I Wonder as I Wander is typically a hymn we sing during Advent. The melody itself is very mysterious and spirit-provoking. Beyond one season a year, however, it seems we spend much of our lives wondering as we’re wandering here and there. What is wonder anyway? And why do we have such capacity? In Jesus, we experience God as one who came to share in our wonder. God chose not to remain separate from us but come and see what we see; feel what we feel, wonder alongside of us. What do you wonder? What might God do with such wonder?
Theme Verse: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses…” (Hebrews 4:15)
Opening: “Lion and the Lamb” (Bethel Music) :: The Rising Band; Isaac Herbert, leader
Reader: Chad Roberson
Preaching: Rev. Mark Briley
Communion: “I Wonder As I Wander/Can You Imagine” (Arr. Anna Johnson) :: The Rising Band; Katie Herbert, soloist
Offertory: “The Prayer” (D. Foster) :: Todd Maxwell, soloist; Christina Maxwell, soloist; Susie Daugherty, soloist and pianist
14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
I was single-dad-in’ it this past week as Carrie was in Cincinnati helping lead a conference for pastors and their spouses. Dane, our middle son was with Pastor Darlene and the Transformers in Action (our 3rd-5th graders) in Arkansas on their mission trip so it was just me, Morgan, Hayes and our puppy, Taylor. It made for an interesting dynamic of activities and conversations that we don’t usually get to have. At dinner one night, I was telling the kids about a story I had read about that day. It was the story of Kane Tanaka, a Japanese woman who became the world’s oldest living person a week ago when Chiyo Miyako died at the age of 117 years and 81 days. I’m not sure gaining the title was something you then celebrate or what but at 115 years and 210 days, Kane is now the oldest living human. From the presidential reigns of Teddy Roosevelt to Donald Trump – she’s been scootin’ around this earth. She sold rice cakes during World War II and worked that store until she retired at the age of 63. She’s been retired for almost half of her life! She shared about several of her visits to the United States in retirement to see her family. Kane survived colon cancer at 103 and is still fairly mobile with the use of a walker. She loves to write poetry. And… she attributes her longevity to her faith in God.
I’m relaying this story to my kids who are just astonished. I asked them, “What do you think she wonders about?” I mean – she is what they call a supercentenarian – a person who has reached at least 110 years old. Two years ago, she was only the 14th oldest living person in the world. She’s moved up that list pretty fast. What do you think she wonders about? Morgan couldn’t imagine what she must still wonder about and Hayes simply thought she wonders about “being old.” [Theme Slide] I’m totally fascinated by humans – probably harkens back to my interest in Psychology – which was my major in college. Kane Tanaka – created in the Imago Dei, the very image of God – what does she wonder about? I wonder about you too. You wandered into this place today dealing with any number of things in your life. What are you wondering about this morning?
It really is one of the greatest things about being alive, don’t you think? We have this amazing capacity to wonder. We wonder about all kinds of things. I wonder what else is out there in the universe. I wonder if you feel welcomed here today. I wonder what Jesus thinks about our country. I wonder if we preach grace but think judgment. I wonder about the future. I wonder about my kids and what they’ll do with their lives. I wonder what I’ll have for lunch today. What do you wonder? What do you no longer wonder about because you found some context to that wondering and now you wonder about something else? It’s all fascinating to me. There’s a reason we wonder, of course. We wonder because we don’t have all of the answers. The way in which you see the world can’t resolve every matter, every issue, every concern, every problem, every curiosity. You grow and change and have experiences and the frame of reference shifts. Some things resolve. Other things lead to new and greater, or different, wonderings. You may have grown up terrified of going to the dentist. Now you drive yourself! Your frame of reference has changed. We are going to spend the next five weeks in wonderland. We’re going to consider some of the deepest things we wonder about, some of the greatest mysteries of our lives, and see if we can’t find a way of claiming wonder as a gift of God. Today – we’re considering wonder as the window through which we see the world.
