March 22, 2014

Ephesians 4:21-24

I think some of us have totally lost it. I know all of us had it at some point because we all played in the sandbox and all sandbox children possessed it. But somewhere along the way of growing up, some of that sand must have gotten in our eyes because some of us lost our ability to behold the wonder of this world.

Recently, my niece’s three-year-old son brought her the most pathetic looking picking of flowers you’ve ever seen. I think they were really weeds and the little flowers on the end of them just drooped over dead as soon as they were separated from the roots. But to this mother, they could have not been more precious if they were a bouquet of roses, because these weeds captured her son’s sense of wonder and they were brought to her out of love.

Once I brought my mother some flowers from a cow itch vine. The flowers had captured my attention as they grew up the side of the old block building near my house. My mother recognized them for what they were: flowers from a vine that will make you break out in a rash.

While Mama helped me with my plant identification, she was careful not to stem my sense of wonder.

Something gets in our eyes and we lose our ability to see the wonder of this world. What does that?

I love to watch Joe Morgan order dessert. You’d think when Joe Morgan calls the waiter over and asks what is on the dessert menu that he’s a child getting ready to be set loose in a Toys R Us with an empty buggy and a one-hundred-dollar bill.

Joe loves to discover new dessert creations that his taste buds have not had the pleasure of sampling and he enjoys sharing these with friends.

Joe’s sense of wonder isn’t confined to the dessert table, though. His sandbox has turned into his career. He’s constantly imagining and dreaming of the new things that make this world a better place, like the Trackdot, the device that can be placed in your luggage and through an app on your phone, you can know where your luggage is anywhere in the world. That means when you arrive in Atlanta and Delta says that they don’t know where your luggage is, you can say to them, “Why don’t you check in Brussels? That’s where my Trakdot says you sent it.”

Now if Joe can just figure out how to attach a Trakdot to my keys, that would be a great invention, but then of course I’d have to know where my phone is to be able to find my keys.

For many of us, something gets in our eyes and we lose our ability to see the wonder of this world. What does that?

A two-year-old is filled with wonder because she or he has not yet experienced bubbles, balloons, the beach, snow falling, a merry-go-round, or hide-and-seek. Everything is new.

Our financial secretary recently returned from Europe. She visited Paris and Venice and Rome. She sent Pat and me a picture of her standing in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

We had a little fun with her and sent a message telling her that the tall building behind her was crooked.   The building is actually a freestanding bell tower from the cathedral of the Italian city of Pisa. She brought me this key chain as my own souvenir, which will actually stand up. Of course, it leans.

Now if you lived in Pisa and drove by the Tower of Pisa every day, you might lose your sense of wonder about that place. To you, its presence might become as much a part of the landscape as any other building or tree.

But for us, even though it’s old, it’s new. Our going there and experiencing its beauty and uniqueness for the first time creates in us a sense of awe and wonder. We are amazed at the architecture.  We say, “It’s a wonder that thing has not fallen down.” We are like a five-year-old experiencing Disney World for the first time.

But, for many of us, something gets in our eyes and we lose our ability to see the wonder of the world right around us. What does that?

Should we lose a sense of wonder, we stop learning and discovering. We live with an attitude that we have arrived. We are saying to those around us that there’s nothing new we need, nothing new we want, nothing new that’s good, nothing new that is desirable. Don’t introduce me to any new tastes, sounds, sights, smells, or feelings.

We are saying that all change is bad and that there is no joy in new possibilities. We are saying we like things as they are and will fight to keep them that way. We are saying that God has finished shaping us and that we are a shining example of God’s finished product.  

People who lose a sense of wonder are not much to be around. Churches that lose a sense of wonder will die and lose relevance to the community in which they live. They’ve stopped doing anything new or different to engage the community or culture in which they live.

I tell you that grandchildren are one of God’s greatest gifts to the world because just about the time many of us have begun to become set in our ways, hardened around our opinions, stuck in mud types, God turns our world upside down with a new creation.

If you are like Tina and me, people that are over fifty who don’t have any grandchildren, I challenge you to go borrow one; adopt one. Volunteer to work in the nursery. Spend some time assisting a teacher in Sunday school. You don’t even have to be the main teacher. In fact, you don’t have to teach at all; let the children teach you about wonder. Let them show you how to create something new, how to use your imagination, and allow your mind to have the freedom to think of new possibilities.

The gospel, the Good News is that God is a God of the New Covenant who has been constantly working with us to renew us. This was the message of Isaiah.

