Marvel, Wonder, Awe

Do you remember what it feels like to experience something you couldn’t quite grasp?  An experience so powerful that it left you speechless, smiling from ear to ear?  Can you remember that feeling of wonder, amazement, and awe?  Sometimes it happens to you.  Maybe it was meeting your favorite author, seeing a close magic trick, or the joy of good worship.  Maybe you felt it through the eyes of someone else.  Two weeks ago, I saw that sense of wonder again and again through the eyes of FBC and SBC during our Fall Break trip to Disney World.  It is a truly magical feeling, and it is often totally unexpected

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SBC meets Olaf

It may seem odd to think about these positive experiences of wonder and awe in light of the encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees in Sunday’s Gospel lesson.  This is a story of fear, entrapment, and power, what does it have to do with the profoundly good feeling of joy and wonder: the stuff we pray for at Baptism?  Well, it seems as though an encounter meant to trap Jesus into either blasphemy or treason ended up having a profound impact on his would be nemeses.

“When they heard this, they were amazed.” Mt. 22:22a

The Greek word translated as “amazed” can also mean “marvel” or “wonder.”  Jesus’ brilliant response to their trap left even those who saw him as an enemy in a state of sheer wonderment.  Perhaps they were disappointed or frustrated, but I think it is more likely that they were beginning to realize that Jesus was something more than a thorn in their side.  This Jesus character was the real deal.  As Tuesday in Holy Week wears on, there are two more encounters between Jesus and the Pharisees.  First, a lawyer asks him about the greatest commandment.  Second, Jesus schools them on the Messiah.  By the end of the day, Matthew tells us, they wouldn’t ask Jesus another question.  They so marveled at his wisdom, that they had to know he was someone or something special.

So, if even the Pharisees marveled at Jesus, what is stopping you?  Episcopalians tend to be heady people.  They want to know a lot about Jesus, but end up not knowing Jesus very well at all.  Ask God for a personal encounter with Christ.  Create space and silence to welcome Jesus in.  Feel the wonder and marvel at his love.

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Fear and Awe

As Jesus taught in the Synagogue at Capernaum, the congregation was “astounded” (NRSV).  After Jesus cast out the demon from the man with the unclean spirit, they were “amazed” (NRSV).  Mark uses two different Greek words to describe the reaction. of the crowds, presumably to point out that while both were reactions of awe, they came in different forms.  This makes sense to me.  The reaction I might have to a excellent teacher is going to look markedly different than the reaction I might have to seeing an exorcism first hand.  Both are awe inspiring, but one is perhaps more visceral.

As 21st century Christians, we’ve become pretty comfortable with awe being our go-to reaction to the divine.  Who doesn’t love to sing “Our God is an Awesome God”?

What we’re decidedly less comfortable with, however, is the fear of the Lord, which is what makes our recitation of Psalm 111 this Sunday so delightfully counter cultural.  The closing line of this instructional, acrostic poem of praise reads, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: all those who practice it have a good understanding.  His praise endures forever.”  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.  For the ancient Hebrews who sang this psalm, who used to it teach their children in the way of the LORD, that fear wasn’t about the Saw movie franchise or the feeling you get just before a roller coaster.  The fear of the LORD is the awe you feel in his presence.  It comes when we realize that God is so wholly other, so utterly holy, so unimaginably loving and desires a relationship with each of us.  Sure, they were afraid that they couldn’t handle the holiness of God and that it might wipe them out entirely,

but if that’s all we think of when we read “the fear of the LORD” in the Old Testament, we do a great disservice to the chosen people of God.  Our proper approach to God is with fear and awe, recognizing the great power of God while attempting to comprehend God’s great love at the same time.  Pondering that for a while is no doubt, the beginning of wisdom.