Every single one of us in this place has a frame of reference that helps us make decisions about life that make sense to us. Some of us are very aware of this and realize not everyone else sees life through the same lens. Some people call this marriage (just kidding). Others of us are less aware of this reality and assume everyone sees life just the same as us. Some of us may not be able to define all that well what our framework is but we all have one. You’ve got a window through which you see the world to determine what is just or unjust, important or unimportant. It’s how you determine your beliefs and behaviors (actually probably not how you always behave but how you think you should behave). Much of this is inherited. My parents are in the house today – love ‘em to death. Without even being able to pinpoint each and every moment, I am confident that my frame of reference stems strongly from the picture window my parents sat me in as a child so I could see the world from a particular vantage point. It’s why I love the Kansas City Royals and singing harmony with my mom as a kid, holding one hymnal for the two of us to share. It’s why I see race and diversity and all people as beautiful and loved by God. They presented a set of values to me, one of which was the value of discovering and understanding what I value on my own – not accepting a value just because. I value that greatly and it changes the way I see the world. You have a framework too. Maybe it included church. Maybe you were one of those Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night kind of church goer. Maybe you were a Chreaster (a Christmas/Easter kind of person). Maybe you were not religious at all or have experience practicing other faiths. Maybe you were poor or wealthy. Maybe you moved a lot or maybe you still live in the house you grew up in. Maybe your framework through which you wonder the world is scientific or mostly academic. Maybe it’s moralistic or a legalistic framework. Maybe your personality (my enneagram people in the house!) most shapes the way you see the world. It all funnels into our vision of things, and in turn, shapes the things we spend our time wondering about.
Occasionally… this frame of reference comes up short. We might even say it fails us. This happens all of the time, all over the place. Just look at the Steady State Model of the universe. The universe just exists… always has… just a matter of well, matter. Einstein was in on this idea. But it did cause scientists to wonder because they knew you couldn’t have an infinite actual. There can be infinite potential but not an infinite actual. There can’t be infinite moments or infinite things – only infinite potential. So when my kids say infinity, plus one – it doesn’t all gel. Edwin Hubble was on this and in 1929 discovered galaxies are speeding away from each other at enormous speeds and they’re all doing so at a trajectory that originated in the same place. This was a framework game-changer for scientists. Hubble even loaded up Einstein in his own car or moped or Harley or skateboard or whatever he drove and took him to the observatory to see it for himself. This brought about the Big Bang theory, a sitcom starring Edwin Hubble and Albert Einstein. For real though, this blew Albert’s mind and suddenly – a new frame of reference. New set of things to think about, to wonder about. Do you know this struggle? The thing that keeps you up wondering at night? You read something that has you wondering. You heard something. Somethings got you stuck. This continually changes things for you. And this reality will call for some sacrifice. However you see the world calls for some sacrifice. You decide to see certain things, you’ll give up some others to make that work… until, perhaps, it doesn’t.
I heard pastor Andy Stanley say something quite clear and to the point about this framework stuff, shaped a lot of my thoughts for today actually. He said, “There may be a fatal flaw to your current frame of reference. It might be you.” He says, “What do you know? What do I know? What do we know?” He talks about how the seasons and experiences of our lives change us. “Is it possible, then,” he says, “that our view is incorrect?” Just think about it. You were sure she was the one… he was the one… but now you’re looking for a way out. Or that thing… you had to have it, gotta have it. Now you’re wishing you didn’t invest in it one bit. Or that event you just had to go to. Now wish you hadn’t gone. What do we know? My ability… and your ability… to interpret the events of the world is limited. So our framework shifts… but it may also feel like, then, there is nothing left to ground us.