Just as God had delivered the people out of Egyptian bondage, God came to deliver His exiled people from the hand of their Babylonian captors. God did not act because they deserved it, but God acted for his own sake, “blotting out their transgressions and remembering them no more.” (v. 25)

Isaiah gave them some interesting instructions about their past. He told them to remember it, but not to live there.  That is good advice for us as well.

Many people are not able to see the wonder of this world because they cannot get the past out of their eyes: past mistakes, past experiences, or the pain of the past.

God doesn’t say, “Forget the past.” We couldn’t forget the past if we wanted to. We remember it in order to learn and hope not repeat the mistakes of the past. However, God doesn’t want us living in the past. God does not want the past holding us hostage. If we live in the past, then we will never embrace anything new, nor can we properly appreciate the blessings of the present.

God wanted the people to remember what He had done in bringing them out of bondage in Egypt. Remembering the past is like holding the memory bank open, with anticipation that God is going to do something wonderful for you in the present.

This is the reason we evoke the memory of Jesus’ death and resurrection every time we observe the Lord’s Supper. Many of our communion tables have Jesus’ words, “In Remembrance of Me,” inscribed on the table.

We want to remember the gift of his life, his death, and his resurrection, in anticipation that the Lord is actively investing in our lives now to bless us.

While God wants us to recall the past, it is for the purpose of knowing that God has been a God who at every point in history has been about making all things new.

The New Covenant, which Jesus established with his death and resurrection, is an ongoing act of making new life within us as we meet Jesus and allow Him to transform us and lead us into the future.

We do not have to know what new thing God will do in our lives, only trust and believe that God is capable of bringing it about.

When the Hebrews were backed up against the Red Sea, could they have known what God was about to do for them?  

Isaiah evokes the memories of that event to remind them of what God can do:

 This is what the Lord says—

he who made a way through the sea,

a path through the mighty waters,

who drew out the chariots and horses,

the army and reinforcements together,

and they lay there, never to rise again,

extinguished, snuffed out like a wick. (Isaiah 43:17)

But then he says:

Forget the former things;

do not dwell on the past.

See, I am doing a new thing!

Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? (18-19)

There may be our problem.   We don’t perceive it. We have outgrown the wonder of a three-year-old who can recognize the beauty of the flowers on the weeds.

We don’t have the genuine excitement of the chef who wants to taste the new recipe he has invented in the kitchen.

We have traveled by a landmark so many times that we no longer stop to ponder its beauty, think of its history, or be in awe of its craftsmanship.

God fills our world every day so full of His presence, so full of His beauty, so full of His continuous creating power, that we don’t even perceive the Potter at His Wheel, the Master painter with his palette in His hand, the Great Physician with His Healing Hands touching people.

In fact, instead of perceiving the new thing God is doing or wants to do among us, we can be guilty of working against the very thing God wants to do and bless, because it is new, because it seems too big to accomplish, too sacrificial to take on, too outside the box to tackle.

A sixty-five-old minister visited a church about 60 miles from here recently to give a series of messages. He got there early and while he was waiting he met a man that also came to the service early. He struck up a conversation with the man and asked him his name and how old he was. The man told him said he was 85. The Reverend called him by name and said, “Well, I guess you’ve seen a lot of changes in the church in your 85 years.” The man responded, “Yes, I’ve been against every one of them.”

A man told me recently that his daughter took a trip to the Appalachian Mountain area with her church’s youth group in the same general area where our team is headed.   He said she’d never experienced going to any place in the United States that was so poor.

While there, the young people befriended an older man who kept his house warm during the winter with firewood as his only source of heat. Later that winter, they received word that the man had frozen to death because he ran out of firewood.

He said the news shocked his daughter and changed her awareness that there were people in this world that were in that kind of need. Their group of teenagers decided to do something about that and continued to go back to that area. One of their projects was to help the poor accumulate firewood for the winter.

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?”

When we pause and ponder the gift of love we’ve given through Jesus, and choose to recognize that we have the potential to give that gift of love to others, even those who didn’t ask for it or deserve it, then we have captured something of the essence of wonder and we’ve shared it with people who have lost it.

This concept is captured in these words of Jesus:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. ‘By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another’” John 13:34-35.

So what new thing can you do today that will cause others to contemplate the love of God? What new thing can you do today that will cause someone to say, “Wow! I’ve been by that church 100 times but I never knew they loved me”?

How can you look at someone in a totally different way? How can we convince those who think they are weeds to see that they are beautiful flowers in the eyes of God?

God can do a new thing through you. You can see wonder in this world. It’s all a matter of perspective.

I trust you will contemplate these things as we receive the Lord’s Supper this morning.