current Psychology” describe awe and wonder in this way: “wonder inspires the wish to understand; awe inspires the wish to let shine, to acknowledge, and to unite”. To be in a sense of awe is to stand back and observe the breathtakingly awe-some presence around us. Wonder, is related to awe, as it fuels a curious passion for exploration and learning, and adventure. Awe and wonder…where do you feel these emotions?  

I think that this is what we are seeing at play in the gospel lesson that Dan read for us this morning. They had heard of this healer named Jesus. Everyone had heard of him. But it wasn’t enough to hear about him, they needed to experience him! And so, they carried their paralyzed friend, who lay on his bed, to where Jesus was. It was a growing sense of awe that surrounded who Jesus was and it was their sense of wonder that caused them to physically lug their friend all the way to him on the bed. Can you imagine the efforts taken by the friends of the paralyzed men? Their wonder drew them to Jesus; their wonder drew them to carry their (lying in his heavy bed) to be healed. Imagine the sight of the man being carried, bed and all, towards Jesus! But, there was a problem. A few others…actually, MANY others…had also heard of this Jesus too. And when they arrived, they saw the crowds surrounding the house where Jesus was. And they couldn’t get close to him.  

I would like to pause right here in the story and propose that this dilemma facing the paralyzed man’s friends is the same dilemma we face in coming into experiencing awe with the Holy. There will always be a number of obstacles between us and the awesome presence of the Holy mystery of God. There will always be some separation, some challenge, some barrier between us and the Holy that is waiting to be experienced. Do you feel like you are experiencing the Holy? Do you sense God’s awesome presence? If not, then perhaps this wilderness journey we are imagining is a time to open yourself to touching the awesome presence of God. What if you set your intention to be deeply curious in finding the awesome nature of God in this coming week? In this coming day? In this coming hour? Do you think the awe and wonder of God might be felt?  

The friends of the paralyzed man worked very hard to experience the awesome presence of God. They hoisted the man up to the roof and lowered him back down through the roof tiles. That would have been an engineering miracle, back then…and even now…climbing up ~ patient, bed and all and carefully lowering him back down. The point, I don’t think, is whether they actually did the hoisting up to the roof and the lowering back down. The point is that they put in the effort to come into the awesome presence of God. Sometimes we need to do the work…sharpen our awareness… sometimes we need to open your eyes and slow down…Sometimes, we need to put in the work. Because God’s awesome presence is always there (and here inside) if we pay attention. What if YOU took time to be curious in finding the awe and wonder that God wants to play in your life? What if you took the effort and searched the awesome presence? What if you found the Holy in the week ahead?  

And this pursuit of living in an awareness of the awe and wonder of God connects to a related emotion that we hear in the Psalm. “Be still and know that I am God” was the call by the Psalmist to calmness, to stillness, to opening our awareness to the awesome nature of God. While the Psalm recalls an ancient time when the Hebrews sang of God’s deliverance and triumph over warring enemies, it is in this same stillness today that we might come before the one who can bring down armies and tyrants and restore peace in war-torn places…in war-torn relationships…in war-torn souls. And we might be in awe and wonder of this God of life.  

The 14th Dalai Lama spoke about calm from as the dynamic of moving away from discontent, saying “When you are discontent, you always want more, more, more. Your desire can never be satisfied. But when you practice contentment, you can say to yourself, ‘Oh yes... I already have everything that I really need’.” I think this is what the Psalm in our tradition sings of…a gentle stillness…a deepening awareness…a coming realization in the small, still moments of the wilderness that allow us to feel God’s awesome wonder that is here with us now!

It is what the faithful sing as a testament to God in their life: “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the works thy hand hath made, I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder, thy power throughout the universe displayed. Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to thee; How great thou art! How great thou art!”  

While we need to actively look, sometimes, we don’t need to look very far to be touched by the awesome presence of God. We don’t always need to climb up to the top of a roof and lower ourselves down. Sometimes it is right here (and here). The quest for the awe and wonder of God is what keeps us coming back to the Lord’s table, time after time. For a morsel of bread and a sip of wine. And a reminder that the awesome wonder of God is with us in the wilderness journey.