Enter Jesus. Now I’m not trying to get all cliché in the house today. We’ve already been through the whole story about the answer in the church is always Jesus, right? The kid who says to her pastor, “I know the answer you’re looking for is supposed to be Jesus but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me!” What I am saying is far from, just say “Jesus” and that settles it. No. It’s not what I’m saying here. In part, because even when I say, “Jesus,” you have this whole framework that you’ve created to see Jesus. The church of your youth or the way someone threatened you with a couple of bible verses or a beating you received mentally, verbally, theologically or otherwise by someone or someone(s) in authority who said Jesus told them to do that to you. I wonder if you could strip all of those pretenses away for a moment – let go of the dogma you learned to recite from a particular denomination, release the political-version of faith that you feel obligated to side with… and home in specifically on the person of Jesus. Could Jesus be a grounding reference for the framework through which you see the world? Of any religious idea, any faith, any person, any concept or theory or otherwise – what I experience in the pieces I put together of the person of Jesus revealed in Scripture is the single most grounding force in my life.
The Hebrew writer gives a word today that I put forth for our consideration. We considered a different passage from Hebrews last Sunday on Sunday Funday. Today’s just Plain-ol’-not-as-Funday, I suppose, but the word is just as powerful. We don’t know who to credit with the writing of this letter to these Hebrew people but I’m so thankful we have this letter to give us some perspective. This writer sends word to a Jewish audience who has accepted Jesus as the one their people have always been waiting for… the Messiah. Can you just imagine the framework change these people have made? Very few of us have made such a shift in our thinking in our lifetimes. It’s not an easy thing to do. They were acknowledging that in their very lifetime, a flesh and blood human fulfilled the prophecies generations had awaited. Imagine today – someone you see on Social Media, someone you heard speak at a conference, someone you worked with on a project to address poverty. Yep. That person is the Messiah. Can you imagine? But the Hebrews are finding the weight of such a framework change to be too much. It’s sort of like being really excited about the new diet but three months into it, you’re getting tired of Kale and you’re contemplating going back to the old diet. This writer says, “Whoa, guys, don’t walk away from this new framework. We have this great high priest that knows what it’s like to see the world from our side of window.” Nobody had claimed such before when it came to the Divine.
And this was a time well before the Bible had come into existence. It was before groups had created lists of rules and procedures and had Sunday Fundays. The people had just experienced the person of Jesus, his death and resurrection and knew that their frame of reference, their view of the world, could not be the same as it was. Stanley said it well. He said, “God sent someone to our side of the frame to be a point of reference.” This original framework of Christ didn’t require you giving up wonder – in fact it was an embracing of it. Jesus never attempted to create robot followers. He could have come with his own list of things and said, “Memorize this list and you’re golden.” He never did that. I wonder why we are so fond of doing that? He got in the thick of life with real people and built relationships. And that really frustrated the religious people – they wanted him to behave a certain way. They wanted him to toe the party line. They wanted certainty on a matter or a question or a moral concern and Jesus would tell them a story and ask them to think on it themselves. I think God must have surely been so curious about us, loved us so much, that he just had to see life through our eyes… and, in turn… I trust that God loves me all the more because, in Christ, he’s seen the pain I see. He’s struggled with relationships like we do. He’s been bullied and judged and cast out and scapegoated unfairly. And yet – the Hebrew writer says, “He’s been through it all and has handled it in a more perfect way.” We’re not going to do it all perfectly. But if I dig into an understanding of his interactions with people, his relationships, his demeanor, his humility, his inclusivity, his character, his sacrifices… I wonder how that might affect my choices and the way I see and treat people. I wonder if that may help me live toward a more perfect way too?
The Advent hymn challenges us to wonder. “I wonder as I wander out under the sky how Jesus the Savior did come for to die for poor ordinary people like you and like I, I wonder as a wander…” What a powerful hymn. As far as I know, none of us in this room has ever witnessed a crucifixion or smelled one or experienced the aftermath of such an event but this Hebrew community had. Don’t you wonder what that must have been like? The writer says, “Don’t give up now on what we experienced in him.” Not the institution, not the organization, not the philosophy but this person sent by God to our side of the frame to become our frame of reference. It was a way among all the mysteries of the universe that we could know where we stood with the Creator of it all. Above all else, they were loved. And so are we. The writer of Hebrews says to a confused and weary people… “Hey… just consider him. Just reconsider Jesus.” Think of his teaching, not necessarily what you’ve been taught by others. I think much of the time that we’ve grown weary with religion or faith or church is because we’ve been considering everything else but him. We wander from faith perhaps because our frame of reference is circumstantial based faith – which will not survive the pleasures or pressures of life. When the diagnosis is bad, it doesn’t hold. When the relationship cracks, circumstantial faith doesn’t hold. When we lose or hurt or struggle, the systems we’ve trusted may fail us. Faith can become inconvenient. The Hebrew writer does not say, “Since everything is going well or working out or we have everything we need or because we’ve resolved all the mysteries of the universe, all of our wonders, all of our questions answered.” No. The writer says, “Consider Jesus. Since we have Jesus. Since we have a Savior who is not distant from us. Since we have a messiah who has been through it too...” How would you see whatever you’re facing, whatever you’re wondering about, through his frame of reference? What might that change for you?
If you’ve lost the wonder, could you consider it again? Google has sort of ended some of the wonder we used to let linger, hasn’t it? At staff meeting we were talking about this and one of our team said how much he enjoyed debating mysteries as a kid – could hold on for hours to the fun of the back and forth about the possibilities of being right or wrong. Now, at the first sign of uncertainty, we go to the Googles to find the answer. I think it all builds up our idea that certainty is readily available and the work and depth and beauty of relationships – with God and each other – is something we’ve decided is just too much. Maybe you haven’t even realized you’ve given up on wonder yet. I read a word from Mike Yaconneli this week who said, “It took me fifty years to realize I was lost. No one knew I was lost – my life had all the trappings of found-ness. I had succeeded at mimicking aliveness, but I was nearly dead.” When we lose the wonder, we tend to mimic aliveness.
Yaconneli, who is in the resurrection now, followed this quote with a story about his two-year-old nephew who stood in his living room about to be altered irrevocably. It was night and he stood in front of the sliding glass door that opened to the deck, peering into his reflection because of the light that was on inside. Little did he know; his daddy was about to turn out the inside light and turn on the light outside that would reveal the millions of snowflakes coming down at that very moment. It would be the toddlers first ever view of the phenomenon. The instant the lights switched, the boy’s eyes stretched wide with astonishment, as though the only way to apprehend what he was seeing was for his eyes to become big enough to contain it all. He stood motionless, paralyzed by the mystery he was taking in. He stepped out to feel it for the first time. He twitched and jerked each time a snowflake landed on his face. Just behind his large eyes you could see sparks flying from the crosscurrents of millions of electric stimuli overwhelming the circuit breakers of his previously small world. His mind was a confusion of strange, conflicting realities: white, cold, floating, flying, tingling, electric, landing, touching, sparkling, melting – causing an overload so great, so overwhelming, he fell backward – a slow-motion landing in the billowy whiteness, the snow tenderly embracing him. He had given up trying to understand snow and had given in to experiencing snow. It was a moment of wonder.
Whether you’re two or 115 years and 210 days, wonder remains a gift to behold. If you’ve let it go, reconsider it. If you’ve allowed your faith to become a rigid, dull, list of ideas instead of the dynamic relationship it can be, come back to the wonder for in Christ, we do not know a God who cannot understand our human struggles. We have a God who’s been there, done that; seen it, felt it, cried through it, argued about it, laughed about it, served in spite of it, and who says, “Follow me – I’ll help you see it with new eyes.” We have a God who wonders with us what kind of world we could create if we could give up trying to fully understand our faith, having it all ironed out and punishable by citing article numbers and doctrines. Instead, maybe we give into experiencing Christ in the fullness of relationship and discover what wonder it truly holds.
 Andy Stanley is the founding pastor of North Point church in the Atlanta area. http://northpoint.org/. His message “Center of the Universe” significantly influenced this sermon in multiple places and inspired the creation of our larger series, “Wonder.”
 This quote and the following story are from Yaconelli’s work, “Dangerous Wonder.” NavPress. 1998.